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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIEW FROM AMERICA: American Brass Loathe to Lose Expensive Toys




The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff are now winning their fall offensive to bust through established ceilings on defense spending. They are thoroughly prepared to say what they want but not what they are willing to give up. They will hang on to Cold War weapons, no matter what they cost, as long as their civilian bosses let them. But even with budget surpluses, the nation can't afford to continue this policy.


The reason the generals and admirals are able to make an impressive case for extra billions is that the president, secretary of state and secretary of defense have asked them to do too many things at once. The downsized force of 1.4 million men and women f it numbered 3.5 million at the height of the supposedly "little" Vietnam War f is supposed to stay ready to go into Kosovo, Yugoslavia, tomorrow morning. The services are to keep buying super-weapons designed to fight the no longer existent Warsaw Pact. The military is supposed to restructure itself for the radically different threats of the 21st century.


Many military leaders and civilian strategists agree that Desert Storm was the last hurrah for heavy tanks making Patton-like sweeps across the desert. They foresee the U.S. military in the 21st century being asked to enforce cease-fires, like the one in Bosnia, and to put down sudden and violent conflicts in other distant hot spots and combat terrorism. The Marine Corps is preparing to fight the "three block war" in foreign cities, training troops to control mobs and use weapons that incapacitate but do not kill.


All the service chiefs stress the need to get to the trouble spot in a hurry to maximize the opportunity to determine the outcome of the conflict. All agree that they need weapons and tactics to minimize casualties, partly for fear the American people would not support a bloody conflict.


Given this agreed-upon scenario for the 21st century threat, why do U.S. President Bill Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen continue to allow the Army to spend millions on the heavy, Cold War M-1 tank; the Navy to keep buying new $2 billion-a-copy nuclear attack submarines when there's a lot of life in the old ones and diesel subs could be bought from Germany for much less money; the Air Force to keep buying hundreds of F-22 fighters at $160 millionapiece when no potential enemy will be able to handle the planes we've already got for a decade or more?


Although their civilian bosses shrink from canceling Cold War weapons, which would cost jobs while saving money, a number of thoughtful military leaders have told me that there will not be enough money to fulfill the Clinton defense blueprint even with big increases in the top line. Either some super-weapons will have to be canceled, they warned, or the already downsized services will have to be shrunk by thousands more people.


Instead of canceling some super-weapons designed for the last war, the military's civilian bosses are trying to make a quick fix by throwing money at the problems. What's needed instead is a realistic, affordable game plan for readying the armed forces for the 21st century and sustained funding to carry it out.


Defense writer George Wilson contributed this comment to The Washington Post.