BRUSSELS – Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is prepping his team to update the National Military Strategy – a classified document that will provide the framework for how the Pentagon can execute the goals of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Speaking to reporters Jan. 15, Dunford said the document will not require “a complete rewrite,” but that updates will be needed to reflect what has changed since the last National Military Strategy was released in 2016.

“In the National Military Strategy that we wrote [in 2016], we wrote it during a time of political transition. So what we tried to do was make it policy agnostic, knowing that when a National Defense Strategy came out we’d have to kind of go back and provide a policy framework within which the strategy would be implemented,” Dunford explained.

The Trump administration is in the midst of releasing a series of interconnected strategy documents. First came the National Security Strategy in December, a broad overview of the administration’s priorities. Then comes the National Defense Strategy, which outlines how the NSS will apply to the Pentagon, on Jan. 19. That will be followed by the Nuclear Posture Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review, both expected in February.

The National Military Strategy is best thought of as the operational version of the National Defense Strategy, outlining how the military will execute the goals laid out in the NDS. Hence, with a new National Defense Strategy must come changes to the National Military Strategy.

So what might change under Dunford’s second crack at the NMS? The chairman made it sound like it will largely involve coloring in details that were already laid out in the previous document, particularly around the analysis of the “4+1” challenges to America – China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and violent extremism.

But those details may not make it to the public. As with the 2016 document, Dunford will be keeping the military strategy classified, with only a partial version released to the public. That was the first time in two decades the NMS had been classified, but the chairman intends to follow that path again.

“It’s about plans. And so you want to classify those,” Dunford said. “We’ll come out certainly with an unclassified description of it, so that we’re transparent – as we were last time… The ‘how-to-deal-with-that’ in our campaign plans and operations plans is the part that needs to be classified.”

As to timing, Dunford joked he would love to have the document done next week, but acknowledged it would likely take months before the document is finalized.

“We’re going to work on that really hard. We’re going to work on that really hard. That is a main focus for 2018, is to get that thing done,” he said. “Look, I don’t want to put a date on the calendar, but it’s not February or March.

“This will be a deliberative process, but we got a jumpstart on it. But it’s certainly months away from publishing.”

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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