05 February 2006

The QDR and the Alternatives

You may want to review the text of the Quadrennial Defense Review (113 pages) and a "progressive" alternative (108 pages) from the Center For American Progress. (I use scare quotes around the word progressive, above, because I don't see the issues raised by the alternative report as terribly partisan, for the most part).

The main recommendations of the alternative:

* Add 86,000 soldiers to the Army. The Army's share of the "baseline budget" should grow from 24% to 28%.
* The Marine Corps should have 185,000 soldiers and 40,000 reserves.
* There should be ten carrier battle groups (down from 11).
* There should be eighteen Air Force Tactical Fighter Wings (down from 19).
* "Back door drafts" through stop loss orders and "selective reserve" recall should be curtailed.
* "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" should be repealed, with gays treated equally.
* The ban on women in combat should end.
* Funding should continue for the F-35, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), the B-2 bomber, the Army's Future Combat System, the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle, the CVN-21 Aircraft Carrier, and the Littoral Combat Ship.
* Development and production should end for the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, the Virginia class submarine, the DD(X) destroyer, the V-22 Osprey, the C-130J transport, offensive space based weapons and the National Missile Defense System.
* Nuclear forces should be limited to 600 combined warheads plus 400 in reserve and arms talks with Russia should resume. Research on nuclear bunker buster weapons should end.
* First responders should be kept out of the selected reserves. Funding on homeland defense should double to $20 billion, and the National Guard's role should shift from being a backup to the active duty force to being "a protector of the homeland in case of a large scale natural or man-made disaster." The National Guard should focus on light infantry, military police and combat support, rather than roles such as armor or artillery. The command and control of the National Guard should be improved.
* Defense Intelligence services should be better integrated with the Direction of National Intelligence. Department of Defense covert operations should be conducted in accordance with United States law.

I wouldn't make exactly the same recommendations as the "alternative report" but it is closer to the mark. In particular, recognizing that the Army needs more personnel, that the blue sea Navy and the fighter wings of the Air Force can afford to be slimmer, that both the "back door draft" and "don't ask, don't tell" are bad policies, that the Virginia submarine program is too large and too expensive per unit (although I'm not sure that eliminating it entirely and immediately is the best call), that the Littoral Combat Ship should continue development and production, that the DD(X) needs to be cancelled, that National Missile Defense needs to be curtailed (again I'm not sure I would kill the entire program, but it needs to be trimmed materially), that the National Guard needs to be refocused on a light homeland defense role, and that covert operations should be conducted in accordance with U.S. law, are all good starting points.

My Proposal

What would I propose?


The Army is heavily taxed and needs to be expanded. But, an increase of 250,000 soldiers is closer to the mark. Why? First, because the demands placed on the Army require that kind of increase simply to keep up with the current pace of operations, and second, because it reflects the likelihood that future military operations will involve peacekeeping, counterinsurgency missions, and asymmetric warfare with opponents who do not have massive conventional military forces (why would anyone, short perhaps of China, take on the U.S. military in that kind of fight?).

About a division's worth (about 50,000) of the new forces would be rapid reaction forces serving a role similar to the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, that could be deployed entirely by aircraft, because those units have consistently been the most frequently called upon in the Army. But, this unit would be designed to enter via field airstrips rather than airdrop, and would outfitted with the heaviest armaments possible for completely air deployed forces (as both the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions are sometimes not entirely inaccurately viewed as "speed bumps" in the face of serious opposition). This would give the Army a combined rapid reaction force comparable in size to that of the Marines, who are also rapidly deployable.

Another 50,000 troops worth ought to be designed to provide a core of linguistically trained and culturally aware troops for every region in the world. In peacetime, they would serve as embassy guards and skeleton crews of "Lily Pad" bases with caches of equipment ready should a real conflict arise in the area. In times of war, they would be dispersed throughout other units providing as many officers as possible with a loyal, linguistically able, and culturally savy aid all the way down to the Platoon or Company level, if possible. Rather than being "special forces" designed to operate in small units autonomously, these would be primarily "modular forces" which would augment the capabilities of conventional units with which they deploy.

The balance would be divided into 8-10 Brigade combat teams equipped and trained primarily for peacekeeping and counterinsurgency work, the most common task that modern military forces are called upon to carry out, but on that very few U.S. units are designed from the ground up to address. Commanders developing the new units should be given considerable lattitude to procure new kinds of vehicles or armaments to serve the needs of their units. Each would have some limited regional specialty, for example, for tropical or desert or mountain environments, although all would be capable of deploying anywhere.

