Military Capabilities

Questions remain over Pentagon’s strategy to pivot towards a large-scale conventional conflict

06 December 2018

US Marines board a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter in Keflavik, Iceland, on 17 October for a simulated air assault as part of ‘Trident Juncture 2018’. Next year, the Pentagon could face tough questions from lawmakers on how the department is preparing for violent conflicts with China and Russia. Source: DoD

When Pentagon leaders defend their fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020) budget request early next year, there could be mounting pressure to detail precise plans for how they are prioritising spending and shifting towards a 'great power competition' with China and Russia.

Nearly 11 months after the release of the new National Defense Strategy (NDS), it is still not clear if Department of Defense (DoD) leaders have a firm grip on what the shift means, according to key members of the congressionally mandated NDS Commission.

In late November, the commission released a 99-page report detailing its findings on the NDS, defence policy, and making a case for increased DoD spending.

On 27 November, panel co-chairs Eric Edelman and retired US Navy Admiral Gary Roughead appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss their findings. One of their chief concerns is what it will mean for the department to assume additional risk in the Middle East to prepare for a great power competition.

Edelman explained that they had asked people "with different sets of responsibilities" within DoD to detail what additional risk will mean for operations against the Islamic State, "containing Iran", and efforts to help stabilise Afghanistan.

"We got different answers from different people," he added. "So, I think we were concerned that there wasn't [a] complete common understanding … of what the strategy really was going to require."

Edelman added that he believes it is up to lawmakers to "demand that the department explain how it's going to … accomplish these things".

In addition to needing a better understanding of assumed risk, Adm Roughead noted that the department is still coming to terms with what capabilities will be required to face China or Russia.

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