TCS Daily

Bush's Missed Opportunity at The Citadel

By Melana Zyla Vickers - December 17, 2001 12:00 AM

By revisiting at The Citadel last week the scene of his bold, 1999 speech on military transformation, President Bush essentially dared observers to grade his progress so far, calling transformation the military and moral necessity of our time.

So whats the grade? The President would get an A if this seasons Afghan war were his only test. But as students at The Citadel surely know, its performance over time that matters. And by that standard, the Bush Pentagon s transformation efforts are heading for a far less scintillating report card.

  • Long-range strike: In his Sept. 1999 Citadel speech, Bush said the best defense can be a strong and swift offense - including long range strike capabilities. The comment revealed Bushs understanding that in future conflicts the U.S. might be denied access to bases near the conflict. Despite the emphasis on long range in the speech, neither Bushs 2002 defense budget nor its Quadrennial Defense Review, which foreshadows upcoming budgets, invests money in more long-range air power such as the B-2 stealth bomber.

    The U.S. will instead limp ahead with a paltry 16 operational B-2s, the only U.S. bombers that are able to both fly long distances and evade enemy radar and air defenses. Long-range bombers have been the star performers of the Afghan war, flying only 10% of the sorties yet striking 70% of the targets, and wielding their large payloads to break the back of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. The rest of the air war has been fought by strike aircraft flown from carriers and AC-130 gunships. Meanwhile, Air Force fighters stationed in the Gulf have been sidelined because their short range and limited payload make them uneconomical for the Afghanistan mission.

  • Stealth: In that first Citadel speech Bush also said that safety is gained in stealth. Yet aside from moving ahead on inherited investments in the stealthy F-22 - a fighter that promises to dominate the skies worldwide for decades to come - the upcoming Bush budgets devote little to new, stealthy weapons systems.

    These might have included stealthy, long range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that would better the admirable performance of the Predator in the Afghan war. Or stealthy, long-range transport aircraft for the special forces troops that have been so essential in Afghanistan. Special forces soldiers currently rely on insertion by helicopter or by MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft. Both are non-stealthy and the helicopters have a risky dependency on bases near the conflict. A third stealthy item would be the Trident submarine, converted to carry conventional Tomahawks that it could fire across some 1,000 miles from its stealthy location under the sea. The Bush 2002 budget committed to converting a scant two subs - it took bolder men in Congress to push the conversion of four subs instead.

  • Mobility and swiftness: In the 1999 speech Bush noted that power is increasingly defined not by mass or size but by mobility and swiftness, adding that in the Gulf War it took six months of planning and transport to summon our fleets and divisions and position them for battle. Fast-forward to the Afghan war and at first glance it might seem the U.S. has gained mobility and speed since then. Yet that agility has been gained by using the most mobile and swift of all U.S. soldiers - the tiny elite of Army special forces and the Marines. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Army remains as lumbering as ever, and upcoming budgets promise to weigh those ten divisions down further still with such albatrosses as the 80-ton Crusader artillery system. Efforts to build up a light, fast, yet still-lethal army are few in upcoming budgets and plans, with promising systems such as the future combat system -- a family of lightweight combat vehicles -- remaining a decade away.

As if this underwhelming commitment to investing in transformation werent enough, the 2002 budget and the QDR also fail to replace existing programs with new technologies and strategies, as Bush demanded in 1999. The coming years defense plans, with an annual price tag of some $345 billion, cut few old programs at all.

To be sure, all fault does not lie with the administration. Bush mentions in his new Citadel speech the need to continuously locate and track moving targets - with surveillance from air and space and as I noted on Dec. 11 he made good on that commitment with plans for a space-based radar that could track moving targets. The trouble is the radar has been threatened by short-sighted Senators on the Appropriations Committee.

In both the 1999 speech and this week, President Bush described our times, and the need for military transformation, with Winston Churchills term a period of consequences. He would do well to remember the words Churchill spoke - and that he himself quoted in his Citadel speech - in the preceding sentence: The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. If the president could make good on that whole felicitous phrase, with real, meaningful investments in transformation, his Citadel listeners would most certainly give him an A.

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