- The Washington Times - Friday, August 23, 2002

Military transformation, like war itself, is too important to be left to generals. That President Bush summoned high-level civilian and military officials to his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Aug. 21 to discuss military transformation rather than the crisis du jour shows that its importance reaches beyond the technical concerns of the Pentagon.

Military transformation is shorthand for an emerging series of changes in technology, strategy and society; some going back decades, others accelerated due to the microchip revolution. The victories in Kosovo and Afghanistan demonstrate that these changes if implemented by required investments in research, procurement and training have revolutionary potential. Precision firepower offers the attraction of low-casualty, low-political cost war-fighting. However, the transformed world can also look much like the old one: Ask the infantry that today occupy hills in Afghanistan or man checkpoints in Kosovo.

There is no more important question a country must ask itself than what is the nature of future war, for the answer will provide guidance to national strategy and shape the armed forces. Investing in the ability to carry out the type of military operations that transformation makes possible does not remove the need to carry out "legacy" military operations: dangerous, costly, painful.

Getting transformation wrong through investments, training, even unrealistic expectations will be costly in money, in battles lost and people dead. Experts always seemingly reactionary are aware of both the reasons behind the status quo and of the full set of costs that change entails as well as its potential benefits. Change that looks good in the newspapers has often proved useless on the battlefield.

The United States has gotten military transformation wrong before. The Eisenhower administration "new look" of the late 1950s stressed nuclear capabilities. It limited investment in conventional war-fighting. It was cheaper (and then strategically reasonable) to assume there would never be another major conflict without nuclear weapons; the ability to deter a nuclear-armed strategic opponent would include the ability to prevail in a hard-fought conventional military-political conflict. The damage to U.S. conventional war-fighting capability caused by this transformation investment in forces, doctrine and training went to nuclear operations was not repaired by the opening battles of the Vietnam War and, in many cases, not by its conclusion. The transformation to nuclear primacy may have been relatively short-lived, but the decisions made to implement it popular with administration, the press and even much of the military at the time had a high, unforeseen cost.

Military transformation is not simply about the military. Its implementation also will require changes in management, oversight and funding by the Defense Department and Congress alike. Congressional oversight will be more important to future military effectiveness; but needs to shift its focus to ensuring that what is guiding military transformation is a realistic appraisal of strategic needs and requirements rather than representing political compromises between the preferences of services and Pentagon bureaucracies. It will be difficult for Congress to do this it is easier to point to the back-home benefits of major systems procurements and unneeded bases kept open but otherwise they will provide more obstruction than oversight to transformation.

Congress and the Pentagon need to think in terms of developing and funding joint multi-system war-fighting capabilities, not specific systems (even those being built in key congressional districts). The links between different systems, sensors and weapons, and the battle management that will make them all work together can no longer be an afterthought with a low-priority for funding, even though they make a poor photo-op when delivered. Transformation means not only funding the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems that are the eyes for more lethal weapons, but also creating a capability to fuse and analyze what is seen and heard by them and getting this information to those that need it. If we are to fight smarter, we need smarter management and smarter oversight as well.

Congress, the Pentagon and the services will have to change as well, not simply assert their continued importance to the process. If the president has carried these lessons away from his meeting at Crawford, transformation will become more than a buzz-word illustrated by viewgraphs of whatever services and contractors alike are lusting to build but a principle to guide needed changes in the U.S. military.


David Isby is a Washington-based national security consultant and author.

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