- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

"Force structure planning" can be described as the attempt to create a military force structure of the right size and the right composition to achieve the nations security goals, in light of a strategic vision that takes account of resource constraints and the security environment, both now and in the future. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been three major strategy and force structure reviews: the Bush administrations "Base Force," the Clinton administrations "Bottom-up Review" (BUR) and the congressionally mandated "Quadrennial Defense Review" (QDR). The second iteration of the QDR is now underway. In addition, President Bush has directed that another review of U.S. strategy and force structure be conducted outside of the QDR framework.
In recent months, the watchword for U.S. military force planning has become transformation. Proponents of the idea that there is an emerging military revolution or "revolution in military affairs" (RMA) argue that the United States must seize the opportunity to restructure its armed forces in a way that will allow the nation to maintain a significant margin of superiority over potential competitors for the foreseeable future. They contend that recent defense planning has been characterized by a business as usual approach that, while it may provide an improved version of todays force, does nothing to ensure that the U.S. military can meet future threats. Before we can begin a process of transformation, we must have some idea of what the future security environment will look like and what our forces will be asked to do.
What are the requirements of a future strategy? What operational concepts and capabilities will we need to implement a future strategy, in light of the various operational challenges that our forces must overcome? What sorts of missions will the U.S. military be called upon to execute, both now and in the future? Should the U.S. military emphasize major conventional war or response to asymmetric threats? Should the military be sized primarily to fight wars or to carry out constabulary operations or "imperial policing?" What impact will the diffusion of militarily useful technology have on the ability of the U.S. military to carry out whatever missions it is called upon to perform?
Planners face a great deal of uncertainty as they contemplate future U.S. strategy and force structure. Nonetheless, a consensus seems to be emerging regarding the outline of a future security environment that encompasses both change and continuity. Changes include the proliferation of militarily useful technology throughout the globe, e.g., information technologies, sensors, satellites, ballistic and cruise missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
This raises the possibility that even relatively unsophisticated states can increase the cost to the United States of military action. Continuities include the unchanging reality of geographic location. For the United States this means that to influence those parts of the world that may emerge as future threats to U.S. interests, it must be able to overcome the "tyranny of distance" in order to project power, especially onto Eurasia. Technology proliferation and the tyranny of distance combine to create the major challenge that U.S. forces must overcome in the future: The expansion of the deadly zone within which U.S. forces will become increasingly vulnerable.
According to proponents of the RMA, the business-as-usual approach of buying "legacy" systems, e.g., tanks, manned aircraft and aircraft carriers, puts U.S. forces at risk in the future. Such systems are characterized by senility while still effective, the cost of maintaining this effectiveness is growing exponentially. The critics argue that the military should be willing to give up legacy systems in order to pursue the revolutionary innovations necessary to confront a future adversary. But force planning is an inter-temporal art. That is, while planners must make decisions today about future forces, they must still maintain the capability to carry out todays missions.
The current approach, codified in the 1997 QDR, requires a U.S. force structure that can accomplish three goals simultaneously: shape todays security environment by deploying forces forward in support of U.S. diplomacy; deter conflict and war by maintaining a robust force structure capable of fighting and winning two major theater wars in overlapping time frames and prepare for an uncertain future. This attempt to minimize the risk of focusing exclusively on the near-term, the mid-term or the distant future is called hedging.
When all is said and done, the geographic position of the United States and its global interests require that we maintain a variety of forces, strategies and weapons capable of carrying out joint, expeditionary operations, in conjunction with allies if possible, but alone if necessary. Thus from World War II until today (with the exception of the Eisenhower "New Look" in the 1950s), U.S. planners have opted for a balanced force capable of meeting threats across the spectrum of conflict, both today and in the future.
U.S. forces must indeed meet future challenges. But they must also meet the challenges of today and in the near term. To ensure that they can do both, there is much to be said for effecting the necessary transformation in the context of a balanced force structure.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is an adjunct fellow of the Lexington Institute.

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