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What must the U.S. give up?

Secretary Gates on Wednesday detailed how DoD will go forward with the Mother of All Reviews to determine where it will make $400 billion worth of sacrifices. It's a lot of Penta-jargon and process, but here's how he described how it will work, from the transcript:

This review will be guided by the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, the National Military Strategy, the Chairman's Risk Assessment, and the Quadrennial Defense Review to ensure appropriate focus on strategic policy choices first and corresponding changes in the DoD budget second.

The QDR provides today's basis for sizing the force, focusing its missions and shaping its capabilities. But there is not a strong analytical link between the QDR and the present makeup of our forces. This review will establish that linkage, so that we can see the impact of changing QDR strategy on force structure, missions and capabilities. And only once competing strategy options are identified should the review begin to consider fiscal implications and options. To do this, the review should develop specific program options that can be categorized in four bins.

The first bin is additional efficiencies, continuing the efforts we launched last year. These changes would reduce DoD costs with minimal impact on military capability. We must be even more aggressive in curtailing bureaucratic excess and overhead before considering fundamental changes in national strategy or force capabilities.

And while I believe the department can identify additional significant efficiencies, they will not result in sufficient savings to meet the president's direction. Therefore, a second bin will involve a serious examination of established policies, programs, processes and mandates that drive the dramatic increase in defense operating costs, to include the way we deliver health care, compensate military personnel, provide retirement benefits, sustain our infrastructure and acquire goods and services.

The third bin will contain options to reduce or eliminate marginal missions and marginal capabilities, specialized and costly programs that are useful in only a limited range of circumstances or contingencies. They represent missions that the department carries out today that, while of value, are not central to our core mission or are of lower priority.

The final bin and the hardest category strategically -- and I would say also intellectually -- will be specific alternative modifications to the QDR strategy that translate into options for reductions in force structure or capability needed to execute the strategy. This latter bin will be informed by all the other activities in this framework.

In the end, this process must be about identifying options for the President and the Congress, where the nation is willing to accept risk in exchange for reduced investment in the Department of Defense. The defense comprehensive review will be jointly led by the director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, the under secretary of defense for Policy and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

To sum it all up, as you read here Wednesday, everything is 'on the table,' including troop pay, benefits and health care; the nuclear triad; the two-war requirement -- everything. Gates has set aside a few things -- the new Air Force tanker, the F-35, SSBN(X), Army and Marine Corps reset -- that he says DoD must buy, but also acknowledged that the numbers of each could change as the over-arching strategy changes. He also won't be around to safeguard that list, which is worth keeping in mind. The new secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, could keep Gates' list, throw it out, or have one of his own.

Gates wants America's political leadership -- the White House and Congress -- to come up with the strategic direction for which to cut DoD, and not to just cut across the board to get to a savings target. So the question is, what should the U.S. consider giving up? Should it prepare to fight only one war at a time, and reduce overall force structure accordingly? Is it worth maintaining air and land forces in Europe? Should the Army and the Marine Corps shrink more than planned? And how can the Pentagon control expenses that are harder to see -- offices, contracting, bureaucracy -- that don't offer an easily understood target like a weapons program? What are some of the "marginal missions" that must be set aside in favor of "core" ones?

 

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