Despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates' view that the long-standing requirement to maintain enough military forces to fight two major wars simultaneously is outdated, a top Pentagon official deeply involved in the Quadrennial Defense Review said Tuesday that the two-war concept "is not dead."
Gates has acknowledged that the United States must maintain "the capacity to project power into multiple regions of the world simultaneously," said David Ochmanek, deputy assistant Defense secretary for force planning. Although the QDR will not produce "a simple bumper-sticker slogan" like a two-war force, Ochmanek said, "there is very much a desire to keep something like a multiple engagement capability in the force."
He said he expects that would include the ability to handle conflicts with North Korea and Iran at the same time.
Ochmanek said at a defense writers' breakfast, however, that the QDR analyses are starting with the assumption that there will be "zero real growth" in the defense budget over the next five years and no increase in personnel strength.
The QDR, he said, "is very much about identifying the gaps" in the military's ability to meet current threats and finding capabilities to fill those gaps. In Iraq and Afghanistan, shortfalls include a lack of rotary wing lift; persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; civil affairs personnel; and intratheater airlift.
"The one thing we are focusing on is ensuring the forces in the field today have the capabilities they need to prevail," Ochmanek said.
He said the cost of the "enhancements" needed to fill the gaps in capabilities is estimated to be $50 billion to $60 billion over five years, or about $12 billion a year. That was not a large number compared to current defense spending of nearly $600 billion, he said.
He added that the actual budget debate will start once the services come back to the Defense secretary with projections of the "level of pain" that would be inflicted to provide the required capabilities without any real growth in the budget. At that point, he said, Gates would have to sit down with President Obama and discuss the budget numbers.
"Down at my level, we hope the administration will be able to provide some growth to avoid the pain," Ochmanek said. He noted that there was "no low-hanging fruit" left for program cuts in the military.
Despite the "assumption" of no budget growth, Ochmanek insisted that the QDR started with a strategy "that tells you what the force has to do to defend the nation's interests." He also denied that top Pentagon officials are focused entirely on "low-end" conflicts, such as the counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.