Paul Nagy, DFI International

February 11, 1998

Although my company -- DFI (Defense Forecasts Incorporated) International -- was involved in the preparation of the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), we were, clearly, a minor player. Nevertheless, I thought that our experiences at DFI would allow me to provide you with some insight as to how officers within the Air Force viewed the QDR.

The origins of the QDR date to 1995 when the Commission on Roles and Missions (CORM) recommended "a comprehensive strategy and force review at the start of each new administration -- a Quadrennial Strategy Review (QSR)." In 1996, the Department of Defense (DOD) accepted the CORM recommendation to institute a QSR modeled after the Bottom-Up Review, and the Lieberman Amendment to the FY97 Defense Authorization Bill directed DOD to conduct a "Quadrennial Defense Review" (and to establish a National Defense Panel). While the QDR was strategy-driven, it was fiscally-constrained. The biggest challenge for DOD was to figure out how to raise military procurement by a third from its current level of $45 billion while staying within a top-line budget of $250 billion. As Air Force General Joseph Ralston stated, "our personnel don't want to serve in a technologically inferior military." In addition, the QDR focused on asymmetric threats to the United States, and the final QDR strategy introduced the new mantra -- "shape, respond, and prepare."

So just what were the Air Force objectives in the QDR? First and foremost, the Air Force wanted to ensure that the value of air and space power were fully understood and appreciated by all involved. This required a clear articulation of the special qualities of air and space power. Yet at the same time the Air Force wanted to preserve JCS solidarity, so that the military chiefs could present a united front to deflect expected criticism of the QDR. Towards this end, the Air Force decided to stress that American air power includes the air forces of all the services, not just the USAF.

The Air Force's organizational approach to the QDR began with the appointment of a two-star flag officer, Major General Chuck Link. Under him were a number of colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors, each of whom worked in "response cells" attached to the different QDR panels. At DFI, we worked for the colonel in charge of the readiness response cell.

In a nutshell, tactical air power (TACAIR) dominated the QDR. Conventional wisdom held that current budget projections did not support the desired amount of TACAIR assets. As such, the Air Force challenged the Navy's request for 1,000 F/A-18E/Fs, while defending its requirement for four fighter-wings of F-22s.

According to the Air Force, the problem with the "traditional" view of armed conflict is that it does not recognize the ascendancy of airpower, since the traditional view neither acknowledges the advantages of deep air-strikes nor the accuracy and destructive power of modern precision-guided munitions. In place of the traditional view of armed conflict, the Air Force proposed a new view -- the strategy of the "decisive halt." The strategy of the decisive halt holds that the air power of all the services can halt an invading force, which then sets the stage for follow-on options, such as disabling the enemy regime, imposing sanctions, and/or mounting a traditional combined arms counter-offensive. According to the Air Force, another advantage of this strategy is that it has an enhanced deterrent effect over traditional methods.

At DFI, we supported the development of the Air Force’s component of the "baseline engagement force." In late 1996, the JCS had asked for a "snapshot" of each service's assets at six different points in time since the end of the Gulf War. The Air Force did not have the institutional ability to accomplish this task. They thus hired DFI to gather the required data and support the analysis. The major result of our work was the creation of a "USAF Deployment Database," which tracks Air Force units' deployments to contingencies, major exercises, and peacetime engagement operations. We found that Air Force support in SSCs (Smaller Scale Contingencies) was higher than initially estimated, with an average of 120 fighter aircraft deployed per month for three major SSCs of the post-cold war era (the operations in Bosnia, and the enforcement of the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq). The peak allocation of fighter assets actually occurred in 1995 during Operation Deliberate Force, when the Air Force had nearly 160 fighters deployed. Indeed, in most periods since 1995, the Air Force has had more combat aircraft on-station in Southwest Asia than the Navy.

The QDR also examined some alternative readiness postures, including Senator John McCain's "Tiered Readiness Concept" and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Readiness Louis Finch's model of "Rotational Cyclical Deployments." McCain's main idea was to achieve cost-savings by maintaining the forces for a second major regional conflict at a lower state of readiness, whereas Finch's idea was to provide forward presence in place of permanently-stationed forces (in other words, to make the Air Force more like the Navy). Although these two ideas received much attention early on, the QDR eventually determined that Tiered Readiness did not allow enough time to "spin-up" flying units, and that the Finch model of Rotational Cyclical Deployments actually requires more fighter squadrons than are in the current force.

In the end, then, what were the results of the QDR for the Air Force? On the down-side, force structure was reduced from thirteen to twelve active fighter wing equivalents and F-22 procurement was cut from 438 to 339 aircraft, enough for 3 wings. On the up-side, the Air Force achieved a partial victory in their quest for a doctrinal shift in the publicly-stated national military strategy of the United States. Whereas the Bottom-Up Review of 1993 stated that "the highest priority in defending against a large-scale attack will most often be to minimize the territory and critical facilities that an invader can capture," the QDR read that "the first challenge is being able to rapidly defeat initial enemy advances short of their objectives" (in other words, the strategy of the decisive halt).

Overall, the QDR did not terminate any major programs, and in many ways it did little more than confirm anticipated changes. The Marine Corps sustained only minor cuts in force structure, losing less than 2,000 active Marines. The Navy retained twelve carrier battle groups, although the number of surface combatants was reduced from 128 to 116 and F/A-18 E/F procurement was cut to a minimum of 548 (linked to the success of the Joint Strike Fighter). The Army retained ten active divisions and two armored cavalry regiments, although it lost 15,000 active-duty personnel and 45,000 guardsmen and reservists. More significantly, these cuts instigated an acrimonious internal debate over force structure between the regular Army and the National Guard, a debate which many in the Air Force believed was long overdue.


Mr. Nagy is an associate at DFI (Defense Forecasts Incorporated) International specializing in conventional force structure and budgetary analysis. His current work focuses on future defense spending in a zero-budget deficit environment. Prior to joining DFI, he served for over three years as a legislative assistant for national security affairs in both the House and Senate. A Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve, Mr. Nagy spent ten years on active duty during which time he served on both submarines and destroyers. He holds a B.A. in International Relations from Boston University and an M.S. in Political Science from MIT.

Rapporteur: Tim Wolters

Back to Seminar Schedule, Spring 1998