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Policy: Remarks on U.S. Military Strategy, William Cohen, Secretary of Defense, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) May 22, 1997

BG9722E | Date: 1997-06-04

In March, I went out to Ft. Irwin to see the U.S. Army's Force XXI experiments in which the Army's Experimental Force is harnessing the power of digital technology and using the capability it provides to test out new operational concepts, doctrine, tactics, and organizational designs. It was an awe inspiring demonstration. Few who see it in action can doubt that Force XXI will revolutionize land warfare by linking commanders, planners and shooters with digital information and communications technology, cutting through the fog of war. Force XXI is the much-vaunted "Revolution in Military Affairs" made real. A new book published by CSIS -- Douglas Macgregor's Breaking the Phalanx -- talks about the U.S. military's "race to be ready for the 21st century." Force XXI is already past the first lap.

As I witnessed Force XXI in action, I felt a sense of urgency. I knew that the technology I was seeing was key to U.S. military superiority in the future. I knew that we had to find some way through the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to get this technology into the force. And I knew it was going to be tough going -- to both sustain our superiority today and, at the same time, reach out to that future I saw on the training fields at Ft. Irwin.

I believe that the QDR, which we released on May 19, gives us a realistic, executable plan for accomplishing this goal. This afternoon, I want to report to you on what that plan is and how we arrived at it.

Upon taking office, I made clear my expectations for how the QDR would be conducted. I made clear, first of all, that the defense strategy developed in the QDR process must be the basis for all other QDR analysis and decisions. I also made clear that there were to be no unrealistic assumptions, whether about the threat, about operations and support costs, or about program schedules and costs. Finally, I made clear that we would finish on time. Four years may seem like forever to some, but not in a department that thinks in six-year chunks of time and that is developing weapons today that will be used by military personnel not yet born -- and by their children. I think the report we presented on May 19 does a good job of meeting these requirements.

I inherited a Department of Defense that had done very well in adapting to the post-Cold War environment. I saw how it was preparing to move beyond the "post-Cold War" mind-set and reorient itself to a new era and a new century. To paraphrase Boris Pasternak: "We know that the stake where we stand will be the border of two different eras of history and we have been chosen."

The era we are entering is one of change and uncertainty, containing both strategic opportunity and new challenges and threats. These include regional dangers, including the threat of aggression against U.S. friends, allies and interests in key regions such as Southwest Asia and Northeast Asia. We are also threatened by proliferation of advanced technologies -- nuclear technology, chemical and biological weapons, missile systems, and information warfare capabilities that could encourage adversaries to challenge us in "asymmetric" ways that circumvent our strengths, exploit our vulnerabilities and threaten both our forces in the field and Americans at home. We also face transnational dangers, such as uncontrolled migrant flows, the illegal drug trade, and international organized crime.

We also must be prepared for "wild card" scenarios: low probability but high consequence developments, such as loss of access to critical overseas facilities, unexpected emergence of new technological threats or hostile forces gaining control of now friendly governments. And while we do not expect a regional great power or a "near peer competitor" to emerge in the next 10-15 years, we must prepare for the possibility in the years beyond and hedge against its earlier arrival.

The first task of the QDR was to develop a defense strategy to meet these threats and opportunities. In doing so, we built upon the President's National Security Strategy, which encompasses political, diplomatic, economic and other elements in addition to defense. The essence of our new defense strategy can be captured in three words: shape, respond, prepare.

First, we must shape the international security environment in ways favorable to U.S. national interests, by promoting regional stability, preventing conflicts, reducing threats, and deterring aggression and coercion on a day-to-day basis in key regions. We promote regional stability and deter day-to-day through forward presence of our forces, strong alliances, cooperative defense relationships and other peacetime engagement activities. We reduce threats through efforts like the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program and military-to-military contacts.

But we also need strong, ready forces that can respond quickly and decisively to threats across the full spectrum of crises -- everything from small-scale contingencies to major theater war, including asymmetric challenges like chemical and biological weapons, terrorism and information warfare.

This includes the ability to fight and win two major theater wars that overlap. Without this capability, our allies could question our commitment and seek alternative security solutions. Our adversaries would be emboldened to challenge us, especially once we became engaged in a large operation elsewhere. Indeed, we could become self-deterred -- hesitant to respond to a crisis for fear an enemy in another region would seize its chance. America would become just another power, unable to protect our global interests with confidence.

The third element of the strategy is that we must prepare now for an uncertain future. This requires that we maintain military superiority. The path for this is outlined in Joint Vision 2010, (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman) General Shalikashvili's blueprint for future military operations, which combines modern technology with new operational concepts and organizational structures designed to make the most of technological advances.

