Army chief to keep seeking shift to more-mobile force

Shinseki says he'll oppose Pentagon efforts to delay, cut transformation effort

October 24, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Three years ago, the Army's new top general unveiled an ambitious plan to transform his service from an armored behemoth equipped for a land war with the defunct Soviet Union to a lighter-weight and more mobile force that could quickly airlift troops to hotspots around the world.

Yesterday, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, said that he will oppose Pentagon efforts to cut or delay that transformation effort.

"We'll make our case," the four-star officer promised in an interview with a small group of news organizations, including The Sun.

Shinseki said he would press for six brigades of troops, each equipped with the new Stryker light-weight armored vehicle, although Pentagon officials are said by industry sources and Army officials to be considering trimming that number to three.

That proposal would save $4.5 billion if it is sent to Congress in February as part of next year's budget. Defense officials have said no final decisions have been made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The first 4,000-person Stryker brigade is expected to be combat-ready by May, with one additional brigade scheduled for fielding over each of the ensuing five years.

"In our computations we thought six was about right," said Shinseki. That is the number needed, he said, for the Army to carry its mission under the Pentagon's military blueprint, the Defense Planning Guidance, which says the Army must be ready to deploy to four regions of the world and capable of defeating enemy forces in two simultaneous conflicts.

At the same time, the Pentagon hopes to save more money next year - although it is uncertain how much - by having the Army buy 650 of the proposed Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopters, instead of the 679 called for by the Army and a top Pentagon committee. The lower number was approved last week by Pete Aldridge, the Pentagon's acquisition chief.

"I'm not sure how that [650] number squares with all the studies that were done," Shinseki said. In a chuckling aside, he added, "I thought you guys would be able to tell me."

Finally, there is talk in the Pentagon of a two-year delay in the Future Combat System, the still-to-be-developed myriad of armored vehicles that Shinseki hopes will be the centerpiece of the 21st century army that he envisions. "FCS needs to stay on track," said the general.

Shinseki's comments amount to an unusually aggressive stratagem by the decorated Vietnam War veteran and publicity-shy general who has tussled with Rumsfeld before - and lost. Last year, Rumsfeld decided to axe the proposed 40-ton Crusader artillery system, saying it was too heavy to be quickly sent to overseas missions. The Army leadership, including Shinseki, argued the Crusader's speed, its rapid-fire rate and long-range ability were needed to replace the current artillery system.

With Shinseki set to retire in June, he is working on his final Army budget, one that could set his transformation views on track, or scale them back.

Meanwhile, the Army is doing a full-court press on Stryker, holding round-table meetings with reporters and demonstrating the armored vehicle last week at Andrews Air Force Base, where it rolled off a C-130 cargo plane in front of supporters and critics, among them former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a member of a Pentagon board that advises Rumsfeld on defense policy.

Gingrich has questioned whether the vehicle can be deployed in the cargo plane and is not convinced the lighter-weight Stryker can be effective in combat, said Army officials. Gingrich declined to answer questions.

Besides meeting with reporters, Shinseki this week told the Association of the U.S. Army, an influential organization of retired officers, that Stryker is needed. "We must see the Stryker fielded," the general said, "to provide soldiers the capabilities that they've needed for the last 12 years. It's time and the right number is six."

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