- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

The Army is losing support for its far-reaching transformation plan from the people it needs most the generals.

An increasing number of the top officers are privately expressing disenchantment with the cost of developing a lighter, wheeled Army designed to reach trouble spots in days, not months, say service officers, congressional aides and retired soldiers.

One aide who recently talked with a group of generals said he was stunned at the unanimity of opposition. "No one likes it," said this source, who declined to reveal the generals' names.

The chief complaint: The Army is cutting billions of dollars from existing programs, and losing war-fighting capability, to bankroll the $74 billion transformation announced last October. Even with the cuts, the generals complain, there is no assurance the Army will generate enough money to cover the $20 billion cost of modernizing the existing force, much less build a new one for $74 billion over 10 years.

So far, it has found $27 billion in savings, leaving it $47 billion short. The Defense Department allocated no new money, leaving it to Congress and Gen. Eric Shinseki, the service chief of staff, to find the cash. The Army needs an extra $2 billion from Congress in fiscal 2001, but so far has not convinced any of its four military committees to cough up that much.

"There is a huge lack of clarity on what the transformation is supposed to do," said a retired general, who asked not to be named. "There is a great concern we are mortgaging near-term readiness chasing something that is unattainable. I don't think there is any way by 2010 you can create a [light tank] that weighs 20 tons that has the same lethality of existing combat systems on the field."

He added, "The generals say all we are doing is eating our tail to pay for something that may or may not come in the future."

Congressional defense aides are giving Gen. Shinseki high marks for starting the process of turning an overloaded Cold War army into a more flexible one able to respond to today's new security threats: small wars and peace enforcement. But they, too, question the amount of today's firepower being sacrificed for tomorrow's vision. Gen. Shinseki is adamant in refusing to shrink his roster of 480,000 soldiers to pay the bill, even though some Pentagon civilians have pushed for a two-division reduction.

In fact, Gen. Shinseki wants his 10 active combat divisions and two regiments manned at 100 percent by year's end. The service is already stretched thin in trying to keep up with increased deployments in the Balkans and Persian Gulf. But some inside the Army ask why not give up manpower since the service cannot meet recruiting goals anyway.

Said an officer at the Pentagon: "If you don't support the transformation without question, you're perceived as not being on the team. No general officer will dare to challenge the resources required to move the program forward."

He added that the generals, though disenchanted, are carrying out the plan.

Another retired Army general said of his former colleagues: "They all have reservations. They don't know how they're going to do it."

This source said that Gen. Shinseki, during oral examination by senior civilians before becoming chief, was ordered to make his 10-division force lighter, but received no promise of extra funds.

"I think he walked out of the room without nailing down the resources," said this retired officer. "The Pentagon is not a war-fighting organization. It's a political organization. Unless you're skilled in the wars of the Pentagon and how evil the place is, you get hooked."

He said the generals harbor a number of reservations about the plan. They are afraid, for example, the lack of money to keep up the existing force will leave them with an "aging Army" if a war erupts before the transformed one is fielded.

They also don't like the idea of lightening up all six of the Army's heaviest divisions, perhaps leaving too flimsy an army to fight a great land war in Korea or against a resurgent Russia.

"I don't want to be stuck with wheeled vehicles and light armor tracked vehicles and slug it out with these guys," the retired general said.

He said that Clinton-appointed civilians have become so enamored with air power they are not interested in hearing Army concerns.

This source's solution: create a rapid-response unit of three brigades. Then put off further metamorphosis until the Army is sure technological advances can produce the plans' centerpiece: a lighter, but highly lethal, tank.

"The Army needs to … do a little bit of this, declare victory and get out of this game," he said.

One event driving the transformation is the Task Force Hawk debacle. During the NATO bombing of Serbia, the Army was unable to quickly deploy Apache attack helicopters to Albania, on the Kosovo border, for possible action against Serbian tanks. Army officials blamed the lack of tarmac space in Albania, slowing the delivering of the Apache's bulky "logistics tail." Now, planners wonder if it took this relatively small unit weeks to set up, how long would it have taken a 100,000-troop invasion force to deploy.

The Army decided the answer to that nightmarish scenario is to reinvent itself into a mix of light, medium and heavy forces. The service is now assembling two demonstration brigades at Fort Lewis, Wash. The goal is to field three to five "interim" brigades, with new medium assault vehicles, by 2003. Meanwhile, weapons designers are designing a 20-ton "future combat system" to replace the M-1A1 Abrams tank by 2010.

To meet the timetable, the service is sacrificing at least 10 weapon systems for needed savings. For example, the Army is canceling the next generation of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, a cut that could make the shoulder-fired weapons scarce in time of war.

The Army also plans to terminate the Grizzly mine-clearing vehicle and the Wolverine heavy assault bridge.

"There are no substitutes for the Grizzly and Wolverine vehicles, programs which are being killed purely for economic reasons," states a confidential congressional paper circulated to key lawmakers on the Hill. "The Wolverine kill," it said, is "especially" problematic.

Despite private criticism from his generals, Gen. Shinseki is generally applauded on Capitol Hill.

"The committee commends the chief of staff for the actions he has taken to begin to transform the Army to a force more relevant to the diverse defense challenges of the new millennium," said a Senate Armed Services Committee report on next year's budget.

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