This force will seek the best people our nation can offer. It will give them the best technology our scientists and engineers can produce. And this technology will transform the way our forces fight. We want them to be able to dominate any situation we send them into. We don't want a fair fight -- we want a decisive advantage.

The key will be an integrated "system of systems" that gives our forces battlespace awareness, greatly reducing the risk of war. I saw a glimpse of what a system like this can give us when I visited Ft. Irwin. This system of systems will integrate the laptop, the microchip, the microwave, the videocam, the satellite and the sensor. It will connect the cockpit, the quarter-deck, the control panel and the command post and link the shooter to the supplier to the commander.

The ability to collect and distribute to U.S. forces throughout the battlespace an uninterrupted flow of information, while denying the enemy the ability to do the same, will provide our future forces with new capabilities. With a full picture of the battlespace, advanced vehicles, and agile organizations, U.S. forces will be able to attack enemy weak points throughout the depth of the battlefield -- what we term dominant maneuver. They will also have precision engagement -- the ability to identify the target and precisely aim a smart weapon at it. They will be supported through focused logistics -- the ability to deliver the right supplies at the right place on the battlefield at the right time. And they will have full dimension protection -- multiple layers of protection at all levels for themselves, their assets and their communications against a full spectrum of threats, from ballistic missiles to germ warfare, so that they have greater freedom of action in all phases of combat.

What these four capabilities mean is that our forces will go in lighter. They will need fewer weapons platforms. They will be able to direct lethal fire to the right targets. There will be less collateral damage, less friendly fire and fewer casualties. And U.S. forces on the scene early in a conflict will be able to take the initiative away from a numerically superior enemy, overwhelm the enemy as we bring more forces to bear, and end the battle quickly on our terms.

There are different approaches we could follow to try to execute the strategy, and the QDR focused on three specific options.

The first option is to focus on current dangers. While this option does not ignore the future, it places highest priority on dealing with today's threats, and accepts greater risk in dealing with threats of the future. This is essentially the path DOD has been following in recent years -- maintaining the current force structure, exercising it at a high rate and repeatedly delaying the increase in procurement spending needed to prepare for the future, thereby putting off taking full advantage of the Revolution in Military Affairs. This is business as usual, and the QDR rejected continuing with business as usual.

The second option would seek to rapidly and radically restructure the force for the future. But to pay for this we would have to cut today's force significantly. While allowing more aggressive pursuit of new technologies, this option would undermine our ability to shape the international environment to meet today's threats and to fulfill our commitments. It would greatly stress our troops and put them at greater risk in the near and mid term. By casting doubt on our reliability it would jeopardize alliances we need today and in the future, and embolden our adversaries. While this might appear "bold" to some, it is not best for America.

The option we have chosen strikes the necessary balance between the needs and risks of today, with those of the future. Modest reductions in force structure, focused on the tail, not the tooth, will enable us to continue to meet current threats and to shape the environment. These reductions, and aggressive efforts to change how DOD conducts business, will pay for focused modernization to deploy advanced systems at the right pace. This is the path that will take us safely from the present to the future.

Once the strategy was defined, and we chose an integrated approach to meet the strategy, we had to confront fiscal reality and figure out how to get from here to there.

First, let me give you some fiscal reality that is overlooked by many who think we are stuck in the past with a Cold War budget and Cold War forces. In fact, DOD's budget has taken deep cuts, nearly 40 percent, since the Cold War. Our force structure has been cut one-third, and our procurement budget slashed by two-thirds. So, it is those critics who are frozen in a Cold War mind-set, not the U.S. Armed Forces.

We can get by with no real growth above this year's budget of $250,000 million -- if we are able to shift funds from current operations and support activities into modernization. DOD's track record, however, has been exactly the opposite: year after year, procurement funds have been taken to pay for unexpected operations and support costs. As a result, we are failing to prepare for the future at the pace necessary. That is why the QDR rejected the status quo.

What we did instead was to rebalance our program: accelerating some new programs and slowing others, depending on how mature the technology is. We also have reduced the size of some programs, because their advanced capabilities mean fewer are needed. And we have worked to weed out unrealistic expectations and fix deficiencies in the Service and defense-wide budgets, so that our programs are more stable and more efficient.

The result is that we can now execute a solid, realistic plan to exploit the Revolution in Military Affairs, rather than falter on shifting sand.

Let me give you some of the highlights of our plan to build the force of the future.

First, we are accelerating the fielding of the Army Force XXI's first digitized corps. At the same time, the Navy and the Marines will continue with focused efforts to harness the power of information technology through their Fleet Battle Experiments and Sea Dragon program. The Air Force will continue doing the same through its six new battle laboratories, exploring everything from cyberspace to outerspace.

