Top Pentagon officials are considering a new, long-term strategy that shifts spending and resources away from large-scale warfare to build more agile, specialized forces for fighting guerrilla wars, confronting terrorism and handling less conventional threats, officials said yesterday.
The proposal, presented two weeks ago to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others, could carry major implications for defense spending, eventually moving some funds away from ships, tanks and planes and toward troops, elite Special Operations forces and intelligence gathering. The shift has been building for some time, but the plan circulating at the Pentagon would accelerate the changes, analysts said.
The plan's working assumption is that the United States faces almost no serious conventional threats from traditional, state-based militaries. Thus, it says, the United States should accept more risk in that area to pay more attention to other threats: terrorism, the type of low-tech guerrilla fighting confronting troops in Iraq, and the possibility of dramatic technological advances by adversaries. Some of those priorities depend more heavily on troop strength than high-tech weaponry and could increase the pressure on the Pentagon to build the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.
"The lesson learned in [Operation] Iraqi Freedom is that in some areas, we have capabilities overmatch," said Christopher "Ryan" Henry, the principal undersecretary of defense for policy, who wrote and presented the briefing to Rumsfeld on Aug. 19. "We can't see many competitors that are coming at us in the traditional domain.
"In the business world, this is the equivalent of coming up with a new product in a new market," Henry added.
A copy of the slide presentation given to Rumsfeld was obtained by The Washington Post, after which officials agreed to discuss portions of it in interviews.
The documents said Pentagon planning should emphasize preparing for "catastrophic" challenges such as use of weapons of mass destruction "against high-profile targets by terrorists or rogue states." It also cited the need to prepare for "irregular challenges" from other countries or groups, including terrorism, insurgency and civil war.
One example of the new thinking urged in the plan was what it called the "stretch goal" of being able to invade a country, keep 200,000 troops there for five years, and be able to organize, train and equip a local military force of 100,000 troops in just six months.
That is more soldiers than the U.S. military has had in Iraq, now about 140,000. It also envisions far more effective training of local forces than the U.S. military has been able to deliver there, where after a year of effort the Iraqi military remains small and uneven in performance. In April, for example, a battalion of the newly formed Iraqi army refused an order from U.S. commanders to reinforce the Marines fighting in Fallujah.
One senior officer who attended the mid-August briefing said it was received warmly by top Pentagon officials. "It generated intriguing discussion around the table and a positive endorsement of the concepts in the end," he said. The discussion came as the Pentagon is gearing up for the major review of overall strategy that Congress requires every four years.
By itself, the document's assessment of threats confronting the military is not controversial. The recent report of the Sept. 11 commission stated the issue clearly: "National security used to be considered by studying foreign frontiers, weighing opposing groups of states, and measuring industrial might. To be dangerous, an enemy had to muster large armies."
While there is emerging consensus on new threats, military analysts said it is not automatic that broad changes in weaponry or strategy will result.
For one thing, placing more emphasis on manpower and intelligence could antagonize parts of the defense industry that produce weaponry. Indeed, a Pentagon official's explanatory notes attached to the PowerPoint presentation said the Pentagon's goal should simply be "maintenance of conventional capabilities."
Indeed, Pentagon officials said they were unhappy that the briefing papers were released for two reasons: It intruded on internal deliberations, and could be seen by members of Congress, contractors or even military officers as a threat to prized weapons programs.
Henry, however, said the briefing should be seen as a broad statement about future U.S. military capabilities, not a more specific list of narrower choices of what weapons would be needed.
"It's really divorced from platforms," he said, using the Pentagon word for anything that carries weapons or sensors, including ships, aircraft, or land vehicles. "It would be premature to take this . . . directly to platforms."
Outside experts on military change and strategy were skeptical about whether Rumsfeld would be able to secure sweeping change in philosophy.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Andrew F. Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense-oriented think tank. But, he said, the uniformed leadership at the Pentagon sometimes simply stalls on embracing radical change until the civilian defense secretary promoting it leaves.
"Rumsfeld has been trying for three years now to refocus the services on the new challenges confronting us," Krepinevich said. "So far these efforts have met with little success. How much more likely is Rumsfeld to succeed this time around when the military has a major war on its hands?"