the future of war
homeexperts' analysesinterviewschronologydiscussion

interview: andrew f. krepinevich, jr.

He is executive director of the non-profit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and also served as a member of the National Defense Panel. The Panel was set up in 1997 by the Secretary of Defense to reevaluate changing military needs in the new post-Cold War environment.
There's no such thing as "free" transformation. What are the money and budget issues facing the army?

Both the senior Defense Department leadership and Congress have been cheerleading the army in terms of supporting transformation. But the fact of the matter is that they're not providing any additional funding to help fund transformation. General Shinseki has projected that transformation will cost the army somewhere on the order of $40 billion to $70 billion over the next 10 or 15 years to create these new kinds of forces and capabilities. The army, which is already short of money, has been told pretty much that this is a self-help program--"Don't look to us for help."

So under those circumstances, people are saying, "Okay, army, you're being put to the test now. How serious are you about transformation, if it's coming out of your own hide, and if it's not a free lunch? Where are you going to make the tough cuts to come up with this money?" The only two places where that kind of money can be found is by reducing the army force structure, or by cutting the army's Comanche program--its aircraft or helicopter modernization program.

So far, the army has refused to do both. On one hand, you could say it's refused to do both because the army is already over-committed in the near term. It has to maintain forces for the two-war posture and for peacekeeping. On the other hand, there's a whole political aspect to this. The army could engage right now in major cuts, either in force structure or in modernization, to free up that funding.

When the new administration comes into office and conducts its strategic review, what it will see is a navy and an air force and a Marine Corps that has severe budget problems. It will see an army whose budget problems are much less severe, because it's engineered these cuts. But it's engineered these cuts with an eye toward funding transformation. The great risk the army runs in that bureaucratic game is that it will be the only service at the budget table without a tin cup.

the biggest barrier to change or transformation within the army is not fiscal. I think it is intellectual. Consequently, the army will be the service that is denied any kind of budget relief that a new administration might offer. So in a kind of perverse sense, the army is actually disincentivized from making the kinds of cuts it will need to make in order to jumpstart transformation. Of course, this makes General Shinseki's problem all the more acute, because he's working on a four-year time clock to really get momentum going in this program. You can see there is the strategic issue. There is the operational and internal culture issue, and then there's the bureaucratic budget political issue.

And it also punishes General Shinseki for trying to do transformation, because the only place he can get it is out of his hide. . . .

Here you get to the issue of leadership at the top of the Defense Department. What is the army being incentivized to do? The army has talked about transformation. But the army has also been told that it is still on the line to provide us forces for two major theaters of war. You are not getting any relief in terms of your obligations to support peacekeeping. So in a sense, while transformation is important and advocated, at the end of the day, few people are willing to put their money where their mouth is in terms of that.

. . . And you can also see it on the Hill, in terms of Congress's request for the services to lay out their unfunded requirements. Each year over the last few years, we've seen that number go up and up and up. The services were engaged in unfunded requirements escalation, where no one again wants to appear to be less needy than anyone else. So this kind of reverse logic, which makes sense from a budgetary perspective, makes very little sense from a strategic perspective. And again, that's where leadership at the top is needed to break that kind of logjam.

Could you talk about the army in relation to the other services? . . .

The new administration that comes in following this fall's election will inevitably conduct a strategic review. And the army has got to be concerned with a defense program that's far too ambitious for the budgets that are projected. So the army may become the "piata" for the other military services, in terms of freeing up funding to support the defense program.

Put another way, one might expect after the operation in Kosovo that the air force would say, "Goodness, we never realized what a formidable peacekeeping role we could play." And of course, the navy says, "We were Johnny-on-the-spot. We were there very quickly. We're strategically relevant. The army was too slow." And the Marine Corps is whispering in someone's ear, "Goodness, those interim brigades that the army talks about making sound an awful lot like the U.S. Marine Corps. You've already got one of those, don't you?"

It's not a case of the other services being malicious. But they make the case that they have a relevant role to play--that they are strategically relevant. So the army, in a sense, has to convince people that it has either solved the Task Force Hawk problem, or is well on the way to solving that problem, lest it become the red-headed stepchild when the budget cuts come along.

So it faces an uphill battle in that sense? . . .

That's right. There is the sense that, again, the Balkan war proved that twenty-first century gunboat diplomacy can be conducted by the air force, and that perhaps boots on the ground is an old-fashioned notion. But again, there's a great trap of falling into believing that the last military operation you conducted reflects all future military operations.

Somebody suggested that the National Training Center might be a dinosaur. What's your assessment of what goes on out there, related to likely future conflicts?

. . . That is the center that really helped pave the way in the 100-hour war during Desert Storm. The question now is, are training centers like the National Training Center really oriented for the kinds of military operations that we're going to have to conduct over the next 10 to 20 years? ...

What did other militaries learn from Desert Storm?

Other militaries have taken note of the lessons of Desert Storm. They have enormous incentives not to fight that way in the future. . . . Essentially, you don't want to take on American army tank forces in the open. What you want to do is to deny them the ability to ever confront you to begin with. And you do that by holding at risk, driving up the costs, creating those ambush sites by targeting these major forward bases with missile forces. And that is the perhaps number one challenge for the American army in the twenty-first century. Not only getting there quickly, but getting there quickly in a way that is not the site of a repeat of Omaha Beach. You need a way that gets you there quickly and safely with the ability to generate combat power.

