During the next year, the US is going to get a grim lesson in the need to tie strategy to reality, and the limits of trying to shape US national security on the basis of prophecies about a distant future. The current budget crisis is going to force the Administration and the Congress to come to grips with reality in ways that both have systematically avoided for more than a decade.
The question is whether the US will have the courage to realize how vacuous and empty our efforts to draft documents like the National Strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) have been. It is whether we will find better ways to tie realistic strategic planning to the programming and budgeting process. It is all too possible that we will simply adopt a “slash and burn” approach to cutting the national security budget, and go on living in a strategic fantasyland.
In practice, however, we have every possible indication that our current approach to strategy is a failure. We focus far too much on trying to guess long-term trends and a conceptual future far beyond the time horizon we can actually plan for, and where current leaders can actually shape decision-making.
It is true that there are various definitions of the word ‘strategy’, but we seem to have lost sight of all that are relevant: “A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim;” “The science and art of using all the forces of a nation to execute approved plans as effectively as possible during peace or war;” “A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.” Mere goals and concepts are more a form of a prayer than a strategy. A strategy only is a strategy if there is a specific plan to achieve a specific goal with specific resources in clearly defined ways, or a specified amount of time. From a Department of Defense viewpoint, you haven’t got a strategy if you cannot lay out a specific, plan, and budget.
We seem unable to bring strategic focus to planning force levels, personnel, and procurement. We have failed to implement functional or consistent strategies in both the Iraq War and the Afghan conflict. We have left the military services to do strategic, force, and budget planning that should have been shifted to combatant commands over a decade ago, and we talk about integrating civil and military action without being able to develop either relevant strategic or functional programs.
Failure to Tie Strategy to the Implementation and Funding of Tangible Force, Personnel, and Procurement Plans
Even if there were no coming cuts in defense spending, the failure to tie strategy to the implementation and funding of tangible force, personnel, and procurement plans would be critical.
Even without the coming budget cuts, Defense has to plan for significant cuts in active strength at a time when the Afghan and Iraq wars demonstrated that the US has serious military manpower problems with fighting two medium-sized, regional contingencies. Despite having nearly as many – and possibly more – US and foreign contractors and civilians directly supporting US forces and operations in each conflict than it had US military personnel.
Even without the coming budget cuts, Defense also has to reshape its overall manpower policies in ways that balance its strategic needs against rising costs and the need to fund readiness, rest, and procurement of new lead systems. At the same time, Defense must find a better balance between active and reserve forces that is tied to both the strategic need for rapid power projection, as well as a far better balance in tours of duty, recovery, and training. Defense must reconsider its dependence on contractors and the role of civilians. All of these choices must be made as the US withdraws most combat forces from Afghanistan and completes its withdrawals from Iraq. They must play out during FY2013-FY2018, and they must provide strategic and mission capability, apart from simply being exercises in cost management.
Personnel and readiness, however, are only a few of the issues needed to address with in pragmatic mix of strategy, resources and reality. No service possesses an affordable, implementable procurement plan in light of recent program cuts. The US Air Force F-22 and F-35 programs have escalated in cost and lagged in execution, to the point where major cutbacks in numbers procured have turned “force multipliers” into “force shrinkers.”
As for the US Army, its inability to tie strategy, force plans, and procurement together has reached the point where it does not even need any external enemies. Its Future Combat System program wasted not only nearly a generation of Army modernization efforts; its two primary spin-off efforts are a failure.
As the GAO noted in an investigation of the Army program, the Army started development of the Future Combat System (FCS) in 2003. It was the center of the Army’s efforts to modernize into a lighter, more agile, and more capable combat force, and the Army expected to fully develop the program equipment in 10 years, procure it over 13 years, and field it to 15 FCS-unique brigades, as well as spin out key technologies and systems to current Army forces. In practice, the Army cancelled the program in June 2009 at an estimate cost of $18 billion. The GAO estimates that the Army’s efforts to implement three programs for follow-on Army brigade combat team modernization efforts – GCV, multiple increments of brigade modernization, and an incremental tactical network capability – have at best had marginal success.