The Army also needs a weapons development program that is less speculative than the Future Combat System, whose usefulness is impaired by the long time lines and high cost involved in developing revolutionary systems. Less ambitious programs, like improved rifles, improved side arms, improved body armor, sub-C-130 sized short takeoff and landing transport aircraft to improve upon transport helicopters in range and reliability where field airstrips are available, more rapid deployment of armored trucks, and greater use a UAVs for reconnaisance and light attack roles are more important than a grand plan.

Particularly attention should be given to developing Army point defense systems which intercept mortar rounds, artillery rounds and light missiles, which are starting to come into their own.

The Army should also be given control over development programs for high speed sea lift ships and airships, both of which are crucial to filling the logistics gap between expensive, low capacity airlift, and cheap, high capacity sealifts. The Army as the main user of these new resources, rather than the Navy or Air Force, should guide this development, to insure that their capabilities are well integrated with the forces that they will transport.


One the George H.W. Bush replaces the Kitty Hawk, there will be ten Nimitz class aircraft carriers in the United States Navy, the first of which is not planned for decommissioning until 2025. We should retire the Enterprise and John F. Kennedy as well, leaving us ten aircraft carriers, and defer until 2017 or so, the question of how those ten should be replaced, when we will be in a better position to evaluate evolving technologies and military threats. The F-35C replacement of the F-18 carrier aircraft should also continue. Military experts continue to express strong support for the value of these supercarriers and this support should be respected. Thus, only a modest reduction in the size of the carrier fleet is proposed. The Navy should also continue development of a UAV replacement of manned carrier based fighter aircraft.

The U.S. Navy already has plenty of surface combatants to escort these ten carriers. In 2007, it will have 22 Ticonderoga class cruisers (the first of which is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2026), and at least 43 Areligh Burke class destroyers (by my calculations there are 17 additional members of this class under construction), none of which are due to be decommissioned until 2026 either. This is more than sufficient for a ten carrier force, even with the last of the Spruance class destroyers scheduled to be decommissioned this year and all of the Navy's the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates being decommissioned, and the DD(X) being cancelled, while leaving a couple of cruiser/destroyer class ships free to escort ships each amphibious assault ship group, and a handful free to roam the seas detached from a larger unit. Again, there is no reason to build or even start development on another blue sea surface combatant prior to 2017. The U.S. Navy is unrivaled in this regard and the technologies and threats need to mature so that the Navy purchases what it really needs when the time comes.

The U.S. has, at least, one Virginia class nuclear attack submarine, three Seawolf class nuclear attack submarines, and fifty Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarines, although one or two Virginia class nuclear attack submarines may have been built since I last looked into the issue. I share the view of critics who argue that the Virginia, like its predecessor, the Seawolf, is still too big, too costly and insufficiently tailored to the threats we face and needs to be cancelled soon, probably, at least by the time we have four of them, with the construction pace slowed to one every couple of years (with the program ending by 2009). Not all Los Angeles class submarines that are decommissioned, starting in 2009, would be replaced. A modestly smaller nuclear attack submarine force makes sense in light of the limited Naval opposition faced by U.S. forces worldwide and the immense cost of new Virginia class submarines. The U.S. should instead, look into adding a modest number of much smaller diesel power submarines similar to those used by Sweden, perhaps a dozen submarines of about 1,500 tons each to its fleet, to diversify the force and add a niche resources to the fleet at a modest cost. In the meantime, the Navy needs to do more soul searching regarding the future of the nuclear powered submarine fleet. It may want to consider an attack submarine smaller and less expensive than any of our existing classes, and it may also want to consider roles other than attacking ships and submarines for nuclear powered submarines. Existing plans to convert four of the nation's Ohio class nuclear missile submarines to conventional weapons also make sense.

The real decision point for the U.S. Navy, however, involves its amphibious forces. The Navy's five Tarawa class amphibious assault ships (read mini-carriers) are 26-30 years old and we are on the verge of committing to a very expensive program, called the LHA(R) (whose very name and the lack of development work to date, shows the service's limited excitement about the program). At the end of this year, the Navy will have eight other mini-carriers, of the Wasp class, and whether the Navy really needs more is in doubt.

The Navy has four amphibious force command ships, which carry neither significant numbers of troops nor other offensive capabilities, that range of 34-42 years old, whose usefulness in the age of telecommunications is doubtful, and which are not currently scheduled to be replaced.

The Navy is in the process of replacing its Austin class amphibious landing ships (troop and gear carriers with landing craft) with a dozen San Antonio class ships, the first of which was delivered last year, six more of which are on order, and five more of which are planned. But, the first San Antonio class ship delivered has been seriously flawed.

I would favor downsizing the Navy's amphibious fleet from 12 amphibious assault ships to eight, cancelling the LHA(R) program entirely, and in connection with that cancellation, cutting the buy of San Antonio class ships from twelve to four. This would leave the Navy with two amphibious ships for each amphibious assault ship (the current ratio), while downsizing that part of the fleet by a third (and in addition eliminating the command ships). Instead, the resources that might have gone into further amphibious assault ships would be divided to the new airborne division in the Army, in recognition of the fact that amphibious assaults against heavily defended coasts are no longer the mainstay of the Marine's mission.

The development of the Littoral Combat Ship would continue with an eventual buy of 48-60 of the ships, in order to develop the nation's brown water Navy capabilities, being in order.

The other capability that bears research and development effort is the notion of building perhaps eight to twelve ships whose purpose is to serve in a missile defense role, as tests of Naval systems have been much more succesful than those of the Air Force, whose missile defense efforts have been so dismal that they should be cancelled entirely. But, the Navy should not try to fit these ships into the CG(X) framework currently proposed. If it can achieve its objective by converting existing destroyers, cruisers or submarines, it should do so. If it needs to start from scratch, it should build the ship that best serves a missile defense role.

Overall, this plan calls for a major reduction in ship building. All but half a dozen non-LCS ship orders would be cancelled. while the only new ships in the near future would a dozen small diesel powered submarines. This reduction in the size of the Navy that reflects the limited Naval threat that the United States currently faces. I would anticipate a reduction in Naval personnel on the order of 70,000-80,000 under this plan. The Department of Defense should also investigate the possiblity in the medium term of decommissioning even more surface combatants, whose principal weapons are their cruise missiles, with aircraft based cruise missiles, perhaps on some form of transport bomber, which could take over much of the anti-ship and anti-ground roles served by cruise missiles on the existing fleet.

Air Force

The current plan to cap the F-22 force at about 182 planes is reasonable. This is a good replacement for the existing F-117 and F-15 force, in the air to air combat and critical target strike roles.

It also makes sense to replace much of the aging F-16 fleet with the F-35A, a similar plane, which is modestly more capable and built to be cheaper to maintain. But, it isn't clear that the full proposed buy of F-35As is appropriate. On one hand, the F-35A was originally proposed to replace not only the F-16 multipurpose fighter, but also the A-10 close air support attack plane, and it is a poor replacement in that role. So, some of the F-35A buy should be cut to free up funds for a couple hundred next generation replacements for the A-10 and AC-130 in the close air support role. Another role commonly served by the existing F-16 is to patrol the skys above major American cities to protect them against errant civilian aircraft (from hijacked airliners or helicopters, to crop dusters, to general aviation aircraft used for terrorist purposes). This role would be better served by replacing F-16s in Air National Guard service not with F-35As, but with a couple hundred much cheaper (to buy and maintain) Homeland Defense Interceptors, with less aerobatic capability, lighter armaments, sensors less enhanced to overcome sophisticated jamming efforts and less peak speed, which would still be more than sufficient to overcome any civilian aircraft, even if modified for terrorist purposes.

Also, as it becomes clear than unmanned combat aircraft are technologically viable and in some respects may be more capable than manned fighter aircraft, it may also be appropriate to replace a significant share of the planned F-35A buy with unmanned combat aircraft that serve a similar purpose. The exact numbers for this replacement depend to a great extent on how capably the unmanned vehicle performs.

Finally, it simply isn't clear that the United States needs quite as many fighters as it did when it was preparing to fighter the Cold War, and a modest reduction in the size of the fighter force, as well as a shift in its character would be appropriate.

The Air Force has been trying to cut the size of its B-52 fleet for some time, and it is one of the oldest set of aircraft in military service. But, they have also proven very effective in every recent military campaign, dropping a large proportion of the total ordinance loads despite making up only a tiny part of the total number of planes flying sorties. They are also the one of the few kinds of planes that treaty obligations and capabilities make available for carrying nuclear weapons and cruise missiles. A cruise missile carried on a B-52 can much more quickly be shifted from one theater to another, while putting far fewer U.S. military personnel in harm's way, than the other main vehicles for carrying them Naval destroyers, cruisers and submarines. Thus, while it may be time to downsize the B-52 fleet, this fleet, which has provided more combat effectiveness than most of the rest of the Air Force, despite being underutilized to some extent, needs to be replaced with an alternative bomber designed for high volume, low risk missions. The net number of planes might be similar, but the replacements would likely have larger payloads and greater fuel efficiency.

