Pentagon Shifts Its Strategy to Small-Scale Warfare

NPP Pressroom

Wall Street Journal
August Cole and Yochi J. Dreazen

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon will lay out a long-term vision for U.S. national security on Monday that jettisons the military's decades-old belief that it needs to be prepared to fight two large-scale wars simultaneously, according to defense officials familiar with the matter. The shift in strategy sets up potential conflicts with defense contractors and powerful lawmakers uneasy with the Pentagon's growing focus on smaller-scale, guerilla warfare. In the budget to be announced Monday, the Pentagon is expected to outline a shifting strategy in its approach to war. WSJ's Yochi Dreazen says the U.S. will no longer prepare for major wars and will instead wage smaller, guerilla-like conflicts. The Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated report on U.S. military thinking presented by the administration every four years, will instead focus on developing the strategies and weapons needed to prevail in Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader war on terror in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, the officials said. The review will be released on the same day as the administration's fiscal year 2011 budget request for the Pentagon, making it easier for the White House to ground the strategic thinking in nuts-and-bolts decisions about specific weapons systems. Defense officials say the two documents will call for buying more unmanned drones and helicopters, both items sorely needed in Afghanistan. The QDR will also call for developing fuel-efficient armored vehicles and aircraft as part of a broad push to lower the Pentagon's energy bills and reduce the number of supply convoys that need to make dangerous journeys across the war zones, the officials said. The QDR is meant to focus on the nation's strategic outlook over the next two decades, but the thinking behind the document was heavily influenced by today's military operations and the growing fiscal pressure on the U.S. government. In particular, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has come to think that the Pentagon's traditional belief that it needed to be able to fight two major wars at the same time was outdated and overly focused on conventional warfare. The new QDR moves away from that model, a mainstay of U.S. military thinking for more than two decades, in favor of an expanded focus on low-intensity conflict. Mr. Gates telegraphed some of the changes last year. In a sweeping budget shake-up, he terminated or curtailed some of the military's most costly and complex weapons programs, including the Air Force's most advanced and expensive fighter, the F-22 Raptor. Reflecting a rebalancing of the military toward irregular warfare, the 2010 budget included the largest ramp up in special-operations forces since the Vietnam War and large quantities of new unmanned aerial vehicles and ground-surveillance systems. Defense contractors and their congressional allies mounted a strong effort to undo the changes, pushing legislation that would have purchased more of the F-22s than Mr. Gates wanted, but the defense chief came out on top in last year's political fight. Mr. Gates recently announced that he would remain at the helm of the Pentagon for at least another year, and officials said the department's new budget will reflect the defense chief's belief in the importance of focusing on future small-scale wars like Afghanistan and Iraq. "We've been leaving a trail of bread crumbs over the past several years in terms of where the secretary was heading in terms of reforming the defense budget," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said this week. "You will see fiscal year 2011 continue to build upon the reforms and the rebalancing that were first put forth in the 2010 budget." Defense analysts believe the Pentagon's budget, already at a record level, will rise even higher next week. The administration requested about $534 billion last year, plus an additional $130 billion in war costs. This time around, many analysts expect the White House to seek more than $700 billion for the military and wartime operations. Chris Hellman, a defense analyst and director of research at the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan think tank focused on budget issues, expects a request from the White House of about $745 billion, which would include war costs, $25 billion for Energy Department nuclear and other security spending, and the Pentagon's base budget of about $555 billion.