House panel: Defense review lacks priorities

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review received a chilly reception Thursday from the House Armed Services Committee, with members from both parties complaining that it lacks clear priorities and calls for too few forces to meet the future threats and missions envisioned.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., called the QDR "superior" to previous documents updating national defense strategy, military force structure and modernization plans and praised its focus on a force able to counter more than one threat at a time.

But Skelton complained that it seemed to require a force "capable of being all things in all contingencies," which makes it hard for the committee to determine what the priorities are and which of the many possible risks are the most important.

"This makes our task much more difficult, because although the QDR should not be budget-constrained, the plain fact is that resources are not unlimited" and the QDR "comes up short" on giving Congress any guidance on how to make the essential tradeoffs, he said.

Armed Services Committee ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., echoed those concerns, repeating his protest that the QDR's focus on winning the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan short-changed the forces needed for the future.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, and Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, director for force structure and resources for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that the QDR did set priorities. But they acknowledged that the forces had to be flexible and adaptable to respond to the wide range of possible threats.

Skelton said the scope of missions described appeared to require a larger Army and Marine Corps, and McKeon asked how the current force would handle a major contingency, such as North Korea, while involved in those conflicts.

Flournoy said that because Iraq and Afghanistan involved mainly the Army and Marines, the Navy and Air Force would be able to respond to a threat from North Korea.

But McKeon replied that the QDR and the fiscal 2011 budget cut the size of the Air Force and did not enlarge the Navy.

Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss., also complained that the QDR did not allow the Navy to reach the 313-ship fleet it wanted, and asked why it called for retiring the Perry-class frigates when they could fill missions such as the antipiracy patrols off Somalia.

Taylor warned the defense officials to expect "a shot across the bow" from his panel in legislation that would require them to propose building two new ships for every ship they planned to retire.

Virginia lawmakers demanded to know if the officials regarded anticipated funding shortfalls for ships and aircraft as less important than spending as much as $1 billion to move an aircraft carrier from its home port in Norfolk, Va., to Mayport, Fla. Flournoy could not provide an immediate answer.

In response to a question about the Marine leaders' concerns over their fading amphibious capabilities, Stanley said the QDR supported amphibious operations to ensure that U.S. forces can enter hostile areas to neutralize a threat. And he said the expeditionary fighting vehicle, which has been repeatedly delayed, will be a part of that capability.

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