THE HUMILIATING defeat of Saddam Hussein on the battlefield is a tribute not only to the morale, professionalism and training of U.S. forces, but to the much-beleaguered U.S. defense industry. Without the tanks, helicopters, fighter bombers, cruise missiles, smart bombs and anti-missile missiles the industry has produced over the past decade, the victory would have been less certain. And the cost, in both civilian and military casualties, likely would have been much higher.
America's top-of-the-line warplanes and missiles destroyed much of Iraq's air, industrial, nuclear and chemical military power even before the ground war began.
The equipment was also responsible for destroying the morale of Iraqi ground forces, decimating their tank and artillery fire power and undermining their ability to fight a land battle. The defensive Patriot missile, meanwhile, spread a protective shield over Saudi and Israeli populations. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives have been saved by the Patriot's ability to knock Scud missiles out of the sky.
Had many member of Congress had their way, however, America would not have the weapons responsible for winning the war against Saddam Hussein. Critics in the 1980s charged that aircraft carriers, F-15 Eagle fighters, Patriot air-defense missiles and other high-tech weapons, were too expensive or unworkable. Yet Ronald Reagan and George Bush continued to push for these weapons against strong, often contemptuous opposition, ensuring that America's best technology found its way from the laboratory to the battlefield.
Congressional critics of the Reagan military build-up challenged many weapons critical to the gulf war effort. Former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., for example, claimed that the aircraft carriers and battleships that helped soften up the battlefield for allied ground troops were obsolete. The M-1 Abrams tank -- America's answer to Saddam's 5,000 Soviet tanks -- was called "vulnerable" and a "questionable buy" by Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif. Dellums also charged that top-of-the-line aircraft like the F-15 Eagle were "gold-plated."
Who now can say that superior technology does not matter in battle?
Many of the weapon systems once criticized proved their worth in combat against Iraq. Among these: Patriot anti-missile defenses against Iraqi Scud missile attacks, aircraft carriers from which thousands of air sorties were launched and Tomahawk cruise missiles that helped destroy Iraqi command and control sites with pinpoint accuracy from a distance of more than 500 miles.
Other systems strongly criticized in the 1980s -- including the Apache attack helicopter, the M-1 Abrams tank, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and Maverick anti-tank missiles -- proved equally successful against Iraqi forces.
Presidents Reagan and Bush cannot take sole credit for developing these weapons. The research, development and production for many of today's advanced systems began under presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and even earlier. But Reagan and Bush provided the funding and the tireless political backing needed to get the new technology into the field.
Technology is the "force multiplier" that allows U.S. forces to shoot farther and more precisely than their enemies. The best always is expensive, but the price for deploying anything less ultimately will be paid in the lives of American soldiers, sailors and airmen. This lesson will endure well after the ceasefire in the gulf.
Baker Spring is a strategic defense analyst with the Heritage Fondation, a conservative Washington think tank.