Suggested Questions for the Hearing on the 2014 QDR

April 2, 2014

On Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) with Navy Admiral James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld, Jr., the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Christine E. Wormuth, the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Force Development.  The congressionally-mandated QDR is supposed to lay out a strategy for national defense, assess the required military forces, and propose a long-term plan for defense spending that is “fully independent” from the President’s annual defense budget request.

This hearing will provide lawmakers an opportunity to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the 2014 QDR, the extent to which the report met or fell short of its legal mandate, and the review’s overall usefulness.  The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) suggests the following questions as lawmakers, their staff, and the wider public prepare for this hearing.

Defense Strategy and Force Planning

(1) The Quadrennial Defense Review is intended to provide a “force planning construct” that describes how the Pentagon will shape and size the military to meet future challenges.  Starting with the 1993 Bottom-Up Review, the Defense Department adopted a two-war planning construct requiring that our military be sized to fight “two major regional conflicts that occur nearly simultaneously.”  This approach was included not only in QDR reports released in 1997, 2001, 2006, but also in the Obama administration’s 2010 QDR, which assumed “the need for a robust force capable of protecting U.S. interests against a multiplicity of threats, including two capable nation-state aggressors.”

This assumption was challenged, however, by the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, which concluded that rather than defeat two adversaries simultaneously, the United States would instead be capable of “denying the objectives of—or imposing unacceptable costs on—an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”  This argument was repeated almost verbatim in the 2014 QDR, along with a statement that “our forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale prolonged stability operations.”

  • Admiral Winnefeld, the 2014 QDR suggests that the United States will no longer be able to defeat two aggressors simultaneously and will foreswear the option of long-term stability operations after any future conflict.  Does any improvement in the security environment justify discarding assumptions that have informed every previous QDR, as well as the 1993 Bottom-Up Review?
  • If the security environment is more dangerous today than before, are these new limitations on the Pentagon’s force planning construct driven by budgetary constraints?
  • Secretary Wormuth, the 1997 QDR warned that “[a] one-theater war capacity would risk undermining both deterrence and the credibility of U.S. security commitments in key regions of the world.”  To what degree are the limitations on U.S. strategy in this QDR a step toward a one-theater war capacity?

(2) The 2014 QDR includes an assessment provided by General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff.  In his assessment, General Dempsey concludes:  “The smaller and less capable military outlined in the QDR makes meeting [U.S.] obligations more difficult.  Most of our platforms and equipment will be older, and our advantages in some domains will have eroded.  Our loss of depth across the force could reduce our ability to intimidate opponents from escalating conflict.  Nations and non-state actors who have become accustomed to our presence could begin to act differently, often in harmful ways…  The situation will be exacerbated given our current readiness concerns, which will worsen over the next 3 to 4 years.”

  • Admiral Winnefeld, does Russia’s invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea, as well as the prospect of further Russian aggression against Ukraine or other neighbors, reflect the type of risks that Chairman Dempsey described in his assessment of the QDR?  What limitations have the current readiness crisis imposed on the Defense Department’s ability to deter Russian aggression?
  • When the Obama administration released its 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, which previewed the major assumptions driving this QDR, it also announced its decision to halve the number of U.S. Army brigades in Europe.  Does this withdrawal represent the type of “loss of depth” that General Dempsey warns is reducing our ability to intimidate opponents from escalating conflict?

(3) The law mandating the QDR also requires that each report be reviewed by an independent panel.  The 2010 QDR Independent Panel, chaired by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, recommended in its final report:  “In the absence of a force planning construct indicating otherwise, the Panel recommends the force structure be sized, at a minimum, at the end strength outlined in the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR).”  The BUR recommended an Army of 10 active divisions; a Navy of 11 aircraft carriers, 45 to 55 attack submarines, and 346 ships overall; an Air Force of 13 active fighter wings with 72 aircraft per; and a Marine Corps of 3 Expeditionary Forces.

  • Admiral Winnefeld and Secretary Wormuth, putting aside budgetary limits, would you agree with the 2010 Independent Panel’s conclusion that because the world has only grown more dangerous since 1993, the United States should not contemplate any force cuts that would take us below the levels described in the Bottom-Up Review?

(4) The 2014 QDR noted that “Syria has become a magnet for global jihad—a situation that is likely to persist as long as the current leadership remains in power.”  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has estimated that foreign jihadists number at least 7,000.  Additionally, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recently warned that “[E]xtremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission…Syria has become a matter of homeland security.”

  • Given that the Syrian conflict will continue to attract, radicalize, and battle-harden extremists from across the world for the foreseeable future, what are the implications of the creation of a new generation of jihadists for the future of the Global War on Terror, and the U.S. forces needed to fight it?

The Gap Between Requirements and Resources

(5) In 2013, the U.S. military suffered a wide-ranging crisis in readiness.  The Army only had two brigades that were combat ready, the Navy cancelled five ship deployments and postponed the dispatch of the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman Strike Group, and the Air Force grounded 31 squadrons, including 13 combat-coded squadrons.  In his assessment of the QDR, General Dempsey noted that the military’s readiness concerns “will worsen over the next 3 to 4 years.”

  • Admiral Winnefeld, can you describe the readiness challenges that you are most concerned with in fiscal year 2014?  And in the coming fiscal years?
  • Is it accurate to say that by cutting force structure and modernization programs, the Defense Department plans to relieve its readiness problems by surrendering some of its technological lead and depth relative to our adversaries?

(6) The Obama administration has requested an additional $115 billion in Defense Department spending over the next five years over the levels authorized under current law.  Although Secretary Hagel has stated that these additional funds will be used to limit cuts to Army and Marine Corps end strength and extend the life of the U.S.S. George Washington, the $20 billion in additional spending these efforts would require are not included in the actual budget request.

  • Admiral Winnefeld, could you describe the risks you foresee if full sequestration is imposed in fiscal year 2016?  In light of emerging threats, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to Iran and Syria in the Middle East, and China’s aggressive moves toward its neighbors in East Asia, do you believe that additional funds will likely be necessary beyond the $115 the administration has requested so far over the next five years?

(7) In early March 2014, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition Katrina McFarland warned:  “Right now, the [Asia Rebalance strategy] is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen” due to legally-mandated deep cuts to defense spending.  Although McFarland later clarified and reversed her statement, her original remarks dovetail with those of General Carlisle of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, who said in a February interview that “the resources have not followed the [commitment] of rebalance into the Pacific....”

  • Admiral Winnefeld, if sequestration is re-imposed in fiscal year 2016,  what sort of gap will these cuts create between America’s Asia Rebalance strategy and the resources required to realize it?  What gaps are we seeing today under the budget cuts that have already been imposed?
  • How do you believe the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, or other regional actors may respond to the growing gaps between U.S. strategy and resources?

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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