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Presentation to the World Affairs Council of Seattle on Defense Transformation

Defense Transformation: The Tunnel at the End of the Light?

On September 10th, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was among the most criticized, under-rated, abused, and written-off officials in Washington, DC. He’’d been subjected to a four-month barrage of articles with titles like “The Secretary Bombs, Again” and “Mr. Rumsfeld’s Lonely, Losing Battle.” The Weekly Standard was calling for his resignation and, in fact, there were Pentagon betting pools on that very matter. The most popular date: October 2001.

Three months later, Donald Rumsfeld was everybody’s favorite “minister of war.” His television press conferences were outdrawing the Jerry Springer Show and even the non-trashy media were opining on his newly-discovered sex appeal. As the National Review put it, not all that facetiously, “Chicks dig chiefs.”

And three months later – now – Donald Rumsfeld is once again being adjudged a failure. In both cases, the reason has been the same. Transformation, as it’s known in the trade or, more precisely, Mr. Rumsfeld’s desire to drag the Military-Industrial-Congressional Empire, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Ironically, last year Mr. Rumsfeld was savaged before anyone even knew what he intended. Today, he’s being savaged for undertaking it at all … and for failing before he starts.

So what exactly is this Transformation? Like beauty and your IRS deductions, it’s mostly in the eye of the beholder. It’s about technology, certainly. But it’s also about changing institutions, structures, doctrines, ways of doing business. Ultimately, it’s about making our military relevant to the myriad threats of the 21st century.

But whatever Transformation may be in theory, two things are certain. It’s not automatic. It faces enormous resistance within The Building, as the Pentagon is known to those who toil therein. The United States can end up with a military that’s high-tech, professional, motivated, and a disaster waiting to happen. And also, whatever Transformation turns out to be, we’re going to be spending an awful lot of money on defense. By decade’s end we’ll likely have spent about $4 trillion – more than the total direct cost of World War II, when measured in current dollars.

So what are we getting for those trillions?

Today I should like to sketch an answer to that question by addressing four items.

  1. Why is Transformation running into so much opposition? Reasons ranger from pure inertia and self-interest to justifiable military conservatism, especially regarding major changes in time of war. But the real reason is inter-service rivalry, a phenomenon that goes far beyond Army-Navy Games and barroom brawls.
  2. But there’s a reason beyond the rivalries. To achieve genuine Transformation, each service has to endure a profound organizational and cultural reorientation. A little bit here about what each service must do.
  3. Then a few words on what Secretary Rumsfeld went through prior to 9/11.
  4. Finally, what needs to be done to create a force capable of what the Pentagon calls “full spectrum dominance” – the ability to prevail anywhere, any time, against any foe, whether nation-state or terrorist gang.

All these ideas, and more, come from my new book, Against All Terrors: This People’s Next Defense, available from Discovery and Amazon. We take neither government nor corporate money for our defense work. It’s funded by private contributions, small foundation grants, general revenues, and book sales. Please buy a few. It’ll keep us going.

Inter-Service Rivalry

In the beginning, things were simple. There were armies. There were navies. Armies did land. Navies did water. There were a few minor overlaps. Armies might build forts on shores and deploy coastal artillery. Navies might bombard a littoral or land small parties of naval infantry, sometimes known as marines. But neither could do the other’s job. Therefore, neither could take the other’s job.

The airplane did more than add a third dimension to what had hitherto been a relatively flat endeavor. It began to blur the distinction between land and sea combat. Ship-based aircraft could now strike ashore; land-based planes could reach far out to sea.

Further, the 20th century witnessed an unprecedented expansion of military technologies and proliferation of systems. Along with this came an unprecedented “mix-and-match.” You could put airplanes on ships: aircraft carriers. You could put armies on airplanes: paratroops and helicopter operations. You could put armies on ships: large-scale amphibious operations. You could put missiles on anything from ships and planes to trucks and human shoulders.

The net effect of all this might be codified as – Systems proliferate but effects converge. There are now many ways of getting the same results. Basically, this means that services can now do chunks of each other’s jobs. Therefore, they can take chunks of each other’s jobs.

