The Changing Mission of DoD

In our recent guide, The DoD of Tomorrow, we examine how the department is changing its workforce, operations, technology, and acquisitions processes. But before we dive into how the department is changing, we should explore why it’s changing. Evolving threats, battle lines, and responsibilities are three large challenges forcing Pentagon officials to rethink their tactics.

New threats
In front of the House Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, Army General Joseph L. Votel called 2014 the most “complex” year for DoD in the past half century. Unfortunately, that was indeed a fair statement.

In addition to encountering the same state actors that challenged U.S. interests during the Cold War, the Pentagon also has new states to secure or confront. At the same time, there is an abundance of non-state actors who challenge security, and they are better connected, even “hyper-connected,” via the Internet and enhanced telecommunications.

Even disregarding malicious actors, the threats of the 21st century seem innumerable. A recent Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) report calls out global economic inequality, demographic shifts, urbanization, human and animal pandemics, social unrest, energy crises, and environment degradation as just a few of the challenges DoD must tackle if true security is to be achieved.

Bigger battlespace
These threats are also more pervasive in their reach. When you recall wars of the 20th century, you probably think of places like the Western Front or the Pacific Theater because battles were principally fought on land, in the air, or at sea.

Compare that to today’s military operations and you’ll notice a stark contrast. The strategic environment is global and DoD must fight what Deputy Secretary Robert Work calls “hybrid wars” that transcend the traditional battle space.

To fight these hybrid wars, Joint Vision 2020, a report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff examining threats and possible responses arising between 2010 and 2020, set the goal of accomplishing “full spectrum dominance.” That means that the military force of today must not only be able to control the traditional domains of air, land, and sea; it must also be able to win wars in outer space and, even more challenging, cyberspace.

More roles
Within each of these domains, the responsibilities of DoD are also evolving. While its official moniker isn’t changing, the Department of Defense, Security, and Stability may be a more appropriate label for the agency.

Consider the roles that U.S. warfighters played in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only did they have to execute traditional defensive maneuvers to defeat the enemy, but once each battle space was infiltrated, DoD personnel had to secure networks against hackers, win the hearts and minds of locals, train new militaries, and rebuild damaged infrastructures.

Even as troops withdraw from both theaters, these roles of security and stability will continue to be required of American forces worldwide. If anything, these responsibilities will only expand as new threats continue to mount. Last year, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel even challenged DoD to plan for securing the nation in the face of climate change, for instance.

With so many challenges laid at DoD’s feet, it wouldn’t be surprising to find the agency overwhelmed and static. This is especially tempting if you consider the shrinking budget, workforce gaps, and resource constraints that also hinder operations.

Nevertheless, agency officials are determined to find a way forward. In fact, DoD is already taking the initiative to change its operations, technology, workforce, and acquisitions strategies to meet its 21st-century challenges. Our guide explains how defense leaders will execute this organization-wide transformation.

Photo Credit: Flickr/US Air Force

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