U.S. soldiers maneuver using concealment at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California

commentary

(War on the Rocks)

April 26, 2016

Presence vs. Warfighting: A Looming Dilemma in Defense Planning

U.S. soldiers maneuver using concealment at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, California

Photo by Pfc. Daniel Parrott/U.S. Army

by Michael J. Mazarr

The advent of a new administration and a new Defense Strategic Review will soon provide an opportunity to rethink defense policy from the ground up. The dominant challenge, as it has been for a decade or more, will be matching declining means to rising challenges. And the most intense ends-means mismatch may be something that has so far received little sustained attention: the collision of two fundamental components of U.S. military strategy — presence, with all it entails, and expeditionary warfighting.

The warfighting task has defined the U.S. global military role since World War I. The United States maintains large, ready forces and a reserve in order to gather up a decisive force, rush to the scene of a conflict, defeat an aggressor, and win the nation's wars. The United States sizes its forces based on some number of these contingencies — at the moment, as noted in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (PDF), one war plus an ability to “hold” in a second. The warfighting task calls for a large, mostly U.S.-based force, prepared for major combat and sufficient to defeat peer competitors. It demands strategic lift and mobility to get to the fight, and operational concepts for winning it....

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Michael J. Mazarr is an associate director of RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program, and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on War on the Rocks on April 26, 2016. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.