At CNAS’ 2010 conference: Shaping the Agenda, military and policy leaders shared their views on how America’s armed forces will need to evolve to meet the changing needs of an increasingly unstable international environment.
Keynote speaker Michele Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, said that despite significant progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.“
“2010’s Quadrennial Defense Review embraces a key lesson from more than eight years war: intelligent adversaries will seek to confront our weaknesses rather than our strengths,“ she said. “US forces in this century will need to to prevail against threats including insurgencies, failed states and regional powers seeking to deny us access to key areas. We will need the agility of David rather than the clumsiness of Goliath.“
Undersecretary Flournoy said that the current administration has sought to minimize “national security adventurism“ in favor of a pragmatic approach to operations, emphasizing three key areas: counterinsurgency operations, air and sea superiority, and cybersecurity and cyberspace operations.
She also added that the U.S.’ spending on a per-unit basis is unsustainable. “The Air Force wanted 132 B-2 bombers, but at a cost of $2 billion apiece, we purchased 20.“ In shaping future defense policy, she said that Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, would “force bureaucracy to make hard choices,“ and touted the $330 million in savings realized from canceling or modifying weapons systems that were over-budget or under-performing.
Admiral Eric Olson, head of Special Operations Command, leads the soldiers who play some of the most prominent counterinsurgency roles in the Afghan theater and worldwide. He said that the expanding inventory of Special Forces missions, from commando-style raids in the 1940s to counterinsurgency operations today, has not been like moving from AAA baseball to the major leagues, but like moving from gridiron football to soccer, “where size is less important than speed, agility and guile.“
“The future of special operations forces depends on our ability to thoughtfully determine where we will be,“ he continued, “and in what capacity we will be needed, as well as our ability to stay agile and responsive enough to answer the calls that we did not foresee.“
Dr. John Nagl spoke about the increasingly critical role played by private contractors in battlefields around the world. “Contractors have always accompanied American armies to war. George Washington had contractors with him at Valley Forge,“ he said, and added that “more than 1800 private contractors have been killed and more than 40,000 injured in Iraq and Afghanistan“ during eight years of warfare.
According to Dr. Nagl, “the performance of contractors can materially influence whether the United States can attain its goals,“ so “It’s critical that we get this relationship right.“ He says that any serious approach to contractor reform will require an expansion of the government’s contracting oversight workforce, which is currently inadequate in terms of size and training.
“The lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan have been the most expensive in American history,“ he said, adding that “the reality is that even if we don’t conduct an Iraq or Afghanistan-sized operation any time soon, even smaller operations will require contractor support.“
One thing that just about all of the speakers at CNAS agreed upon is that warfare in the future will require unprecedented levels of force agility in the field, and will rely more on highly-trained and specialized warfighters than past conflicts, and since contractors, when deployed effectively, act as force multipliers and increase force agility, the services of the government contracting community will be more essential than ever in years to come.