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Pentagon Prepares to Rethink Focus on Conventional Warfare

New Emphasis on Insurgencies and Terrorism Is Planned

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2005; Page A02

The Pentagon has drafted terms for an ambitious reshaping of U.S. forces that would put less emphasis on waging conventional warfare and more on dealing with insurgencies, terrorist networks, failed states and other nontraditional threats, according to senior defense officials and others familiar with the confidential planning.

This proposed shift in strategic focus stems partly from a recognition that U.S. forces were inadequately prepared for the insurgency in Iraq and the wider hunt for terrorists around the world. But officials said it also grows out of a heightened perception of other potential threats.


Budget shifts could affect Air Force procurement of the F/A-22 Raptor. (Adrin Snider -- AP)

The new thinking has emerged in a classified document being readied for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's signature by the Pentagon's policy branch in coordination with the Joint Staff and service representatives. The document, called the "Terms of Reference," sets the framework for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which Congress has mandated to compel a comprehensive look at U.S. military strategy at the start of each presidential term.

By giving a higher priority to a larger set of possible security challenges, the initiative goes beyond notions of military transformation the Bush administration has previously touted, the officials said. But with months of internal Pentagon wrangling still ahead over which programs to favor and which to cut, the ultimate result is far from certain.

This intensified push for change comes at a time when the Iraq conflict and war on terrorism have badly taxed the U.S. military, especially the Army, requiring more forces and longer deployments than anticipated and highlighting shortfalls in U.S. capabilities. Recent experience has shown that while the Pentagon remains flush with planes, ships and precision-guided munitions -- all useful in large conventional battles -- it is desperately short of other kinds of troops, weapons and specialized skills important in unconventional conflicts and postwar reconstruction.

Much of the current U.S. military was sized and shaped by an idea that emerged in the 1990s, after the demise of the Soviet Union, to focus on regional war scenarios. The Bush administration affirmed that basic notion in its first year, calling for U.S. forces to be ready to ensure "swift defeat" and "decisive victory" in major combat operations against national armies.

But defense officials now acknowledge that such goals have not fit either the Iraq situation or the anti-terrorism campaign. Nor are they applicable to other potential crises that Pentagon policymakers have begun to take more seriously. These scenarios cover a range of unconventional possibilities, including the collapse of a nuclear-armed state, such as Pakistan or North Korea, and the disruption by enemies of key technologies on which U.S. forces rely, such as satellite navigation signals.

"The traditional focus was on conventional military threats," Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon's policy chief, said in an interview. "We're now talking about things much broader than that."

This evolution in strategy could have significant budgetary consequences, officials said. It would divert some resources from major weapons programs, such as tactical fighter jets and aircraft carriers, and toward more ground troops -- or a different mix of troops favoring specialized areas such as intelligence gathering, foreign-language skills and civil affairs work. It also would mean greater investment in new technologies, such as improved drone aircraft, computer network defenses, and measures for countering biological or chemical attacks, officials said.

Just how much change will ensue is difficult to predict. Facing a huge federal budget deficit and mounting war costs in Iraq, Pentagon officials could feel greater pressure to make hard choices than they did during President Bush's first term. Even so, history has shown that military, business and political groups with vested interests in existing programs have often frustrated attempts at broad change.

Officials involved in preparing for the review cautioned against expecting that it will inevitably advocate a larger Army, a subject of intense argument lately between some lawmakers and the Pentagon.

"In the past, in talking about shaping the force, we spent an awful lot of our time trying to get the size right and very little of our time on the right capability mix," said Jim Thomas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans. "This time we're thinking much more about what kind of capabilities we need."

Thomas said one possibility being explored is whether more Marines or regular Army troops could substitute for Special Operations units in training foreign militaries. This would free some Special Operations teams to go after terrorists and conduct other specialized missions, he said.

"When we've talked about precision warfare in the past, it's been in terms of hitting a tank or an SUV from 15,000 feet in the air with a precision munition," Thomas said. "In the future, the talk about precision gets down to the level of using individuals to go after individuals."


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