Diving into the 2018 National Defense Strategy

//Diving into the 2018 National Defense Strategy

Diving into the 2018 National Defense Strategy

In January of this year, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis released the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) where he openly stated: “Our competitive advantage has eroded in every domain of warfare.” Required by Congress, the NDS replaces the former document known as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The NDS further builds upon the National Security Strategy (NSS) that was previously released in December 2017. It does differ in one important way though, the NDS is classified and therefore, Secretary Mattis could only release the unclassified 11-page summary.

The U.S. military has concentrated on 5 main security challenges in the last decade including; China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Islamic terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. This document moves the U.S. away from terrorism as the top mission and more closely focuses on near-peer adversaries like Russia and China, which the document labels as “revisionist powers”.

According to the strategy, the American military will be organized in such a way to credibly confront and defeat near-peer challengers across the spectrum of warfare and its multiple domains. The document primarily focuses on the Asia-Pacific and Europe as the two highest priority threats while at the same time, maintaining forces and controlling the constant upheaval in the Middle East.[1] According to the NDS, the U.S. Department of Defense is choosing to prioritize preparation for future conflicts which could ultimately come at the expense of fighting present day wars against groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Secretary Mattis is putting more concentration on developing new “capabilities” rather than on expanding “capacity”. In other words, the Department of Defense will emphasize innovation, modernization, and acquisition more than it will prioritize the expansion of the size of the military by adding more man power. [2]

The new strategy changes some force planning structures from its last unclassified version which emphasized the military would be designed in such a way to fight and win two major wars simultaneously. The new NDS sets up its structure in such a way that it prioritizes defeating a single major power in addition to being able to maintain a small number of other efforts in various regions against an array of enemies.

Relevance vs. Performance

In a separate section of the NDS, the document states the importance of the ability to “deliver performance at the speed of relevance,” and further states that “the Department is over-optimized for exceptional performance at the expense of providing timely decisions, policies, and capabilities to the warfighter. Our response will be to prioritize speed of delivery, continuous adaptation, and frequent modular upgrades.” If the Pentagon does choose to further focus its efforts on speed over quality or performance, it could cause major disruptions for the defense industry and its current business models. If the Pentagon chooses a new approach that seeks to acquire weapons systems faster, emphasizing less testing, risk minimization and lead-ahead capabilities, the ripple effects on the defense industry would be profound. [3]

Cost of Strategy

Although the NDS does summarize many investment areas, including cyber, space, nuclear, long range fires and missile defense, it does not say how or where the Department of Defense will cut costs to help forge ahead with these new efforts. This will be better understood and explained through the release of the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) that are to be finished and published in the coming weeks. These studies should include the estimate costs of maintaining a credible nuclear force and a homeland missile defense system.

The NDS does include a short and succinct risk section primarily for a message to Congress on the detriment that constant Continuing Resolutions (CRs) have on our military force. “Without sustained and predictable investment to restore readiness and modernize our military to make it fit for or time, we will rapidly lose our military advantage resulting in a Joint Force that has legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people.”

Next Steps

The Pentagon expects to deliver its fiscal year 2019 (FY19) budget request to Congress in the next couple of weeks, but a much-awaited defense buildup may not happen until fiscal year 2020 (FY2020), according to Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. He did state that while FY19 will include a “step up” in the defense budget, FY20 will be the “masterpiece”. Because the NDS, NPR, BMDR and the previously released National Security Strategy (NSS) were being organized at the same time as the FY19 budget, there simply is not enough time to include all of these reviews and studies in the upcoming budget, Shanahan said. “A big portion of my time in the next twelve months will be to make sure (the FY20 budget) is the masterpiece. It is probably the next biggest step we can take to make sure we can unwind the strategy,” he said. [4]

  1. Karlin, Mara. “How to read the 2018 National Defense Strategy.” Brookings. January 21, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2018.
  2. Karlin, Mara. “How to read the 2018 National Defense Strategy.” Brookings. January 21, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2018.
  3. Levinson, Robert. “What the New National Defense Strategy Means for Contractors.” Bloomberg. January 25, 2018. Accessed January 26, 2018.
  4. Mehta, Aaron. “Pentagon expects on-time budget for 2019 but Trump’s ‘masterpiece’ will be in 2020.” Defense News. December 22, 2017. Accessed January 29, 2018.


By |2018-02-07T03:00:01+00:00February 7th, 2018|Defense|Comments Off on Diving into the 2018 National Defense Strategy

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