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DoD's "21st century priorities"

President Obama and Secretary Panetta put America's "new look" toward the Western Pacific in writing on Thursday, in a strategy roll-out that also sets the table for DoD's coming build-down as part of its reduced budget growth.

As Pentagon officials warned in advance, Panetta's strategic guidance did not include a list of major programs to be eliminated or scaled back, nor numbers of troops DoD will try to cut in the coming years. The closest it came to addressing specific programs or hardware was the statement that although the U.S. will maintain its nuclear deterrent, "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force."

Mostly, the relatively brief strategy document laid down the general directives that will underpin the specific details in this year's budget submission, a necessary bureaucratic process in the ways of the Building. If the Pentagon wanted a cup of coffee it would first have to issue a white-paper that affirmed both the practical utility and important morale-enhancing qualities of caffeine.

In a preview of a reduced American military footprint in Europe, the strategy describes an "evolving strategic landscape," and declares "our posture in Europe must also evolve." In preview of fewer American assistance and goodwill missions in Africa and South America, the strategy says that "whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low cost and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives."

Panetta's guidance also enshrines the system of global alliances that Obama pursued in last year's Libya intervention, and it includes standard boilerplate about countering weapons of mass destruction, enhanced cyber-warfare, and a "sustainable pace of presence operations abroad." But! "However, with reduced resources, thoughtful choices will need to be made regarding the location and frequency of these operations."

So if you thought the whole point of this strategy exercise was to make those very choices and lay them out here definitively -- sorry 'boutcha.

None of the major changes portended by Panetta's strategy guidance come as a big surprise. The document makes clear that DoD must get control of its personnel costs, which have been growing to consume an ever-larger portion of its budget even as its force has stayed the same size. Panetta calls for reducing the "cost of doing business," and shrinking the force but "in a way that respects the sacrifices" of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

One thing new in Panetta's strategy guidance is a buzzword we'll probably start hearing a lot from the defense industry: "Reversibility." For all the things DoD cuts or shrinks or delays or scales back, the Building must keep the ability to undo them, the strategy says: "The concept of 'reversibility -- including the vectors on which we place our industrial base, our people, our active-reserve component balance, our posture and our partnership emphasis -- is a key part of our decision calculus."

It goes on to lay down this other principle for the build-down: "We will resist the temptation to sacrifice readiness in order to retain force structure, and will in fact rebuild readiness in areas that, by necessity, were deemphasized over the past decade." This could become an elastic weapon like the Constitution's "necessary and proper" clause in fights for programs, O&M, and all the rest.

Finally and unsurprisingly, Panetta's strategy sets up the food fight that everyone expects between the active component, Guard and Reserve. "The Department will need examine the mix of Active Component and Reserve Components best suited to the strategy," it says ... "The expected pace of operations of the next decade will be a significant driver in determining an appropriate AC/RC mix and level of RC readiness."

Quite. There's a school of thought that almost all the Army's heavy brigades should go into the reserves, for example, against the belief of a low likelihood for a big heavy land war. The Air Force and its reserve components are said to be at daggers drawn over who gets what missions and airplanes going forward. And so on. If anyone needed it, Panetta's strategy guidance confirms all these battles are going to break out sooner rather than later.



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