Defense chief continues push to 'rebalance' U.S. military forces

A major factor in shaping the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review was the realization that the complexity of the current security environment and the uncertainty of future threats requires the nation to have "a broad portfolio of military capabilities with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflicts," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday.

For that reason, the QDR and the fiscal 2011 defense budget would continue the efforts the secretary started last year, to rebalance the military's forces and programs to meet the current threats and to reform the way the Defense Department does business, Michelle Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said later.

"If the QDR has a bumper sticker it would be 'Rebalance and Reform,'" Flournoy said.

At separate Pentagon briefings, Gates and Flournoy emphasized the shift of focus to prevailing in the current irregular conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of preparing for conventional wars against national armies, and to making preservation of the all-volunteer military force "a strategic imperative."

That change in focus drew considerable criticism last year, when Gates accompanied the message with termination of some major weapons programs. And it drew similar concerns this year.

House Armed Services ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., praised Gates for the emphasis on winning the current wars, but added that "choosing to win in Iraq and Afghanistan should not mean our country must also choose to assume greater risk in the conventional national defense challenges of today and tomorrow."

But Gates repeated the argument he made last year, that only 10 percent of the new budget's funding for research and procurement would pay for systems primarily for unconventional conflicts, while the rest was for future capabilities or could be used for either kind of conflict.

Due to the previous focus on the "out of date" requirement to maintain forces to fight two major wars, "our highest risk was in the current fight, not the higher capabilities," Gates said.

And Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he and the other service chiefs "fully support" the budget and the recommendations of the QDR and the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which also was released Monday.

All the chiefs and regional combatant commanders "had a hand in the results you see before you, and every one of them shares my enthusiasm for the way ahead," said Mullen, who appeared beside Gates.

Despite the shift Gates called for, the QDR proposes little change in the existing units and capabilities of the four armed services, and it calls for big investments in some future conventional, and even nuclear, war-fighting capabilities.

The Army would transition one of its "heavy" combat brigades, armed with tracked Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, into a lighter force with wheeled Stryker armored troops carriers. But the QDR and the budget supports continuation of the Army's revised program to develop a new generation of ground combat vehicles and would add a combat aviation brigade of armed and transport helicopters.

The Army would create the first active-duty Civil Affairs brigade, which could be used for what critics often call "nation-building."

The Navy would maintain nearly the same array of major surface combatants and submarines, but would increase its ability to operate in lower intensity situations with additional Littoral Combat Ships and a fourth squadron of small boats for riverine operations.

And while all the services are instructed to add unmanned air vehicles for reconnaissance and intelligence, the Navy is urged to increase its unmanned underwater capabilities.

Although it has received less attention in advance, the Ballistic Missile Defense Review could draw as much criticism from Republicans and conservative Democrats as parts of the QDR.

The BMDR changes the focus of missile defense from the national system to countering the threat to deployed U.S. forces and allies, which it says "is growing rapidly." The increasing missile capabilities of potential adversaries, "has implications to our ability to project power, to deter future conflicts and to prevail should deterrence fail," the review said.

"I have made defending against near-term regional threats a top priority of our missile defense" programs and plans, Gates said in the review.

The BMDR said the nation is protected against "limited ICBM attack" and should be safe against the emerging threat from Iran and North Korea "for the foreseeable future."

The review proposed maintaining the current national system, which will have 30 interceptors in Alaska and California by the end of fiscal 2010, and a network of land- and sea-based radars. And it supports continued research on new capabilities, including the two-stage ground-based interceptor that was to have been deployed in Europe, and new sensors and the early-intercept kinetic kill system to overcome countermeasures.

But, the review adds, "there is no uncertainty about the existence of regional threats."

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