School's In

By Jason Sherman / September 26, 2008 at 5:00 AM

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to address students at the National Defense University on the 2008 National Defense Strategy (a document he signed way back in early June, and which the Pentagon made public in July only after posted the 23-page document).

It will be interesting to see if anyone in the audience asks about why he overruled the service chiefs on the risk-assessment portion of the strategy, which calls on the Defense Department to take “greater risk” in traditional combat areas in order to fund capabilities to boost investments in irregular warfare capabilities. In other words, to divert funding for programs like big ships and aircraft to enhance less capital-intensive counterinsurgency capabilities.

Gates has made known his frustration with what he sees as the military services’ focus on “next-war-itis” in pushing the Pentagon to increase its capacities to fight the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yesterday, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a landmark Defense Department directive that formally gives combatant commanders, whose foremost concerns are today’s missions, new leverage to influence the investment plans of the military service chiefs who are required by law to train and equip their departments to be ready not only today, but for decades to come.

The directive, No. 7045.20, establishes the roles and responsibilities of “capability portfolio managers” who will play decisive roles after Gates and England are gone in determining how much the nation devotes to immediate needs, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan; and how much to the development of capabilities required to confront near-peer adversaries, like China or Russia.