Politics & Government

Pentagon review, budget stress new threats such as cyberwar


WASHINGTON — The U.S. military must prepare for a combination of humanitarian missions, untraditional threats such as cyber-attacks, environmental disasters, terrorist groups seeking weapons of mass destruction and as many as two major conflicts, the Defense Department's latest quadrennial policy review has found.

It's the first time the Pentagon has redefined the military's purpose in more than a decade, and it will shape not only how troops train but also the equipment the military buys. Indeed, the department released both the Quadrennial Defense Review and its proposed $708 billion 2011 budget Monday, saying that the QDR had shaped its budget request.

Calling climate change "an accelerant of instability," the review also marked the first time such a document linked environmental issues with national security.

"The wars we fight are seldom the ones we plan for," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told a news briefing.

While the military once trained its forces and bought weapons to fight two major wars — in the 1990s the military presumed the two nations would North Korea and Iraq — Gates said the U.S. already was engaged in major conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in providing humanitarian relief in Haiti.

The review, however, is vague about how many conflicts the military should be prepared to handle at one time. It calls for forces to be prepared for a range of warfare "from homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities, to deterrence and preparedness missions — occurring in multiple and unpredictable combinations."

The budget reflects what the military thinks it will need to face such challenges, calling for more surveillance aircraft, language training and helicopters.

That contributed to an $18 billion increase over the 2010 defense budget. In addition to a $549 billion base budget, there's $159 billion in contingency funding, largely to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2011, making the Pentagon's total budget request to Congress $708 billion.

Although President Barack Obama promised during his presidential campaign that he wouldn't request supplemental funding to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the Bush administration did routinely, Monday's budget includes a supplemental request for $33 billion to pay for the wars through fiscal year 2010.

The administration said it needed the funding to support the deployment of an additional 30,000 to 35,000 troops to Afghanistan by this fall.

The budget provides for a 1.4 percent pay raise for the military and an increase in the deductible that military families pay for their health care, the first since the plan, TRICARE, began in 1995, Gates said.

The quadrennial review lists four Pentagon goals:

  • Win today’s wars.
  • Prevent conflicts.
  • Plan for a wide spectrum conflict in cyberspace.
  • Improve the all-volunteer force.
  • "Over the course of the next several decades, conflicts are at least as likely to result from state weakness as from state strength," the review says, a sharp departure from more than 60 years of focusing on deterring or winning major conflicts with "peer competitors" such as the Soviet Union.

    It calls for the military to increase the number of rotary-wing assets such as helicopters, expand its unmanned and manned intelligence-gathering aircraft, increase its regional expertise in Afghanistan and Pakistan and establish a Joint Task Force Elimination headquarters to train forces on "WMD-elimination operations." Gates said he'd taken that recommendation under advisement.

    China and Russia still pose the biggest traditional threats to U.S. military power, the review concludes, while the most fertile ground for nontraditional forces such as al Qaida is Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    In a letter at the beginning of the review, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calls the 2011 budget a continuation of the one he presented last year to make "a down payment on re-balancing the department's priorities in keeping with the lessons learned and capabilities gained from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

    On Monday, Obama said that although the military was engaged in two wars, the Defense Department wasn't "exempt from budget common sense." He then announced the end of Boeing's C-17 transport program because the department says it has enough of the aircraft, a $2.5 billion savings.

    In addition, Gates said he withheld $614 million in performance fees on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program — run by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas — citing performance problems.

    "As the QDR states, the department and the nation can no longer afford the 'quixotic pursuit' of high-tech perfection that incurs unacceptable cost and risk," Gates said.


    Quadrennial Defense Review fact sheet

    The Defense Department 2011 budget request

    Summary of Pentagon budget request


    Obama budget foresees deficits for a decade

    U.S. economy grew 5.7% in 4th quarter, capping dismal year

    Senate approves tough new spending curbs without GOP

    Check out McClatchy's national security blog: Nukes & Spooks

    Related stories from McClatchy DC