US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has had to assure allies that America's 'pivot' to Asia doesn't mean those in the Middle East and Europe will be ignored. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The US Defense Department’s latest military strategy review will stress the Pentagon’s commitment to the Middle East, a region that has felt jilted by numerous US actions in recent years.
The quadrennial defense review (QDR) — an outline of military strategy updated every four years — is also expected to examine changes unfolding in the Pacific, the global security environment and fiscal outlook for DoD, according to sources.
In January 2012, the Pentagon’s Strategic Guidance, a major overhaul of military strategy, placed a greater emphasis on the Pacific, which was widely perceived by other regions of the world as abandonment. Even though the US has not changed its force posture in the Middle East, emphasizing the region in the updated strategy would send a message of commitment to the region, experts said.
The QDR is also expected to emphasize research-and-development investment, according to sources, an area of major emphasis by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall and other top leaders.
DoD officials will preview the Pentagon’s updated military strategy and 2015 budget proposal this week in what should be a busy few days for the Pentagon. Also on the schedule this week is Robert Work’s nomination hearing to be deputy defense secretary.
The 2015 budget proposal is expected to total $496 billion, which is in line with spending caps established last last year. The services are expected to make some major funding shifts, including the Air Force retiring all of its A-10 attack jets, a reduction in planned Navy littoral combat ship purchases and steep personnel reductions in the Army.
The services are also expected to put forth a $26 billion unfunded priorities list, a wish list of items not included in the budget itself.
The Obama administration likely will scale back funding for the US military’s most elite forces, which spearheaded the fight against al-Qaida and embodied the Pentagon’s rapid post-9/11 budget growth, multiple defense sources say. “SOF will be flat” across the 2015 budget plan’s five years, said one defense source with ties to the Pentagon and White House.
Another source, citing conversations with senior special operations officials, said spec ops funding will be “reined in.”
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said setting spec ops funding on a flat trajectory from 2015 through 2019 “sounds reasonable given the tremendous growth that area has seen in recent years.”
The expected flattening of special operations funding shows, analysts say, that budget realities have finally caught up to the military’s most elite units.
The White House is slated to deliver its full federal budget request to Capitol Hill on March 4. The QDR is also expected to head to lawmakers in the coming weeks.
Sources say Work’s confirmation to be the Pentagon’s No. 2 shouldn’t be derailed by a budget preview the day before his hearing.
Numerous sources say it’s unlikely senators would block Work’s nomination if their pet weapons program is targeted for cuts when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel previews the Pentagon’s 2015 spending proposal on Feb. 24.
But they expect Hagel’s “budget pre-brief” to create some tense exchanges between annoyed Senate Armed Services Committee members and Work, President Barack Obama’s pick to be deputy defense secretary.
“I think he’s going to be confirmed,” said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for American Progress, a think tank with ties to the Obama administration.
Many defense observers considered Work’s confirmation hearing a mere formality. After all, the former Navy undersecretary and think tank executive is well-respected among Republicans and Democrats. And no one has questioned his qualifications to manage the Defense Department.
One defense source noted that Work and the other nominees are known quantities within the military-industrial-congressional complex and have been intimately involved at one point or another throughout the current budget and quadrennial defense review processes.
Still, senators surely will use the confirmation hearing to grandstand if Hagel announces cuts to a weapon system made in their state, sources say.
“I think he’ll be fine, but the Hagel briefing will make the hearing not such a pro-forma thing,” Korb said. “Overall, though, I think he’ll have no major problem at all.”
“He’ll certainly have to answer for some things he wouldn’t have had to answer for two weeks ago,” one defense source said.
One potential point of awkwardness: The Pentagon’s acting deputy, Christine Fox, wrote a classified memo in January directing the Navy to halt production of littoral combat ships at 32, well under the planned purchase of 52. During his time as Navy undersecretary, Work was the department’s loudest cheerleader for the ship program. Becoming the deputy puts him in the position of defending program cuts after years of full-throated endorsement.
One prominent defense industry lobbyist said he doubts “people would put a hold on his nomination without having all details of the budget, which is not coming for another week or so.”■