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QDR Garners Poor Reviews

Reviews of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review are pouring in from Washington’s defense cognoscenti and so far they come with a strong tilt towards disappointed. On Tuesday, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where a group of defense experts weighed in, Maren Leed, a senior fellow there, said she's not sure the congressionally-mandated strategic review is worth the effort. “It’s not clear that there is enough new or useful in this QDR.”

David Berteau, who directs CSIS’s defense industry initiative, said the section dealing with defense acquisition was particularly weak and reflected Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ preference for going around the acquisition system. The “MRAP model,” where Gates personally expedited funding and building of the mine resistant vehicles outside normal acquisition channels, is the model he wants. “He is not focusing on fixing the system but rather going outside it.”

Pre-QDR, many expected the Air Force and Navy to come out losers, but that wasn’t the case, he said, as both services received new demand signals in the QDR’s call for a joint “air-sea battle” concept for power projection. Although, it completely avoided the question of how much amphibious assault capability is needed and took the heat off the Marine Corps’ controversial Expeditionary Fight Vehicle (EFV), at least for the moment.

Defense policy elder statesman, Clark Murdock, said that with this QDR, and the 2011 defense budget, “Gates puts his money where his mouth is,” elevating current wars to top priority. He disagreed with those who say the QDR is a waste of time and said it puts important intellectual muscle behind DOD’s spending decisions.

Murdock said de-emphasizing the two regional war construct was long overdue move and brings DOD into the 21st century. He was disappointed, however, that there was nothing on how DOD was going to cut costs. “There is no question that the point will come that the only source for new funds in DOD will be those achieved through cost reductions and savings.”

CSIS’s Nathan Freier thinks the big headline from this QDR is that it continued to push the “slow migration” of the four services towards separate “divisions of labor” across the conflict spectrum. With the Army, Marines and special operations forces handling irregular warfare and battling extremist groups and the Air Force and Navy focusing on securing and penetrating an increasingly contested global commons.

The influential Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) released a highly critical QDR assessment, authored by Mark Gunzinger and Jim Thomas. The big failing, they say, was that while highlighting some of the most pressing emerging security challenges, it “does not propose major force structure readjustments, nor does it significantly alter the allocation of resources away from legacy programs.” It discounts the urgency of investments to address threats such as the anti-access weapons, nuclear armed regional powers and the growing vulnerability of the orbiting satellite fleet.

The QDR also failed to adequately address China's rise and the resulting shift in the balance of power, Iran acquiring nukes and forcing the U.S. to choose between military strikes or accepting a radically altered regional security equation and emerging technological game changers such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, counter-stealth and extend-range precision-guided weapons.

The QDR also didn't address perhaps the biggest threat facing DOD, according to the CSBA, authors: the after effect of the global financial crisis and the growing national debt. “There are a number of reasons to suspect that a slowdown in defense spending will occur before the next QDR is written. The imperative of fiscal deficit reduction is likely to lead before long to significant reductions in defense spending.”

CSBA also questioned the value of the QDR process. At a briefing last week for reporters, CSBA’s Thomas said: “The QDR is a really bad way to make strategy… it’s very hard to make any sharp-edged decisions in a bureaucratic process with all of the different constituencies involved… every QDR disappoints.”

Uber-hawk Tom Donnelly, at the conservative think tank AEI, said the QDR fails because it didn’t even attempt to articulate a force planning construct and freezes expansion of the force and modernization. “The QDR caps the active Army at 45 brigades, three less than the 48 planned for at the end of the Bush Administration. The Air Force fleet is smaller and rapidly aging; the Navy has fewer than 300 ships compared to the Reagan-era fleet of 600. The gap between American strategic ends and military means grows and grows.” Ever consistent, Donnelly believes defense spending should continue to grow at an accelerated pace as that will solve America’s strategic challenges.

We’re still awaiting CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman’s take on the 2010 QDR. I’m guessing it won’t differ much from this reference to the review process he offered up last fall in a speech at the National Defense University : “If God really hates you, you may end up working on a Quadrennial Defense Review: The most pointless and destructive planning effort imaginable. You will waste two years on a document decoupled from a real world force plan, from an honest set of decisions about manpower or procurement, with no clear budget or FYDP, and with no metrics to measure or determine its success.”

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