Defense Media Network

General Bryan D. Brown Interview

Since the early 1990s, the process known as the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), has guided the U.S. military and the Department of Defense (DoD) in deciding what to buy, what their base strategies will be, and which units to form, demobilize, and keep.

The QDR process is composed of a vast series of studies, meetings, and reports, and takes more than a year to produce the final report. No document regularly produced in government is so wide-ranging in its scope, nor so controversial.

The current QDR effort is all that and more, reflecting the intent of the administration of President Barack Obama to do more than just downsize or add to the structure of DoD. Instead, the administration has stated an intent to remake the American military in the most sweeping reform since World War II.

However, there has been unusually tight security surrounding the current QDR effort, and little is known about what kinds of studies and assumptions are holding sway as the effort heads into its final phases. To find out what working on a QDR effort is like for a senior combatant commander, we sat down with one of America’s most respected soldiers, Gen. Bryan D. “Doug” Brown, USA (Ret.).

Brown entered the Army as a private, and eventually rose to the rank of general. The first Army aviator to do so, he was a founding member of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR – the “Night Stalkers”), later its commander, and capped his career as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). One of the most accomplished special operations professionals America has ever produced, he has a number of useful insights about the QDR process.

The Year in Defense – Can you please provide some background on the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), its origins, and the enabling legislation that provides the mandate for it to be conducted?

Gen. Bryan D. Brown – The QDR is congressionally mandated in Title 10 of the U.S. Code, and provides the opportunity to assess what changes are necessary in DoD to meet immediate threats and ensure we are posturing for the future.

It is also an opportunity to grow our capabilities, and eliminate or curtail those that aren’t as immediately required. It translates the National Military Strategy into actual fielded forces. Additionally it can have key issues analyzed for future force structure decisions. While there are those that don’t care for the process, as the commander of SOCOM at a key time in this war, it served us very well.

Both as a U.S. Army major command (MACOM) commander at U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and combatant command (COCOM) commander at SOCOM, you made significant inputs into multiple QDRs. In those jobs, what kinds of studies did you and your staffs make, and what kinds of products did you deliver to the QDR team at the DoD?

The QDR that was most important in my experience was the 2006 QDR while I was in command of U.S. Special Operations Command. The demonstrated value of the capabilities that Special Operations Forces [SOF] brought to the fight following 9/11 was at the forefront of our efforts against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and that drove a desire to grow SOF, and there was pressure to grow it quickly. I made the decision to grow our schools first.

It was not a popular decision, but without the appropriate growth in our ability to assess, select and train, I felt we that we would see a significant decrease in the quality of the U.S. SOF force. Remembering that people are the key to success, I chose to put money into the facilities and personnel at our schoolhouses to allow SOF to grow the “right” people, not to simply get bigger.

As far as studies go, we commissioned a contract study with the simple question of, “If force structure was not an issue, where should SOF be around the world and in what numbers.” At the same time, I formed a military team to answer the same question. The military team was headed by one of the finest officers I have ever had the opportunity to work with – now-Brig. Gen. Craig Nixon, USA [a former commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment].

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-21">

    Very interesting and informative article. Never realized there is so much up for consideration and discussion in this review. Good to know our troops are still the best at what they do.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-22">

    I’m not familiar with Clausewitz, but I found it interesting that the basic principles in Sun Tsu’s “Art of War” are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. It would seem that despite all our technological advancements, the rules of engagement really have not changed much.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    Yes, we just have to make sure we give them the best equipment as well. The QDR has a lot to do with procurement, and when an aircraft, for example, takes decades to go from a requirement to initial operating capability, you are basically having to project the threats that will exist far into a future that can be difficult to predict.