Did anyone think it the least bit remarkable that the best way to attack Afghanistan, a landlocked country, was by ships (aircraft carriers and cruise-missile-firing submarines) and by long-range bombers stationed thousands of miles away, and by Marines? Or that we used B-1 bombers to take out caves? Has anybody noticed the current Navy/Air Force squabble? The Navy claiming, we flew most of the missions with our carriers; the Air Force countering, Yeah, but we dropped most of the bombs with our bombers. And I can tell you from personal experience, when the Marines went in before the Army (commandos don’t count here), the Internet traffic got ugly.

And this rivalry will only intensify courtesy of a phenomenon known as the RMA, or Revolution in Military Affairs. In common parlance, the RMA entails the application of microprocessor technologies to military equipment and operations. But the computer revolution is only RMA Part One. Part Two, already well underway, involves robotics, nanotechnologies, directed energy weapons, and the aggressive exploitation of space. More and more, the services will be able to do each other’s jobs. Air power over land or sea power; Marines over Army, etc. etc.

What it comes down to, of course, is money. And no service ever got a larger appropriation, and no officer ever got that next promotion, by suggesting that another service could do the job better … or at all.

Service Tsuris

It would seem that the services, in their attempts to grab for themselves as much of the action and money as possible, would be rushing off wildly in all directions to Transform. In some ways, they are. The nineties witnessed a lot of wasted effort, and a lot of good work that didn’t get done, due to budget restraints. Still, each of the services has many worthwhile initiatives underway. Unfortunately, Transformation means more than sticking new technologies onto old structures. Each service faces its own brand of trauma.

Army. It’s time for the Army to abandon the divisional structure, with its top-heavy, i.e., career officer-heavy, staffs. Speaking of heavy, the tank is also at the end of its road. The Army must evolve into smaller yet more lethal units, easily transported and sustained, capable of decisive action on conventional battlefields and in a variety of unconventional tasks. And despite the magnificent performance of the Green berets and rangers in Afghanistan, the Army’s decidedly underwhelmed at the notion that these small and relatively cheap forces can replace larger formations.

National Guard. By the by, the Army National Guard faces a major crisis of its own. Since before the First World War, the Guard has been the Army’s combat reserve. Generations of Guard leaders have deemed this combat mission sacrosanct, have demanded that the Guard be structured to “mirror” the active Army. They have regarded state missions as important and ongoing, but lesser (albeit more frequent) priorities. What mattered most was combat overseas, and the appropriations that tasking generated. Today, however, the Guard should play an ever-increasing role in homeland defense, which may compromise its combat role.

Navy. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the Soviet Navy. Today, there’s no fleet out there to fight. Wisely, the U.S. Navy altered its orientation, from high seas action to littoral work and support of land campaigns. But this mandates a very different kind of fleet. Fewer carrier groups, more attack subs, more smaller vessels, perhaps of radically new design. Crews too must shrink.

Air Force. But it’s the Air Force that faces the most wrenching shift. Whatever else happens, the Army will still be the Army; the Navy will still sail away. But the trend in air power is away from ever more expensive piloted aircraft and toward robotics: UAVs (Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles) and UCAVs (Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles). The F-22 and Joint Strike Fighters are likely the last we’ll ever build. We may well have built our last crewed bomber, the B-2. Space, hitherto not a high Air Force priority, will also grow in importance. This means that, over the next few decades, the traditional “white scarf and goggles” pilot-dominated Air Force culture must yield to . . . what? Space geeks and drone drivers? Whatever happens, it is easy to imagine a cadet currently in residence at the Air Force Academy, thirty-five years from now, flying that last fighter or bomber to the museum.

I wonder who she’ll be.

How Donald Rumsfeld Got into Big trouble by Doing Nothing

We all remember the 2000 presidential campaign. George W. Bush proclaiming “Help is on the way” to a military ravaged by eight years of Clintonista overwork, underfunding, and cultural assault. Naturally, most everyone assumed that help meant an up-front infusion of cash, a Reagan-style “Just Spend It” total splurge.

