America's defense does not require a larger budget, but rather a major reallocation to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War world. Facing up to this politically divisive issue will be difficult, but the subject ought to be aired before the contending parties fall back on the easy option of increased spending. The congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review was issued in May, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (D-Conn.) amendment to the last defense bill requires a preparedness report to Congress. The QDR's recently announced recommendations include only trivial cuts in naval combatants and aircraft, a woefully disappointing result. Faulty rationalizations for inappropriate force structures have marred previous official reviews, including Clinton administration Defense Secretary Les Aspin's bottom-up review and Bush administration Defense Secretary Richard Cheney's base force concept. The same can be said of recently departed Defense Secretary William Perry's valedictory article, "Defense in an Age of Hope," in the November/ December 1996 Foreign Affairs.

Perry espoused a U.S. strategy for managing conflict that rests on three lines of defense: preventing threats from emerging, deterring threats that do emerge, and defeating with force those that breakout into conflict. While in principle it makes excellent sense, as elaborated, Perry's analysis fails to address four serious problems: regional prioritization of U.S. interests, inadequate means for dealing with nuclear proliferation, a mismatch between missions and forces, and unexploited technology. Since Perry's article, Secretary William Cohen has released his report on the Pentagon's military planning and outlook. While Secretary Cohen's report identifies regions of importance and defines missions for each, it remains to be seen whether he is merely nodding at the notion of regional priorities or is willing to articulate significant change. The same flaws that blemished the Pentagon's planning when Perry left office are still glaring.


The forward deployment of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Europe, and northeast Asia is no less critical now for the prevention of war than it was during the Cold War. Perhaps unintentionally, Perry appears to apply the preventive portion of his strategy to just about every region of the world. This broad view will be difficult to sell to Congress and the public, especially when it concerns countries in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and South America. By failing to prioritize among regions, Perry provides little idea about how to husband limited military resources, inviting isolationist criticism and internationalist disillusionment.

On the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Perry's approach is far from comprehensive. He stresses dismantlement of existing nuclear arsenals and extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But what if these means fail, as they already have in several cases? By backing the Clinton administration's adherence to a limited theater ballistic missile defense, Perry only partially explains how a threat from proliferation, were one to arise, would be defeated.

While dismantling the Russian nuclear arsenal may be desirable, it is wholly impractical in the near future. Letting Russia's arsenal decay in its silos may prove a better approach. Moscow is too weak and its military and nuclear production bureaucracies too corrupt to spend the money provided by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar's 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. American dollars cannot substitute for Russian government oversight. No amount of money can make a dismantling program fully effective. Adding arms control measures and coercive diplomacy may close a few more holes in the counter-proliferation net, but not all of them. A ballistic missile defense is the most compelling solution, not just for nuclear weapons but also for other weapons that can be delivered by ballistic missiles. Use of conventional military forces against existing nuclear weapons programs is another means of countering proliferation that should be considered.


The most fundamental problem with Perry's approach is its gross mismatch between ends and means. Perry's list of means includes three major categories of forces: pre-positioned equipment afloat and ashore, carrier battle groups, and marine and air expeditionary forces.

Pre-positioned equipment makes a lot of sense for the Persian Gulf area. The same can no longer be said about projecting forces by naval vessels and carrier-based aircraft. Today, with aircraft technology permitting long-range flights, carrier-based air support is increasingly obsolete. It takes longer to deploy than air force capabilities and has only a fraction of the air strike capability at a much higher cost. An air force wing -- about 70 fighter-bombers strong -- can move from Germany or the United States into the Persian Gulf within 24 hours. Unless a carrier happens to be close by, it can require three days to a week to arrive. When it does, it provides about 40 ground attack aircraft that are far less capable.

Comparing the fiscal outlays makes an air force wing much more attractive, although getting accurate data is difficult. According to Defense Department planning for the next ten years, about twice as much will be spent to sustain carrier groups and their aircraft ($260 billion) as to sustain land-based tactical planes ($126 billion). About the same amounts for each will be spent on research and development, $19 billion and $18 billion, respectively. Carrier-based airpower is allocated $152 billion for procurement, roughly three times as much as the $56 billion for ground-based air power. The General Accounting Office has concluded that carrier costs are underestimated, perhaps by half. In any event, these numbers reveal an indisputable fact: a carrier-based aircraft is the most expensive way to deliver a bomb to a target. When aircraft could fly at most 300 miles round-trip, floating airports made sense. Today, when fighters and strategic bombers can fly across oceans in less than a day, the case for carriers is weak.

