At a moment of national transition, the United States is reshaping defense priorities and its military force to sustain U.S. global leadership and respond to changing security and fiscal needs, President Barack Obama said this morning at the Pentagon.
Obama, the first president to address reporters in the Pentagon briefing room, joined Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to introduce a new military strategy that sets priorities for a 21st-century defense.
“The United States of America is the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known,” Obama said. “In no small measure, that’s because we’ve built the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history -- and as commander in chief, I’m going to keep it that way.”
Even as the tide of war recedes and U.S. forces prevail in today’s missions, he added, “we have the opportunity and the responsibility to look ahead to the force we need for the future.”
Looking beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and long-term nation-building with large military footprints, Obama said, the United States will be able to ensure its security with smaller conventional ground forces and by investing in capabilities that include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny access.
“Yes, our military will be leaner,” he said, “but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”
Panetta said the department would need to make a strategic shift regardless of the nation's fiscal situation.
“We are at that point in history,” the secretary added. “That's the reality of the world we live in.”
But he stressed that the U.S. military will remain capable across the spectrum.
“We will continue to conduct a complex set of missions ranging from counterterrorism, ranging from countering weapons of mass destruction to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent,” Panetta said, adding that the department will be “fully prepared to protect our interests, defend our homeland and support civil authorities.”
The Defense Strategic Guidance document released today says the future force will be led by the world’s finest, best cared for and battle-tested all-volunteer military -- one that will be smaller, but that also will be flexible, agile and ready.
The force will be leaner, further reducing the cost of doing business and finding efficiencies in overhead, business practices and other support activities, according to the guidance. It also will be technologically superior, the document adds, and networked across the services as well as with diplomatic, development and intelligence agencies, allies and partners. The strategy also outlines a force that will be able to regenerate and mobilize for an unpredictable future, preserving the U.S. industrial base.
“As a global force, our military will never be doing only one thing,” Panetta said. “It will be responsible for a range of missions and activities across the globe of varying scope, duration and strategic priority. This will place a premium on flexible and adaptable forces that can respond quickly and effectively to a variety of contingencies and potential adversaries.”
With the end of U.S. military commitments in Iraq and the drawdown under way in Afghanistan, the secretary said, the Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the kind of large-scale, long-term stability operations that have dominated military priorities and force generation over the past decade.
Continuing investments in special operations forces, in new technologies such as ISR and unmanned systems and in space and especially cyberspace capabilities will help the force “retain and continue to refine and institutionalize the expertise and capabilities that have been gained at such great cost over the last decade,” Panetta said.
Most importantly, the secretary added, “we will structure and pace reductions in the nation's ground forces in such a way that they can surge, regenerate and mobilize capabilities needed for any contingency.”
Building in reversibility and the ability to quickly mobilize will be critical, he said.
“That means re-examining the mix of elements in the active and reserve components,” Panetta said. “It means maintaining a strong National Guard and Reserve. It means retaining a healthy cadre of experienced [noncommissioned officers] and midgrade officers, and preserving the health and viability of the nation's defense industrial base.”
The strategy, Dempsey said, is sound.
“It ensures we remain the pre-eminent military in the world,” the chairman told reporters, “it preserves the talent of the all-volunteer force, it takes into account the lessons of the last 10 years of war, [and] it acknowledges the imperative of a global, networked and full-spectrum joint force.”
The strategy calls for innovation -- new ways of operating and partnering, Dempsey said, adding that it rebalances the defense focus by region and mission and makes important investments in emerging and proven capabilities such as cyber and special operations.
“Fundamentally,” the chairman said, “our strategy has always been about our ability to respond to global contingencies wherever and whenever they happen. This does not change. We will always provide a range of options for our nation. We can and will always be able to do more than one thing at a time. More importantly, wherever we are confronted and in whatever sequence, we will win.”
All strategies accept some risk, he acknowledged.
“Because we will be somewhat smaller, these risks will be measured in time and capacity,” the general said. “However, we have to be honest -- we could face even greater risks if we did not change from our current approach.”
The outcome is not perfect, the chairman said, but “it gives us what we need -- in this world and within this budget -- to provide the best possible defense for our nation at a time of great transitions. It prepares us for what we anticipate needing in 2020.”
The nation faces a difficult fiscal situation and in many ways is at a crisis point, Panetta said.
“But I believe that in every crisis there is opportunity,” he added. “Out of this crisis, we have the opportunity to end the old ways of doing business and to build a modern force for the 21st century that can win today's wars and successfully confront any enemy and respond to any threat and any challenge of the future.
“Our responsibility -- my responsibility as secretary of defense -- is to protect the nation's security and to keep America safe,” he continued. “With this joint force, I am confident that we can effectively defend the United States of America.”
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service