Everyone except Mr. Rumsfeld.

In the winter of 2001, Mr. Rumsfeld shocked the defense establishment by announcing (with a good bit of help from OMB) that there would be no fast increases, maybe not even a nice supplemental. The final Clinton budget of $310 – $312 billion would stand until he decided what to do. Mr. Rumsfeld then convened a klatch of confidential in-house panels and study groups to assess every aspect of the defense establishment. By summer, Congress was screaming that it hadn’t been consulted. The brass were howling that they’d been disenlooped. The media were confidently predicting that nothing would come of it, since Mr. Rumsfeld had managed to alienate just about everyone before even announcing his plans.

Then came 9/11, and a general assumption that Transformation, already Dead before Arrival in peacetime, would be a total non-starter in war. Then came the October 1st release of the Quadrennial Defense Review, a Pentagon master planning document, that reaffirmed the necessity of Transformation. Then came George Bush, comparing it to “fixing an engine on a car that’s going eighty miles an hour,” but still necessary.

Then came the cash.

Predictably, within weeks after 9/11, the Congressional ATM went into hyperdrive. This year’s defense budget now runs well over $350 billion. Next year’s will most likely clear $400 billion. But as the critics have noted, little of this money (only about $10 billion in next year’s budget) really goes for anything that might be considered Transforming. Much is for the war and homeland defense; much to catch up on maintenance and restore depleted weapons stocks; much to fund so-called “legacy systems”; and much for pay hikes and medical care.

There’s a reason for this. Two reasons, actually. During the 1990s, an awful lot of R&D didn’t get done. We’re playing catch-up. And also, it’s going to take more time to assess. Toward that end, Mr. Rumsfeld has established an Office of Transformation within the Pentagon. Dozens of new studies are underway. If all this thinking time makes people nervous, or prone to media leaks, so be it.

Space Force, Peace Force, Warriors, Guard

We don’t have time to get into the details of what a Transformed force might look like. Instead, I’d like to offer a simple paradigm, taken from Against All Terrors. I call it “Space Force, Peace Force, Warriors, Guard.” It’s not a reorganization proposal, just a new way of thinking about who does what.

Space Force. We’re now irrevocably dependent on space for military and civilian uses. The Air Force has not been, and has not been permitted to be, a good steward of space. To rectify this, there should be established within the Air Force a separate Space Corps, with its own funding and career paths. Over time, this should evolve into a separate Space Service within the Department of the Air Force. How fast this happens will be determined by the progress of moving the RMA into space, especially the deployment of weapons as well as satellites.

Peace Force. The nineties demonstrated that sending military forces on peace-keeping and peace-enforcing missions is expensive and debilitating. But from time to time, these missions may be unavoidable. One big one coming up: Israel. Within two years, we’ll probably have 20,000 men and women over there, separating the Israelis and Palestinians. There should therefore be established a separate Peace Command within the Army, to serve as the nucleus of a Joint Peace Force.

Warriors. These are the active, Guard, and reserve forces charged with combat and combat support missions. As the cliché goes, “When they’re not training to fight, they should be fighting.” Staying ready for today, let alone Transforming for tomorrow, is a full-time job, and more. These forces should not be frittered away.

Guard. These are the units, excluding the Air National Guard and whatever missile defenses may be built, charged with homeland defense. As a rule, active forces should be used as little as possible. The Army Guard should move toward new kinds of “domestic use only” units. Also, the Guard must create new categories of services for people with civilian skills who’d like to contribute.

All this is vital. But none of it will happen because of Donald Rumsfeld’’s sex appeal. To follow Transformation to its logical conclusions, and to reap the benefits thereof, both the President and the Congress will have to spend enormous amounts of political capital. Whether they do this or not may be determined in large part by the attitude of the American people. Do we care enough to connect once again with the common defense? Are we willing to take the time to understand Transformation, and to let our officials know that we’re watching? The conventional wisdom would say, No.

But then, we live in unconventional times. Thank you.