The typical answer to this awkward question of cost is that the United States does not always have air bases where strike aircraft are needed. However, that is not the case for any of the three key strategic regions -- the Middle East, Europe, and northeast Asia -- where U.S. military deployments make sense. Moreover, when the United States decided to strike Libya in the 1980s, two carriers in the Mediterranean Sea did not have sufficient capabilities to execute the mission. An Air Force f-111 bomber unit based in Britain was added to the strike force. Less well known, a plan to conduct the mission with b-52s, all based in the United States, was also developed. The mission could have been executed without carrier-based aircraft, adding a lot more bombing power for a fraction of the cost.

The case for the marines as an expeditionary force is no better. With the technology of wide-body aircraft construction and more efficient jet engine technology, the existing fleet of 20 C-17 and 80 C-5a transports can easily lift army special operations forces anywhere in the world in less than 24 hours. They can seize an airfield in an hour or less, and within several hours an army tank company, possibly a battalion, can be landed by air. Within a day, more than 50 tanks can be landed if additional c-17s are procured as planned. Very few countries in the world could hope to contain, much less quickly defeat, that force once it was on the ground. Moreover, in two or three days it could be increased to a mobile force of a couple of hundred combat vehicles.

Marine forces must sail for days to arrive at their destination. Once they slog their way across the beaches, they are usually still far from a point where they could take decisive action against a capital or an inland concentration of the country's military forces. Except for the occasional use of modest amphibious forces, the marines' approach to expeditionary missions is obsolete, given today's military technologies.

Most contingencies demanding a rapid commitment of forces to distant places will not require the military units to fight their way in. The United States has allies in the three key regions, and if it cannot depend on some of them, then such deployments probably will not make sense anyway. Still, army forces, supported by air force tactical air and strategic airlift, offer by far the most effective expeditionary forces for the foreseeable future.

The major changes in the U.S. force structure since the Persian Gulf War have been reductions in army and air force capabilities. The navy's carrier fleet stands at 12, with a single carrier battle group costing at least an estimated $50 billion for a 10-year life cycle. The army's divisions, at $10 billion for a heavy division with a 10-year life cycle, have been cut from 18 to 10.

Moreover, only about $50 billion is allocated for procurement of army forces during the next ten years, compared to $152 billion and $56 billion for carrier and land-based air power. Meanwhile, the marines retain three active divisions and one reserve division. Marine spokespersons sometimes insist that a marine division is less expensive than an army heavy division, but the claim is deceptive. The navy budget pays for some of the marines' research and development, procurement, and training. More important, marines do not provide adequate logistics for operations more than a few miles inland. The army provides much of the logistics for marine units when they operate inland, as in the Gulf War. The army also pays for a large portion of the research and development costs for marine weaponry, as well as for some of the training. The true costs of marine forces for inland operations include sums spread here and there in the navy and army budgets. According to General Frederick Kroesen's calculations, marine forces cost about 25 percent more than equivalent army forces, which have far greater combat capabilities.


In addition to assisting prevention and deterrence, forward deployments must also contribute to strategies for defeating enemies. The claim by the navy and marines that their "forward deployed" forces can accomplish the expeditionary mission for the "deter" and "defeat" components of defense strategy is largely based on legends of times past and ignores the vast improvements in air force and army expeditionary capabilities. As for prevention, it is difficult to imagine how carrier battle groups and marine expeditionary units, even if supported by strategic bombers, could perform the prevention functions of army units stationed in Germany, other NATO countries, and South Korea or the Fifth Air Force in Japan and South Korea.

If every carrier battle group in the navy's fleet were posted off the Korean peninsula, the entire armada would fail to provide as much "preventive" influence as the single army division and air force units deployed there now. When the comparative costs of the different forces are considered, it becomes clear that the United States would be paying more, not just for a less effective force structure, but for a counterproductive one.

Some observers believe that aircraft carriers were necessary to deter Chinese military maneuvers near Taiwan in March 1996. In fact, they were not. More airpower could be projected over the Taiwan Strait by the Fifth Air Force from Japan, and in the event of hostilities, much of this airpower could be deployed to Taiwan's air bases. Moreover, a much cheaper fleet of surface combatants could show the flag with the same effect as the carriers.

