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QDR Driving Major Forces Shift

The guiding American strategy of responding to two major contingency operations may well fall during this Quadrennial Review, Michele Flournoy signaled to reporters today.

“We have to be able to do multiple things at a time,” Flournoy said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast. She ticked off, Iraq, Afghanistan, piracy and terrorism as realities the US must contend with and have a force capable of managing. She said many of the major QDR decisions should be made by late summer.

What used to be holy writ – that the US military must be capable of responding to two MCOs or some version of one big one and a second fight that we would respond to soon after – doesn’t seem likely to survive.

I asked Andrew Krepinvech, who is providing some support to the QDR from his perch at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, where this might go.

"I think what we are looking at now is an indirect strategy with regard to terrorism and nacre gangs and an offsetting strategy with regard to China and to the Pacific generally," he said. The first set of missions is traditionally dominated by the Army and Marines, the second by maritime forces and aerospace capabilities. And all that may mean that the military will need to rebalance its forces, he said.

As part of rebalancing the US military to handle such varied contingencies, Flournoy said the Pentagon will consider its force structure, noting that “when you can’t do everything equally well” force sizing becomes a key factor in rebalancing the military.

Krepinvech suggested the US should build an Army designed to train and support allies and host countries, using an "indirect approach" instead of building a force capable of mounting massive expeditionary stability operations. Flournoy told reporters that helping allies and working closely with them in military operations was something the US would have to do much more of.

Flournoy's resizing comments appear to raise the specter of the Marines losing forces dedicated to amphibious missions. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he is reconsidering that mission, which seems to indicate there is a good chance it will be either abandoned or substantially revised downwards.

At the Navy League conference earlier this month, Marine Commandant NAME said several times that the mission of kicking down doors – forcible entry – is a key function of the Corps, one that he is committed to restoring. And as part of that effort, he pushed hard for the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle as a key capability to ensure the Marines can execute that mission. It’s reasonable to assume that the senior leadership of the Marines would not come out fighting unless they see a threat.

In other QDR news, Flournoy pushed the virtues of a Red Team drawn from outside sources such as thinktanks, academe and industry. She said they could “introduce a different range of scenarios [from those the Pentagon has identified] some of which may be high end and very intensive.” Andy Marshall, head of the Office of Net Assessment, is leading that effort. During the last QDR, Marshall gathered four retired four star generals, Krepinvech, Steve Rosen from Harvard, Wayne Downing to represent special forces interests and a representative from the intelligence community.

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