- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Army officials believe they are in the cross hairs of Pentagon civilian policy-makers who want a smaller land force.
Officers say they fear Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's cancellation of the Crusader howitzer last month is only the first round in shrinking the Army to meet 21st-century threats.
The Army fought off bids by Mr. Rumsfeld's aides last year to eliminate two of 10 active divisions. Officers believe intensive counterattacks by the bureaucracy, plus September 11, have dashed the troop-cut plan temporarily. Osama bin Laden's attack on America put an invasion of terrorist-supporting Iraq on the front burner, thus increasing for now the value of heavily armed infantry troops.
But Mr. Rumsfeld's policy staff harbor a completely different long-term vision of the Army than do some of its senior generals, according to interviews with active and retired officers and congressional staffers.
"They have become convinced you can prevail with standoff and precision-guided weapons and the importance of the Army in major combat operations is much less than it's been in the past," said a senior Army officer who asked not to be named.
He and other officers contend that Mr. Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the Crusader artillery system is a sign that the Pentagon views such classic ground-warfare tools as increasingly obsolete. Army officers privately deride Rumsfeld's aides for being enamored of space assets, precision munitions and unmanned aerial fighters and bombers. They complain that the civilians lack an understanding that despite technological advances, the armed forces still need tanks, armored vehicles and close-in artillery such as the Crusader to take and hold territory.
The Army's transformation plan is to create six-wheeled combat brigades, protected by an advanced armored gun system. The brigades would become the building blocks for a lighter, faster Army.
But within the Pentagon, word is being passed that Mr. Rumsfeld's team eventually wants an active Army of eight or fewer light-infantry divisions. This vision is one reason the defense secretary has resisted calls from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to increase active strength beyond the current 1.4 million to cope with the current war on terrorism. Heavy-armor divisions would be relegated to the Army National Guard and Reserve kept on notice if a great land war is in the offing.
Under this scenario, the Crusader and the Army's future attack-scout helicopter, the Comanche, would be canceled.
Said a retired four-star Army general, "There is a growing feeling among retired military that this administration stabbed us in the back, that this 'help is on the way' is bull in terms of what they've delivered. The increased spending we're seeing in defense is really in national missile defense and space."
Officers continue to complain of Stephen Cambone, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy who forcefully makes Mr. Rumsfeld's arguments in closed-door Pentagon meetings.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush's slogan of "help is on the way" underscored a larger theme: The Clinton administration let combat readiness degrade by sending personnel on scores of overseas missions without increasing the defense budget.
But there was a second theme: transformation. Mr. Bush warned the military and defense industry that he planned to remake the armed forces to meet future threats, such as terrorism. He said the reforms likely would include canceling some big weapons systems to fund more promising technological advances.
The $11 billion Crusader is the first test case in this plan. Several lawmakers, including Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, oppose cancellation. Mr. Bush has vowed to veto the $380 billion 2003 defense bill if lawmakers keep $475 million in Crusader money in the budget.
Not all Army officers oppose a major overhaul. One officer said, "In the end, I think they're right. The Soviet Union is gone. We have to fight in new ways."
A senior defense staffer on Capitol Hill said, "As much as I like seeing Rumsfeld in trouble, they are right on this stuff."
Mr. Rumsfeld's move to lighten and quicken the Army may have played a role in his decision to select a replacement for Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, more than a year before the four-star general is scheduled to retire.
Several Army sources say the two do not always agree on the Army's future force structure.
"Shinseki has stood up for the Army," said the senior officer. "They are both talking transformation, but the transformation they see is dramatically different. Shinseki sees a transformed Army with a robust land operation. The secretary of defense's office sees a transformed Army that is much smaller and much cheaper, a supporting force as opposed to a supported force."
Some officers say the ongoing Afghanistan war may turn out to be the Army's worst enemy.
Soldiers performed at high levels. Army Green Berets and Delta Force warriors turned the tide of battle. Light infantry from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions played major roles in the victorious battle of Gardez in the Shah-e-Kot Valley in March.
But that's the point. If Afghanistan was any type of blueprint for future wars, it showed that heavy forces in the form of tanks and artillery were not used. The big players were Navy carriers, air power via precision-guided bombs, light infantry, special-operations forces, and satellites that located targets and relayed images and communications.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide