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Quadrennial Defense Review

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a legislatively-mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities. The QDR will set a long-term course for
DoD as it assesses the threats and challenges that the nation faces and re-balances DoD's strategies, capabilities, and forces to address today's conflicts and tomorrow's threats.

Bridging the Gap Between Defense Strategy
And Execution

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces Kathleen Hicks, As Prepared to the Aviation Week Conference, March 11, 2009
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Thank you for that very kind introduction. I would also like to thank Aviation Week magazine and McAleese Associates for organizing this timely conference and inviting me to speak here this morning. As we embark on a new political season in Washington and begin deliberating on this administration's major defense choices, it is critically important to me that we seek the best advice and expertise of all the various defense stakeholders.

Those of you sitting in this room represent a rich American heritage: the greatest technological base and most innovative culture in history, which, in turn has helped train, equip, and protect the nation. I think it is safe to say that we all share a deep commitment to the men and women who serve this nation in uniform.

As you may know, my position is a newly created one. It does have its predecessors, though. In fact, although the title and portfolio have gone under different names, there has been, time and again, throughout the 60-plus years of DoD, a seeming desire to improve the link between our desired ends and the plans, programs, and activities we undertake to support them.

Bridging this gap is at the heart of strategy development and execution. Yet the Defense Department often comes under scrutiny for its failures in doing so. I don't believe systemic failure is attributable to individual incompetence or a lack of attention to planning. We fail because the incentives of many participants in the process are pitted against one another, obscuring a common, objective picture of reality. These differences, and the competition of ideas they generate, can be tremendously beneficial to the nation. But they can also too often create great inefficiencies and even complete disconnects in our approach.

This paradox of American defense planning is long-standing, and I am not naïve about its ability to undermine an idealized, single, rational view of defense strategy. I do believe, however, that there are ways to align incentives better without unduly sacrificing the independent, expert perspectives of various communities of interest. A common customer focus, having the right stakeholders at the table, and holding components accountable for executing the Secretary's and the President's vision are three tools I hope we can explore in the coming year.

Moreover, I think we can significantly improve the Department's ability to demonstrate convincingly that its actions and programs do indeed relate to a set of clearly stated and prioritized objectives. Strategy should not be seen not as a glossy document that sits on a shelf to be bi-annually updated, but as a continuous process of rationalizing ends, ways, and means. We don't “do” strategy every four years in a QDR; like your companies, we live and execute strategy every day, continuously balancing present and future demands across a customer base. Secretary Gates has made clear his intention to invigorate defense governance with fresh approaches and effective organization. Ensuring that we have a strategy-driven, budget-informed, and analytic way of making choices is a key element of his approach.

In my organization, we have three offices that work in the defense strategy realm: strategy, plans and force development, each led by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. Our Strategy office focuses on the long-term, and of course, develops the defense strategy in consonance with the national security strategy. Its staff also constantly scans the horizon for long-term trends, opportunities and challenges. Our Force Development office focuses on the mid-term, principally the Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP, by translating the defense strategy into guidance for developing forces. These policies inform FYDP decision-making in the requirements and acquisition processes. Finally, our Plans office focuses on the near-term employment of our forces. Its staff guides the development of operational plans and then helps tie our forces to these plans and ongoing operations through the Global Force Management process. Taken together, this joining of strategy, plans and force development now gives Policy a more effective and coherent voice in the PPBE system and related processes.

In my remaining time this morning, I would like to touch upon three key issues with which our new organization is grappling. The first is the range, complexity, and dynamism of the threats and challenges we face today and into the future. Second, I will highlight some of the key capability areas and cross-cutting force sizing, shaping, and posturing drivers that we should explore to better grapple with these threats. Finally, I will bring us back to the difficult challenge with which I began: that of setting priorities and making choices.

The only thing certain about the future is our inability to predict it. Choices we make today about new systems will affect the capabilities of our forces 20-30 years hence, yet our ability to forecast with precision the demands of the world of 2030 – or even 2015 – is limited. Indeed, both the unexpected demise of the Soviet Union and the shock of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks provided this generation of strategists lessons in modesty about our ability to anticipate changes in the security environment.

As strategists, though, we cannot become debilitated by uncertainty. Some things we do know with relative surety. The most important, without question, is that the geostrategic environment is becoming more challenging for the armed forces of the United States.

What is the primary distinguishing feature of this emerging security environment? I believe it is the ability of increasing numbers and types of potential adversaries to blend challenges across the spectrum including: diplomatic, informational, military, and economic approaches; low-end and high-end military capabilities; conventional, irregular, and strategic forces. Various state and non-state adversaries may have different statuses and capabilities, but we now see each use tactics formerly thought to be the province of the other. For example, we see terrorist groups like al-Qaida conducting sophisticated media engagements and others like the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka developing air, naval and ground forces. Likewise, many states incorporate irregular approaches into their security policy.

Areas formerly thought to be the jurisdiction of diplomats and development specialists are now recognized as security threats in their own right. Poor governance and injustice in regions previously overlooked as having little intrinsic strategic significance can present direct threats to Americans and our allies and partners. These factors can weaken alliances and reduce the number of states willing and able to work with us on common goals.

As we know all too well, terrorist groups have the potential to surpass attacks, such as 9/11, by harnessing to their radical agendas destructive WMD forces that can threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands. At the same time, large, prosperous, and technically advanced states are mastering the components of multi-dimensional, anti-access strategies. By employing precision conventional weapons, long-range strike systems, sophisticated sensor, electronic attack means, and other systems, states can put U.S. power-projection forces at great risk. US space-based assets, many of which our forces depend upon heavily, may also be threatened by kinetic and non-kinetic weapons. Collectively, these threats will challenge us to devise new concepts for conducting operations against technologically savvy adversaries.

As if this weren't challenge enough, regional adversaries such as North Korea and Iran have been striving for what might be called the “poor man's anti-access force” – fission-type nuclear weapons mated to medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles. Our assessments of future conflicts against regional adversaries must take account of the need to find ways to deter nuclear use and to protect US forward bases and allies.

Various societal and environmental trends are also likely to affect the projected security environment. The world is witnessing rapid and far-reaching changes in such areas as global climate, the competition for scarce resources, demographic trends in critical regions, and economics. Defense policy, nested within a holistic U.S. national security strategy, must attend to these transnational issues since they may very well generate new risks and present hidden challenges.

In the presence of these troubling security trends, I believe that much of the world will continue to look to the United States as the security partner of choice. Americans share deep and abiding interests with like-minded nations and peoples around the globe. The U.S. armed forces remain a potent force for the protection of these common interests, especially when combined with other elements of U.S. national power. That places great responsibilities on all of us to ensure the United States maintains its military strength and limits its vulnerabilities.

Over the next year DOD will conduct a series of reviews that address these major challenges. Foremost is the Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR, with which I am sure many of you are familiar. It will consider force size and composition, modernization, and posture changes necessary to implement the President's and the Secretary's defense agenda. At the same time the Nuclear Posture Review, the Homeland Security Review and other efforts will provide further opportunities to inject a whole-of-government approach into security issues.

In his speeches and testimony, Secretary Gates has underscored some key themes to help shape our work. Of these I would like to focus on the issue of “balance.” The Secretary does not use this term in the simple sense of an equal division of resources or emphasis among missions. Rather, he wants to ensure that our limited resources are allocated appropriately to minimize the risk to our forces and our country now and in the future. Thus, this balance reflects the prudent allocation of risk across time.

In the coming year, we have an opportunity to examine what balance looks like for the Department. This includes assessing the force's capabilities for irregular warfare; asymmetric, high-end threats; and support to civil authorities at home and abroad and whole-of-government approaches to problems. Examining balance may require us to review the extent to which key low-density/high-demand capabilities and other enablers can be resourced in adequate numbers.

Achieving balance between conventional and strategic forces, on the one hand, and institutionalizing capabilities for irregular warfare and stabilization tasks, on the other, has been a consistent theme for the Secretary. Support for most of our major ongoing modernization efforts is well-established across the Department, on the Hill, and by many in this audience I suspect as well. We also, however, need to expand our institutional, long-term support for the kinds of non-traditional capabilities required to prevail in today's wars. Whether we like it or not, terrorist and insurgent tactics will remain attractive to a wide range of states and groups that seek to challenge our interests, our allies, and our partners. The need to keep these groups under pressure will remain an important component of our defense strategy for many years to come.

This being the case, we should not treat the demands of irregular warfare as ad hoc requirements that can be addressed with forces and assets optimized for other missions. Expanding special operations forces and rebalancing the general purpose force for the proper mix of IW skills and capabilities are major challenges. Some key irregular warfare capabilities include:

  • Improved and expanded Civil Affairs & psychological operations capabilities and capacities;
  • Persistent ISR;
  • Language and cultural skills;
  • Rotary-wing assets; and,
  • Next-generation, long-range, clandestine infiltration and exfiltration capabilities.

Our plans and concepts of operation may need to accommodate more unconventional thinking and greater use of indirect approaches, where possible, to achieve our security goals. Activities such as building the capacity of partner governments and their security forces is arguably as important as any direct fighting the US Armed Forces will conduct themselves. To this end, we will explore the expansion of our forces' capacity to train, advise, and assist the forces of partner countries threatened by terrorism and insurgency.

Irregular warfare, in which adversaries are likely non-state or sub-state actors, is only one form of asymmetric warfare facing the United States. We should expect all adversaries to challenge us where they perceive us to be most vulnerable.

At the high-end of the threat spectrum, we will want to assess our capabilities to project power in the face of sophisticated anti-access capabilities. In this effort, we may find the need for more survivable ISR, undersea superiority, enhanced theater missile defenses, new concepts and technologies for cyberspace and EW, and the ability to engage and attack enemy forces and assets in the absence of air superiority.

These examples point to the need to reshape our investment in low¬-density/high-demand capabilities. Such capabilities are not limited to platforms. The skills of our workforce are a key capability. In particular, developing and maintaining cultural and linguist expertise, developing cyberspace operators, and maintaining expertise in nuclear surety and logistics are likely areas for focus and attention.

Finally, we will need to take a fresh look at the posture of U.S. military forces around the world to support our strategy. The positioning of our forces not only enables DOD and other USG operations, it signals US interests, providing assurance and deterrence. Posture choices have very visible economic costs and often invisible political costs at home and abroad. It requires a thoughtful approach.

The nature of the threats I outlined earlier and the capabilities I just described illustrate the need for whole-of-government approaches to most security problems. The DOD should not develop forces in a vacuum. Yet we are faced today with the planning challenge of distinguishing what is planned and possible for our civilian partners and what is present and prudent. We anticipate the growth of other departments' and agencies' capabilities for such critical missions as domestic disaster response and overseas stabilization and reconstruction missions. In time, I trust that, as a nation, we will invest the resources necessary to deploy and operate experienced and expert civilians quickly, and in numbers.

We all understand, however, that these transformations of civilian capacity will take time. In the interim, and in contested environments over the long term, DOD must be prepared to be called upon to perform these functions. To close this window and improve civilian capacity, we will work in close cooperation with any civilian agency that seeks DOD assistance in strategy, planning, and resource management approaches.

The demands on our Armed Forces can seem endless, but our resources are not. We must prioritize our needs and our wants with clear-headed risk assessment. Tradeoffs and choice are the essence of strategy, too often missing. We therefore expect in the QDR to help the Secretary take a hard look at our investments and potential divestments. Balance does not imply taking undue risks in high-intensity conflict. Rather, we must ask whether we should adapt our future forces to address threats that are migrating away from America's overwhelming conventional advantages to areas where adversaries can exploit asymmetric avenues for success.

As an example, countering the proliferation of advanced capabilities in ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, anti-satellite weapons and offensive cyber capabilities require prudent investment. Recent operations and adversary strategic writings on using such weapons with new employment strategies may soon challenge our notions of what constitutes “conventional” in major theater conflict.

I made the mistake of writing about many of the issues I've discussed here today in my think tank days. Now, apparently, the chickens are coming home to roost.

My former CSIS colleague, Tony Cordesman, recently told an audience, “If God really hates you, you may end up working on a Quadrennial Defense Review.” I've worked on or around all of them, so I guess I know where I stand with the Almighty.

I am in week five back in the Pentagon, and as much as I am still learning, and relearning, our strategic task is already clear. We face hard choices going forward, both as a nation and a Department. Although the decisions may not be easy, they must be made.

Secretary Gates has stated his determination to “create a unified defense strategy” to guide budget priorities. It is my job, with partners throughout the DOD, to make this happen. As key partners in national security, you too have a role to play shaping the future of America's defense. I welcome your ideas, your collaboration, and your concepts.

Thank you.