Pentagon's First Post-9/11 Construct Could Revamp Shape, Size of U.S. Forces

By Jason Sherman / June 22, 2005

The Defense Department is overhauling a key component of its National Defense Strategy -- its force planning construct -- in a move that could set the stage for a significant revision of U.S. war plans, weapon system investments and military organization, according to Pentagon officials.

Pentagon leaders are crafting a new force planning construct that aims to better account for the post-Sept. 11, 2001, strategic landscape by focusing on three areas: homeland defense; the global war on terrorism; and conventional campaigns.

"What we're trying to do with this construct is to bring greater flexibility to the leadership -- flexibility to size the force, to determine not only the capacity of the force, but the capability of the force we need to address 21st century threats," said a senior military official involved in the effort.

Decisions regarding the force planning construct have 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.

This new construct -- still in its infancy and subject to a range of internal analysis -- is being crafted by the office of the under secretary of defense for policy as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review and could presage major changes to defense spending.

"What you are seeing is an output of the QDR," said the senior military official.

Said another defense official familiar with the effort: "This is monumental."

This would replace the existing "1-4-2-1" force planning construct. That formula, set forth in the 2001 QDR, called for the Defense Department to defend the United States (1); maintain forces capable of deterring aggression in Europe, Northeast Asia, the East Asian littoral, and Southwest Asia/ Middle East (4); be ready to simultaneously combat aggression in two of these regions (2); and maintain a capability to "win decisively" in one of these two conflicts (1).

Senior Defense Department officials participating in a series of "roundtable" meetings guiding the 2005 QDR since April repeatedly questioned the relevance of the "1-4-2-1" construct to challenges being examined in the review.

"The old force planning construct just doesn't work. It is an outgrowth of the realization that times have changed and that '1-4-2-1' was a pre-9/11 construct and that we need something for the current day that reflects today's realities and that's what they're working on now," said a service official involved in the effort.

The new construct aims, as part of its more flexible approach, to better account for the duration of campaigns as opposed to just the intensity, defense officials said.

"We also wanted to be able to capture more of the things that we find ourselves doing now, such as stability operations and also the concomitant operations before conflict, such as active partnering," said the senior military official. "Active partnering" is a term now being used in the Pentagon to describe activities once called "security cooperation," such as training, exercising and equipping foreign militaries.

The new force planning approach that focuses on three areas has led to it being unofficially dubbed by many in the Pentagon as the "1-1-1" construct.

The first area of focus in the new construct is on homeland defense. While the "1-4-2-1" construct also highlighted the importance of defending the United States, the Pentagon continues to wrestle with its contribution to this mission. The new construct would account for capabilities required to support civil authorities dealing with the aftermath of a massive terrorist attack against American cities; assist in controlling the air, land and sea approaches to U.S. borders; defend against ballistic and cruise missiles; and guard against covert insertion of terrorists into the United States. The new construct will also explore options for deterring attacks against the homeland far from U.S. shores.

The second area of focus in the new construct is the global war on terrorism, particularly the need to improve proficiency against irregular forms of warfare. This would require improving U.S. military capabilities to conduct counterinsurgencies, counterterrorism, foreign internal defense as well as training and equipping foreign forces.

"The kinds of missions we find ourselves more and more involved in are, quite frankly, more along the lines of what we need to do to help defeat the threat," said the senior military official.

The third category of the construct is conventional campaigns, the U.S. military's traditional responsibility to fight and win the nation's wars.

"We want to bring 'campaign' into the lexicon to convey the notion that there is more than just the kinetic phase of an operation. We're also talking about active partnering and deterrence tailored to the kind of threats we face," said the senior military official.

This third category would include all potential adversaries with conventional armed forces, including those with "disruptive" capabilities.

The new three-part construct is being analyzed through a bundle of computer analysis and modeling tools being utilized in the QDR that collectively are referred to as Operational Availability-06. Early results are expected by mid-summer; a series of follow-on analyses are then expected.

"We are doing a series of analysis on these proposed constructs to see what the consequences are if we were to go to this kind of a model, what it would mean in terms of capability, in terms of capacity for various parts of the force," said the senior military official.

Under the new construct being considered, the Defense Department intends to retain the ability to wage two simultaneous major combat operations, a bedrock of U.S. military planning since the 1990s. Yet, the new approach might provide leaders a more nuanced set of options for employing the total U.S. military machine.

"What we are trying to do is to build a different structure so there are other ways you could think about it," said the senior military official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified. "You could think about doing two major events and a series of smaller events. You could do one major event and other many smaller events. We don't know what those numbers of smaller ones are yet. That's what we're hoping to get from the analysis."

One defense analyst who asked not to be identified because Pentagon officials have not yet publicly discussed the subject said the new construct could lead to a major shake-up of weapon system investment accounts.

"What you would see is funding and emphasis on programatics migrating out of traditional warfare areas," said the defense analyst.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld served notice last year that he aims to use the 2005 QDR -- a congressionally mandated assessment -- to scale back investments from traditional combat areas where the U.S. armed forces enjoy significant advantages over potential adversaries and redirect investments to improve U.S. military capabilities to deal with a range of new challenges. Among the areas where Rumsfeld wants to improve U.S. military proficiency are against "irregular" threats designed to erode U.S. power in unconventional ways, "catastrophic" threats aimed at paralyzing the United States with surprise hits on symbolic and high-value targets, and "disruptive" threats that could end-run U.S. military technical superiority.