Opinion

The more things change militarily ...

WASHINGTON—No one has been more contemptuous of Cold War thinking and planning in our military than Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his band of transformers and reformers, and yet when it came time to fish or cut bait this week they just sat in the boat doing nothing.

The Defense Department thinkers have had four years to write the document that is to guide and inform our military strategy, tactics, arms acquisition and manpower for the next 20 years, the Quadrennial Defense Review mandated by Congress.

For months the Rumsfeld lieutenants have floated trial balloons warning that the most capital-intensive branches of service, the Air Force and Navy with their costly aircraft and ships, were going to feel the pain of severe cutbacks or cancellations of cherished next generation goodies.

The savings would be invested in lower tech but higher utility things like the soldiers and Marines who are still required to win wars the old fashioned way, by killing people, and controlling contested territory by the simple act of standing on it, rifle in hand.

After all the talking and posturing and debating, what did they choose to do? The short answer: Nothing much different. No hard choices made. Both the old and the new continue rolling along, and the problem is shoved along for another administration, in another QDR, to solve and pay for.

The QDR with its talk of preparing to fight the "long war" against terrorists and irregulars came out as the Bush administration unveiled a $439 billion 2007 Defense budget.

In the budget the Pentagon continues to fund three very costly short-range jet fighters—The F/A-22 Raptor, the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—as well as the Navy's Virginia class nuclear attack submarine at $2.4 billion each and the CVN-21 next generation aircraft carrier and the DD(X) destroyer. The Army's expensive and futuristic Advanced Combat Systems program based on systems that haven't been invented yet is still rolling along.

The huge weapons programs may be sexy, and certainly they are beloved by members of Congress in whose districts the big defense industry plants and shipyards are located. The usefulness of such aircraft and ships in the wars against terrorism in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, however, is just about zero, since our control of air and sea are unchallenged there and elsewhere in the foreseeable future.

At a time when many analysts say that our problems in Iraq lead back to a failure to send enough soldiers and Marines to secure the place after the invasion, there's no money in the 2007 budget to increase Army and Marine manpower—and the QDR actually calls for shrinking the Army from today's inadequate 491,000 to no more than 482,400 over the next five years.

The budget proposes a 30 percent increase in the number of special operations, psychological warfare and civil affairs units vital to counterinsurgency operations, but the money earmarked for the language and cultural training members of such units desperately need—$191 million—is less than the cost of just one F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Another problem that was not addressed in the budget or the QDR is re-capitalization of transport aircraft, helicopters, vehicles and gear of the military. Put simply, that stuff has been ground down in non-stop operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last three-plus years. Assuming that sometime in the next four years our forces will be coming home, we will need to fund repairs and replacement programs that won't be cheap.

The war costs, which will top $300 billion this year, have to date been funded by off-budget supplemental bills. When the war ends, so too will the supplemental pile of cash.

The trouble with this nuts-and-bolts budgeting and the strategic vision, or lack of it, in the Rumsfeld Pentagon and the Bush White House is that they won't be around when the bills come due.

One military analyst, Col. (ret.) Ken Allard, former dean of students at the National War College, put it this way:

"As Winston Churchill was unkind enough to point out, it is occasionally necessary in war to suspend one's preferences and actually consider the enemy. The QDR has not done that for one simple reason. It says little or nothing about the need for soldiers. And how they can best be provided, trained, protected and sustained to meet an enemy who thinks in generational rather than technological timelines—which is why that enemy thinks he can win and why he may be right."

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young

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