WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2012 – People are the centerpiece of the new defense strategy guidance that President Barack Obama released last week, the deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces said here yesterday.
Kathleen Hicks told the Pentagon Channel that the new guidance calls for a military force sized to handle the operational environment in the world today, and that the force will not be like that of the past 10 years.
Rather, she said, the strategy guidance says the country is best served through having forward-deployed military forces present abroad.
While technology is an incredible enabler, “what we understand today is that nothing substitutes for the quality of our trained, equipped and ready force, and that's our focus for the future,” she said.
The strategy guidance uses information gleaned from the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, Hicks said, but the situation in two short years has changed. “Now we have a changed fiscal environment, the Arab Awakening, the end of U.S. operations in Iraq, and [we are] looking forward transition in Afghanistan,” she said. Changes in Iranian behavior and other factors also were considered in the new guidance, she added.
The Budget Control Act signed last year calls for the Defense Department to cut $487 billion over 10 years. But even without this impetus, DOD would be incorporating the lessons learned from 10 years of war, she said.
The strategy guidance has some concrete changes to past strategy, Hicks said. “We have been looking toward Asia more and maintaining our presence in the Middle East, but now we have to bring new focus to those primary emphases to ensuring we have the right mix of capabilities for our special operators all the way up to the high ends of warfare,” she explained. The emphasis, she added, is particularly in the air, naval, cyber and space domains.
But people remain the bedrock capability, Hicks said. The message from DOD to service members is “we are looking out for you, we are making sure that any drawdown that does occur comes with appropriate transition incentives and capabilities that we can help people transition to civilian life,” she added.
For service members who opt to stay in the military, department leaders will make sure they have the pay and benefits they deserve, and that family programs will remain in place, she said.
The country will continue to need a strong and capable National Guard and reserve components, Hicks said. But there are constraints there as well.
“We will have to draw down somewhat, but those who remain will be well taken care of,” she said. “What we can really offer now that we haven't been able to do for some time is a more sustainable tempo.” This means employers of reserve-component service members will be able to plan for military absences.
The president worked very closely with DOD leaders, including the combatant commanders, to understand all the nuances of a new defense strategy, Hicks said. She called it a very collaborative and inclusive process.
In the field, there will be a growing focus on building partnership capacity in Asia, as well as more exercises and more opportunity to get high-end training. “We will still maintain [counterinsurgency] skill sets that are so vital, but we will begin to have time and opportunity to train on a much broader range of potential threats,” she said.
The biggest risk of any strategy is uncertainty of the future, she said. “We don't know exactly where threats will emerge,” she acknowledged. “We don't know where opportunities will emerge and whether we will be able to see them in time to take advantage of them. We really have tried to develop a balanced force that can take account of that uncertainty and be ready to flex to different types of crises that may emerge.
“We think we have brought down risk that we had at the highest levels of conflict,” she continued, “by investing in our power-projection capabilities.”
The strategy guidance does pose a risk in the case of large-scale, enduring operations like the military has been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hicks said. “We believe we've addressed that risk by building in reversibility to the strategy,” she added.
Defense Department officials are concerned about several trends, including a continuing concern that terrorism still is a problem, Hicks said. Officials also worry about Iran's path and the country's push for a nuclear capability. “There is opportunity in the Arab Awakening, but there is also tremendous uncertainty,” she said. “North Korea remains a challenge for the United States and its allies in Asia.”
The strategy guidance makes sense if the cuts outlined in the Budget Control Act remain in force, Hicks said. But all bets are off, she added, if a “sequestration” mechanism in the law comes into play, doubling the projected defense budget cuts. The law calls for sequestration to kick in unless Congress acts before January 2013 to override that provision.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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