Making Strategy Real
This need to tie strategy to resources and tangible, implementable plans is not an argument against trying to look at longer-term issues and trends. No strategy should be short term any more than it should be based on trying to predict the future beyond the point where it is knowable.
The priority, however, should be to come to grips with near-term challenges. Consider the strategic decisions we must make during FY2013-FY2018, and how critical those decisions will be relative to speculation about what might happen in the longer term. During this period, the US must:
- Develop a transition strategy and plan for the Afghan War, and actually implement it. This must be part of a broader strategy for future US commitments in Central and South Asia.
- Reshape its strategy, force posture, deployments, and procurements in East and Southeast Asia. This effort must reflect China’s emergence as a power that can operate beyond the second island chain, and conduct a fundamentally different kind of air sea battle. It must deal with Taiwan’s declining defense capabilities and commitment to its own defense, and with a Japan caught up in a prolonged economic crisis coupled with the aftermath of a natural and nuclear disaster.
- Rethink and reshape the US posture in South Korea to deal with an emerging nuclear and missile power in North Korea; a far stronger South Korea; and the same tensions over US bases and deployments it faces in Japan.
- Deal with the steady erosion in the size and relative capability of European NATO forces as well as British and French power projection capabilities. At the same time, it must encourage European willingness to play the lead role in North Africa, and ensure that a stable strategic relationship exists with Russia.
- Reshape the US posture in the Middle East and the Gulf to deal with withdrawal from Iraq, the success or failure of a strategic partnership with Iraq, the needs of the Southern Gulf states, and the threat of Iranian proliferation and growing capabilities for asymmetric warfare.
- Deal with the evolving security and stability challenges emerging from the broad unrest in the Arab world, and its potential spread to other areas. Create a new set of strategic relationships with Egypt and Jordan; deal with the rising tension between Arab states, Turkey, and Israel; and deal with the potential emergence of new strategic relationships between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
- Reshape the fight against terrorism to look beyond Al Qa’ida and the needs of ongoing wars, to deal with far more diverse and splinter movements and the fact there will sometimes be no clear separation between counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, state terrorism and asymmetric warfare. The emerging debate over COIN vs. CT is inherently dysfunctional, but the US must find a practical, implementable strategy for dealing with hybrid warfare.
- Establish programs that can reshape and modernize its conventional and nuclear global strike capabilities in the form of a new bomber, strike aircraft, UCAVs, and/or cruise missiles.
- Determine the right architecture for national and theater missile defense and deploy it. The FY2010 budget request halts plans to increase the number of current ground-based interceptors in Alaska, cancels the second airborne laser (ABL) prototype aircraft, and terminates the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV). It adds $700 million to field the terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) programs, but cuts the overall Missile Defense Agency program by $1.4 billion.
- Rethink mobility, power projection, and prepositioning in the light of the failure of the Army’s FCS program, cutbacks in amphibious forces and modernization, recent lessons about air and sea mobility needs, the restructuring of US combat forces, and the lessons of the Afghan and Iraq Wars.
- Define strategies for hybrid warfare that make explicit choices about the proper force mix for hybrid warfare – “conventional,” “irregular,” and “mixed” warfighting capabilities – and how they should be shaped and funded. Former Secretary Gates has said that while the US must shift resources and institutional weight towards supporting the current wars and other potential irregular campaigns, the United States must still contend with the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries – from those actively hostile to those at a strategic crossroads. While laying out conceptual goals for US strategy, he provided no details and no clear force plans to explain what choices–if any– have actually been made about the strategic goals of US warfighting capabilities and how these translate into shifts in force plans, future equipment strength, and budgets. Explicit plans and choices need to be made and trade-offs need to be justified.
- Deal with changes in the security needs on both borders: carefully evaluate the worsening situation across the border with Mexico, and its post-Columbia posture in Latin America. At the same time, consider what posture the US needs with the reemergence of new trade routes and security issues in the Artic Circle and their impact on Alaska and US support of Canada.
