February 2, 2012
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned yesterday against putting much weight on the term “reversibility,” which Pentagon officials said will guide budget decision to ensure the military can quickly respond to unforeseen threats.
“I’m not sure where that came from,” Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) yesterday about the term “reversibility.” He warned that “sometimes words get loose on you” and people can “overburden words” and alter their meanings.
“I think that when this all started the idea of reversibility was more expressed by way of a concern: What if we don’t get it right,” he said at ROA’s Annual National Security Symposium in Washington.
“What if we build a force at a certain size…and then three, four, five years from now we find out that we’ve got it wrong. The question was can you reverse that. So I don’t think reversibility is a new piece of doctrine. Because I think we do know how to reverse.”
The new strategic guidance the Pentagon unveiled Dec. 5 says the military wants to account for its ability “to make a course change that could be driven by many factors, including shocks or evolutions in the strategic, operational, economic, and technological spheres.”
Thus, it says the “concept of ‘reversibility’–including the vectors on which we place our industrial base, our people, our active-reserve component balance, our posture, and our partnership emphasis–is a key part of our decision calculus.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters Dec. 5 that “reversibility” is a mechanism Pentagon officials used “to remind ourselves that we want to act in such a way that we, to the extent we can with a $487 billion cut (to planned spending over 10 years), preserve options for the future.”
Thus, he said at the time, “as we make program changes, we want to make sure that 10 years, 15 years from now, we still have an industrial base that supports our key weapon systems even if we’re not able to buy in those areas at the rates or in the volume that we had planned before we were handed this $487 billion cut.”
Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy discussed reversibility at the ROA conference Monday, saying it “means a couple things” for the defense industry.
The Pentagon wants to prevent situations where “if you lost a particular part of the industrial base it would take you years and years and years to recapture it, if ever,” she said.
“That fact has been factored into some of our program and budget decisions,” she said. “So even though a particular program may have been weak or something we thought about doing away with, if in doing away with that we would completely lose a capability or the ability to have that capability in the future on a timely or responsive basis, we’ve got input of what to do in that case.”
Using reversibility as a guiding principle also led the Pentagon to seek to maintain investments in science and technology as well as research and development, she said.