We are also accelerating our development of leap-ahead tactical air capability. That's why I cut the F/A-18 E/F buy nearly in half and accelerated the deployment in quantity of the Navy Joint Strike Fighter. And to promote efficiency, we established a competition between the two aircraft in the outyears. We will also proceed to build the F-22 with its revolutionary capabilities, which will enable us to reduce the overall buy.

Meanwhile, the Marines will accelerate their buy of the leap-ahead V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, one of the vehicles that will help provide our forces with dominant maneuver.

The QDR also determined that we needed to spend more research and development money on a National Missile Defense program to protect our homeland from limited missile attacks. So we will add about $2,000 million over the Future Years Defense Program.

Finally, the QDR determined that we must prepare right now against the danger of asymmetric threats, including chemical and biological weapons. That's why we're adding about $1,000 million to counter-proliferation programs and moving to institutionalize counter-proliferation, so it is integral to all military activities, plans, logistics, maneuver and strike, as well as internationalize it and encourage our allies to prepare for these threats seriously.

The plan coming out of the QDR will allow us to reach that Revolution in Military Affairs that we seek. But a central conclusion of the review was that the only way we could pay for this revolution was to also have another revolution -- a "Revolution in the Business Affairs" of DOD, to slough off the excess weight we still carry from the long winter of the Cold War. What we're talking about is a fundamental reengineering of the way we do business. American industry has reengineered the way it does business and, as a result, has regained its leadership in rapidly changing global markets. We must do the same if we are to retain our leadership in the rapidly changing global security arena.

This will free up resources that we need to modernize the force. It will also make our support organizations more responsive to the warfighters they support. We can sharpen the blade and shave the hilt to give America a sword that is more lethal and more agile. And we cannot afford to wait.

That's why the modest reductions in active forces we have proposed will be targeted on supporters, not shooters. Thus, the QDR will reduce 109,000 civilian and military personnel associated with infrastructure. That's also why I have gone to Congress to ask for two additional rounds of base closures. Even after four BRAC (Base Re-alignment and Closure) rounds, we still have excess facilities. Force structure is down 33 percent, and will be down 36 percent under our plans. But over the same period, domestic infrastructure will be down only 21 percent. It's time to take the next step.

The QDR also adopted initiatives to reduce personnel and costs of defense agencies and defense-wide activities by outsourcing selected logistics, accounting and health support programs. But much more needs to be done. To take best advantage of the benefits of outsourcing we need relief from legislative impediments -- especially the "60/40 rule," that requires 60 percent of depot maintenance to be performed in public depots.

I have appointed a Defense Reform Task Force, which will be overseen by DOD Comptroller John Hamre, to make a fundamental re-examination of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, defense agencies, defense-wide activities, and the military departments, and to advise me on how best to restructure, consolidate and re-engineer them. They will report to me in November, but in the meantime, I will proceed with steps that make sense. We have no time to waste.

The bottom line is that we must deregulate DOD so that we can become as efficient and agile as the warfighters. The American people will not stand for waste and inefficiency, whether it stems from "tradition" or legislation. The QDR addressed and tackled many tough issues and required difficult choices. There will be concerns expressed on Capitol Hill and elsewhere over some of our decisions especially those to reduce certain programs and eliminate excess infrastructure. Indeed, the cries are already being sounded.

As an alternative to infrastructure cuts, some may propose cutting or eliminating certain programs. But this is not a simple dollars game. The QDR represents a coherent set of interlocking pieces that taken as whole enable us to execute the strategy. We are open to constructive ideas but any proposed changes must meet the rigorous test of fulfilling the strategy. Killing a program to save a base might look like an equal trade to an accountant -- but not to the warfighter.

The fact is we need to be like a decathlon athlete -- fast, agile and able to do many things well. And if we continue to carry around our excess weight, we will not be able to jump as high nor run as fast or as far. So critics who don't like base closings or outsourcing better be able to tell us how many air wings they want to take out, how many carriers, how many divisions, because there is no more money. They better be able to say what part of the strategy they want to change, which part of the world we should ignore. And ultimately they need to be prepared to answer the question of how many more casualties they are willing to accept in some future conflict where we don't have the best technology in the hands of our warfighters.

Having spent a quarter century on Capitol Hill, and having witnessed the difficult transformation for communities affected by base closures, I fully appreciate the reaction we are receiving to our infrastructure decisions. But I would ask my former colleagues to please join me in shaping the strongest possible military force for those who wear the uniform today -- and for soldiers not yet born. It is easy to become focused on near-term concerns. But we are called to look ahead to make choices that will ensure our children and grandchildren can enjoy lasting peace -- a peace that can be secured only by a strong and effective military.