Analytical Tools for the Next Quadrennial Defense Review

Christopher Wright, National Security Studies Fellow, Johns Hopkins University. Security Studies Program Seminar, MIT, 29 October 2008.

Seminar Summary – Rapporteur: Miranda Priebe


Why do we conduct a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)?

* There is a long history of top level strategy reviews at the Presidential level with a government wide survey of defense and security issues even before the current QDR process began.
* The QDR came out of the recommendations of the Commission on Roles and Missions (run by John White in the 1990s).
* Established by congressional action in 1996.
* The process has devolved more toward programming weapon acquisitions rather than strategy setting now.
* The notion behind the QDR is to make choices within limited resources. However, since it is hard to make these tough tradeoffs decision-makers often postpone decisions.
* Questions to consider:
o What is a capability? Difficult question to determine the metrics to use.
o What is the tradespace? How do we select the right mix of capabilities and risks?
o How often should the QDR be done? There is a cost to doing these reviews.

Congressional Direction for the QDR

* The purpose is to delineate a national defense strategy consistent with the most recent National Security Strategy with a low to moderate level of risk.
* DoD is asked to lean forward and not to be bashful in outlining what it thinks it needs.

National Defense Strategy Reviews

* Who is in charge of National Security? The history starts with NSSM-3 during the Nixon Administration which was NSC staff-directed. Many of the NSC staffers had worked in DoD’s Systems Analysis office so believed that they understood military capabilities.
* NSSM-246 and NSSD 1-82 were ephemeral at best. The Reagan document was completely done by the NSC staff and completed after a massive defense budget increase had been put forward the prior year (strategy after the fact).
* Base Force Review – a different type of document completed by the Joint Staff that was not DOD-wide and did not include the interagency involvement and options review typical of a “QDR”.
* Recent reviews—tasked by the Congress—have been directed by the DoD. The Congress has a requirement for an unclassified report. Also an associated GAO report includes discussion of analytical methods which are not provided by DOD in its own report.
* The amount of time each report takes to produce varies and depends in part on how much work has been done before the process starts:
o NSSM-3 – facilitated by a major “pilot study” produced beforehand.
o Bottom-up Review (BUR) – Joint Staff had a major study underway which became critical to the BUR decisions.
o PRM-10 – Current capability assessment was unique. We typically choose only to look at the longer-term future rather than also at where we are today.

What comes out? Do they matter?

* Generally emerge with some theme or slogan. Which helps people understand the concepts more readily.
* Sometimes make specific force structure changes and programmatic decisions on weapon acquisitions.
* NSSM-3
o Originally designed to investigate the pros and cons of shfting funds between defense and other parts of the budget.
o Interagency working group was created to make these tradeoffs, but didn’t do it.
* PRM-10 – Alternative Integrated Military Strategies (AIMS) – From liberate Eastern Europe to less ambitious goals for the degree of NATO security.
o Degree of uncertainty was greater within a strategy than in the difference in budget size between strategies.
* The idea behind Les Aspin’s BUR was to use specific scenarios to size the force. This was the apex of scenario based analysis in the DOD. The idea was to have forces for two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. The Joint Staff presented different force sizes for different levels of risk and expenditure. Aspin liked it and agreed to their so-called “Option B” that involved some force reduction.
* QDR 1997 – The organization to accomplish the review had 40 working groups and 7 panels. These then had to go through four decision making levels. This didn’t work too well – too big and complex.
* QDR 2001 – At the end of Aug 2001, the document went to the services and then Sept 11th made the whole effort moot.
* QDR 2005-2006 – Shifting the weight from past threats to new threats.

Analytic methods

* 1970s to 1990s –
o Attrition mindset so models like TACWAR for campaign level simulation were used.
o One on one weapons comparisons also employed.
o Other capacity indices like the strategic lift measured in Ton-Miles.
o Military commander judgments to balance quantitative metrics.
o Often focused on inputs rather than outputs.
* 1990s-2000
o Capabilities Based Planning – Replaced scenario based planning. Think that we can’t predict the specific scenarios that will happen. We need to look at a wide range of possibilities.
o Capability Portfolio Management – Delegates to some senior leader the ability to make decisions within that portfolio (like Joint Battlespace Awareness, Joint C2, etc). The argument is that there needed to create proponency for these specialized joint-service capabilities.
o SecDef Gates, reflecting on our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, recently said to be skeptical of systems analysis models in estimating defense needs.
o Military operations research society website has valuable discussions about the tools available. Some commentary found here considered that analysis is failing to help decision-makers make the tradeoffs they need to make.
* Size of the US defense budget reflects our ambitious goals. The US wants to be able to deploy to the other side of the world. No one else tries to conduct operations like that. We want to do it with excellent logistics support and with as few casualties and little collateral damage as possible. Also want an all volunteer force, which is very expensive.
o Top line funding trends look to reflect global events, like the end of the Cold War, rather than any direction from QDRs.

Suggestions for a future QDR

* Need to start with a current capabilities assessment.
* Study the past operational experiences. What lessons do we have about what worked and what didn’t work.
* Geographic representation of where capabilities are.
* Line up multiple models with the same problems to see where they disagree. Also try doing it at different levels of analysis.
* Need new methods for understanding irregular warfare.
* Keep options simple.
* Associate options with expected risk.
* Think more about the trades between different forms of security.
* The QDR is demanded before many senior leaders may be in place.
* Should try doing it less often.
* Problems are not just military problems. Need more capable central staff (like CBO, NSC, etc) who can help to address these problems.


* Personalities in NSC staff to drive the nature of the early reviews. Now, Congressional edicts mandating the type of product attempts to change this, stating lengthy descriptions of study requirements.
* Resources for Defense are going to come under new scrutiny. There will have to be a new FYDP [Future Years Defense Program] since there is not one now. There may be budget edicts given that the strategy will have to conform to.
* Does increasing use of supplementals reflect a problem with the QDR? During Vietnam, did reach a little into the base budget. Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch were funded with supplemental money and then converted to on budget. Admiral Mullen has said we should move away from these supplementals. This is a presidential decision to be made. When something goes into long-term practice, you change training and support establishment. Maybe we don’t want to do that – to institutionalize certain spending in the long term. Certain benefit to having the cost of the war visible. When it becomes part of the base budget, harder to see.
* Some specific non-war costs in the supplementals turned out to be embarrassing in really obvious cases (JSF). There should be more rigor on keeping only war costs in the supplemental.
* Which models are more/less susceptible to political manipulation? You can make any tool do whatever you want once you understand the source of change within a tool. You can load assumptions that give you whatever you want. But, they do help us think about many things changing at once. It helps to use more than one tool at a time. Nothing is more naturally “honest” than another. Some are more expensive than others to run. But, you still need the tools.
* 2001 QDR – Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld introduced the idea of managing risk. Rumsfeld argued that some risk will always be there and you have to decide where to accept more/less risk.

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