Hagel Orders Pentagon Strategy Review in Uncertain Times

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed Pentagon officials to conduct a review of “strategic choices,” citing “both budgetary and strategic uncertainty.”

Hagel said in a memo that the review should use as its “point of departure” the Pentagon strategy issued in January 2012 that emphasizes a rebalancing of U.S. power toward the Asia Pacific region. He said the results will shape his budget proposal for fiscal 2015.

“We must think and act ahead of this uncertainty and not in reaction to it,” Hagel wrote in the memo dated March 15 and obtained today by Bloomberg News.

The review represents Hagel’s first attempt to reshape the Pentagon’s priorities in light of efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit, end U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and cope with an array of evolving threats, from the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea to diffuse terrorist groups and cyberwarfare.

Hagel asked that the review, led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in coordination with General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, be completed by May 31.

Hunting License

A defense official described Hagel’s memo as a hunting license to comb through the Pentagon budget from top-to-bottom in the face of budget constraints such as the across-the-board cuts called sequestration and in light of the latest threats.

Among defense programs likely to get fresh scrutiny are the number and mix of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35s the services will require, the number of aircraft carrier battle groups the Navy needs and whether cruise missiles make unnecessary a new penetrating long-range bomber for the Air Force, according to the official, who asked not to be identified discussing Hagel’s thinking.

Other systems and areas to receive scrutiny include the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle; the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship; the personnel needs of all the services; and tuition, health care and retirement benefits for retirees, especially the growing number of senior officers, the official said.

A second defense official said Hagel’s review represented contingency planning on the budget and not acceptance that sequestration is certain to continue. Instead, Hagel wants to look ahead as to how the reduction of as much as $500 billion through 2023 would be accommodated and tied to the strategy.

2015 Guidance

Hagel said the review’s findings would “frame” the strategy budget guidance he’ll submit to the services to follow at the beginning of fiscal 2015 budget planning.

The findings also will provide a foundation for the department’s congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, the next version of which is due February 2014.

The review Hagel convened follows similar actions directed by predecessors Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. Rumsfeld faced criticism from lawmakers in the months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks regarding the pace of his review.

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