March 14, 2014

2014 QDR presumes future includes more risk, less money

The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review isn’t like previous reviews, a senior Defense Department official said March 10.

Christine E. Wormuth, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The QDR is a congressionally mandated review of DOD strategy and priorities. It is intended to set the course for the department to address current and future conflicts and threats. The review this year was completed in about half the usual time, Wormuth said, and in an environment marked by tremendous uncertainty.

The past 18 months of fiscal uncertainty have pushed the department into a near-continuous cycle of evaluation and planning, she said. A break usually follows the department’s annual program review cycle, the deputy undersecretary said, but last year, the department went straight into planning for sequestration.

“We then undertook the Strategic Choices in Management Review, and then … segued straight into the QDR 2014 process, as well as the next program review cycle,” Wormuth said. “So, it’s been a very challenging time.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel thought it was important to take this QDR – the first since he took office – as an opportunity to look at the security environment and re-examine the strategy to lay out his vision for the department, she said.

“He gave us a lot of upfront guidance – the day-to-day process was co-chaired by then-Deputy Secretary Ash Carter, and our vice chairman, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, [and] they were very, very involved,” Wormuth said.

Carter and Winnefeld also were co-chairs of the budget review, she noted, which allowed for ideas to cross over between the two processes. And although it was a shorter, more compressed QDR than usual, she said, the department made every effort to continue the tradition of having the QDR be inclusive, transparent and collegial.

“We had representation from all of the services, all of the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] organization, all of the combatant commands, etc.,” Wormuth said. “So, we really tried to sort of involve everyone. That, of course, doesn’t mean that every organization was happy with where we wound up, but I think it’s fair to say that all parts of the building had a voice in the process, and that’s very important to having a coherent … result at the end that has integrity.”

The final QDR report outlines three broad themes: an updated defense strategy, the rebalance of the joint force and the department’s commitment to protecting the all-volunteer force, she said.

The updated strategy is one that the department believes “is appropriate for the United States as a global leader,” Wormuth said. “It’s a strategy that we believe helps us protect our interests and advance those interests in the world and helps us sustain our global leadership role.”

The second objective addresses managing the joint force given the current strategic and fiscal environments, Wormuth said.

And the third piece of the QDR report outlines how the department will continue to recruit and retain service members while becoming more efficient and effective, she said. In particular, the deputy undersecretary said, this section looks at reining in the growth of compensation packages to maintain a balanced force going into the future.

The underlying theme in the report is the kinds of risks that the department believes the return of sequestration in fiscal year 2016 poses to the defense strategy going forward, she said.

The 2014 QDR is an evolution of strategy as opposed to a revolution in strategy, Wormuth said.

“The administration had our strategic priorities pretty much right in the 2012 defense strategic guidance,” she said. “So we really went from the 2010 QDR, which was very focused on the two current wars at the time [in] Iraq and Afghanistan to the 2012 defense strategic guidance, where we tried to lay out some of the important defense priorities for the 21st century.

“And now, with the QDR 2014,” she continued, “[we are] building on that set of priorities to try to put the strategy in a slightly broader framework and really look forward to the kinds of challenges and opportunities we face in the future.”

The review process started with a discussion of the security environment, Wormuth said. “And I think it’s fair to say we see the security environment as … continuing to be quite challenging,” she added. “It’s volatile. There are a lot of threats out there.”

But, she said, there is also opportunity.

“So, in that context, we’ve tried to lay out an updated strategy that has three basic pillars,” the deputy undersecretary said.

The first pillar is protecting the homeland, she said. This is a shift from the 2012 defense strategic guidance, Wormuth said, which didn’t cover the department’s role in managing the consequences of natural disasters, for example.

Building global security is the second pillar in the strategy, she said. This includes things such as building partnership capacity, joint exercises, military-to-military engagement and port visits, she explained.