As for the marine deployment in Okinawa, it could be replaced by an army division or corps stationed in Hokkaido, giving the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces a U.S. military counterpart with which to train. While Japanese air and naval forces have U.S. counterpart forces to train with regularly, Japanese ground forces do not. The marines, in the view of Japanese officers, do not provide an adequate substitute since marine doctrine, operational procedures, and command structure are different from the U.S. Army's. Had the United States offered to halve the number of marines in Okinawa in exchange for basing an army division in Hokkaido, the Japanese government would probably have jumped at the chance. With additional strategic airlift in Japan, an army division in Hokkaido could be deployed in the region far more swiftly than the marines based in Okinawa.

In Bosnia, the United States found that carriers and marines could not compensate for army divisions and air force tactical support. Ground troops proved essential for a lasting truce. Moreover, to claim that NATO air strikes brought the Serbs to the negotiating table is to overlook the part played by the 100,000 Croatian troops advancing into Serb-held territory.

The NATO Self-Defense Force commitment in Bosnia raises questions about the decision to cut army forces in Europe to less than a full corps with all its supporting elements. Keeping a significant force in Bosnia requires a rotation base in the United States at least twice as large. Both personnel and support units in Germany are still engaged in the Bosnian mission, degrading their readiness for other missions. U.S. ground and air forces in NATO also provide an important training partnership for European forces. NATO exercises maintain and steadily improve the standard procedures for combat operations, communications, logistics, and other technical areas essential for coalition warfare. The Gulf War could not have been fought so quickly or effectively as a coalition operation without decades of such multinational standardization in NATO. Future "out-of-area" NATO missions will become increasingly difficult unless the United States maintains a full army corps and supporting air force wings in Europe.

Most of the military missions that the United States now faces and has confronted for the past four or five years, as well as the ongoing ones in Europe, Japan, and Korea, depend primarily on ground forces backed up by airlift, sealift, tactical air power, logistics, communications, and intelligence. Haiti, Bosnia, NATO expansion, stability in Korea, keeping Iraq in check -- these are primarily army and air force missions. Yet the army has been reduced by about 40 percent, while the navy has been cut back far less and the marines hardly at all.

The threats that carrier battle groups and a large attack submarine fleet were built to confront no longer exist. With the demise of the Soviet navy, there is no significant naval fleet in the world other than the U.S. fleet. Nor could one emerge quickly. It would require a country like Japan, with its advanced industrial base, several decades to build a naval threat. The Russian navy will not regain more than a modest portion of its predecessor's potential any time soon.


Perry ends with advice on how to exploit technology, specifically for air dominance, precision strike forces, and battlespace awareness. While there are surely worthwhile gains to be realized in these three areas, what Perry does not say about exploiting technology is far more important. Carriers and amphibious forces are based on mid-twentieth-century technologies, heavily "product-improved" over the last four decades without overcoming their inherent limitations. In other words, more and more technology has been poured into these increasingly obsolete forces. Another $19 billion is to be spent on carriers and their air wings over the next ten years -- roughly the cost of two army heavy divisions. The navy should be cutting its fleet and operating budget so that it can invest in research and development for a new fleet appropriate to the demands and technologies of the 21st century. The absence of a significant naval threat gives it the opportunity to maintain a very small fleet for a decade or so. Instead, the navy stubbornly insists on entering the next century with a large fleet laden with expensive new technology of dubious value. It wants to put stealth fighters on carriers and it seeks to put theater missile defense systems at sea as a way to justify largely superfluous Aegis cruisers. The submarine fleet continues to receive new vessels when it is too large for any conceivable challenge it could face in the next several decades.

Perry and the air force deserve credit for deciding to cut the b-2 procurement. Unfortunately, forces in Congress reversed their decision, insisting on a far larger strategic bomber fleet than is necessary. The air force now has 84 b-1s, and its b-2 fleet is growing from 14 to 20. Strategic bombing in the Gulf War proved far less effective than the initial advertising suggested. The overwhelming majority -- 70-80 percent -- of Iraqi tanks were destroyed by army tanks and attack helicopters, not by strategic or tactical aircraft. The new money allocated for b-2s could be better spent expanding the air transport fleet of c-17s.

