Academic journal article Parameters

What the QDR Ought to Say about Landpower

Academic journal article Parameters

What the QDR Ought to Say about Landpower

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) will have been completed as of this writing, but will not yet have been published. Facing new strategic priorities and mounting fiscal pressures, it is anticipated that the capacity or size of American landpower will be substantially reduced: the Army's end strength could be decremented to a post-World War II low of just 420,000 to 450,000 soldiers. This article considers the implications of such reductions.


The US Department of Defense (DOD) faces numerous challenges today as it updates US defense strategy in light of a dynamic security environment and significant resource constraints. The QDR affords landpower strategists an excellent opportunity to step back and think about the future. As the former Pentagon strategist Shawn Brimley wrote, "With wars ending, budgets declining, technology proliferating, and other powers rising, a real window of opportunity to reshape US defense strategy has opened for the first time since the end of the Cold War." (1) However, that "window" also brings with it great risk.

Documents like the National Intelligence Council's 2030 report or the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Operating Environment suggest the United States must have balanced and versatile forces able to accomplish a wide variety of missions. Urgency is needed to create greater Joint adaptability and versatility to cope with uncertainty and complexity. Although niche capabilities will still be needed, a balanced force design is the basis for adaptation and operational flexibility.

Landpower and Joint Force 2020

Landpower's role in the 21st century was studied by a task force commissioned by the US Army, US Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command. This effort produced a concept paper delineating what landpower brings to the fight, and emphasizes achieving influence in the human domain and winning the clash of wills inherent in human conflict. (2) It argues, persuasively, that "the importance of conflict prevention and the ability to shape conditions in regions to maintain stability through actions highly focused on human factors is also rising in significance." (3) The interplay of human and moral factors in war is something Clausewitz stressed, but which modern strategists might deemphasize or inadvertently overlook. (4)

The role of landpower is questioned in some quarters: it is equated to protracted counterinsurgency tasks and portrayed as expensive. Some critics think of the Arm), and Marines solely in terms of current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hope to opt out of such "messianic" missions and nation-building tasks. But after a decade of irregular war, the contributions made by the Army, Marines, and Special Operations Forces (SOF) should not be narrowly defined by the last decade or exaggerated concerns about "endless wars." American landpower capabilities have been broadened and deepened by a decade of sacrifice and adaptation. The tremendous learning curve and combat experience of the last decade has produced a very flexible force, and the United States must retain the best of that leadership, experience, and lessons. We should not seek to refight the last war, nor should we recoil from a ruthlessly realistic appreciation for the world as it is rather than what we hope it may become. As noted by Major General H. R. McMaster:

   ... in Afghanistan and Iraq, planning did not account for
   adaptability and initiatives by the enemy. American forces,
   deployed initially in insufficient numbers to keep pace with the
   evolution of those conflicts, struggled to maintain security. The
   lesson: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like all wars, were
   contests of will that unleashed dynamics that made future events
   impossible to predict. Fortunately, American forces adapted. (5)

The US military has not yet studied or drawn adequate lessons about the factors that facilitated this adaptation. …

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