Rumsfeld vs. the Pentagon

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has presented the preliminary findings ofhis secretive defense review to President Bush. If initial press leaks areany indication, a 21-gun salute is in order. According to senior defenseofficials, Rumsfeld may go after some of military services’ crown jewels --despite opposition from the kings of the Pentagon’s bureaucratic fiefdoms.

First and most important, Rumsfeld appears willing to abandon the nation’stwo-war strategy. That mainstay of President Clinton’s overextended defensepolicy required the United States to be able to fight two wars nearlysimultaneously (with Iraq and North Korea, for example). Yet even during theCold War when a rival superpower could have orchestrated trouble in tworegions at once, the United States never fought two wars simultaneously. TheSoviets never took advantage of U.S. involvement in conflicts in Korea,Vietnam and the Persian Gulf to attack U.S. vital interests elsewhere.

In a more benign post-Cold War era in which no hegemonic enemy exists, thepossibility of one regional power taking advantage of a U.S. war withanother regional power to commit aggression is even more remote. In the rareevent that it did occur, however, the United States could merely crush eachminor power sequentially. The congressionally mandated National DefensePanel recognized that fighting two wars nearly simultaneously was anunlikely scenario and that the strategy was merely being used to justifyexisting military forces. Rumsfeld sees through this ruse.

Amazingly, Rumsfeld also seems inclined to ask the Navy to end production ofthe 100,000-ton supercarriers because they have become vulnerable to attacksby anti-ship missiles, which are proliferating around the world. Such largeships are expensive, costing $5 billion each. They are also vulnerable,requiring six surface escort ships (at about $1 billion apiece) and twosubmarines (about $1.8 billion each) to protect them. As this vulnerabilityhas increased, more of the embarked aircraft are required to provide airdefense against the growing capabilities of the air forces of regionalpowers -- leaving fewer planes for offensive action. The carrier admiralswho dominate the Navy will not take this lying down.

Equally astonishing is Rumsfeld’s apparent willingness to cut back the prideof the Air Force -- manned tactical fighter aircraft. Since the Vietnam War,the tactical fighter generals have pushed out the bomber generals to gaincontrol of the Air Force. As a result, the Air Force is planning to buy twoof the three new fighter planes in development -- the stealthy F-22 and theJoint Strike Fighter. In contrast, the Air Force will not start research anddevelopment on a new bomber until well into the next decade and will notbegin producing that plane until after 2030. The B-52s will be more than 80years old before those new bombers replace them.

The Air Force’s emphasis on shorter-range fighters at the expense oflong-range bombers comes at a time when bases close to the fighting willmost likely come under increasing threat from enemy ballistic missiles. Thebombers, operating from more remote bases in the theater (or even from theUnited States), would be less vulnerable to such attacks.

In addition, manned aircraft may become more vulnerable to proliferatingsurface-to-air missiles. Rumsfeld grasps those likely trends in futurewarfare and seems inclined to spend more on bombers and unmanned aircraftand while putting less emphasis on tactical fighters. One defense officialeven predicted that Rumsfeld would purchase fewer F-22s.

The F-22 is the most sophisticated tactical fighter ever built and also themost costly ($180 million per aircraft). The plane was originally designedto fight for air superiority against two Soviet fighters that were neverbuilt. In the post-Cold War era, the aircraft is a relic.

Despite Rumsfeld’s good instincts, he has not yet specified which weapons hewould skip to generate savings for research and development on futuristicsystems. This is the crucial step. When the specifics are provided, specialinterests in the military services, the defense industry, and Congress (inshort, what Dwight Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex) willundertake a furious effort to defeat Rumsfeld’s heroic efforts. Rumsfeld istrying to reform a gargantuan bureaucracy that still buys the wrong weaponswith an industrial policy more at home in the old communist bloc than in thefreest nation on earth.

The president supports Rumsfeld’s efforts to tame the behemoth, and theAmerican people should too. You can’t have too many allies in a fightagainst the most powerful military in the world.