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Force Planning in an Era of Uncertainty: Two MRCs as a Force Sizing Framework

Authored by Professor John F. Troxell. | September 1997

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Force planning, particularly when it is done correctly, represents the purest application of the strategic art--calculating a variable mix of ends, ways, and means. In a world characterized by uncertainty and regional instability, in which the United States has security interests that are truly global in scope, the ends are fairly clear although difficult to achieve. The ways and means to achieve those strategic ends continue to be expressed appropriately by the two MRC framework. That framework is founded on a logical integration of threat- and capabilities-based planning and is flexible enough to accommodate appropriate adjustments. New approaches to planning scenarios and the operational concept offer the potential for such adjustment concerning the "ways" of the strategic paradigm, while force thinning and odernization are two important categories for adjusting the affordability of the strategic "means."

The experience of more than 40 years of force planning indicates that elements of both threat-based and capabilities-based planning must be applied. This is even more the case in periods of increased uncertainty, as demonstrated by the Base Force and the BUR. Figure 5 summarizes the force planning process and illustrates the integration of threat-based and capabilities-based planning.

Drawing on the logic of threat-based planning, the force planner needs realistic scenarios as a yardstick against which to measure the capabilities of a force. Adjusting the existing canonical-MRC scenarios by adopting a scenario-space approach can better ensure that all relative factors and resultant requirements are considered. As shown in the center of Figure 5, the focus of force planning should remain on the evaluation of the MRC planning cases. The vast majority of force requirements are derived from these primary cases. However, it is also necessary to examine the full range of missions directed by the National Security Strategy, such as smaller scale contingencies (SSCs) and overseas presence missions in order to ensure that all unique force elements have been identified. Most of the U.S. forces forward deployed constitute a deterrent posture safeguarding areas of vital interest. Thus, in those areas, these forces represent the initial crisis response portion of the MRC force. Likewise, most of the force structure elements required to execute and sustain SSCs are derived from the two MRC force. Nevertheless, in both cases there may be unique requirements or higher demands for certain assets not otherwise identified. Finally, resource constraints must be applied to examine the internal characteristics of the force posture and to build an affordable defense program.

The two MRC framework provides the correct planning focus to size and structure military forces capable of accomplishing the full range of military missions directed by the National Security Strategy in this period of uncertainty and instability. The resultant force is large and capable enough both to deter regional opponents and win if so required, particularly if appropriate adjustments are made in the ways and means of the strategic framework. Moreover, an outgrowth of the balanced two MRC force posture is its inherent flexibility to respond to the full range of smaller scale contingencies. Such a force posture allows the synergistic application of military power and prevents would be aggressors from gaining any low-tech, low-cost advantages.

In the end, it is the combination of threat and capability-based planning in the two MRC force sizing framework that will allow the United States to achieve its strategic objectives as currently stated. The proposed adjustments will make the process more efficient and build a force that can meet diverse future contingencies, while remaining affordable. Commenting on the QDR, former Secretary of Defense William Perry noted that in order to reassure our friends and allies and protect vital interests, the "two major regional conflicts is an existential fact."104 Military and political leaders in the United States must decide "how much is enough," and for the time being, sizing forces to be capable of fighting and winning two MRCs is the prudent and proper choice.


104. "Interview with Defense Secretary William J. Perry," Army Times, January 6, 1997, p. 18.