1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, KJV)

The world turns, a calendar is checked off and we find ourselves on the cusp of the new year, contemplating the momentous and minor events of the year past and pondering the one to come.  It is a time when pundits make bold predictions, oft followed by more bold pronouncements almost 180-out in their prognostication.  At best, they are fodder for the typical end-of-year lists of Who Got It Wrong The Worst.

Fear not – I will make none of those here – were I to have even a smidge of such prescience, the stock portfolio would be thick and in the black and I’d be working on my fourth Pulitzer-in-waiting book.

It’s not and I’m not.  Alas.

Still, there are several items to be watching for in the coming year, some slated for delivery on the first day of the new year while others may crest later – or fade altogether.  Submitted for your consideration then:

1.  Guiding documents:

Beginning New Year’s Day a slew of documents critical to determining our future course in terms of national security, force structure and employment are scheduled for release.  Chief among these are the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR).  By far and away, the QDR is the most sweeping and will have the biggest impact on future planning.  Guidance will be provided – such as will we continue to depend on forward- and rotationally deployed forces, or fall back on a fortress America sending out rotationally deploying forces?  Will we plan for two major wars? One? Or put emphasis on deterring/dissuading and contingency actions, banking that a major regional action with a near peer competitor isn’t in the cards? What will the forces look like?  We’ve already gotten a peak under the tent flap with the cancellation of the F-22, CGX, and other big ticket items meant for a major conflict.  Will our focus shift back to regional emphasis and how will we go about engaging regional friends, partners and allies?  This and more we should know in less than a week when the QDR is released.

And the other two?  Well, the last NPR (2002) brought about a profound shift in the “Triad.”  During the Cold War, the Triad was composed of the three functional strike legs of our nuclear deterrent – manned bombers, land-based ICBMs and sea-based SLBMs.   Under the “new Triad” those forces were rolled up into a single leg of Offensive Forces along with non-nuclear strike and included Active/passive Defense and revitalization of our defense structure as the other two legs.  The current NPR is expected to take a hard look at nuclear disarmament and coincides with the expiration of the START accords and subsequent negotiations with Russia over a new nuclear arms limitation treaty (more later).  Proliferation of nuclear weapons and material/knowledge is also expected to factor highly, especially in light of what has and is transpiring in Iran, Syria, North Korea, India and China.  Since the 2002 NPR we’ve seen North Korea conduct a test of a notional weapon, India and Pakistan expand their testing and means of delivery and an extra-national network run by A.Q. Kahn foment proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and knowledge amongst a host of bad actors.  This, of course, begs the question of expected means of delivery (safe presumption – ballistic and cruise missile) and the newest document on the block, the BMDR.

Since the 1997 Rumsfeld report and the ’01 QDR, both the threat of ballistic missiles and the promise of ballistic missile defense have grown to such an extent that the time for an independent review is at hand.  What we can expect to see from the BMDR will be a review of the threat and guidance on where we will pace our emphasis on development, deployment and employment.  Given that there is growth across all ranges in ballistic missiles – from the IR/ICBM ranged North Korean TD-2 to the many missiles in the Middle East that pose threats to Israel and other states in the region, to China’s own growing missile force, it is a rich field, threat-wise, that the BDR plows.  Expectations are it will reflect and formalize the shift in emphasis from a global ballistic missile defense system based on ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, focused on the North Korean threat to one based on multi-use platforms like BMD configured Aegis DDGs and CGs employing the SM-3 BlkIA and SM-2 BlkIVa in the regional and theater fights.  Again, guidance will be provided on force structure and development and testing.  Most affected by this will be Navy (maritime- and land-based Aegis BMD) and a lesser extent, Army with the THAAD program.  The new Phase Adaptive Approach to defending Europe  will likely serve as the model for future BMD development and deployment.  Another expectation from the BMDR will be the emphasis it will likely place on all means of missile defense – not just kinetic.

Finally, the Navy appears to be edging ever closer to releasing the Naval Operating Concept (NOC), the key document that links the “new” Maritime Strategy with the operating forces by operationalizing its concepts.  Originally due out within 6 months of release of the MarStrat, the NOC was derailed by several items of controversy between the three sea services, not least of which was that of force structure in general, and shipbuilding in particular between the Navy and Marine Corps.  Coming after the QDR. NPR and BMDR, the current director of plans, RDML Thomas, the NOC will:

“… explain how naval forces, operating together, put the strategic imperatives of the tri-service maritime strategy into action, according to the director of plans. “The NOC’s original purpose was to operationalize the maritime strategy,” Thomas noted. “Right now you’ve got a Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power with specific strategic imperatives and core capabilities and then you have a bunch of activities that are taking place in support of joint forces, combatant commanders around the globe. But what links your strategic imperatives with your activities? How do you know what specific effects you’re trying to have in support of the larger effect the nation is trying to have globally?”  The purpose of the NOC is to “go after some of those specific effects,” Thomas said, to “better marry up our activities with the direct support” of commanders around the globe.  “Part of the reasoning there is those activities support the strategy, but in a resource-constrained environment you have to re-double your efforts to go after specific effects and if it’s something that is in the ‘nice to do’ category versus the ‘need to do’ category, then that ‘nice to do’ may get left on the cutting room floor,” the one-star admiral argued. “I think the NOC will be a pretty robust document.” “

Next:   What do the Russians want now?

3 Comments

  1. YNSN

    Sir,

    You are the Spruance to CDR Salamander’s Nimitz. Thank you for all the work you do, I’ll keep reading as long as you are writing.

  2. YNSN:

    Thanks & much appreciated. God bless, take care over there and don’t lose your bearings, Army culture being what it is…
    – SJS

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