U.S. Quadrennial Defense review - a treasure trove of official U.S. military thinking

Posted in United States | 12-Apr-10 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of the U.S. Department of Defense is a must-read for anyone interested in U.S. Defence…
"The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) of the U.S. Department of Defense is a must-read for anyone interested in U.S. Defence issues"
Since 1997 the U.S. Department of Defense has had to produce a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).Along with the National Security Strategy, the QDR is the most important document on defense-related issues and looks out to a time horizon of 20 years.

"The QDR is a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities.The QDR will set a long-term course for DoD as it assesses the threats and challenges that the nation faces, and re-balances DoD strategies and forces to address today's conflicts and tomorrow's threats" (www.defense.gov).

The 2010 QDR is more than 100 pages long and covers all aspects of defence policy, military strategy, force structure, armament and equipment. Because of this QDR 2010 is a must-read for anyone interested in U.S. Defence issues.

"The United States is at war..." marks a shift away from the previous QDR. This Review is the first fully adjusted to both today's and future military conflicts. Recent conflicts, for example those in Iraq and in Afganistan, have little in common with Cold War thinking. In the preface, Secretary Gates states three main goals:

  1. Winning today's fight
  2. Balancing global strategic risks
  3. Preserving and enhancing the health of the force

The QDR 2006 was not threat-driven, but capability-driven. The QDR 2010 claims to be strategy-driven. There is no specific enemy or threat singled out. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a serious concern, especially if such weapons fell into the hands of non-state actors or terrorist groups.

Indeed, that very concern brought the leaders of 47 countries to the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Participants agreed voluntarily to put the world's nuclear material beyond the reach of terrorists within four years.

The QDR 2010 leaves no doubt about America's role on the world stage: "As a global power, the strength and influence of the United States are deeply intertwined with the fate of a broader international system...the QDR advances two clear oblectives: First, to further rebalance the capabilities of America's Armed Forces to prevail in today's war, while building the capabilities needed to deal with future threats. Second, to further reform the Department's institutions and processes to better support the urgent needs of the warfighter; buy weapons that are usable, affordable, and truly needed."

The QDR stresses that the complex security environment harbours both uncertainty and unexpected developments and events. Referring to rising powers China and India, the QDR states: "The United States will remain the most powerful actor but must increasingly work with key allies and partners if it is to sustain stability and peace."

There is more emphasis on multilateral thinking too: "The United States remains the only nation able to project large-scale operations over extended distances...Strong regional allies and partners are fundamental to meeting 21st century challenges successfully...Whenever possible, the United States will use force in an internationally sanctioned coalition with allies, international and regional organizations, and like-minded nations committed to these common principles."

But there is a clear caveat: "America's Armed Forces will retain the ability to act unilaterally and decisively when appropriate, maintaining joint, all-domain military capabilities that can prevail across a wide range of contingencies."

"QDR initiatives include: Increase counterinsurgency, stability operations, and counterterrorism competency"
"QDR initiatives include: Increase counterinsurgency, stability operations, and counterterrorism competency"
The QDR repeatedly stresses the urgent need for enhanced intra-agency and inter-agency cooperation. Today's military operations are seen as a "whole-of-government effort." This addresses one current weakness: the inefficient cooperation between the military and civil sides of modern operations.

This is easier said than implemented: "There is no security without development - there is no development without security." These elements are not competing with each other; they must be seen as two sides of the same coin. The consequences for the structure of the Armed Forces and their equipment and armament are logical.

But no envisaged change will be easy, nor is there a quick fix when you consider the long procurement cycle and the regional economic interests in equipment and armament production. There are, however, two salient decisions: to stop the production of the F-22 fighter aircraft and the C-17 strategic air transport.

In which direction lies the path ahead?

"QDR initiatives include:

  • Increase the availability of rotary-wing assets
  • Expand manned and unmanned aircraft systems (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Increase key enabling assets for special operations (SOF)
  • Increase counterinsurgency, stability operations, and counterterrorism competency and

capacity in general purpose forces

  • Increase regional expertise for Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Strengthen key supporting capabilities for strategic communications"

Great emphasis is laid upon cyberspace and cyber-warfare. Both are mentioned repeatedly in the report: "The security environment demands improved capabilities to counter threats in cyberspace. In the 21st century, modern armed forces simply cannot conduct effective high-tempo operations without resilient, reliable information and communications networks and assured access to cyberspace."

Another key area addresses the "Health of Force": multi-year commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan with heavy casualties have pushed soldiers and their families to their physical and mental limits. The QDR lists several initiatives and measures to improve the lot of soldiers and their families. The planned drawdown of force numbers in Iraq and later in Afghanistan should mitigate some social problems.

Conclusions and recommendations

"Great emphasis is laid upon cyberspace and cyber-warfare"
"Great emphasis is laid upon cyberspace and cyber-warfare"
The QDR report contains many requirements and proposals to improve U.S. Armed Forces across the board. Quality and quantity should enable them to conduct and win two wars simultaneously, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, offers his assessment at the end: "U.S. Armed Forces can perform the mission called for in the QDR."

Looking at the current and future defense budgets, the financial side looks very promising.

U.S. defense expenditure is greater than that of the next highest 14 countries combined. Yet there remains a need for clear decisions on priorities regarding the urgently needed equipment and armament for modern conflicts.

What are WSN's recommendations?

  • All political and military decision makers have to put the warfighter at the center of their thinking. They must overcome inter-force rivalries for scarce resources. The "whole-of-government" effort is an ambitious goal for both state and society.
  • Lawmakers have to accept domestic economic setbacks caused by ceasing production of certain military equipment and armaments. Even in hard economic times, they need to tell their constituencies that the nation is at war, and that soldiers deserve the best possible equipment and armament to keep casualties at the lowest possible level.
  • The American public should morally support their soldiers in defending vital national interests
  • More states should follow the example of the USA and provide the world with documents like the QDR in order to enhance transparency, trust and confidence.

If you want to read more of the QDR 2010, please click here.