In their effort to define the metrics for sizing the U.S. military, Pentagon officials leading the 2009 QDR are trying to differentiate their work from previous quadrennial reviews. In the past the dominant metric was the number of major theater wars the military could fight. Since the end of the Cold War, QDRs have largely adhered to the so-called two major theater wars (MTWs) construct, which is that the nation’s armed forces must be capable of fighting and winning two near-simultaneous major theater conflicts. Today, these leaders argue, the challenges confronting the nation are broader, more complex and more varied than simply large conventional wars.
The QDR team has come up with a highly alliterative but not very satisfactory formulation. It is a force sizing construct called the “four Ps.” These are Prevail, Prevent, Preserve and Prepare. Prevail focuses on the current conflicts, not just Iraq and Afghanistan but also the global conflict with violent extremists. Prevent includes deterrence and building partnership capacity which are the means by which a range of threats from nuclear attacks on the United States through outbreaks of terrorism can be neutralized. Preserve focuses on the health of the force and the determination to limit stresses on it.
The most interesting “P” is the last one, Prepare. This is meant to address future threats. It includes three types of operations: defense of the homeland and support to civil agencies; deterring and defeating a large WMD-capable adversary employing space, cyber and anti-access capabilities; and a large opposed stability operation on the scale of Operation Iraqi Freedom or several smaller operations that are equivalent in size to OIF. While this is certainly described in broader terms than the old two-MTW force sizing construct, it essentially amounts to the same thing. We need the forces to fight one really big, nasty adversary with capabilities similar to our own (could that possibly be China in disguise?) and also fight one protracted, very large, mixed conventional conflict/counterinsurgency. That sounds a lot like two MTWs with a few new bells and whistles.
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