Friday, January 6, 2012

Note from AFA President -- Defense "Strategy"

Yesterday the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (then later the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary of Defense Policy, and Vice Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff) rolled out the new defense strategy. You can find it at:

I listened to the presentations and read the piece carefully. Initially, I was critical of the work. First it is not a “strategy” in the classic sense of the word (ends, ways, and means). You cannot have a strategy without detailing the resources and none were listed. Secondly it seemed to be just a compendium of thoughts on the strategic environment and a listing of missions of the armed forces. The latter seemed to be in priority order, but that is an assumption on my part and was not overtly stated. There was a lot of talk about process vice the tough choices. And finally, there were lots of words on what the Armed Forces will do and few words on what the Armed Forces won’t be doing – given a $450B budget cut. Like others, I could be critical about what was “not included.”

However, as I read the piece for the second time (and understanding that this is a public document … not a classified one which would be at the SECRET or higher level), I found much in it to commend it to you.

First, it recognizes the nation is at a turning point after a decade at war. We have a broader range of challenges than just the focus on the past wars. The force of the future will be smaller and leaner, but will be agile, flexible, ready, and technologically advanced. The department will avoid a “hollow force.” DOD will reorient the force towards the Asia-Pacific region. This puts a premium on Air, Space, and naval forces. As I was quoted recently [see:] – 100% of the Pacific is covered by air and space.

In the primary mission of US Armed Forces section, I was pleased to see that the mission to project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges was listed. Despite the fact that the authors did not mention one of the most important elements of power projection [Air Superiority], the idea that the Pentagon should look to the future shoots holes in the concept of “next-war-itis” and is long overdue. I found the concept of deterring and defeating aggression to be refreshing:

“Even when US forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region, they will be capable of denying the objectives of – or imposing unacceptable cost on – an opportunistic aggressor in a second region.”

This puts a premium on those forces that can rapidly shift from one theater to another – predominantly Airpower.

I found the articulation of the concept of conducting long term occupation and stability operations to take into account the realities of what we have seen over the past ten years – where we projected vulnerability – with over 46,000 wounded and more than 6,200 dead. The piece says: “ … US forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” In my words, we should take advantage of the inherent strengths of Airpower – speed, range, flexibility, technology – and limit the exposure of our forces to our enemies.

I liked the focus on the Guard and Reserves – both of which have carried a heavy load over the past decade.

And I thought the focus on science, technology, innovation, and the industrial base to be important to discuss in any strategy document. I also thought the concept mentioned in the paper about “reversibility” to be an important one in dealing with risk. We have not, in recent history, done well in predicting who, where, and when we will fight.

I might differ on the margins about things like the listing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, while leaving out Hamas (and others); talking about operating “effectively” in Cyberspace and Space [these are mediums in which we should dominate]; and suggesting that we can achieve our nuclear deterrence goals with a smaller nuclear force [depends on what the goals are]. But on balance, the document is welcomed relief to the past and recognition that the US has broad, enduring, and overarching goals … and challenges.

Finally, I have to back away and comment on the totality of the challenge facing the Department of Defense. Yes … we’re in a budget crisis. And … yes we need to cut government spending. However, during the Kennedy Administration this nation spent 50% of the federal budget on defense. It’s less than 20% today. Then we spent 9.5% of our GDP on Defense; today it’s 3.4% and getting lower. The question we must ask is: Should we balance the budget on the back of defense spending? We have proven over time that a weak America invites aggression. I’m reminded of the famous quote from President Reagan: “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”

Last comment: Documents like these don’t always drive resource decisions. Many times, the Services are given dollar bogeys in a “salami-slice” fashion … without regard for the strategy. We should all watch the budget roll out to see if the resources match the “strategy.”

Let me ask you to read the document and tell me what you think.

For your consideration.


Michael M. Dunn

Air Force Association

“The only thing more expensive than a first-rate Air Force is … a second-rate Air Force.” -- Senate staff member


Tim Snook said...

What I saw was the SecDef saying words that rationalized the arbitrary budget figures passed down from the Executive Branch. I do not trust the current administration to make the tough choices necessary to provide for the common defense.

mbp said...

Michael, Well written. Thanks for taking the time to provide these insights to all the members. Having been a part of the hollow force of the 80's our nation can not afford to go to this model again. I will read the document as well.

Michael B. Perini, ABC
Retired USAF-Colonel
AFA Life-time member
Former Senior Editor (EWI Program), AIR FORCE MAGAZINE
Owner, Perini & Associates (

JIMBOYFL said...

I agree with Tim Snook. But I would add that it is completely irresponsible of this administration and congress to make these cuts while we are faced with the threats from China and the Middle East. Question
while the new reflueling aircraft be properly sized for the Pacific? Perhaps a B777 version should be considered as a partial buy.

James E Olson, Major USAFR Retired
Life Member

Author Dale Brown said...

Gen. Dunn: Like Tim S I remain skeptical of the Obama Administration's reason for the strategy shift. Pres. Obama and SECDEF Panetta don't strike me as strategic military thinkers, just political ones. But I'm willing to wait to see what sort of force they plan to build.

JDevenport said...

I agree with Tim Snook, "I do not trust the current administration to make the tough choices necessary to provide for the common defense."

Nick Daffern said...

Everything Obama does is driven by his ideology, not by external facts. He and his cohorts are academics who have never done anything themselves except tell other people how to live their lives based on how he thinks things ought to be. He is using the Presidency to conduct a social studies lab on a national scale, and he doesn't perceive national security as a priority because he doesn't see China, Russia, Iran, or any other number of actors as particular threats to the United States. In his view, it is the United States who has historically been the primary threat to the rest of the world!

Any "study" done by Panetta will be written to rationalize transferring Defense dollars to social programs, period. Our long term strategy is now to hope for the best and trust our adversaries won't take advantage of our weakness.

Nick Daffern, Lt Col USAF (ret)
AFA Life Member

Anonymous said...

Do you really trust the words of "the most transparent administration" in history? This president intends to gut the armed forces while he takes down the economy and increases the size of government and power at his disposal.

Anonymous said...

wow, having read these comments, I am wondering about the thinking of some of our cohorts. They accuse the president of being too political but it seems they are wearing the same shoes. Thank you Gen Dunn for a good analysis. We have much to wait and see just how things turn out in the long run.

Arnold J. Nass said...



Steve said...

Shared a link about AFA Magazine on Transitioning Veteran Facebook. Shared the page about the number of men and women in uniform from page 19 in Jan. 2012 issue.

-Steve (Veteran and Founder of Transitioning