- Create a new and effective intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (IS&R) architecture: the FY2010 budget request adds some $2 billion to the past request for IS&R funding. It fields and sustains 50 Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY11 and maximizes their production, which is a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level, and 127 percent from over a year ago. It increases the number of cyber experts this department can train from 80 to 250 students per year by FY2011. At the same time, it terminates the $26 billion Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program, and purchases two more Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites as alternatives.
- Evaluate US national security strategy within the broader context of peer competitors in the EU and China (Asia) at the economic level. US strategy must adjust to the fact that while the US may – on paper – spend some 70% of all the world’s military budgets, its global economic role is shifting fundamentally as its industrial base declines in capability and as a share of the US GNP; and as other powers emerge as major global economies. The US already faces serious issues in terms of defining its future role in East and Central Asia, and a serious gap between NATO’s well-meaning strategy and goals, and the actions of European powers. It urgently needs to appraise its national security in global economic, as well as military and political terms.
These are all real world cases where strategy, force planning, and all the elements of force development, readiness, and power projection must be translated into real world plans and budgets in the coming Future Year Defense Plan. All of these challenges show that the US needs to emphasize inter-service jointness in shaping its strategy and implanting it, giving such efforts decisive priority over service-oriented priorities and planning.
Tying Strategy to Mission-Oriented Planning, Programming, and Budgeting
The impacts of these resource issues, critical planning and budget problems, as well as new strategic needs; all combine to reveal the need to shape a national security strategy based on reality. The US must not continue to focus on concepts and efforts to project the future beyond the bubble point. It must stop decoupling strategy from tangible action plans, budgets and the FYDP, and clearly defined action milestones and measures of effectiveness. It must junk the kind of approach used in the QDR and QDDR, and the current conceptual strategies issued by the military services and State Department
Our focus should shift to developing strategy documents that always include detailed near term plans of action, provide clear statements of resource requirements and budgets, and define milestones and timescales. We need strategies that shape tangible results in terms of measureable outcomes in force levels, deployments, mission capabilities, personnel, and procurement.
This will not be as much of a shift in our approach to national security as it may seem. We used to make these requirements the focus of our defense planning efforts and issue them in both classified and unclassified form. In the past, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs did issue annual posture statements; and these did link strategy directly to force plans, personnel, RDT&E and procurement, basing and deployments, missions in broad terms, and projected defense expenditures for the coming Future Years Defense Program.
In tying strategy to resources and reality the central challenge now is to restore the past focus on connecting the strategy to real world plans and budgets, and to make the reforms in the PPBS that are now close to half a century overdue. There are, however, a wide range of additional steps that can and should be taken:
- Require the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Staff to issue revised forms of the annual posture statements that lay out US strategy in each key mission area, rather than by service, and that clearly tie strategy to detailed force plans, personnel plans, procurement plans and the FYDP. Provide both classified and unclassified versions in detail to ensure accountability, public debate, and improved understanding by the Congress and the media.
- Restructure key elements of the present Department of Defense planning cycle so that the six regional combatant commanders (NORTHCOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM. PACOM, and SOUTHCOM) and the three worldwide combatant commanders (STRATCOM, TRANSOM, and SOCOM) have primary responsibility for strategy, planning, and budgeting by mission area. Reduce the role of the four services to an administrative and support role. Halt the issuing of strategy documents by the Service Chiefs of Staff, and make this the responsibility of the regional and worldwide combatant commanders.
- Restructure the program budget to breakout spending by mission areas as defined by the areas covered by each regional and worldwide combatant command. Declassify most or all of the resulting Future Year Defense Program – again to ensure better accountability, public debate, and improved understanding by the Congress and the media.
- Downsize the headquarters staffs of each Service and sharply reduce their role in Joint Staff. Build up the strategy, planning, and budgeting capabilities of the regional combatant and worldwide combatant commanders. Set up suitable staff sections at the Pentagon, and make them key parts of the Joint Staff.
