- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2001

An emerging blueprint for future U.S. military strategy will call on the armed forces to field more unmanned aircraft and longer-range cruise missiles to perform pilot-warplane missions, according to Pentagon officials and outside advisers.

These sources said President Bush's "top-to-bottom" review will call on "unmanned combat air vehicles" (UCAV) to drop ordnance that destroys early warning radar and anti-aircraft weapons. Cruise missiles capable of traveling thousands, instead of hundreds, of miles would be used against command and communication installations.

The strategy's major impact would be to decrease reliance on manned fighter-bombers, paving the way for potential cuts in two major programs under review: the tri-service Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the Air Force's F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

Defense sources said development of futuristic UCAVs and longer-range missiles are two clear themes emerging from a 6-week-old Pentagon review. The extensive, secretive exercise is challenging long-held defense thinking, such as the need for large Army divisions and Navy battle groups built around huge aircraft carriers. The review may produce the most revolutionary strategy for the 1.37 million armed forces since the Cold War ended more than a decade ago.

There are at least 10 study panels at work in newly carved-out Pentagon office space. Their membership, for the most part, is composed of outside civilian analysts and retired officers, some known for unconventional thinking. Absent are current senior military officers, whose role is limited to making presentations to the various groups. Panel members will then write final recommendations to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Defense sources say Mr. Rumsfeld wants to avoid the mistakes made in the last major review, the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Then, parochial service desires dominated the review. The Defense Department produced a status-quo strategy and force structure that critics say kept Congress and the defense industry happy, but failed to address new threats facing America in the next 10 to 20 years.

"Clearly, Rumsfeld is determined to conduct this review from the outside in," said a senior congressional defense aide. "Rumsfeld's own knowledge of the Pentagon has convinced him that the fix was in in 1997 so he's resorted to a very small coterie of internal advisers and outside panels."

Mr. Bush's desire for a comprehensive review of the military has led to a resurrection, of sorts, for one of the Pentagon's oldest policy makers 79-year-old Andrew Marshall.

Mr. Marshall, who directs the Pentagon's futuristic Office of Net Assessment, has spent much of the past 50 years spouting unconventional ideas on how the military should plan for war. Repeatedly, generals and admirals have shunned any of his insights.

After a long career of proposing change, much of it done in secret reports, Mr. Marshall finally finds himself in the driver's seat.

By luck, an old Marshall admirer, Mr. Rumsfeld, was tapped by Mr. Bush to lead the Defense Department. Mr. Rumsfeld had liked Mr. Marshall's ideas during his first, brief stint as defense secretary under President Ford more than 25 years ago.

When he returned to the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld quickly installed Mr. Marshall as lead agent for the "top-to-bottom" review's all-important strategy study group. The post is key because Mr. Bush has stated frequently that his defense budgets will be driven by the emerging military strategy, not the other way around. This means Mr. Marshall's ideas carry the potential to shape how the armed forces will be structured, what weapons are bought and where they deploy overseas.

And that is what is making the Joint Chiefs of Staff nervous.

Mr. Marshall questions the Navy's need for new, huge carriers, arguing they are too vulnerable to foreign arsenals of anti-ship cruise missiles. He also questions the Air Force's need to buy 339 F-22s costing $62 billion.

Ex-Navy carrier pilots have detected the latest bureaucratic attacks on their beloved flattops and are starting to counterattack.

To retired Rear Adm. Jeremy Taylor, a career strike pilot, the debate reminds him of his last years in the Pentagon. The year was 1990. The Cold War had just ended. The department was shrinking the armed forces. And the Air Force was waging a frontal assault on the necessity of large aircraft carriers, arguing a fleet of B-2 stealth bombers could unleash the ordnance of two such ships.

But when the infighting ended, the Navy surfaced victorious.

"The Air Force got 20 B-2s, and we still have our large carriers," said the former two-star admiral, who served as the Navy's director for aviation plans and requirements.

"Anybody who thinks the small carrier is comparable to a large carrier has to have their heads in the sand," Adm. Taylor said. "The fact of the matter is we've been down this road and made this argument a million times. This Mr. Marshall in the Pentagon, along with Rumsfeld and President Bush, are being poorly advised and are going down the wrong road."

"The Marshall crowd has always preached 'little' carriers to avoid missile attack," Adm. Taylor added. "My question is, what missile attack? When did one get hit? Who is going to target it? It's a moving platform. It has layers of defenses all around it. This is not a sitting duck. It is a fortress."

"When you invest in a platform that can give you the versatility, the mobility and flexibility to participate across the spectrum of warfare you'd be foolish to get rid of it. The reason carriers continue to be built is this argument wins every time. The problem isn't our enemies. It is our friends who propose to change what works with something they're not sure will work," he said.

However, if the Joint Chiefs have complaints about the possible revolutionary nature of the "top-to-bottom" review, they can blame the commander in chief himself. In fact, Mr. Bush while a presidential candidate was remarkably frank about his intentions in a 1999 speech announcing his plans for serious and sweeping defense reform.

"I intend to force new thinking and hard choices," Mr. Bush said then. He sent a warning to the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps by saying, "When our comprehensive review is complete, I will expect the military's budget priorities to match our strategic vision not the particular visions of the services, but a joint vision for change."

In particular, he highlighted a few major weapon systems: stealth ships able to fire missiles "great distances," unmanned aircraft and long-range bombers. He did not mention Navy carriers as being central to the military's new strategy for the 21st century.

The fact that Mr. Rumsfeld has stocked his defense study groups with some unorthodox thinkers does not mean the death of carriers or big cuts in jet fighter production. The defense secretary must first approve such recommendations, at which point the service chiefs will have their chance to change his mind. And even if Mr. Bush goes along, carriers and new jet fighters enjoy significant constituencies in Congress, which the Constitution grants broad powers in overseeing the armed forces.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, already has sent the White House a warning he will oppose a shift from giant carriers to smaller platforms. His state is home to Newport News Shipbuilding Inc., which builds the current Nimitz-class super carriers.

"Carriers have been, are and will be for the foreseeable future an absolute essential part of our deterrence force, and, if required, our offensive first-strike force," Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Bush has proposed a relatively lean $310 billion defense budget for fiscal 2002. Defense sources say he will augment that number in late spring based on early study group recommendations. The sources expect these proposals to center on improving quality of life in the armed forces and setting new parameters for a national missile defense system.

Big programmatic changes, such as whether to eliminate major weapon systems and redesign Navy ships, will likely wait for the 2003 budget presented to Congress in February.

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