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From the Chicago Tribune

Troops lacking in readiness, Pentagon says

Report outlines a new strategy By David Lerman Washington Bureau

October 1, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The structure of the armed forces puts the U.S. military at a "horrific operational risk" as it responds to the new threats of the 21st Century, a draft Pentagon study concludes.

The Quadrennial Defense Review, scheduled to be released this week, warns that today's force of 1.4 million active-duty troops may be ill-equipped to tackle the new threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, according to a draft copy of the study.

The long-awaited review was largely completed before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But parts of it have been rewritten in recent days to reflect the increased emphasis required in defending the U.S. homeland.

`Horrific operational risk'

"The current force structure was assessed across a wide range of scenarios and contingencies on the basis of the new defense strategy," the draft says, "and the capabilities of this force were judged as presenting a horrific operational risk."

The draft, dated Sept. 14, does not describe the nature or extent of the risk in any detail, but warns against any "substantial reductions in forces in the near-term."

It endorses the current size of the armed forces, which includes 12 aircraft carriers, 11 carrier air wings, 55 attack submarines, 10 active Army divisions and 38 active Air Force fighter squadrons.

But it says some of the forces are not stationed in the right places around the globe and may need to be reorganized.

Noting the rising importance of Asia as a military power center, the report says the Navy should increase the presence of aircraft carriers in the western Pacific.

It was unclear whether such a move would require changing their home ports. Six of the nation's 12 carriers are based in Norfolk, Va. Four are based on the West Coast, one is based in Florida and another is based in Japan.

In outlining a new military strategy, the report modifies only slightly a decade-long goal of being able to fight and win two major regional wars nearly simultaneously.

Under the new policy, defense officials have said, the U.S. would no longer be able to take over the enemy's capital city in the second conflict. But the military would be prepared to conduct an unspecified number of "smaller-scale contingency operations," such as peacekeeping missions.

At a briefing last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he did not yet know whether the new war on terrorism would be considered a "smaller-scale contingency" operation or a major regional war.

"Only time will tell," he said.

The draft defense review does not consider the option of expanding the size of the armed forces.

Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Bush administration, like most Republicans, has exaggerated the decline in military readiness over the last decade.

"I don't think the force has to be increased and I don't think the risk is horrific," he said.

But to conservatives, who have watched with alarm in recent years as the military was asked to "do more with less," the report's call for a status-quo force structure is troubling.

`Budget-driven' document

"The administration promised us a strategy-driven document," said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute who has close ties to the Pentagon and the defense industry. "But it ended up being budget-driven. As a consequence, it recommends fewer forces than is required by the strategy."

The draft report does not estimate the amount of money required to finance the strategy it outlines.

To fight new threats such as terrorism, the draft says, the military must make new investments in human intelligence, unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors and missile defense, among other things.

But rather than bolster the size of the armed forces, the report says the military can tackle new missions by reconfiguring current resources, streamlining the Pentagon's bureaucracy, and making selected cuts in outdated weapons programs that it fails to identify.

It also endorses the administration's call for a new round of military base closings in 2003, a proposal that faces an uncertain fate in Congress. The Senate approved the plan. The House did not, setting the stage for difficult negotiations as Congress completes work on its annual defense authorization bill.

Copyright 2001, Chicago Tribune

-- Martin Thompson (, October 01, 2001

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