There are two classes of planes for which the Air Force faces acute shortages. These are airlift planes and electronic warfare planes (AWACS, electronic countermeasures, and electronic intelligence).

The Air Force needs scores of additional C-17s to meet its obligations (and will need even more if a new air transportable division is created in the Army). It also needs more intratheater transports, and the C-130J has proven to be a technological flop. Ideally, a plane with more capacity than the C-130 (perhaps 40 tons v. 19 tons on a C-130 and 70 tons on a C-17) and a little shorter takeoff and landing requirement than a C-130, so that it could carry just about any Army vehicle other than an M1 tank off a crude field airstrip, would replace the venerable C-130. Ideally, this new transport would also come in a seaplane version which could deliver Marine Expeditionary Vehicles (armored personnel carriers able to function as fairly high speed boats) to lakes or coasts, to deliver Marines to amphibious assault fleets just in time for the invasion (without having to have sat on the ships for weeks getting there) and to serve in a search and rescue function for ranges much longer and much larger rescue capacities than helicopters. Hundreds of new conventional intratheater airplanes and dozens of the seaplane version should be purchased.

The Air Force also needs a large number of new tanker aircraft, both to replace aging ones, and to serve the shorter range transports added to the air fleet.

As noted before, the Air Force role in missile defense should end for the time being, until the relevant technologies (such as airborn lasers and ground based interceptor missiles) can mature.

The real QDR anticipates 40,000 layoffs in the Air Force. I suspect that the net effect of my proposals would be similar. Most reductions in fighter and older bomber aircraft would be matched by additional new bombers and transport planes.


Military planners have generally given the Marines a light touch. Increasing the size of the force would harm its elite character, shrinking the force would reduce the size of a military resource that has been called upon time and again. This basic reasoning is sound. Unlike the planners in the "alternative" QDR noted above, I think that the V-22 Osprey has gotten most of the kinks worked out of it, although the cost of the program makes a buy as large as originally planned probably unworkable. Instead, the Marines should buy, perhaps half as many V-22s, and supplement it with small intratheater STOL planes (similar in size to the Army Sherpa plane now) which would be cheaper and more reliable and could be developed jointly. The V-22 fills a useful niche with its long range and verticle landing abilities, but the niche isn't as large as the proposed buy of very expensive and tempermental V-22s.

The F-35B, a verticle landing fighter plane for use in close air support and mini-carrier landings is also a reasonable replacement for the Marines' current AV-8B Harrier force.

The Marine Expeditionary Vehicle, which would eliminate the need for landing craft in amphibious operations, also appears to be making solid technological progress and should continue to be funded, as should a small wheeled vehicle designed to be carried on the V-22 or Marine helicopters (so Marines don't have to hoof it once they arrive at their destinations).

As noted above, however, the need a Cold War sized amphibious assault Naval fleet no longer exists, and this should be trimmed by at least a third. Modern Marines will more often arrive by air than sea.

National Guard

The National Guard, as noted above, should be converted to a primarily homeland defense/disaster response role, and should serve in light infantry, military police and combat support roles (supplementing Army units created for that primary purpose in this plan) rather than in heavier conventional combat roles. They would be available to be called up only after other reserve forces were exhausted.

Much of the existing Air National Guard would be transferred to the Air Force Reserves, with the Air National Guard integrated into the Army National Guard and limited primarily to transport, reconnaisance, and protecting metropolitan areas from errant civilian aircraft.

The U.S. military should also be willing to expend considerable procurement dollars to develop military systems and vehicles designed for a homeland defense role, rather than having the National Guard simply serve as a dumping ground for the hand me downs that the active duty forces no longer want or need.

Overall Impact

Overall, my vision of the military calls for a somewhat larger force (perhaps increasing it in size from about 1.4 million active duty personnel now to 1.5 million activity duty personnel), but with a 50% larger Army, and a 20% smaller Navy and a 10% smaller Air Force. Pay and benefits for military personnel might have to be increased to meet these goals. But, this still would remain a far smaller force than the Cold War military which had about 2.1 million troops.

But, this proposal would also reduce the military budget, with the bulk of the cost reductions coming from Naval ship and submarine purchases, a reduction in the size of the F-35A budget, termination of the Air Force part of the National Missile Defense program, and a reduction in the size of the V-22 budget, offset to a meaningful extent by increased purchases of transport aircraft, transport bombers, tanker aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, and an A-10 replacement, as well as other smaller programs such as diesel submarine purchases and new Army and National Guard equipment.

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