New Security Threats Beyond Iraq Will Require Changes in Military Deployments and Structure, RAND Study Says

For Release

May 17, 2007

The complex military challenges facing the United States will require all four military services to rethink the way forces are manned, equipped and deployed, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The report, “A New Division of Labor: Meeting America's Security Challenges Beyond Iraq,” was prepared by RAND Project AIR FORCE, the U.S. Air Force's federally funded research and development center for studies and analyses. Project AIR FORCE is a division of RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

“This is a new paradigm,” said Andrew R. Hoehn, a RAND vice president and director of Project AIR FORCE, who was the lead author of the study. “U.S. forces are being called upon to perform new missions far outside their normal repertoire, from confronting terrorism spawned by radical Islam to the possibility of fighting new nuclear powers.”

Hoehn is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and has participated in all major reviews of defense policy and strategy since the end of the Cold War.

The report outlines three key security challenges to the United States, its interests, and its allies: terrorist and insurgent groups; regional powers with nuclear weapons, such as North Korea; and increasing security competition in Asia, which could result in a military confrontation with China.

In order to meet the three challenges, the report says U.S. forces will need to take several steps, including:

  • Suppressing terrorists and insurgents by capturing and killing them, but more importantly by training and advising the armed forces of other nations being attacked by terrorists and insurgents.
  • Bringing stability and security to countries and regions struggling to implement democratic reforms.
  • Developing and fielding more effective means for locating and destroying nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.
  • Ensuring that U.S. forces can overcome modern anti-access weapons and methods, particularly theater ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. These weapons can create serious problems for military services that rely on traditional concepts for deploying forces and equipment to areas of conflict.

Hoehn said that previous U.S. strategy was centered around a “1-4-2-1” sizing criterion. This strategy directed U.S. forces to be able to: defend the United States; maintain a military presence in four key areas of the world; be prepared to fight in two conflicts not involving occupying enemy territory; and conduct one major conflict involving occupation.

But today, U.S. forces also must be engaged in other, remote areas including Afghanistan, Sudan, Central Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Currently, many of the U.S. fighting forces are forward deployed “in the places where the wars of the last century ended,” such as Germany, Japan and South Korea, Hoehn said.

“The era is gone when strategists could divide the planet into regions where the nation has important interests at stake… and where it does not,” the report notes. “In terms of classic geopolitics, Afghanistan and Sudan were beyond the strategic purview of the United States, yet they were the breeding grounds of al Qaeda.”

The conflicts themselves have changed as well. Having American forces “performing highly visible roles trying to solve other nations' problems for them,” often causes local populations to resent the American presence as well as their own government for not being able to solve the problems, Hoehn said.

“The way you win the war on terror is to help other, friendly nations do a better job providing for their own security,” Hoehn said. “A much greater and sustained level of effort is called for here.”

In the future, the Army, Marines and Special Forces will be used more to promote stability – a new emphasis, but not one that can be “done on the cheap,” the report says.

The study recommends that the Army develop stability, support and advisory capabilities – as well as conventional war fighting elements – within its tactical structure to reflect these new missions. To compensate for these added responsibilities, the report assumes that the Army and Marine Corps will remain the same size, but will realign units and personnel to be ready to fight one rather than two conventional wars.

“This is not to suggest that the U.S. will conduct direct stability operations on the Iraqi model,” the study notes. “As a rule, U.S. stability operations should, (and of necessity, will) be indirect, focused on training, equipping and advising friendly indigenous forces as they seek to quell their own internal stability challenges.” These operations will require important support from the Air Force and Navy, according to the report.

The primary roles for the Air Force and the Navy, however, will be to conduct large-scale “power projection” operations – helping combat the forces of enemy nations far from U.S. shores. In the event that the United States would have to defend Taiwan, for example, large numbers of ground forces probably would not be needed, but air and naval firepower and support would be required.

Both the Air Force and the Navy should explore ways to operate at longer ranges and with persistence, especially in conflicts involving foes with nuclear weapons and missiles, the study says. Both branches have invested in numerous shorter-range craft, which may not be effective if their operating bases are within range of large numbers of enemy missiles.

“Finally, while striving to fix what is broken, (the Department of Defense) should be careful not to break what is fixed,” the report notes. “The U.S. armed forces are the most powerful and successful in the world, perhaps in history. Their dominance of the conventional ‘force on force' battlefield is so overwhelming that it has, among other things, rendered a whole class of historically troubling scenarios – massed cross-border aggression by large, armored forces – largely obsolete.”

“America plays a crucial role in maintaining the global security system,” Hoehn said. “This ability to come to the aid of key partners is unrivaled in the world, and that needs to be maintained.”

Hoehn said the military is already working toward some of the goals recommended in the study, particularly now that the U.S. Department of Defense has been implementing the results of its recent Quadrennial Defense Review of U.S. military strategy and policy. But he said more can and should be done.

Other authors of the study are Adam Grissom, David Ochmanek, David Shlapak and Alan Vick, all of RAND.

The study is available at

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