Yesterday, President Obama announced a major shift in U.S. strategic military objectives.  The new strategy will mean a U.S. military force that is smaller and leaner, but more agile, with smaller conventional ground forces, and focuses more on the Asia Pacific region, with a reduced footprint in Europe and the Middle East, he said. 

Speaking from the Pentagon’s press room, Obama told reporters that the new Defense Strategic Review provides a “smart, strategic set of priorities.  He said the new strategy is the result of the comprehensive defense review he directed his national security team to undertake last year to “clarify our strategic interests in a fast-changing world, and to guide our defense priorities over the coming decade.”  That review was prompted by the need to reduce the defense budget by $480 billion reduction over 10 years as part of the budget reduction agreement with Congress.

Under the new strategy outlined by the president, the United States will strengthen its presence in the Asia Pacific region, but remain vigilant in the Middle East., and continue investment in critical partnerships and alliances (including NATO).  The president said the Untied States will end long-term nation-building that use large military forces, get rid of “outdated Cold War-era systems,” and invest in capabilities needed for the future (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, and countering weapons of mass destruction). 

Although the new force will be smaller and leaner, the president said “the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible, and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.  And, he said he will “keep faith with those who serve, by ensuring they have the equipment they need to succeed and prioritizing efforts to support wounded warriors and the mental health and well-being of military families.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta followed the president’s remarks with a briefing on the new plan.  Panetta said that the new strategy comes as “this country is at a strategic turning point, after a decade of war and after large increases in defense spending.”

Panetta pointed out that the current fiscal crisis notwithstanding, the U.S. needed to make a strategic shift.  “We are at that point in history.  That’s the reality of the world we live in.  Fiscal crisis has forced us to face the strategic shift that’s taking place right now.”  The defense cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 have given DoD the “opportunity to reshape our defense strategy and force structure to more effectively meet the challenges of the future,” Panetta said.

He described a smaller force under the new strategy, but one that “must be capable of successfully confronting and defeating any aggressor and respond to the changing nature of warfare.”  He said the force will be able to confront more than one enemy at the same time and will be “responsible for a range of missions and activities across the globe of varying scope, duration, and strategic priority.”

While the details of the FY2013 defense budget and the long-term plan will not be released until early February, Panetta provided some insight into some of the decisions that are being made.  “The Army and Marine Corps will no longer need to be sized to support the kind of large-scale, long-term stability operations that have dominated military priorities and force generation over the past decade,” he said.  But, he told reporters that the structure and pace of reductions to ground forces will be made in a way that allows for a surge and mobilization to meet emerging contingencies. 

While cuts will be made to weapons no longer needed a affordable, Panetta said the budget will protect and make some increases to intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), unmanned systems, space, and cyberspace programs to ensure a technology-advanced force that maintains, “a decisive military edge against a growing array of threats.”

Panetta cautioned that these difficult budget decisions require tradeoffs and “some level of additional but acceptable level of risk.”  But, he warned that additional large reductions if the $500 billion across-the-board sequester were implemented would have devastating effects to defense capabilities. 

“The capability, readiness and agility of the force will not be sustained if Congress fails to do its duty [find an alternative to the sequester] and the military is forced to accept far deeper cuts, in particular, across-the-board cuts that are currently scheduled to take effect in January 2013,” he said.  These cuts, he said, reiterating warnings he and JCS Chairman GEN Dempsey and the Military Service Chiefs have made consistently over the past few months, would lead to a “demoralized and hollow force.”