- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005


By Michael E. O’Hanlon

Brookings, $18.95, 150 pages, paper

Michael E. O’Hanlon has written a book that is almost sure to offend all of the armed services with the possible exception of the Coast Guard. His overview of the changes that should be made to adjust to a post-Saddam world is at odds with the programs the services most favor. This is good for Mr. O’Hanlon. He works for a think tank, the Brookings Institution, and think tank books should be provocative. Those familiar with his writing will not be surprised at his findings.

In the process of laying out the programmatic changes needed for the first part of this century, he advocates a radical cutback or slow down in the production of each of the services’ favored programs. The Navy DDX destroyer, the Army Future Combat System, the Marine Corps V-22 tilt rotor aircraft and the Air Force F-22 fighter all come under his scrutinizing eye.

In the case of the F-22, Mr. O’Hanlon has no major problems with the system or its current state of development. However, he does question whether the existing threat warrants production in the numbers requested. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps programs are questioned on the grounds of whether their technologies are mature enough for full-scale production. The services obviously do not get a chance for counterargument in the book, but they will no doubt have action officers prepare post-publication comments.

The author does not limit his ideas to programmatic issues. His most forceful argument is for a substantial increase in the size of the nation’s ground forces; by this we mean the Army and the Marine Corps. The problem is that in a time of war when recruiting is difficult, the services are having a hard time making their regular accession quotas, much less expand the force.

Mr. O’Hanlon wisely counsels against a return to the draft for some stated good reasons. Unfortunately, he does not offer a viable alternative. In the Marine Corps we use to call this a “poop on the table” argument (although we used another word than poop). In other words, you throw something unpleasant on the table and walk away, letting someone else deal with it. It would have been more helpful if he had suggested other options.

One idea that has been floating around lately has been to make a concerted effort to recruit new immigrants or even from a screened pool of people awaiting immigration visas. The inducement here would be a fast track to early entry for the immigrant hopefuls or a citizenship fast track for recent immigrants and their families for those who serve an honorable hitch.

Mr. O’Hanlon also makes some prognostications regarding future conflict scenarios. I generally agree with most of them, but I can’t agree with his rather optimistic prediction that a mainland Chinese assault on Taiwan is improbable. From a standpoint of pure numbers of amphibious ships, such an amphibious blitzkrieg does appear unlikely. However, we should remember that Adolf Hitler overran France with fewer tanks and planes than the Allies had, and with tanks of inferior quality. They did it with innovative planning and by taking advantage of the mental and physical lack of proper preparation in the realm of defense on the part of the French. There is a strong minority opinion in defense circles that the recently lax Taiwanese attitude toward national defense and defense spending might actually be encouraging the Communists to their north toward a cross channel adventure.

There is a line of thinking among some defense experts that by shuttling their amphibious ships and making skillful and innovative use of platforms not meant for military use — such as barges, ferry boats and by deliberately grounding older ships — the Communist Chinese could launch a powerful enough force to create a Taiwanese collapse before the United States could intervene. Two decades of neglect in amphibious shipbuilding by our Navy could result in a fait accompli. Many of the same Taiwanese who argue loudest for independence squeal the loudest when a move is made to raise defense appropriations.

It remains to be seen whether the mainland Chinese could muster the command and control an innovative mindset to accomplish this task, but many defense experts said the same thing about Turkey before it launched an amphibious blitz against Cyprus in the 1970s across a much more formidable body of water. Whether the reader agrees with the author’s points, he has set out to provoke a debate. In this, I believe he will largely succeed.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who teaches a course on the revolution in military affairs at George Washington University.

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