Reviewing the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review

The new Pentagon strategic plan calls for a more mobile, modern U.S. military capable of meeting threats posed by non-state actors like al-Qaeda. inteviews four military experts for their views on whether the Quadrennial Defense Review creates a force that is sustainable and adequate for the task at hand.

February 7, 2006 2:00 pm (EST)

Expert Roundup
CFR fellows and outside experts weigh in to provide a variety of perspectives on a foreign policy topic in the news.

The Pentagon’s new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), presented to Congress February 6 along with its 2007 budget proposal, calls for a number of important adjustments to U.S. defense strategy. Most reflect the ongoing "war on terrorism" and include increased funding for fighting non-state actors like al-Qaeda, new efforts to improve interagency cooperation, and renewed emphasis on agility and speed to counter emerging, asymmetric threats. Published every four years, the review provides a detailed analysis of the Defense Department’s troop strength, budgetary requirements, equipment shortages, and plans for modernization over the next two decades.

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This year’s QDR is more a "midcourse correction" than a major shift in defense policy, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told the Navy Times. Nor should the QDR "be seen as some sort of a new menu for program adjustments," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters. The previous QDR under Rumsfeld’s watch, released just after the September 11, 2001, attacks, emphasized new technologies, including space and cyberspace programs, and shifted away from so-called legacy systems criticized by some as an expensive holdover from the Cold War.

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9/11 asked four military experts if the Pentagon’s QDR creates a military force that is modernized and sustainable, given current budgetary constraints and troop deployments. We also asked if Secretary Rumsfeld’s oft-stated vision of a transformed military for the 21st century—a lighter, smarter, more lethal force—will be adequate to meet emerging threats in a post-9/11 era.

Steven Kosiak, director of budget studies, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

The Defense Department has made a few choices that might, potentially, move us in a better direction, such as the decision to accelerate the fielding of a new bomber. Unfortunately, the QDR did very little to make the department’s long-term plans more realistic and affordable. It left all the largest acquisition programs—like the F-35 [joint strike fighter plane], the FCS [Future Combat Systems] and DD(X) Destroyers—unscathed and recommended only modest reductions in a few elements of force structure. Transformation is about both investing in new priorities and divesting from more traditional areas. The QDR focused far more on the former than the latter, leaving the toughest choices for a future administration.


The wars since 9/11 have clearly influenced the rhetoric surrounding the Defense Department’s plans, programs, and budgets. It is a good deal less clear how much they have done either to encourage or derail the department’s actual plans concerning transformation. With a few exceptions, Defense’s long-term plans today look pretty similar to its pre-9/11 plans, in terms of modernization and force structure. The one area where the war in Iraq, in particular, has probably had a significant impact on transformation is in largely foreclosing the option—for the Army—of using cuts in force structure to help pay for its modernization plans.

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Robert L. McClure, director, New York branch of Business Executives for National Security (BENS), former chief of Army War Plans in the Pentagon

I believe the [Defense] Department has continued to emphasize modernization. Critics quickly say that proof of this is that no major weapons systems have been dramatically altered or cancelled in this QDR. However, the [issue of sustainability] bothers me in that I do not see emphasis on recapitalization—particularly of the ground forces—that will be needed after large forces are withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. The issue of recapitalization of the "hardware" we’re running into the ground is a midterm problem that will bite us in the butt in the short term the more overall federal spending pressures leave little wiggle room outside the Defense budget. Both wars [in Afghanistan and Iraq] are being fought on "supplementals" to the budget: cash that will very likely disappear once the large sustained efforts are complete. We’re flying the wings off aircraft and road wheels off tanks over there. Once we get all our equipment back, we’ll need to repair and/or replace a large part of the [ground and air] fleet.


The post 9/11 conflicts have changed not just the Defense Department, but some overall administration viewpoints about the efficacy of nation building. This can be interpreted in any number of ways, from the push to send more officers for language training to the types of units they’re creating (Psychological Operational Units and civil-affairs units will be increased by over 30 percent, according to the QDR). Those plans were not in the last QDR four years ago.

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Col. Ken Allard, (U.S. Army, Ret.), former dean of students of the National War College, current NBC News military analyst

"Modernized" is usually a Pentagon" code word for either "high technology" or "highly expensive," because the going-in assumptions on the QDR were apparently that we could continue to substitute hi-tech "systems" for those low-tech things called "soldiers." [Soldiers] are also expensive, but they win wars and that’s why we occasionally find it useful to have some of them on hand.

9/11 should have educated even the more learning-disabled parts of the Pentagon that we face determined networks of 12th-century fanatics who don’t intend to play by our rules. As Winston Churchill was unkind enough to point out, it is occasionally necessary in war to suspend one’s preferences and actually consider the enemy. The QDR has not done that for one simple reason: It says little or nothing about the need for soldiers. And how they can best be provided, trained, protected, and sustained to meet an enemy that thinks in generational rather than technological timelines—which is why that enemy thinks he can win and why he may be right.


Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, (U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.), co-author of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (2006)

The Secretary of Defense is not cutting very much, but adding on. He is both maintaining and modernizing the current force for conventional war against a possible peer competitor. At the same time, he’s investing in capabilities to deal with transnational terrorists and other unconventional types of war by increasing the size of special forces and the high-tech equipment that would enhance their capabilities. For example, one of the things he is investing heavily in is unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs similar to the Predator. Hard decisions to trim some of the expensive hardware, particularly aircraft and ships, have been kicked down the road for future decisions. They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too in both the conventional and unconventional spheres in funding both categories.


[The QDR’s inclusion of] the Army’s advanced combat system, which is very expensive and very complex, is in keeping with Secretary Rumsfeld’s transformation goals of a smaller, more lethal army. His main goal was the transformation of those conventional forces plus enhancements for forces of unconventional warfare. It all fits into his vision from the time he took office with the exception that I thought he would not be as eager on these large-ticket items for fighting a peer competitor. I thought he probably would have cut back on some of these high-dollar items for conventional war, particularly in aircraft, but apparently he went along with the Air Force on that. I was also surprised he fully funded the Army’s advance combat system [a future mobile vehicle which could feature technology such as robotics and electric guns], though it’s not a proven item and not due to come on for several years; in future budgets it may be cut back because it’s still in its formative stage.


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