TCS Daily

'New & Improved' Won't Wash in Selling Up-to-Date U.S. Force Structure

By Ken Adelman - June 26, 2001 12:00 AM

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was at pains last Thursday on Capitol Hill to try to explain that a new way of sizing forces will allow for a stronger and better defense than the current force-sizing construct, which is based on the possibility of war with Iraq and North Korea arising almost simultaneously.

The trouble is that skeptics, some of them traditional supporters of a robust defense, don't believe him. They worry that the future construct won't allow for operations in more than one theater at once, forsaking U.S. global leadership.

That's understandable, because Rumsfeld hasn't offered them a clear way of grasping the replacement concept. Sure, his team says the replacement idea hasn't gelled yet. But that excuse won't last for long. To convince the skeptics they're not retreating but rather trading up to something better, Rumsfeld needs to accomplish two tasks:
  • Convey more clearly why the "two major theater war" construct is now a liability.
  • Sum up the new concept in a comprehensible catchphrase - at least as catchy as "two MTW."
Conveying the current construct's shortcomings is relatively simple: it's abstract, inflexible, and obsolete.

Abstract: The two MTW construct was always flawed. Arising in 1993 from the Clinton Administration's Bottom-up Review, it took 10 Army divisions, 10 carrier battle groups, and 20 tactical fighter wings and roughly divided them between two conflicts - with Iraq and North Korea. It was not so much a concrete basis for war plans against those countries as it was a crude floor beneath which the size of the U.S. military was not supposed to sink.

Inflexible: By 1997, the catchphrase and its focus on dated, Gulf War-style views of how the U.S. would fight in North Korea or Iraq so pervaded the popular defense mindset that it prevented new thinking. The congressionally appointed National Defense Panel described how sizing forces according to the construct was an obstacle to transforming the military for future conflicts. In addition, two MTW didn't properly address other possible conflicts - Kosovo, for example, or a major war in Asia other than with North Korea.

Obsolete: In 2001, it's easy to see how the two MTW is dated. For example, relying on 10 Army divisions to fight regional wars doesn't reflect the lessons learned from NATO's Kosovo campaign, where the Army went largely unused. Nor does it reflect new capabilities, such as the B-2 stealth bomber. It wasn't operational in the Gulf War but can now drop 16 2000-pound bombs in one sortie, and will in a few years be able to drop 324 small smart bombs - a huge leap in efficiency over the fighters used in the early 1990s. What's more, the construct's dependency on tactical air, armored divisions, and carrier battle groups ignores how much more vulnerable U.S. bases, warships, and armor are becoming to an adversary's missiles. China, to name but one country, has built some 50theater ballistic missiles per year since the two MTW construct first emerged.

A replacement construct, according to the Rumsfeld team, would reflect the current U.S. need to be able to fight small-scale wars such as Kosovo; the continuing, if diminished risk of conflict with North Korea and Iraq; the challenges of homeland defense; and the future risk of conflict with a rising China.

In order to do that, U.S. forces will have to be powerful, flexible, and potentially specialized for the different conflicts. It's not easy to come up with a publicly digestible name for such a versatile military. Transformation force? Global force? What about a changeable military with small, varied applications expandable to larger ones, conjuring the idea of telescope force or erector force?

We're talking mass marketing here. Whatever the name, Rumsfeld needs to decide on it soon.

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