Arming Soldiers for a New Kind of War : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

October 26, 2001

Arming Soldiers for a New Kind of War

By ANDREW F. KREPINEVICH ASHINGTON -- During his campaign for president, George W. Bush endorsed the need to transform the American military in response to new types of threat. This now seems prescient, given the unconventional attacks on Sept. 11 and the ensuing war against terrorism. The first war of this new century is not even a distant cousin of the Persian Gulf War, much less of the cold war that still determines, in many ways, the size, form and orientation of our military.

We now confront enemies who align their strengths against our weaknesses. As horrific as using hijacked airliners is, the fact that terrorists are now using biological weapons is even more worrisome. And while acquiring a nuclear weapon is difficult, the possibility that terrorists might employ radiological waste to wage a dirty war seems disturbingly plausible. In short, the capacity to attack this country employing weapons of mass destruction is no longer the province of a few states; nor are the means of attack limited to long-range missiles. The nature of war is undergoing major, perhaps fundamental, change.

America's war against terrorism is only Exhibit A for those who argue that the character of war is being transformed. For example, the growing proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, and of weapons of mass destruction, is likely to enable even third-tier militaries to place American bases overseas in their cross hairs. Such bases, long a reassurance to allies and a deterrent to would-be adversaries, may become the 21st century's Omaha Beaches: killing zones for massed, immobile soldiers and war supplies. This possibility will only be avoided if the American military transforms itself so as to be able to project decisive power abroad in the absence of secure access to overseas bases.

A similar danger confronts the Navy. During the cold war, our Navy operated far out at sea. Today our naval forces find themselves maneuvering closer to shore to support our land-based ground and air forces. As they do so, they are becoming easier to locate and have less warning of attack. Attacks are likely to come not from enemy fleets but from coastal submarines, mines, and land-based aircraft and missiles.

Vulnerable overseas bases and large ships cruising dangerously close to shore are just two examples of how cold war military solutions have become liabilities. The Pentagon's recently completed Quadrennial Defense Review an assessment and statement of purpose made by each presidential administration recognizes these dangers and ably explains why the American military needs to change. Yet the review is nearly silent as to how; more precisely, it does not indicate which programs should be abandoned because they are outdated.

The details will come when the administration submits its defense budget and program requests early next year. However, we may have an early litmus test. The administration is expected to announce today whether it will go ahead and choose a manufacturer to produce nearly 3,000 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, at a price tag exceeding $150 billion a huge sum even by defense-budget standards. Yet most of these short-range aircraft, intended to be the next generation of fighter-bomber for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, will have to operate out of large overseas bases or off aircraft carriers, precisely the sort of targets that the Pentagon recognizes have become vulnerable.

The Bush administration is taking some modest steps to bring the military up to date. For example, for a relatively small cost the Pentagon intends to reconfigure several Trident submarines to carry large numbers of long-range cruise missiles, a hedge against the growing risk to surface ships in coastal waters. Another program will speed the development of unmanned aircraft that could perform many of the Joint Strike Fighter's combat missions at a fraction of the cost.

Other transforming changes seem less likely to be pursued by the administration. One could involve making more long-range B-2 bombers. These would greatly increase the military's ability to strike even if overseas bases are at risk or when, as is the case today around Afghanistan, their use is restricted or denied. Another initiative would center on building a squadron of small high-speed warships that, in battle, could be tightly linked by information technologies but physically dispersed. Such a force could prove far more effective in defeating coastal naval forces than a vulnerable aircraft carrier worth $5 billion and with thousands of sailors aboard.

Now that thousands of Americans have been killed by a foreign enemy and our soldiers are at war, it is difficult to argue for cutting some military programs. But the Pentagon's budget is not infinite, and poor or outdated programs do take money away from better ones.

The Bush administration has made the case for radically changing the military. Now it needs to implement its ideas. The process will take years, and failure to begin now will greatly increase the risks to our security as our enemies improve their ability to find and exploit our vulnerabilities.

Andrew F. Krepinevich is director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and a former member of the National Defense Panel.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 26, 2001


Good, thoughtful essay.

-- Billiver (, October 26, 2001.

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