Pentagon's new strategy beefs up Army, Marines
By JOHN YAUKEY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Boots on the ground will trump jets in the air or boats in the water in the Pentagon's forward-looking, four-year plan due out Monday alongside the 2011 defense budget.
The Quadrennial Defense Review will recommend beefing up the Army and Marine Corps, now stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a draft version of the document.
Many of the cuts in expensive weapons have already started.
For Hawai'i and Guam — home to some of the most expensive conventional weap- ons the nation deploys, as well as to legions of foot soldiers — the report will have manifold consequences, although it's not yet clear what they are.
The various military branches are expected to outline how they'll be affected by the QDR and the proposed 2011 defense budget Monday.
The defense budget has been growing by an annual average of 4 percent, which would mean a $563 billion package for 2011, depending on whether it includes special funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If included, the war funding could boost the overall request to $700 billion or more.
The Obama administration has said it wants to include war funding in the annual budget, rather than adding it in as needed, the way the Bush administration did.
"The defense budget is now more people-oriented," said Loren Thompson, a top defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. "You're going to see more emphasis on fighting unconventional warfare and less on weapons like aircraft carriers and bombers — more on people and less on equipment."
The QDR is a broad, thematic report. It does not lay out the future of the military in any detail. Those decisions unfold annually in the defense budget, and they change with each president.
Already, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has attempted to cut high-priced weapons systems, such as the F-22 fighter and Future Combat System for the Army, in favor of spending on ground-based troops and their support needs.
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the upcoming QDR will be the first to be driven by current wartime requirements, largely to balance conventional and nonconventional capabilities, and to embrace a "whole of government" approach to national security.
"This is a landmark QDR," Lynn told aerospace executives at the recent Aerospace and Defense Conference. "And it comes at a time when the nature of war is changing in ways that we need to adapt to. The QDR seeks to identify these changes and the challenges they present to our security. For the first time in decades, the political and economic stars are aligned for a fundamental overhaul of the way the Pentagon does business."
The 2006 QDR recommended moving naval strength from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in response to the rising prominence of China.
That was a boon for Hawai'i and Guam.
China remains a major concern, but it's still not clear how the Obama administration will respond to the world's most populous nation within the larger context of worldwide threats, especially from the radical Islamic world, where soldiers and Marines have been doing most of the work.
Resources are limited.
"Given the state of the federal budget overall, it is unlikely that this rate of (military) growth will continue," said a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
That creates potential conflict between "the people who serve and the weapon systems they depend on," the report said.