- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

The Navy has won an early skirmish in a debate the Pentagon referees every time it reshapes the military: Do we still need 97,000-ton aircraft carriers patrolling the seas?
Two Pentagon sources said large-deck carriers originally took a hit in a current defense review ordered by President Bush and being shepherded by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
A draft briefing from a Pentagon panel on strategy — one of more than a dozen at work on a "top-to-bottom" review — contained language that appeared to single out carriers as vulnerable to attack, although no specific weapon was mentioned.
But after the first draft was shown to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the worldwide commanders, some protested and the language was struck. "The feeling was it was not appropriate for a document that discusses strategy," said one Pentagon official.
The anecdote is one example of the bobbing and weaving going on inside the Defense Department as, one by one, the study panels named by Mr. Rumsfeld are turning in their recommendations. They are leaving it to him and the Joint Chiefs to make the kind of daring decisions needed to transform a Cold War force into one able to confront a myriad of future threats from cyberspace, terrorists, rogue states and, perhaps, China.
Pentagon sources said a report from the strategy panel, led by Pentagon futurist Andrew Marshall, is being edited for at least a fourth time by Mr. Rumsfelds staff. At this point, the report does not endorse any particular weapon system. Nor does it address a central question: Should the United States stick with the Clinton administrations overarching requirement for the military of fighting two major regional conflicts at once?
Such a goal is called a "force sizer" since it dictates the number of divisions, ships and air wings. Sources said that eventually the strategy document will have to address whether to ditch the two-war scenario.
"It is walking itself more toward a strategy" during the rewrites, said one Pentagon official.
Sources said the document calls for shifting U.S. military emphasis from Europe to the Pacific. The principal concern is communist China. The Peoples Republic is on a campaign to modernize its military and steal U.S. technology through espionage and exploiting Chinese nationals in this country, according to congressional reports.
The sources also say the Pentagon may adopt an approach to arms buying that stresses a weapons capability over fielding large numbers. And they expect Mr. Rumsfeld to approve stepped-up financing of accurate cruise missiles able to travel thousands of miles and of umanned radar-evading combat aircraft.
The weapons would be new ways to destroy what the Pentagon calls "anti-access" weapons such as anti-ship cruise missiles, ground-based anti-aircraft missiles and short-range ballistic missiles that threaten land troops.
While Pentagon officials eye Mr. Marshalls thinking closely, they say the most important study group is the one called "transformation." It is this group of retired senior officers and outside analysts that is recommending which new weapons to keep and which to cancel, the officials said. Sources said the panel recently completed its report.
Pentagon officials praised the panel as the only study group that allowed all the branches to send representatives to give extensive presentations. But it has also been the most secretive. Little of its thinking has leaked to the Joint Chiefs.
The panel is stocked with solid war planners, men who saw combat up close and who are not known for radical thinking. The group was led by retired Air Force Gen. James McCarthy and included retired Adm. Stan Arthur, the top naval commander in the Persian Gulf war, and retired Gen. Carl Mundy, former Marine Corps commandant.
Mr. Bush has said the Pentagon has a window of opportunity to redefine how wars are fought by leap-frogging current technology to a next generation of weapons. On its face, the Bush vision is a mandate to cancel such highly prized systems as the Air Forces F-22 stealth fighter and big-deck Navy carriers.
But the Air Force has been waging a strong campaign inside the building to convince the transformation panel, and Mr. Rumsfeld, that buying a planned 339 F-22s for $62 billion will be the technology leap Mr. Bush wants.
"The F-22 has already skipped a generation," said one official, quoting the Air Force sales pitch.
The Air Force advocates paying for new weapons by cutting troop strength, a slap at the Army, which wants more soldiers to handle far-flung peacekeeping missions. The Air Force is also touting the B-2 and B-1B bombers as capable of hitting targets at long distances, a thump at the Navy, which bills carriers as the power projector overseas.
Mr. Marshall, who directs the departments Office of Net Assessment, is skeptical of the survivability of large-deck carriers in future wars.
This initially alarmed Navy aviators who feared the loss of the storied naval carrier battle group. But those who support carriers seem more confident today. Mr. Marshalls latest draft does not mention carriers. And Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, issued a statement earlier saying Congress would make the final decision. Nimitz-class carriers are constructed by Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
Said a Navy officer at the Pentagon: "We are not going to lose big-deck carriers."
Cynthia Brown, president of the American Shipbuilding Association, said large carriers have been studied numerous times and always come out the winner.
"I dont think anybody believes the future of carriers is in doubt because the technical analysis favors large-deck carriers," she said. "In a crisis, the first thing any president asks is, where is the nearest aircraft carrier."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide