’09 review will guide Obama’s Pentagon view

Future military investments and strategy will depend on a massive review President-elect Obama’s Pentagon nominees will conduct once they take office.

Several of Obama’s civilian nominees to the Pentagon referenced the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) in their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Congress mandates the review every four years, but Obama and his Defense Department designees, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, plan to accelerate it. The QDR will be one of the major chances for Obama’s Pentagon to spell out its direction over the next four years and beyond.

The review covers all areas of the Pentagon, including national security strategy, force structure, modernization plans, infrastructure and, ultimately, the budget.

At Thursday’s confirmation hearing for William Lynn, the designee for deputy secretary of Defense; Michèle Flournoy, nominated for undersecretary of Defense for policy; Robert Hale, designated for Pentagon comptroller; and Jeh Charles Johnson, nominated for general counsel, all promised Pentagon reform and an in-depth look at acquisition, accounting and legal issues.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the panel indicated the four nominees would have an easy confirmation.
Flournoy, whose Pentagon position would have a significant impact on strategy and the resources necessary to carry it out, said that the Pentagon’s civilian leadership would have to swiftly strike the right balance between the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also anticipate the kinds of capabilities needed for the future.

Those kinds of decisions will be reflected in the early iterations of the QDR, which has budget implications not only on how the force is structured but also on what kind of weapons the military will buy.

Because the examination will be accelerated, some of the thought processes of the QDR will also be reflected in the 2010 defense budget request, which the Obama administration is planning to amend and submit in the spring, instead of February.

Flournoy said in prepared answers before the committee that she wants to see the strategy and planning capacity in the Office of the Secretary of Defense strengthened. “I have come to believe that the U.S. government needs to fortify its capacity for strategic thinking and strategic planning to ensure that it not only deals with the challenges of today, but is also well-prepared for those of tomorrow,” she wrote.

One of her immediate tasks would be to work with the defense secretary, military leaders and the White House on strategy regarding the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the confirmation hearing on Thursday, Flournoy said that she believed the Pentagon needs to “substantially plus-up our forces in Afghanistan,” and move to do that “as quickly as possible.”

By current estimates, the Pentagon would not be able to beef up forces in Afghanistan until late spring or summer. Forces would have to be freed up from Iraq for that to happen.

Meanwhile, Lynn, the nominee to become the deputy secretary of Defense, said that he would face the immediate challenge of reviewing the war supplemental request for the remainder of 2009, revising the 2010 budget request and expeditiously completing the QDR, as well as the subsequent 2011 budget.

“In the QDR, I believe a key task will be to lay the foundation for an effective force for the 21st century and to establish the right balance among capabilities for addressing irregular warfare and counter-insurgent operations,” said Lynn, an executive at defense contractor Raytheon.

One of the key issues for the early strategy and program-budget reviews would be to determine the appropriate mix of F-22 Raptor fighter jets and the Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation fighter now in development, said Lynn.

Lockheed Martin, its subcontractors and congressional supporters have been lobbying heavily for more F-22s.

Also, Lynn told defense authorizers that the Pentagon will review the Army’s most ambitious modernization program, known as Future Combat Systems (FCS). While he did not indicate a course of action for the mammoth endeavor, which has always been a magnet for funding cuts, Lynn said that elements of the FCS are going to be essential to the future force.

The Hill reported exclusively last week that the Army is planning to pare down the program considerably, partly in anticipation of major cuts by the incoming administration.

Lynn said curbing major arms programs’ cost overruns, which now total close to $300 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office, would be a high priority for him and the new team.

“Central themes would be greater competition, stability, realism and accountability,” said Lynn.

Meanwhile, the nominee for the comptroller position, Hale, said that the incoming leaders will have a challenge in “making ends meet” at the Pentagon. He also anticipated a possibility of more supplementals beyond that for 2009, but pledged to work to move away from the Pentagon’s dependency on them. For fiscal year “2010, with limited time available for submission of a base budget request and with continuing uncertainty about changing war requirements, the president may decide he will need to have a supplemental,” Hale said in prepared answers.
But he added that in later budgets the Pentagon will be able to reduce dependence on the supplementals.