The report to Congress provides a strategy-driven framework used for determining the department's priorities, Michele Flournoy said in a recent interview.
People and today's wars, she said, are the most important aspects of the report.
The report, Flournoy said, mirrors Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' priorities. The first is to prevail in today's wars. The second is to prevent and deter conflicts. The third is to prepare the department for a wide range of contingencies and the fourth is to preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force.
For the first time the QDR "places the current conflicts at the top of our budgeting, policy and programming priorities, thus ensuring that those fighting America's wars and their families - on the battlefields, in the hospital, or on the home front - receive the support they need and deserve," Gates wrote as an introduction to the report.
The QDR, Flournoy said, reflects Gates' desire to re-balance the U.S. military to be more capable of handling today's wars - Iraq, Afghanistan, al-Qaida and its allies.
Senior defense planners who've worked on the QDR wanted to ensure "there are very strong links between the strategy, the program and the budget," Flournoy pointed out.
The QDR, she said, "pays particular attention to the enablers that are so critical to giving the force the flexibility it needs to succeed, and that have been in critical short supply in places like Afghanistan."
These enablers include increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, more helicopters, counter-improvised explosive device capabilities and increased emphasis on special operations forces. "So you'll see a real investment in those areas in support of today's fight," Flournoy said.
The review also focuses on the welfare of the department's people. "Every QDR talks about people being the No. 1 priority of the department," she said. "I think that's true, but this QDR, given the strain on the force and the strain on families, actually treats that as a strategic priority area for investment."
The QDR reflects continued attention on military compensation, health care and warrior care. "Probably the biggest additional investment is in areas of family support," Flournoy said. "This is a force that's been at war for eight years. We're seeing the need to give greater support to the families who make sacrifices alongside their loved ones."
Building alliances and partnerships is another essential theme of the review. "This administration and this secretary of defense believe it is going to be very rare indeed when the United States undertakes a military operation all on its own," Flournoy said.
The United States will maintain the capability to act alone to protect vital national interests, "but when you look time and time again, we are operating in concert with partners, with allies and others," she said. "It's in our interests to invest in helping them build their competence and capabilities and that serves our interests."
Flexible funding authorities, Flournoy said, are key to this endeavor. "We see a lot of other opportunity there," she said. "Yemen is a case in point. Yemen is facing a very serious al-Qaida threat and they want to do the right thing and deny a safe haven in their country. But they need some help in terms of training and equipment and so forth."
The State and Homeland Security departments also are doing QDR-like reviews which, Flournoy said, should be complementary and interconnected.
"One of the most interesting and valuable aspects of this whole review [process] is the degree that it is happening in a whole-of-government context and we're integrated with the other reviews that are going on in parallel," she said.
Past QDRs set out the military's force-sizing construct, and this report changes that, Flournoy said. Senior defense officials believe the future security environment is so complex, she said, that forces need the maximum versatility across the maximum range of conflict.
"So rather than optimize the force for two canonical, conventional wars - it used to be Iraq and North Korea - what we did this time is look at a variety of combinations that might come simultaneously," she said. "First and foremost, what do we need to prevail in today's wars? Then, what do we need on top of that to do our foundational activities of deterrence, conflict prevention, et cetera, in key theaters."
The department looked at multiple combinations of possible scenarios and tested that force across the range.
"There is no simple bumper sticker, there is no simple formula, but what we have is a force that has been tested in a much more robust and rigorous manner," Flournoy said. "We have much more confidence that it has not only the capacity, but the flexibility and versatility to deal with lots of different combinations that may come our way."
Is the force large enough? Flournoy said that is a challenging question because of the strain on the force. She implied that the current size is enough, but that deployment time to dwell time has to come into balance.
The QDR may be the most important report DoD provides Congress, Flournoy said.
"It really requires the department to step back and think strategically about the present and the future," she said, "to set its priorities and objectives and then to connect those to the program and to the budget."
The review, which includes input from senior military and civilian defense leaders, provides the framework for what DoD will do for the next four years.
Gates understands his first concern is people "and making sure they have very clear guidance on what their mission is, that they have the equipment and the support they need to be successful in that mission, and that they can count on the department to actually support them as human beings and as family members," Flournoy said.
"It's not just words. It's a strongly felt commitment that governs how he approaches every day," she said.