Defense review urges 'more and better' capabilities

By Megan Scully

January 31, 2010

The Pentagon's much-anticipated Quadrennial Defense Review calls for heavier investments in helicopters, long-range strike aircraft and a slew of new technologies, including unmanned air, underwater and other vehicles, according to a copy of the report obtained by CongressDaily.

The 105-page blueprint of the capabilities and requirements for the U.S. military going forward, which the Pentagon plans to release Monday, demands "more and better key enabling capabilities" to help U.S. forces in their current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide a hedge against potential future adversaries.

"These enablers include rotary-wing aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, intelligence analysis and foreign language expertise, and tactical communications networks for ongoing operations, as well as more robust space-based assets, more effective electronic attack systems, more resilient base infrastructure, and other assets essential for effective operations against future adversaries," according to the report.

The QDR stresses the need for several types of long-range strike capabilities -- rather than specifying a requirement for a new bomber or another single platform -- to counter growing threats to forward-deployed U.S. forces and overseas bases.

But the department also plans to experiment with "conventional prompt global strike prototypes" -- an apparent indication the Air Force still plans to pursue a new bomber.

"Building on insights developed during the QDR, the Secretary of Defense has ordered a follow-on study to determine what combination of joint persistent surveillance, electronic warfare, and precision-attack capabilities, including both penetrating platforms and stand-off weapons, will best support U.S. power projection operations over the next two to three decades," according to the report.

The review calls for increasing the number of airborne electronic warfare assets, which have been used to counter roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report says the Navy will buy more EA-18G Growler aircraft but does not state how many more of the Boeing Co. planes it will procure.

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, will take steps to keep its EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft in service longer.

The QDR also asserts the need to buy more manned and unmanned aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Air Force is on track to increase its ability to operate round-the-clock combat air patrols to 50 sustained "orbits" or 24-hour combat flights by Predator and Reaper drones by fiscal 2011 and plans to expand that to 65 orbits by fiscal 2015, according to the report.

The report also appears to put new focus on the Navy's efforts to develop unmanned underwater vehicles, stating that the military should "exploit advantages in subsurface operations."

In terms of helicopters, the report points to lessons learned in the last nine years of overseas combat operations and places emphasis on increasing the availability of rotary-wing assets to deployed forces. "Vertical left has been indispensable to successful counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere," the report states.

The QDR adds a company of upgraded MH-47G cargo helicopters to the Army's Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Other forces, meanwhile, will take steps, including expanding pilot training, to make helicopters more readily accessible to deployed forces, according to the report.

Despite fears that the QDR would dramatically scale back the size of the Navy's aircraft carrier fleet, it says 10 to 11 carriers should remain in operation between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2015. Congress has required the Navy to keep 11 carriers in service -- one of which is customarily used only for training -- but last year gave the service the temporary authority to go down to 10 ships between the retirement of the USS Enterprise in 2012 and the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford in 2015.

The report also recommends that one carrier should be based in Mayport Naval Station in Florida -- a homeport preference that will renew a heated political battle between the Florida and Virginia delegations in Congress.

All carriers assigned to the East Coast are now stationed in Norfolk, Va. after the 2007 decommissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy, which called Mayport home.

"The reason for moving one of the nuclear carriers from Norfolk to Mayport is so they're not all lined up in one place like sitting ducks," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said in a statement after CongressDaily posted the QDR Friday night. "Beyond that, this is huge for the North Florida economy."

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., issued a statement Saturday emphasizing that the QDR is a planning tool that does not have the force of law. "I continue to believe that removing an aircraft carrier from Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, would not be justified on either a strategic or fiscal level," he said.

The issue is a dicey political one for the Obama administration. Obama won both Florida and Virginia, two traditionally Republican states crucial to his 2008 victory - in part, thanks to help from Webb and Nelson.

Meanwhile, the exhaustive defense review devotes two pages to strengthening and changing the military's relationship with the U.S. industrial base, which was largely ignored in previous QDRs.

The Pentagon, according to the QDR, has not adequately addressed changes within industry or changes in the military's own needs. As a result, industry has consolidated and contracted around 20th century platforms rather than developing a broader and more flexible portfolio of systems the military needs.

"Remedying the outdated -- for decades, largely hands-off -- attitude toward the U.S. defense industrial base cannot be done quickly, and change will require a long-term approach undertaken in partnership with industry and Congress," the report states. "The range of products and services on which our forces depend requires that the department develop a more sophisticated relationship with the industrial base, one that takes into account the rapid evolution of commercial technology, as well as the unique requirements of the department."

The QDR acknowledges that the Pentagon must be prepared to intervene when "absolutely necessary" to create or sustain competition, innovation and essential capabilities. But, the report adds, the Defense Department will not "underwrite sunset industries or prop up poor business models."

In another area of interest to the defense industry, the report addresses reforms to the U.S. export-control system and endorses sweeping changes to decades-old policies.

"The U.S. export control system itself poses a potential national security risk," the report states. "Its structure is overly complicated, contains too many redundancies and tries to protect too much."

This view is in line with the message the Obama administration took to Capitol Hill Wednesday, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and others met with key lawmakers to discuss sweeping changes to the current export-control regime. Obama also referred briefly to the issue in his State of the Union address that night, saying he wanted to "reform export controls consistent with national security."

Click here to read a PDF of the document.

By Megan Scully

January 31, 2010