TCS Daily

What Will "Transform" The Military - And What Will Not

By Melana Zyla Vickers - September 10, 2001 12:00 AM

In anticipation of the Pentagon's review of defense strategy, due in the coming weeks, reporters and other have been asking for a clear definition of what it means to "transform" the military for future war.

President George W. Bush got it right in a campaign speech at The Citadel in September 1999: Transformation is the critical task of changing the U.S. military so that it can counter emerging threats it currently is not equipped to face.

The future threats that candidate Bush described included: "enemy ballistic and cruise missiles and weapons of mass destruction (that) may make (a Gulf War-style, six-month buildup of weapons at bases near the conflict) difficult. Satellite technology, commercially available, (that) may reveal to potential enemies the location of our ships and troops."

In response, Bush said, the United States must transform its forces into ones that are "agile, lethal, readily deployable, and require a minimum of logistical support. We must be able to project our power over long distances, in days or weeks rather than months... On land, our heavy forces must be lighter. ... In the air, we must we able to strike from across the world with pinpoint accuracy - with long-range aircraft and perhaps with unmanned systems."

Put another way, a transformed force would allow the United States both to see deep and to strike deep. The nation's military would be able to project power despite threats to ports, airfields, surface ships and aircraft from enemy missiles or air defenses. In addition, it would be able to deny an enemy sanctuary deep inland - something most current U.S. weapons can't do.

Measured against that description, many useful technological advances - a satellite for instance, or a high-tech network that lets different weapons platforms talk to each other more easily - fall short of being transformational. They simply don't, in of themselves, let U.S. forces tackle the emerging threats Bush described.

The trouble is that even Bush's reasonably fleshed-out picture still leaves room for various false claims to the "transformation" label - false claims that were made by the Clinton administration and that now risk gaining currency again. So here's a cheat sheet for the services' 2003 budgets describing a few examples of what is transformational and what's not:

Navy: A converted Trident sub, completely stealthy, able to stay at sea for long periods, and capable of firing cruise missiles deep inland without warning, is transformational. The DD-21 land-attack destroyer, a surface ship that's far less stealthy and vulnerable to missile attacks, is not.

Air Force: A stealthy long-range bomber, capable of dropping munitions deep inland, flying to the battlefield from U.S. bases, and evading enemy radar, is transformational. A short-range non-stealthy fighter aircraft that can only operate from vulnerable bases or aircraft carriers near the conflict is not transformational.

Army: A robotics-laden, lightweight Future Combat System of vehicles that the Army may have a decade from now could be transformational. A Cold War-sized Crusader artillery piece, not easily or rapidly deployable, is not transformational.

Budget decisions that don't reflect these distinctions will suggest that U.S. forces are not being transformed, but rather left to adhere to the disappointing, and potentially dangerous, status quo.

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