- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

The defense review team established by President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has an active role to play in shaping our national security structure for the 21st century. Without a doubt, there should be a seat at the table for academics and creative thinkers in this significant undertaking. But their role in the process should not replace active military leaders with experience who have an acute understanding of the impact change will have on military operations in the future. History has shown that when we preclude the warfighters' input, the result has been a disaster for national security.
Past administrations have relied on civilian think tanks to help shape the military for current and future conflicts and to challenge traditional service thinking on options for achieving security objectives. In an era of depreciated military readiness, it is essential to put strategy first by analyzing current and future military threats, utilizing both intelligence agencies and technology experts. Only then can you determine military systems, structure, training, and the budget necessary to address shortfalls.
Postwar periods are routinely followed by a decline in military resources and focus. After major conflicts, a dichotomy takes place. First, civilian leaders laud our forces, then drastically scale back our military assets as if no other conflict will ever emerge. The vision for structure, tactics, training and budgets is then placed in the hands of academics and other self-defined security "experts," resulting in loss of life, equipment and readiness.
Today we witness a military with worn and technologically outdated equipment, low retention rates and degraded capacity. The SU-27, an older Russian aircraft, kills our best fighters and planes 95 percent of the time in both the intercept and the dogfight. While the cash-poor Russians are pursuing the follow-on aircraft SU-35/37, 124 deployments and limited budgets have prevented U.S. modernization from outpacing our adversaries' developments or ensuring our future air superiority. Russian missiles are now better than our weaponry. Meanwhile, China threatens as the emerging military threat, while North Korea is joining the club of growing adversaries with the will and capability to deliver nuclear weapons. Given these challenges in a post Cold War world, the creation of a solely academic Pentagon defense review team brings a sense of deja vu.
I have spoken with the president and administration officials and have confidence that they are committed to doing the right thing for our military. But to accomplish that, they need to seek the guidance of our active military leaders who are armed with the latest intelligence information. They must be challenged to realistically prepare for not only current threats, but expected generational expanded enemy capabilities.
Unfortunately, service leaders recently acknowledged in congressional testimony that they have yet to be consulted on the defense review. The only recommendations that have been put forward to the secretary of defense and the president to date are those of defense intellectuals and retired military leaders. That is unacceptable. But there is a way to resolve that problem. The president should temporarily put aside the recommendations recently put forward by the defense review team. He should immediately call for the collective military view on our future strategy. Once that base is established, they can then overlay the input of academics and civilians never exposed to the realities of actual "Private Ryan" combat to determine the final vision. While this may entail a slight delay in the determination of our future strategy, the critical input is well worth the wait. History has shown that ignoring it could be far more costly. At stake is a whole generation of research and development, procurement of weapon systems, training, tactics, and national security.
As this process plays out, the administration must begin to deal with the military crisis left by its predecessor. We must attend to these issues now by acting on an emergency supplemental defense spending bill, ensuring a thorough defense review process that will guide us now and into the future.
I recently met with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and shared my concerns about the department's review. After an extended discussion about the process, I am confident that the president and the secretary recognize the legitimate role of the active military leadership in this effort. I am encouraged that senior military leaders have been engaged in the review, and am optimistic that the final product will benefit from their critical input.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican of California, is a member of the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations and the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

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