Powell issues plan for leaner, cheaper military

February 13, 1993|By Mark Thompson | Mark Thompson,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Gen. Colin L. Powell unveiled yesterday a blueprint for the nation's post-Cold War defense that calls for minor changes in how the military does its job but stops far short of the major reductions sought by President Clinton.

"If we proceed too quickly, or impose changes so large they cannot be absorbed, the risk is that we may destroy the basic fabric of our fighting force," General Powell warned in his long-awaited report on the future roles and missions of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Anticipating charges that his cutbacks are too modest, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they "may be nibbling on the edges to some, but to others, this is significant change.

"There are hundreds of millions of dollars to be saved here," General Powell said.

General Powell is recommending that all military forces based in the United States be unified under a single command, that all Air Force and Navy nuclear commanders serve aboard the same kind of communications airplane and that the services' basic fixed-wing flight training programs be merged.

However, pending further review, General Powell said the Army and Navy would continue to train helicopter pilots at separate schools, 90 miles apart from one another across the Florida-Alabama border.

Neither did he address a call by Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for consolidating some of the Army's five light infantry divisions and the Marine Corps' three divisions. "Each division costs nearly $2 billion annually," Mr. Nunn has said. "Do we really need eight divisions of contingency or expeditionary forces?"

The White House and Mr. Nunn declined to comment on General Powell's report. Defense Secretary Les Aspin said only that it is a "welcome contribution" to his examination of the nation's defense needs.

Some Pentagon officials, speaking privately, said the military stonewalled during preparation of the report. "We know we're going to get [our budget] cut, and the more things we give up early, the deeper the cuts ultimately will be," one Army officer said.

Every three years, Congress requires the nation's top military officer to update the roles of the services, but this year's report took on added importance after Mr. Clinton and Mr. Nunn asked General Powell to design a leaner, cheaper military to serve post-Cold War needs.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Nunn have said the nation could save billions of dollars a year by ridding the Pentagon's forces of duplicate missions.

"We have four separate air forces -- one each for the Marines, VTC Army, Navy and Air Force," Mr. Clinton said in August.

"While respecting each service's unique capabilities, we can reduce redundancies, save billions of dollars and get better teamwork."

General Powell said merging the military's four separate air forces would be unwise. While the Air Force controls the skies over the battlefield, he said, the Army's helicopters protect soldiers on the ground, the Navy's warplanes project U.S. power around the globe and Marine pilots are "absolute masters" at helping storm enemy beaches.

"The nation is well served by each one of our services having an aviation component," said General Powell, who is in the Army.

But to save money, he said, all four will shrink.

General Powell said that he was prepared to make additional changes based on the "new ideas" he is likely to get from the "new team on board" in the Clinton administration.

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