Steve, over at LinkedInUSAF, has written a good post defending the U.S. Air Force’s position in the DoD pantheon. I want to add my thoughts, too.
It’s interesting that airpower is under severe pressure at the moment, largely because of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR is a good idea, in principle, because every organization needs a periodic “bottom-up” review to validate its raison d'être. The current QDR, however, has devolved into a budget cutting exercise. I’ll quote:
The Pentagon’s first three post-Cold War strategic reviews—staged with great fanfare in 1993, 1997, and 2001—generally have been viewed, and accurately so, as budget-cutting drills without much supporting analysis. Things were supposed to be different the fourth time around.
A year ago, officials pledged that the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review, now nearing an end, would assess US forces and policies and let facts dictate the conclusions. DOD first would establish the requirements, it was said, with budgets to come later.
That, as they say, was then, and this is now. Today, there is much evidence to suggest that QDR 2005 has mutated into something fairly familiar: a search for a way—any way—to clamp down on military spending.
The editorial I’m quoting is from Air Force Magazine, and as such, represents a parochial point of view. I’m sure there are similar editorials in the journals of associations of the other services defending their particular “turf.” The Navy is also being hit very hard in the current QDR, if one reads the tea leaves correctly. One should also note all the current comment is merely speculation; the actual QDR has not been published as of yet. All that said, it’s hard to deny the truths contained within the AFA’s editorial.
The danger, as I see it, is the tendency to be focused on the “here and now,” as exemplified by the near-term emphasis on Special Operations forces, and supporting components of SOF, required to prosecute the War on Terrorism effectively. History, however, is replete with rapid and dramatic geopolitical changes. It would be very, very hard to point to a specific instance in the past where this, or any other, country went to war with optimum forces in place to meet the threat at hand. I speak strictly of defensive measures, aggressors always go to war with forces tailored to achieve their objectives. It has been ever so.
So, and the point is? I’ll provide the closing paragraphs of that AFA editorial:
…“traditional” threats are alive and well. Pentagon planners have included in the QDR three major combat scenarios—most particularly
. “The enhancements ... of the Chinese military [do] cause concern,” Gen. T. Michael Moseley, USAF Chief of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. China
In general, the QDR is not the best place for preparing detailed budgets. It is intended to provide a broad, 20-year view of DOD needs and not delve deeply into programs. It would make quite a lot of sense to give each service a budget figure, and then let uniformed leaders forge the most workable plans.
The real issue is not even so much the size of the budget, but whether the defense program as planned and projected is adequate to provide for national defense. Getting that part right is critical. It is a legitimate task for Pentagon civilians, working in close cooperation with the armed services and Congress.
It’s all about considering each and every threat to the nation, and the force structure required to meet and defeat those threats. Allocating the money required to build and maintain the forces required to meet the threats is the second, not the first, step in the process. The current QDR appears to put the cart before the horse.