A little over a month ago, the Obama Administration rolled out its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Required by law, the purpose of a QDR is to assess the adequacy of U.S. military forces to achieve the missions they are required to perform. In 2012, this administration published a Defense Strategic Guidance that told the military to be prepared to do three things: protect the homeland; build security globally; and, project power and win decisively. The 2014 QDR elaborated on this directive, describing the critical missions that the military needed to be able to perform:
“Reflecting the requirements of this updated defense strategy, the U.S. Armed Forces will be capable of simultaneously defending the homeland; conducting sustained, distributed counterterrorist operations; and in multiple regions, deterring aggression and assuring allies through forward presence and engagement. If deterrence fails at any given time, U.S. forces will be capable of defeating a regional adversary in a large-scale multi-phased campaign, and denying the objectives of – or imposing unacceptable costs on – a second aggressor in another region.”
Despite having reduced projected defense budgets by some $300 billion since 2009 and facing mandatory reductions of at least $500 billion going forward, the 2014 QDR concluded that the Department of Defense would have sufficient resources and capabilities to implement this strategy, and in particular to be able to fight two regional adversaries in different parts of the world at the same time. The QDR warned that the national security risks would increase if Congress did not pass the President’s FY2015 budget which proposed additional defense and non-defense discretionary spending well beyond the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA).
In testimony this week on Capitol Hill, senior leaders from all the Services made the same point even more starkly. If sequestration comes into effect in 2016, the Pentagon will not have sufficient forces, air and sea lift or munitions to conduct two major regional conflicts. The Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Larry Spencer warned that “we won’t have the capacity to respond to what we say we can respond to today.” Army Vice Chief of Staff, General John Campbell, whose Service is staring at the possibility of simultaneous land wars in Europe, the Middle East and Northeast Asia put the danger even more starkly: “We’re mortgaging the future. We’re really pushing hard for additional money to try to bring up short-term readiness, but then in 2016, if we go to sequestration, we all just fall off the map again.” 
Truth be told, the U.S. military would have had a very hard time fighting two regional conflicts even before the BCA became law. This is the essential reason that the Obama Administration changed the standard back in 2012 from winning two wars to winning one and attempting to deny an aggressor his objectives or punish him severely in the second. No one really knows what this second objective means or how to assess the adequacy of U.S. military forces to do either denial or punishment. If, as some experts have speculated, the second requirement means using air and sea power to attrit an aggressor’s military forces without employing significant land forces, it is by no means clear that our ammunition stocks are sufficient for such an effort. The Pentagon has cut the number of advanced Standard Missile 3s it is buying and plans to shut down the production line for the Tomahawk cruise missile, and this is while assuming that the President’s optimistic FY2015 budget will become law.
The 2014 QDR did the administration, the Pentagon and the American people a disservice by pretending that proposed budgets were adequate to maintain a force structure with sufficient readiness to accomplish all the missions the strategy has assigned. The reality is that if we want a two war military we have to be willing to pay for it.
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