TCS Daily


Enough Studies on Defense

By Ken Adelman - July 13, 2001 12:00 AM

Yesterday's testimony by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz shows the Bush administration finally stepping out on missile defense. Yet after nearly six months of defense studies, it's been tiptoeing around other sweeping defense reforms and budget boosts. As the Bush campaign hammered home, these are long overdue after years of Clinton short-changings. The Bush team pledged that "help for the military is on the way," but has yet to determine what and how much help, and when.

The elaborate "defense review" process has tarnished Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's reputation for experience and efficiency, both in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. A few conclusions have been announced, to be sure - a bit on military quality of life, some musings on transformational technologies. But so far there's been more storm than reform.

B-1 Bomb

Last week, for instance, Mr. Rumsfeld testified that he reduced to 60 from 93 the number of B-1 bombers, which have never fired a shot in combat. Sens. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) and Max Cleland (D., Ga.) were so outraged at Mr. Rumsfeld that they couldn't have been more abusive if he had simply the done the right thing and retired the B-1 altogether. Without that kind of boldness, the Bush defense team risks the fate of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who created too much controversy chasing too few reforms.

During Mr. Rumsfeld's first Pentagon stint, he pushed hard and effectively to "reverse the adverse trends" in U.S.-Soviet military capabilities, and for cruise missile production. Neither was done with any extensive studies. And both were badly needed - and quite brave in the aftermath of the Vietnam defeat and doubts about the military's competence.

Likewise, extensive Rand-like studies and defense intellectual ponderings may not be needed today. It's clear that we need three big reforms: a national missile defense, a new force-planning strategy, and new criteria to evaluate weapons systems. And it's clear that implementing big reforms takes real budget jumps, not the baby steps we've seen thus far.

On missile defense, at least they're moving ahead, but after a costly delay. Surely Mr. Wolfowitz would have rather presented his views on the subject to former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R., Va.) instead of Carl Levin (D., Mich.) Likewise the switch in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from Chairman Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) to Joe Biden (D., Del.) hurts enormously. Messrs. Biden and Levin were the most knowledgeable and competent Anitballistic Missile Treaty backers when the Reagan administration pushed the Strategic Defense Initiative 18 years ago. Their ardor for this crown jewel of Cold War arms treaties has, if anything, grown since then.

On force planning, the administration should boldly scrap the Clinton strategy of scaling our military to fight two regional wars simultaneously. Such a scenario was conventional, in both thinking and armaments, as it retained weapons built during, and for, the Cold War. To defeat large cross-border attacks, say by North Korea and Iraq, we'd use large forces in tanks, aircraft and ships - precisely what the military planned to do when Warsaw Pact forces stormed across NATO borders. Conveniently, this strategy assured us that little needed to change in the defense industry, Congress, or the military, even though the whole world had changed.

Scrapping the "two regional wars" scenario for sizing our forces would turn the focus from conventional scenarios and weapons to unconventional threats and systems. Beyond deterring and defeating attacks, our force can lie in discouraging potential foes from acquiring deadly systems in the first place.

For instance, critics of national missile defense -- like Messrs. Biden and Levin -- tout how few rogue states now have robust ballistic missiles. In fact, missile defense can help keep it that way. For the better our missile defense, the less scary any ballistic missile force that rogue states deploy. Hence the less incentive they have ever to build or buy ballistic missiles, topped with nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.

The new strategy's emphasis on unconventional threats plays up the need for new programs - not just missile defense but also space systems, vastly heightened intelligence, cyberwar assaults and protections, and massive information sharing. None has constituencies in the Pentagon, where the top priorities are always higher pay and more tanks, planes and ships. All these programs need the defense secretary's push, or they die.

Third is reform in the criteria by which to judge individual weapons systems. Conventional weapons that warrant a Rumsfeld "go-ahead" should meet tough high/low criteria. They should be high on lethality by carrying more, and more potent, munitions -- and especially by having far greater accuracy. They should be low on vulnerability for U.S. forces, by firing their potent munitions from places no enemy can hit. Such places are either out of range of enemy retaliation, or out of sight of enemy retaliation due to stealth and deployment features, such as high altitude for fighters.

While boosting new capabilities, most without constituencies, Mr. Rumsfeld can justifiably scrap some systems with powerful constituencies. Start with the B-1 bomber and proceed on to the Seawolf and Trident submarines. On what could these submarines conceivably target their awesome ballistic missiles nowadays?

Once systems meet the high/low criteria, we should proceed to build them -- and soon. Forget the Bush campaign cliché about "skipping a generation" on defense programs. We've already skipped a generation of technology by last developing a new bomber, the B-2, 22 years ago (and ordering only 20). We've developed only two new combat aircraft in the last 26 years - the F-117, so spectacular in the Gulf War, and the dazzlingly-capable F-22, now coming on line. We haven't launched a new Army tank since the Nixon administration. The last surface-to-air missile began 33 years ago, and our attack helicopter started 27 years ago, its replacement now in its 18th year of development.

Leadership Wanted

Rather than skip another generation, we should move into this generation of technology. That itself could be a radical reform for the Pentagon, which has usually taken decades to develop and deploy needed weaponry.

When Mr. Rumsfeld said a month ago, "the reality is that no one is going to be making any dramatic changes in anything because that's just not how Washington works," he was reflecting our political process. Indeed, change is usually implemented gradually. That's unfortunate. But the reform proposed should be dramatic. That's leadership.

From here on out, let Biden-Levin or Roberts-Cleland opponents of sweeping defense reforms be responsible for slowing or stopping bold Bush-Rumsfeld proposals on defense. Enough "reviews." It's clear what needs be done.
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