WASHINGTON—The Pentagon plans to strengthen its special-operations forces to fight terrorists and insurgents in the coming decades, but it won't increase the military's ground forces or eliminate any of its most expensive weapons programs, according to a long-range plan released Friday.
The Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon's strategic plan that's updated every four years, makes the war on terrorism the military's top priority, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an assessment of the review.
Some analysts said the plan doesn't reshape the military enough to meet new threats because it doesn't increase military manpower for dealing with situations such as Iraq. It also doesn't trim spending on expensive weapons that are used primarily in conventional warfare to help finance the emphasis on fighting terrorists, they said.
The document calls for increasing U.S. special-operations forces by 15 percent, drawing these new highly trained forces from the pool of active-duty members of the military. Other provisions include new coastal and river patrol forces and a new fleet of long-range bombers, 35 percent of which would be unmanned drones.
Those plans, according to officials, reflect a shift in a strategy that had focused almost exclusively on fighting conventional wars. The new plan, they said, will prepare the military to defeat other armies as well as low-tech insurgents, terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction and countries or groups that acquire disruptive new technologies that threaten U.S. dominance.
Daniel Goure, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a public policy research group in Arlington, Va., questioned whether the military would have enough ground troops.
"What is the one thing that we've learned about the global war on terrorism?" he asked. "The one unalterable thing is that it takes numbers. It takes large numbers. Whatever approach you want to take, whether it's preventing looting in Baghdad or securing ammunition sites so that terrorists don't walk off with the stuff, it takes numbers. And for another Iraq-like scenario, which is what they're planning on, they don't have the numbers."
Defense officials said the review incorporates lessons from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—primarily that the United States must be prepared to defeat a wide range of enemies.
"I can tell you now that U.S. forces, in all probability, will be engaged somewhere in the world in the next decade where they're not currently engaged," said Ryan Henry, principal undersecretary of defense for policy, during a briefing on Friday. "But I can't tell you with any resolution at all of where that might be, when that might be or how that might be, and that's indicative of the uncertainty that we face."
While lawmakers and analysts have applauded the report's recommendation to increase special-operations forces, there was some concern on Capitol Hill that the Pentagon failed to call for more ground forces. Plans call for 482,400 soldiers in the active-duty Army and 533,000 Reserve and National Guard troops by 2011, a decrease from the Army's current authorized end strength of 512,000 and 555,000, respectively, for those units.
The Army presently has 493,000 active-duty soldiers and 522,000 National Guard and Reserves.
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, questioned whether the military would have enough troops.
"Today's Army is severely stretched by deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan," Skelton said. "It is not clear to me that an Army of 70 BCTs (brigade combat teams) can sustain the `long war' envisioned by this QDR while simultaneously executing the missions that are necessary to support major conflicts in the future."
Pentagon officials said that concerns about the number of ground troops miss a broader point—that the number of soldiers an Army has isn't as important as what those soldiers can do.
"It's not about numbers," Henry said. "Being able to generate operational effects on the battle space—that's what it's about."
But Michele Flournoy, a Pentagon official in the Clinton administration, said that one of the fundamental lessons of Iraq is that the military needs a large ground force to occupy a country.
"To sustain that over a period, you're going to have to have a larger force," said Flournoy, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy research group. "It's a logical disconnect in my mind to look at the future, look at the force structure and say you need a smaller army."
Flournoy said that 30,000 more ground troops would be sufficient in the event of another Iraq-like scenario.
Lawrence J. Korb, who was the Pentagon's top personnel official in the Reagan administration, advocates increasing the Army by 86,000 soldiers. He suggested eliminating the national ballistic missile defense system, research into space-based weapons programs and production of the F-22 stealth fighter, the Virginia-class submarine, the DD(X) destroyer and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor plane. The Pentagon's plan preserves all these programs.
"United States' weapons systems are not matched to threats, and the Pentagon has more programs on the drawing board than it can afford, given the Bush administration's record-setting deficits," Korb wrote in a recent report for the Center for American Progress, another policy research group.
Other experts said the Army would be hard-pressed to find more soldiers.
"The QDR could authorize the Army to go up to a million soldiers. But we're having trouble recruiting 482,000," said Andrew F. Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who recently authored a study for the Pentagon that described the Army as being stretched thin by Iraq.
Congress requires the military to review its strategy every four years. The Pentagon will release its fiscal year 2007 budget request next week.
To read the full document, go to www.defenselink.mil/qdr. See "click to read report" under the photo of the report cover.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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