Defense study likely to favor new weapons Panel leans toward rethinking the roles of troops and technology

'Real opportunities here'

Recommendations not expected to target specific arms programs


December 01, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

The last time Pentagon insiders put out a study recommending fewer troops and more weapons, critics complained that the military was ruled by defense contractors instead of soldiers.

Today, yet another panel will release a report with a similar recommendation, but this time some of the critics agree with it.

The difference is that the new report advocates rethinking the roles of both the armed forces and its weaponry in terms of world events and technology.

"Technology is not going to solve all our problems but I think there are some real opportunities here," said John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists.

Pike was a high-profile opponent of the Quadrennial Defense Review that the Pentagon assembled in May, a document laying out military priorities that recommended cutting troops and holding two more rounds of base closures to pay for expensive weapons being developed.

Pike and many others complained that the services had failed to cancel any major weapons programs and were sticking to a Cold War mentality even though the world has dramatically changed.

That's exactly the point that observers say the National Defense Panel will make when it releases a new report today at the National Press Club in Washington. Created by Congress to critique the Quadrennial Defense Review and look to the future, the panel is expected to avoid targeting specific weapons programs but to make sweeping calls for change.

"They're likely to question the first-order assumptions of the QDR, that is, are they focusing on the most likely future operational challenges, and therefore do we have the right defense strategy given that?" said Michael Vickers of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Andrew Krepinevich, director of Vickers' nonpartisan think tank, is one of nine members of the National Defense Panel and a leading advocate of what's called the Revolution in Military Affairs.

An example Krepinevich likes to use of how traditional systems might not apply in the future is the F-22 fighter plane. Considered to be a technological marvel, the $71 million jet would be impotent against an adversary with cruise missiles that could destroy the planes on the ground at overseas air bases.

While the National Defense Panel is not likely to call for the cancellation of the F-22, it will probably make a general recommendation to reconsider a host of expensive weapons, especially aircraft, Vickers said.

Makeup of panel

Critics will hammer the panel for not proposing specific solutions, he said, "but they're taking a broad step in the right direction rather than a precise step in the wrong direction."

Another potential weakness of the report lies in the makeup of the panel itself. Aside from Krepinevich, one other think-tanker and a professor, six of the members have professional ties to the defense industry.

Philip A. Odeen, the panel's leader, is chief executive of BDM International Inc., an information technology company bought recently by TRW Inc.. Another member works for Lockheed xTC Martin Corp., one works for Boeing Co. and three others do consulting or other work tied to defense companies.

All of which gives the panel's report a flavor of self-interest that some critics will never be able to stomach.

"It's shocking that they have so many employees of corporations," said Marcus Corbin of the Project on Government Oversight. "Normally it's not so blatant."

The members' companies, he said, all stand to benefit from the increased investment in technology they are seeking.

A policy of spending less on troops and more on gadgets always carries "the risk that the defense industry is going to siphon off grotesque amounts of money to no apparent purpose," Pike said.

Still, there are examples of how new technology can successfully replace humans on the battlefield. Pike noted the recent U-2 spy plane flights over Iraq as an example. Years ago, the plane had a limited range because its data had to be processed through a single facility in Germany.

Then planners tried putting the monitoring equipment in trailers that could move around. That, Pike said, was a logistical nightmare involving a caravan of trucks and hundreds of people.

"About a year ago, they wised up and put a satellite dish on the U-2 and sent everybody home," he said. "Now you're talking about having to deploy and put in danger dozens of people rather than hundreds of people."

Brett Lambert, a defense analyst with DFI International, said technology is an expensive route for the military, but one that can pay off.

"Deploy the technology rather than the individuals," he said. "Basically, you're trading money for lives."

Pub Date: 12/01/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.