TCS Daily

Shortchanging Rummy's Vision

By Melana Zyla Vickers - February 6, 2002 12:00 AM

Troops greeting President Bush at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida Monday were right to cheer his announcement of a $48 billion increase in defense spending. Bush might have earned wider-spread hoo-ahs, though, if the increase were directed at the right investments.

For months the administration has been saying that the 2003 budget would be "transformational." So much so that two of the charts made up to explain the $379 billion in spending were labeled "transformation highlights." Yet in practice, programs that change the military so that it can fight the wars of the future - as opposed to programs that modernize the military's traditional ways of fighting - make up a small proportion of the budget: only $9 billion, by the Pentagon's own, somewhat generous, count.

The Pentagon's portfolio remains tilted towards old, Cold War investments. It doesn't really meet the challenge posed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a speech on Jan. 31 - to build weapons that would not be undermined by an enemy that could deny the U.S. access to bases near the conflict or that could defend its airspace with missiles or advanced radar.

This year more than ever, the financial taps run most freely for the good ol' boys of the defense department - three fighter programs, which collectively will produce some 4,000 fighter aircraft by the year 2025. The fighter community is being showered with $12 billion. That's despite the fact that the aircraft dropped only 30% of munitions in the Afghan war, and despite the fact that land-based fighters did not join the Afghan war until its final weeks because there weren't any bases close to Afghanistan for them to operate from.

By contrast, long-range bombers dropped 70% of munitions in the Afghan war. Yet their share of the 2003 budget is a pittance, and there are no plans to add to the nation's tiny fleet of 21 B-2 stealth bombers. Other star performers of the Afghan war - unmanned aerial vehicles and special operations forces - are also getting less than they should.

A truly forward looking defense budget for 2003 would have cut back on old systems and devoted the freed resources to long-range, stealthy bombers as well as:

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: It's good that the Defense Department plans to spend $1.1 billion, or 13% more than in 2002, on these pilotless craft which performed so dramatically in Afghanistan. But the money is concentrated on short-range Predators and the follow-on long-range Global Hawk - neither of which is stealthy. What's missing is a program to develop a stealthy, long-range UAV that could both evade enemy radar and operate from bases far from the conflict.

  • Special Forces: SOF were inserted into Afghanistan by helicopter and C-130 transports. But the fact that they weren't challenged by enemy air defenses (Afghanistan had no air defenses to speak of) is a rare circumstance. If they had to enter a country such as Iran, with radar-guided, surface-to-air missiles that could target the helicopters and C-130s, they'd need an alternative. For that reason, the Defense Department should be investing in a stealthy airlifter for inserting Special Forces soldiers.

To be sure, the Pentagon has taken some positive steps toward transforming the military. It has, for instance, funded the conversion of four Trident subs so that they can carry conventional cruise missiles. And it has added funds for space-based radar.

But these investments are far less than one might have expected from an administration that trumpeted its commitment to changing the military for future war. And far too much money continues to support programs such as fighters, whose share of the budget is disproportionate to their utility for fighting future wars.

In his Jan. 31 speech, Rumsfeld said: "As we change investment priorities, we must begin shifting the balance in our arsenal between manned and unmanned capabilities, between short-and long-range systems, stealth and non-stealthy systems, between shooters and sensors, and between vulnerable and hardened systems."

That rebalancing of investments may be what Rumsfeld wants, but it's not evident in his 2003 portfolio.

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