Bush readies defense strategy

New military plans likely to bring cuts in active forces, weapons

May 13, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is preparing to unveil a new war-fighting and peacekeeping strategy that might determine the size and shape of the nation's military for decades to come.

That strategy is likely to be politically contentious, and defense analysts who favor more sweeping change are questioning whether the new national security blueprint will bring the revolutionary change that President Bush promised during the campaign.

There is widespread expectation that the administration will scrap the decade-old strategy that says the nation must be able to fight two wars simultaneously - one on the Korean peninsula and another in the Persian Gulf.

Instead, the Pentagon might focus more attention on the nagging Balkans-like skirmishes and terrorist threats that have marked recent history, according to Pentagon officials, defense analysts and lawmakers.

Moreover, the administration appears ready to place a greater emphasis on Asia, at the expense of Europe, in its military and diplomatic plans.

The strategy a nation adopts is important because it determines the number of troops and the types of weapons needed to execute it.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is finishing up a wide-ranging review of Pentagon programs and strategy. The president will offer a glimpse of the new strategy when he delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 25. Rumsfeld, however, might not make his recommendations on weapons for weeks or even months.

Bush has already committed his administration to an ambitious plan to protect the nation and its allies from ballistic missiles. Now, in conjunction with Rumsfeld, he is moving to determine the forces needed to take on more traditional military missions.

Some of Rumsfeld's advisers are pressing him to trim the nation's 2.4 million active-duty and reserve military personnel and cut back on fighter aircraft, ships, tanks and artillery weapons.

The savings could be shifted toward the creation of a 21st-century force of unmanned bombers, battlefield sensors and more sophisticated communications designed to quickly pinpoint and target an enemy.

Rumsfeld, at a news briefing last week, was asked whether he planned to alter the two-war strategy.

"It's an important question," he replied. "It ranks right up there with the subject of missile defense and the use of space.

"How ought we to size our forces? How ought we to organize these forces? Where ought they to be located?" Rumsfeld mused. "So the question comes, mightn't we want to size our forces also for some other things, like a Bosnia or a Kosovo or a noncombatant evacuation in some country, or maybe one or two or three of those things?"

Even though no announcements have been made, the ripple effect from reports of possible manpower and weapons cuts has lawmakers, military leaders and defense contractors girding for a fight.

More than a dozen Pentagon panels have been advising Rumsfeld on a future course, although the secretary recently told top Senate Republicans that he has not reached any final decisions on the number of troops or types of weapons he will recommend to the president.

Said a Capitol Hill aide familiar with the meeting: "He said, `If I took every panel's recommendation, there's not enough money to buy things.'" Still, the aide said, "There are going to be cuts in weapons programs. That's the way he was talking."

Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and one of the leading defense voices in Congress, said he expects "major structural and procedural reforms" in the Pentagon.

Despite expected cutbacks in weapons systems, those familiar with the various proposals under consideration predict that few, if any, of the major projects will be eliminated, other than the Army's Crusader long-range howitzer, an estimated $4.3 billion program.

That talk is upsetting to some analysts who advocate deep change, such as John Hillen, who helped write Bush's main campaign speech on defense issues, a September 1999 address in which he pledged to "begin creating the military for the next century."

Even so, Rumsfeld's advisers appear to be preserving what Hillen dismisses as "industrial age" weapons - among them fighter aircraft and carriers. As a result, the Rumsfeld team is not saving enough money to build the futuristic arms and communications systems that Hillen and like-minded analysts favor.

"I don't think the political forces are aligned enough to have a revolution," Hillen said.

The Pentagon's biggest-ticket item is fighter aircraft, a $350 billion program through 2020 that includes the Air Force's F-22 Raptor, the Navy's F/A-18EF and the Joint Strike Fighter that will be used by the Navy, Air Force and Marines.

"I think they'll keep all three [aircraft] programs, but they'll significantly cut back on the buy," Weldon predicted. Hillen and some other defense analysts favor cutting such short-range aircraft in favor of long-range bombers and small, unmanned drones that can spy on or bomb an adversary.

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