Wall Street Journal
August 2, 2013
U.S. military revamps plans for potential conflicts from the Middle East to the Pacific
The U.S. military is conducting a sweeping overhaul of its war plans for potential conflicts from the Middle East to the Pacific, as commanders adapt to a future of dwindling numbers of ground troops.
Plans that had presumed the availability of large U.S. forces for invasions and occupations are being redrafted to incorporate strategies such as quick-reaction ground units, air power and Navy ships, according to officials. A big part of the new plans will be options for the use of cyberweapons, which can disable enemies’ offensive and defensive capabilities.
Pentagon proposals unveiled this week for deep cuts in the size of the Army and Marine Corps have given added urgency to the effort to rewrite war plans, which began in earnest this spring. But even without the impetus of budget cuts, defense officials believed many existing plans were excessively reliant on large ground forces.
Testifying before the House on Thursday, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke broadly about the effort to revise the plans, saying the military wanted them to be more “innovative.”
“We don’t want to fight the last war,” he said. “We’re always accused of fighting the last war. I don’t want to do that.”
The Pentagon has long maintained contingency war plans for dealing with hypothetical conflicts around the world. All such plans are highly classified, and officials wouldn’t discuss the changes in detail.
But officials said the military had looked at existing plans for conflicts in the Middle East involving Iran, as well as conflicts in Asia, particularly in the South China Sea and East China Sea, where U.S. allies and partners have conflicting territorial claims with China.
Retired Gen. Norton Schwartz, the former Air Force Chief of Staff who now leads the nonpartisan Business Executives for National Security, said combatant commanders have been asked to revise plans to “achieve the mission with fewer forces.”
“It is about doing it in a different way,” Gen. Schwartz said. “This is about operational art. The challenge to the combatant commanders was to apply imagination.”
The push has been spearheaded by Adm. Winnefeld, who was dissatisfied with many existing plans, officials said, as they were too dependent on large ground forces, and hadn’t incorporated newer fighting concepts or cutting-edge technologies.
According to people briefed on the effort, the Pentagon hasn’t fundamentally altered plans for U.S. participation in an all-out war on the Korean peninsula, which could require a large number of forces. But the military has looked at other potential crises in North Korea, such as a regime collapse allowing nuclear weapons to get loose. Some plans had called for the Army to mobilize multiple brigades based in the U.S. to aid any effort to secure North Korea nuclear sites.
Pentagon officials said those plans required too much time and new plans were needed. Defense experts said the new plans likely would rely more exclusively on special-operations forces and Army and Marine forces already in the Pacific.
The senior military official said no operational plans have changed yet, but that none are off the table for revision.
Officials said revisions will encompass new technology and concepts in warfare. Planners have been assigned to look at technology gaps that, if filled, could give the U.S. an edge.
Members of the Joint Chiefs also have pushed for combatant commands to develop operational plans with “more granularity in scope and scale.” Rather than offering one course of action for dealing with a crisis, the new plans will outline options.
Those options would include different mixes of forces and capabilities. Some would take longer to work, while others could be done more quickly. Some options would carry greater risk of failure; others might be less risky but come at greater cost.
A defense official said that with the war in Afghanistan coming to an end, the U.S. is at “a strategic inflection point.” War plans hadn’t been updated to conform with revisions to military strategy outlined by President Barack Obama in 2012.
Defense officials said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has received regular updates on the work, and has reviewed the revised plans for Asia.
“This is a fresh look at old challenges,” a U.S. official said.
Analysts said the revision was necessary, especially given the cutbacks to the size of the Army. Pentagon officials announced this week they would trim at least 40,000 soldiers from the Army, which had been planning to shrink to 490,000 soldiers. Under some scenarios, the active-duty Army could become as small as 380,000, officials said.
“It’s a very timely thing to be doing to revise, review and revalidate the war plans of the Pentagon,” said David Berteau, a defense analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies.