Gates orders Air Force and Navy to study joint weapons system

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered the Air Force and Navy to study what future joint weapons system, available 20 years from now, will be able to surveil an enemy target, survive any electronic interference, and then deliver precision strikes from platforms that either penetrate the foe's defenses or are launched from a distance.

That study's results will help Gates shape the Pentagon's requests for funding in the global strike area beginning with the 2012 budget, according to a draft of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the final version of which will be released Monday. The congressionally mandated review, done every four years, "clarifies the secretary's priorities" and communicates his "intent for the next several years of the department's work," according to the document.

The QDR lays out both short- and long-term goals in strategic areas that relate to weaponry but also refer to establishment and maintenance of U.S. bases abroad that involve broader national security policies.

Nations such as China, Iran and North Korea have sophisticated air defense systems that could defeat U.S. manned and unmanned aircraft, and the QDR describes an Air Force and Navy initiative to develop a joint battle concept "to defeat adversaries equipped with anti-access and aerial denial capabilities."

In the weapons field, the QDR talks of expanding the capability of a new Virginia-class nuclear submarine with long-range cruise missiles, and of pressing ahead with the Navy's unmanned combat aerial system, being worked on jointly with the Air Force. The latter is a fighter-size, carrier-launched unmanned vehicle that can be refueled in flight. It would provide intelligence and go on strike missions before returning to the carrier. The goal is to begin flight testing this year and get delivery of the first operational unit in 2015.

Studies are looking also at defensive and offensive advances in the electronic warfare field to protect U.S. weapons systems and disable those of enemies, in space, air or on land. The QDR says that "to counter the spread of advanced surveillance, air defense and strike systems, the department has directed increased investment in selected capabilities for electronic attack."

Along with weaponry, the QDR puts particular focus on the future "Global Defense Posture," which it says features U.S. forces abroad and the establishment of potential bases around the world. The forces abroad will provide a flexible pool of troops that enable the United States to project power from nearby locations and shorten response time. As the QDR puts it: "U.S. forces must also sustain robust engagements overseas through forward stationing and routine deployments," which the review says will also lead to regional stability.

In discussing the region of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the QDR states that Washington must reassure partners of a "credible long-term commitment, deter regional actors from aggression while balancing that requirement against regional sensitivity to a large, long-term U.S. force presence."

The United States also must help build up the military capabilities of worldwide partners, including "fragile states." That duty, once the realm of Special Forces, "is now a task for all armed forces." A part of that is expanding a partner's logistic base. To that end, the QDR says, Gates will seek a new defense acquisition fund that would speed up the procurement of equipment quickly needed by overseas partners.

Because these tasks also involve the State Department's foreign policy areas, an Interagency Policy Committee on Security Sector Assistance is at work in the White House, directed by the National Security Council, the QDR says. Its role is to vet security-assistance issues involving the State and Defense departments and to sort out the roles, missions, authorities and resources that encourage interagency cooperation. Out of this effort will come a new presidential policy directive on security assistance, the QDR says. It did not give a date for its release.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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