Iran is top ‘contingency’ in whittled U.S. war plans

Pentagon to rely on more allied help

The U.S. military is discussing significant changes in its war plans to adhere to President Obama’s strategic guidance that downplays preparing for conflicts such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and counts on allies to provide additional troops.

War planning for Iran is now the most pressing scenario, or what the Pentagon calls a contingency.

U.S. Central Command believes it can destroy or significantly degrade Iran’s conventional armed forces in about three weeks by using air and sea strikes, according to a defense source familiar with the discussions.

This option could be a response to Iranian strikes on U.S. and international ships in the Persian Gulf and attempts to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which about one-fifth of the world’s oil is transported.

The Pentagon is conducting a step-by-step surge of forces in the Gulf. It is maintaining two aircraft carriers in the region and increasing the number of mine-detection ships and helicopters.

Aviation Week reported that the Air Force recently dispatched its premier penetrating strike fighter, the F-22 Raptor, to a base in the United Arab Emirates across the Gulf from Iran.

A smaller, more agile force

Army Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Gulf, said the command does not discuss war planning.

“We plan for any eventuality we can and provide options to the president,” Col. Taylor said. “We take our guidance from the secretary of defense and from our civilian bosses in D.C. So any kind of guidance they give us, that’s what we go off of.”

The defense source said the U.S. would respond to an invasion of South Korea by the North primarily with massive air and sea power. It would be up to the South Korean army to do most of the ground fighting, and it would have the lead in stability operations for a defeated North.

The U.S. military is reducing the overall number of U.S. ground troops who would be needed in a major conflict and is counting on allies to fill the gap.

It also is expanding the number of days it would have to begin fighting one war and blunt an aggressor in another region.

Mr. Obama presented his eight-page strategic guidance in January as his vision of smaller, more agile armed forces that would focus on air and sea power in two regions - the Pacific and the Persian Gulf.

He presented the document a month before the Pentagon announced how it would grapple with $487 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years. The hallmark savings: a reduction in ground forces by 90,000 soldiers and Marines.

The Obama guidance lists 10 “primary missions” for the armed forces. The guidance for counterinsurgency missions, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, is significant as much for what the military will not do as what it will do:

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