“And really, the goal of that part of our strategy is to try to deter conflict at the earliest point possible,” Wormuth said, “to try to prevent coercive behavior, for example, and to sort of proactively and positively shape the environment, so that we’re trying to prevent conflict rather than having to deal with it after it’s already manifested.”

The third pillar of the strategy is projecting power and winning decisively, she said.

“Whether that’s to be able to respond to conflict, or whether it’s to come to the aid of a country like the Philippines when they were dealing with their typhoon,” she said, “we want to be able to do both of those, and, if necessary, to deal with aggression when and if it happens.”

The QDR report emphasizes innovation and adaptability, Wormuth said.

“I think in the past,” she told the audience, “the department has often talked about innovation or efficiency in the context of sort of better business practices. … Here, we’re trying to think about that, certainly, but to go beyond that and thinking about how can we build in innovation into the strategy itself – into how we try to execute that strategy.”

To that end, the department conducted an extensive review of the operational concepts for some of its war plans to try to push innovation in those areas, Wormuth said. “We’ve also done things like looking carefully at the way we deploy forces to conduct forward presence activities,” she added.

And, Wormuth said, the department is pursuing innovation with some of its closest allies and partners. “We’ve had extensive dialogue with the Brits, in particular, looking at how we can do more in terms of joint training, how we can leverage the fact that they will be buying joint strike fighters, and how we can do more to train for, say, carrier operations, but also to work with them on strategic planning activities,” she said.

The big-picture view, she said, is that at the president’s budget level, which is $115 billion more than the cap imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2013, DOD can execute the strategy outlined in the QDR, “although we will experience increased risk in some areas.”

For example, Wormuth said, the department will have some challenges in terms of readiness that will cause it to be more selective in the kinds of engagement activities that it can do.

The report also talks at length about rebalancing the force to align it to the new strategic pillars, she said.

“What we’re trying to do, given the fiscal environment, is to reshape the force in such a way that it remains in balance between capacity – the size of our forces – capability, which is sort of shorthand for the level of modernization of our forces, and also the readiness level of our forces.”

To do that, Wormuth said, the department will have to undertake some of the steps outlined in the department’s budget proposal, including reducing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps and cutting platforms such as the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-support fighter.

The department will continue to make investments in capabilities important to executing the strategy, she said, such as counterterrorism and cyber.

And, Wormuth said, DOD remains focused on continuing to fight sexual assault and suicides and is making sure that programs that support families, transition assistance and wounded warriors are protected.

The current rate of growth for compensation programs is not sustainable over time, Wormuth said, and so the department has proposed a series of “relatively modest reforms” in the 2015 budget proposal to try to slow the growth.

“So, things like slowing the size of the pay raise, for example, or making some reductions to our base housing allowance program or reducing, to some extent, the subsidy for our commissaries,” Wormuth said. “Those are all things that we think we have to do in order to keep our force healthy overall.”

If sequestration spending cuts return in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, she said, “we believe that the risk to our strategy will rise significantly.” The department would have to reduce the size of the force further, Wormuth said, adding that the active Army would be reduced to about 420,000 personnel. The Marine Corps would come down to 175,000 personnel, the Navy would lose a minimum of one carrier, and the Air Force would lose the KC-10 Extender tanker.

“We would also have to go into the modernization accounts and cut those much more deeply,” she said, “which we think would put at risk our ability to keep pace with [anti-access/area-denial] developments, for example.”

In combination, all of those things would have a very damaging impact on the defense strategy and place the nation’s security at risk, both home and abroad, the deputy undersecretary said.

“Because of capacity challenges under permanent sequestration, it would be harder to build security globally,” Wormuth said. “We would have a harder time generating sufficient forward presence to do all of the partnership activities that we think are necessary around the world.”

It’s because of these kinds of risks that the president and the secretary decided to put forward a defense budget that is significantly higher than the Budget Control Act-level caps, Wormuth said.

“We think that the strategy we’ve put forward is the right strategy for the country,” she added, “and we think the additional resources are needed and warranted to be able to execute that strategy.”

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