Before the Pentagon's prescription for change is even written, observers worry it won't cure what ails Defense.

Months before the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review is slated to be released, before officials involved in the rigorous analytical process aimed at reshaping Defense Department priorities have even formed their own conclusions, members of Congress are preparing a rebuttal.

In late September, the House Armed Services Committee unveiled its plans for a comprehensive, bipartisan Committee Defense Review. "The CDR is not an alternative to the QDR, it is meant to complement the QDR, educate members concerning threats and capabilities, and provide for enhanced oversight of our national security," the Committee Defense Review Threat Panel's Web site states.

It is widely believed that the 2005 QDR, ordered by Congress and due on Capitol Hill in February 2006, will lead to the most far-reaching changes in military organization and weapons-buying priorities since the Soviet Union dissolved. Not surprisingly, talk of reordering Defense priorities, and especially of reprogramming billions of dollars in defense spending, makes a lot of people nervous.

It's not clear how Pentagon officials feel about the work going on across the Potomac, but it's bound to expand everyone's understanding of the issues at stake. By the end of September the committee had heard testimony from more than a dozen security experts from institutions ranging from the Heritage Foundation to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the committee, "Twenty years from now, we should look back and find that the 2005 QDR represented the most important and far-reaching review of our military posture since the early days of the Cold War." The reasons are obvious, he said. Since the last QDR was released in early 2001, New York and Washington were attacked by radical Islamists and the United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, launching what promises to be a protracted "global war on terrorism," and witnessed the spread of nuclear weapons and the growth of China's military capabilities.

"The old, familiar challenges posed by the Soviet military have, in many instances, dissipated under the weight of the U.S. military's primacy in key traditional warfare areas. There is no blue-water navy to challenge the U.S. fleet's dominance. Would-be adversaries seem more intent on acquiring missile forces, not manned fighter wings to counter U.S. air power. One searches in vain to identify the country that seeks to field large, advanced mechanized ground forces as the best way to challenge the U.S. Army," Krepinevich said.

Michèle A. Flournoy, who is now senior adviser to the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the committee the 2005 QDR is especially critical for two reasons. First, the security environment has fundamentally changed since the last QDR was conducted, and second, Defense is facing a budget crisis: Personnel costs for pay, health care, retirement and housing have doubled during the past five years; recruiting is becoming more difficult and driving costs higher as the services offer monetary incentives to attract and keep people in uniform; and the Pentagon is spending billions of dollars more per month to maintain operations in Iraq and elsewhere.

"All this adds up to more defense program than budget-and the need to make some tough choices about where to invest, where to divest and how to allocate risk," Flournoy said.

The Pentagon and Congress must improve how the Defense Department operates and does business, she said: "Issues such as acquisition reform, logistics reform, better use of outsourcing and public-private partnerships need to be on the QDR table-not only because they have the potential to free up resources that can be reinvested in transformation but also because they are critical to making DoD agile and responsive enough to cope with the dynamics of the new security environment."

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