The cat, as they say, is out of the bag. In a front-page story today, Defense News reveals virtually every interesting fact about the Quadrennial Defense Review report headed for Capitol Hill in February that wasn’t already reported in recent weeks by Bloomberg Business News. In a remarkable series of scoops, Bloomberg reporter Tony Capaccio disclosed plans to eliminate seven Army combat brigades, increase funding for special-operations forces, extend the production line of the F-22 fighter, and equip Trident ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. Defense News confirms much of what Bloomberg reported while providing a host of additional information. For example…
— The Navy plans to shift aircraft carriers and submarines from the Atlantic to the Pacific while increasing funding for coastal and riverine combat capabilities.
— The Air Force plans to greatly increase its long-range, penetrating strike capability while rapidly ramping up use of the Global Hawk and Predator reconnaissance drones.
— The U.S. Special Operations Command wants a big increase in funding to cover expanded psychological warfare, civil affairs and littoral reconnaissance/strike activities.
More generally, Defense News says that the QDR report favors a shift in focus from conventional to non-traditional forms of warfighting, coupled with an increasingly “preventative” rather than reactive use of intelligence resources. These changes were foreshadowed in a “threat matrix” distributed last year to guide QDR deliberations that suggested conventional military threats are waning while irregular, catastrophic and disruptive dangers are growing.
Subsequent coverage of QDR in the national media will probably follow the lead of Bloomberg and Defense News in focusing on what’s new about the administration’s proposed defense posture. That’s reasonable enough, but it has the effect of exaggerating how much change the quadrennial review portends. After a year of wrangling over future military requirements, QDR participants decided not to cancel any signature weapons programs, not to eliminate any major redundancies among the services, and not to initiate any big new investment initiatives.
So despite the bold rhetoric about change, the 2005 QDR ends up being a status-quo document — a fact that will be readily apparent to anyone who scrutinizes the 2007 defense spending request that accompanies the QDR report to Capitol Hill. Moreover, there are several decisions coming out of the QDR that are hard to square with what the Pentagon says about future challenges. For example, if the global war on terror really is a “long war” as the QDR report contends, why is the administration eliminating brigades from an overextended Army? And if mobility is so critical to military success, why is it proposing to shut down both the C-130J and C-17 lines — the only airlifters in production?
Maybe it doesn’t matter — Rumsfeld will be gone soon, and Capitol Hill has ceased caring what he wants anyway. Congress will probably add money for the lost brigades and airlifters, just as it will reject other bad proposals like the idea of creating a monopoly for fighter engines. But with the clock ticking down on Donald Rumsfeld’s tenure, it’s a little hard to say what he has achieved in the way of a lasting, positive legacy.
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