Analyst Maps Out Ways to Give U.S. Troops More of a Fighting Chance
WASHINGTON, MARCH 24, 2003
shouldn't let the fact that American forces are performing well in
Iraq blind them to the need for a modernization strategy that will
leave the United States better prepared to handle the many missions
it may be asked to undertake in the next few years, says a new paper
The Heritage Foundation.
"As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, we're perfectly
capable of doing what's necessary now," notes Heritage senior
security analyst Jack Spencer
. "But we
can't assume this state of affairs will continue indefinitely,
especially if we're asked to do more. There are several steps we
need to take to ensure we're just as prepared tomorrow as we are
For starters, Spencer says, Congress can and should spend more on
defense. The 2004 budget is $340 billion, but that accounts for
only 3.4 percent of gross domestic product-below historic norms of
4 percent or more throughout much of the last century. "We can't
adequately protect American interests on the cheap," he says.
But there's little point spending more money unless we assure that
it's spent well, Spencer says, which means setting
priorities-deciding, for example, to reduce peacekeeping
commitments and other non-combat activities and shifting the
resources we save to fill more urgent requests.
"We're pursuing a war on terrorism, waging war in Iraq, keeping our
allies safe and
striving to protect the homeland," he
says. "Yet we still have 8,000 military personnel in the Balkans?
Like it or not, we can't do everything, and it would be foolhardy
to try. Sometimes, you have to say no."
That's especially true when, as Spencer notes, the United States is
trying to meet new threats with "a force that's unacceptably old.
We've got 76 B-52s right out of the 1950s, 93 aging B-1s, and only
21 modern B-2s. The Air Force has no plans to buy a new bomber
until 2037, when the B-52 will be nearly 90 years old."
Now more than ever, he says, defense officials must work to ensure
that every dollar spent enhances our ability to fight and win wars.
"Using combat soldiers in non-combat missions is not only a waste
of personnel but a waste of money-draining money that could have
been spent modernizing our forces," he says.
It's also crucial, according to Spencer, that policy-makers take a
hard look within the defense budget itself. "Something's seriously
wrong when the 2003 budget has $25 million going to Kaho'olawe
Island Fund and $19 million going to the International Sporting
Competition, but we can't afford to reopen the B-2 bomber
production line," he says. It would help, too, he adds, if we
accelerate the next round of base closings.
When it comes to deciding how to modernize weapons systems, Spencer
says, the mission is clear: Acquire new technology that allows
weapons to operate with less support. The development of hybrid
engines and fuel cells, for example, would mean we could support
field operations with fewer refuel vehicles. Sensors and networked
information systems would allow fewer people to cover larger swaths
In the air, the Heritage analyst says, we need more conventionally
armed B-2s, which could go into production fairly quickly and-at
$750 million a copy-relatively inexpensively. He also suggests,
among other things, that the Air Force accelerate production of
smaller, more accurate "smart" bombs, and speed up production of
the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, which can hit targets without
endangering a flight crew.
On the ground, Spencer says, the Army should reinvest the funds it
will save from 24 cancelled programs into two major families of
"platforms": the Stryker light armored vehicle and the Future
Combat System. Both would bring greater capability to the
battlefield, he says, and free manpower that's needed to fulfill
the homeland-security mission.
By 2020, the U.S. force should rely not on 1970s-era tactical
aircraft but on modern manned tactical aircraft, unmanned combat
vehicles, and long-range precision strike missiles, Spencer says:
"By making smart investments and eliminating waste, our forces can
improve their ability to fight today's wars and make them better
prepared for tomorrow's."
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NEXIS library and the GOVT and OMNI group files of the GOVNWS