- Create staff sections for each command in the OSD Policy Cluster, Comptroller, and PA&E. Add State Department representation at the senior level. The Comptroller needs shifting away from a short-term focus on line item budget issues and refocusing on the function of FYDP. PA&E needs to be greatly strengthened in its ability to examine hard decisions, trade-offs, and “what ifs” within a broad strategic context, and used to compensate for the policy cluster’s lack of planning, programming, and budgeting capability.
- Greatly strengthen the capability of the NSC to coordinate and integrate civil-military strategy, planning, and budgeting. The interagency process and National Security Council needs reform to ensure that operations and policy are truly integrated, rather than left to interagency coordination that does not take place, lacks depth, or simply remains stove-piped in both practice and implementation. The problem does not, however, stop at the Beltway. A better approach is needed to ensure such cooperation in the field, in wars like the Iraq and the Afghanistan-Pakistan conflicts, in dealing with complex regional issues; and in budgeting combinations of military and civil activity that ensures the civil side has the proper resources and influence over plans and operations.
- Require integrated strategies and plans for civil-military activities and budgets in key mission areas that parallel the six regional commands, and for major crises and all conflicts. The Iraq War and the Afghan-Pakistan conflict have been brutal demonstrations of the almost total failure of the State Department and USAID to plan and manage an effective large-scale effort in armed nation building, and to provide adequate numbers of civilians with the needed background and expertise. The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction has shown that the State Department’s efforts in Iraq represent one of the worst failures in basic governance and administration in modern US history. Providing adequate resources is one part of the story; forcing the Deputy Secretary of State and head of USAID to effectively plan and implement is yet another. The US cannot afford to continue making such efforts some of the worst planned and managed activities in the US government.
- Create an independent inter-service strategy, procurement plan, and auditing system. Decades of effort at procurement reform and efforts to improve contracting and efficiency have shown that such efforts have only marginal impact in creating stable procurement programs that meet the nation’s overall strategic goals, as distinguished from Service priorities. A fundamental defense-wide inability to realistically estimate and control costs, constant problems with configuration control, service-dominated cuts in total procurement, force size, and effectiveness have continued to slowly escalate since the McNamara era. Some tools are needed to force procurement planning to be attached to strategy, overall force plans, and key missions. At the same time, no effort will succeed unless the Service Chiefs of Staff and Secretaries are held personally accountable for success – and cost and configuration control – on a top down basis. A GAO study in March 2011 documented the lack of progress to date: The total cost of DoD’s 2010 portfolio of major defense acquisition programs has grown by $135 billion, or nine percent, over the past two years, of which about $70 billion cannot be attributed to changes in quantities of some weapon systems. Ten of DoD’s largest acquisition programs account for over half the portfolio’s total acquisition test growth over the past two years.
- Fewer than half of the programs in DoD’s 2010 portfolio are meeting established performance metrics for cost growth. DoD’s buying power has been reduced for almost 80 percent of its portfolio of major defense acquisition programs; and on average, the majority of cost growth materialized after programs entered production. This means they continued to experience significant changes well after the programs and their costs should have stabilized.
- Require integrated interagency strategy, planning, and program budgeting for Homeland defense. OMB indicates that the cost of the interagency effort, including DOD has risen to $72 billion for the federal government alone in FY2012. This spending total is not the result of any integrated strategy or plan; it has just evolved over time. It is too expensive and too stovepiped to continue.
The US needs to use as many of these tools as possible in order to take a new approach to strategy that shapes an overall defense program with carefully defined and contained costs; and that is truly affordable. If a nation cannot afford to actually implement a strategy, then it has no real meaning, and focusing on unaffordable illusions has usually done great harm.
Finally, making this approach to strategy, the way ahead requires changes in leadership perspectives and management. These include defining strategies in practical terms, and being honest about resource requirements and difficult trade-offs. There is a broader problem, however, in many US national security efforts, particularly at senior policy levels in Washington. There is a tendency to avoid confrontation and hard choices, or to defer them until there is little other choice. There is almost no direct, personal accountability at the top. More than that, it often seems to be enough that everyone has the right intentions, uses the current “buzzwords”, and is literally “politically correct”. It is past time to set a different standard. Like they say in every other major aspect of government, there are no good intentions, there are only successful actions.