Two at Once

/ March 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Pentagon yesterday released the transcript of a March 10 interview Defense Secretary Robert Gates did with National Public Radio's Robert Siegel. The transcript includes a portion that was not aired, which touches on the Pentagon's two-war concept and the Quadrennial Defense Review:

SIEGEL: There have been debates in Washington for forever over whether we are capable of waging two wars at one time, whether we have a military large enough for that, having inherited this situation when we were at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What's the lesson, is two wars at once perhaps biting off more than we can effectively chew even if we're willing to spend a trillion dollars at it?

GATES: Our military planning for a number of years has - and I would say going back at least 20 years - has been to have the ability to fight two major combat operations simultaneously. One where it would be an aggressive effort and another where you might have to hold for a while and then finish the job. I think one of the central questions that this department will face in the Quadrennial Defense Review, which will begin shortly, is whether that model makes any sense in the 21st century and whether what may have fit in a Cold War environment or an immediately post-Cold War environment really has application to today's world.

SIEGEL: And the experience of the past few years suggests some rethinking is need there in terms of what our doctrines are?

GATES: I think so.

InsideDefense.com's Jason Sherman reported that same day that Gates plans to summon the military's top brass from around the world to the Pentagon at the end of this month to unveil changes to the fiscal year 2010 budget request, kick off the QDR and roll out a new force-planning construct:

Gates plans to call a special meeting of the Defense Senior Leaders Conference (DSLC) -- a group that includes the 10 combatant commanders, the service chiefs and civilian Pentagon leaders -- to outline his plan for a “strategic reshaping” of the military, these officials say. That reshaping is expected to include some major changes to the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio.

The revision of the FY-10 Pentagon budget request -- which is expected to include cuts to major weapon system programs and possible terminations -- is being viewed as an unofficial prelude to the Quadrennial Defense Review.

“The budget drill is ((a)) major portion of the QDR,” said a Pentagon official. “The decisions made in the FY-10 budget drill are the foundation of anything else that we’re going to look at.” . . .

The terms of reference for the QDR -- the guidance that sets the scope of the review and the process for its execution -- is expected to be presented at the end-of-March meeting as well, sources say. On Jan. 27, Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he hoped to formally begin the QDR -- a congressionally mandated review of the entire U.S. military enterprise that is supposed to yield a new modernization blueprint -- in February.

In addition to beginning the QDR at the end of this month, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is expected at the DSLC meeting to offer a new force-planning construct, which has wide-ranging implications for the entire U.S. defense enterprise. It forms a core justification for the composition of the U.S. armed forces as well as the number -- and types -- of ships, aircraft, trucks and tanks the services require.

The current force planning construct calls for the U.S. military to have the capabilities to deal with contingencies across a wide range of scenarios that are organized into three areas: homeland defense; irregular warfare; and conventional operations. The construct calls for the military to be able to conduct both steady-state and surge operations across these three areas and maintain the ability to conduct two nearly simultaneous major wars.

-- John Liang

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