Perry is absolutely right in saying that the United States needs to maintain "air dominance," but it is also important to remember that the U.S. Air Force demonstrated that capability so overwhelmingly in the Gulf War that most countries see the futility of investing heavily in air forces if they intend to fly against the United States. No other air force can hope to stand up to it, so why buy an expensive air force and lose it in the first day of combat? The rational alternative is to invest in ballistic missiles if one wants to attack the rear areas of U.S. forces. Not surprisingly, there is a growing market demand for ballistic missiles in several parts of the world. In his February 1995 annual report to Congress, Perry noted that 15 countries have ballistic missiles, and 25 possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction. If new technology is important in any area for the U.S. military, it is in ballistic missile defenses.

In all three technology areas -- air dominance, precision strike, and battlespace awareness -- U.S. capabilities have long been superior. These technology areas, seen in the Gulf War as new and cutting edge, are relatively old, dating to the 1960s and 1970s. Much research and development spending has resulted in little improvement in capabilities except in communications. The greatest gains from precision strike investments demonstrated in the Gulf War were in the accuracy of m-1 tank guns and Apache attack helicopter weaponry. They killed the majority of the Iraqi ground forces, mostly with first-round hits. When compared with the cost of destroying ground forces with air force precision munitions and traditional bombs, the advantage tilts heavily in favor of m-1 tanks and Apache helicopters. The day of close air support against sophisticated opponents may have passed, but air force capabilities retain their value for the destruction of fixed targets, especially those deep inside enemy territory.

The major limits on exploiting long-available technologies are not inadequate research and development and procurement, but rigid and parochial organizational systems within and among the military services. This remains true in intelligence, logistics, joint operations, strategic airlift and sealift, and tactical military communications. As missions in Bosnia, Haiti, the Persian Gulf region, and elsewhere expand, the real challenge is to adapt existing high-technology forces to meet them rather than plan for a Third World conflict complete with a central front. Some central front capability must be maintained, but the greater challenge is to maximize the advantages of a high-tech m-1 tank, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and jet engine capabilities.

None of this is to naysay the importance of keeping up a strong research and development program. Rather, it is to say that the Pentagon's research and development strategy is aimed at defending the status quo force structure, and that technology that has long been available has yet to be fully exploited. Focus and common sense are needed to avoid squandering research and development funds on bureaucratically inspired programs like the Marine Corps' proposed amphibious assault vehicle or its v-22 Osprey helicopter. Navy and air force schemes for limited missile defense fall into the same category. So does the Sea Wolf submarine program. Meanwhile, the high-tech impressions given the public during the Gulf War were based mainly on laser-guided bombs developed during the Vietnam War, AWACS radar planes developed in the 1970s, and stealth aircraft that are only somewhat newer.

The truly revolutionary aspects of the Gulf War were the airlift and sealift capacities to move more tonnage to Saudi Arabia than was moved across the English Channel during the Normandy invasion. Moving nine ground divisions and supporting airpower halfway around the world in a few months truly marks a new threshold in demonstrated military power. Yet it could have been done in weeks had the Pentagon invested the cost of two or three carrier battle groups in airlift and sealift capabilities a decade earlier. Controlling thousands of aircraft in the air at the same time was also a revolutionary development, but the capability was not so new. The Global Positioning System for guiding ground forces was revolutionary too, but not as technology, rather as an organizational awakening in the army. Cruise missiles made their debut in combat, but they date back to the 1970s, and the question of how best to use them remains unresolved.


Without sharper regional focus and setting of priorities, the defense budget debate will leave much of the public and many members of Congress with no practical basis for judging one regional contingency against another. The Pentagon's planning device, the so-called major regional contingencies, pays almost no attention to the "prevent" and "deter" missions and encourages debate only about "defeat" missions that are far less probable. A more serious problem, however, is the force structure predicament that has already emerged. The heavy emphasis on carriers and amphibious forces has been financed by reducing ground and air forces. The emerging force structure may result in the incremental withdrawal of the United States military from key alliances in Europe and northeast Asia. The withdrawal is being thinly but effectively veiled by hoopla about "power from the sea" and new technologies for "precision strike" weapons, while existing technology is only marginally exploited and much of it is used by increasingly obsolete forces.

American retreat from forward ground force presence leads inexorably to disengagement and isolation. Whether the retreat is to the sea, the sky, space, or research and development laboratories is of little consequence to the rest of the world. The emerging force structure reflects strong coalitions of industry lobbies, local political interests, and inter-service rivalries. When the comfortable illusion of what the emerging force structure can actually do is stripped away, this is the reality.

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  • William E. Odom, Lieutenant General (Ret.), is Director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Yale University.
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