I was talking to an old retired colonel, an Eighty-Second guy, who was saying, "Well, we can already get there quickly." You don't agree with that?

Certainly the American military can project ground forces around the world more quickly than any other military. There is no contest. The question is, how do you do it? One question the army is addressing now is, can we do it quickly enough?

Task Force Hawk showed that the army couldn't get there quickly enough. But there's also the question of what kind of a price you want to pay. Certainly you can get a token force there quickly. But that force is going to be at high risk. If you want to get a force there that doesn't suffer enormous casualties going through major ports and airfields and one that has combat punch, then you're going to have to think about operating in very different ways. You have to think about different kinds of force structure, different kinds of doctrine, different kinds of equipment, different equipment mixes. What you're talking about is transforming the army.

You mentioned before that the army has to cut certain things. They haven't let go of Crusader totally, but they have cut back in the number and they've cut down its weight. But they are still talking about upgrades to M-1s--Wolverine, Grizzly--which are essentially part and parcel of M-1 technology. Is there just too much attachment to the legacy weapons?

Given the responsibility the army has to fight and win the nation's wars, certainly one thing you don't want to do is throw the baby out with the bath water in terms of transformation. You don't want to throw out what you know works until you have something new that you know works. And so it would be certainly reasonable for the army to maintain its heavy mechanized forces as a major hedge against its ability to transform to an effective fighting force. You don't want to just transform to anything for transformation's sake.

The question is how you balance out the resources for transformation with respect to maintaining the legacy forces. My sense is that the effort to enhance the capability of heavy mechanized forces is probably money spent on moving those forces a little bit further along the flat of the curve. In other words, I don't think we're going to make those forces terribly much more effective at destroying Republican Guard-like forces than they already are. And given the army's serious budget problems and the need to jumpstart transformation, I would put relatively greater priority on transforming the force than I would on digitizing, for example, the mechanized force.

What about the notion of skipping a generation? . . . There are Republicans suggesting skipping a generation. The Democrats say you can't do that because you'll endanger the force.

One of the most difficult issues in transformation is that you have to think about modernizing your force in a wholly different way than you do in an evolutionary kind of situation. . . . Before you decide what to buy, shouldn't you decide how you're going to go about solving the operational problems or exploiting the operational opportunities that you have at hand?

So, for example, to cancel Crusader, buy Comanche, do away with Wolverine and Grizzly--that's premature. The question that needs to be addressed is how are we going to deploy forces quickly in the absence of access to forward bases where we can't generate iron mountains of supplies to sustain them? How are we going to operate effectively in urban areas, both to seize and control urban terrain? How are we going to defend the American homeland against chemical and biological attack? How are we going to see deep and shoot deep?

Those military organizations, those armies that have transformed in the past, typically have undertaken a rigorous series of war games and field exercises with varying kinds of forces. For example, the Germans experimented with seven different kinds of field formations in the late 1930s, trying to get a handle on how they would restore mobility to the battlefield. And they ended up adapting about four of those formations. That's what the American army needs to do. The Germans, for example, originally started out with a Panzer division of 561 tanks. They found out that that would have been far too many tanks--that what they needed was a more balanced force of motorized engineers, motorized artillery, and so on. . . . It's impossible to say what equipment you'll need until you get a sense of how you're going to solve this problem or exploit this opportunity. . . .

What are the challenges facing the U.S. Army today?

The great challenge for the army today is to prepare for the very different kinds of emerging threats that we now see on the horizon. It also needs to exploit the opportunities that rapidly advancing technology, especially information-based technology, is giving the army. The army is going to face challenges in terms of its ability to project power. ...

So the near-term problem for the army is, how to solve the Task Force Hawk problem--how to get to that austere forward base more quickly. The longer-term problem that the army faces, though, is how to project power, how to move over great distances in the absence of access to forward bases. I think that is going to be the big challenge for the army in the twenty-first century. But when the army gets there, it's probably going to face an environment that's more urbanized.

With the urbanization of the Third World--urban sprawl and so on--the army will likely find itself engaged in more Groznys, Mogadishus, Belfasts, and Port au Princes in the future than rice paddies, mountains and deserts. And so it's going to have to learn to fight differently. Plus, its adversaries will want to fight in that kind of an environment. The urbanized environment is an environment where the value of technology is dumbed down, and where manpower requirements go up. This goes against the grain of the US military, which typically emphasizes technology and tries to minimize the risk to manpower and to the individual soldier.

Finally, in a sense, the army is going to come home again. The army is going to find that the American homeland is going to be increasingly at risk. And this is not only because of the proliferation of ballistic missiles and Cruise missiles to a number of nations. It's also due to the fact that this military revolution is going to empower small groups and individuals.

It's been said that if you have the know-how today to run a baby formula factory, you have the know-how to fabricate chemical weapons. If you have the know-how to run a microbrewery, you have the know-how to fabricate biotoxins. There are long open borders and an open society. That adds to the potential for disaffected groups, whether they be terrorists or perhaps agents of a foreign government hostile to the United States. The threat to the defense of the American homeland is going to grow. That's traditionally been an army mission.

What was the lesson that Task Force Hawk taught the army? And what was the lesson that it should have taught the army?

The army learned several lessons from Task Force Hawk. Perhaps the first one was the political lesson. More and more people in Congress, even people in the Pentagon, began to ask if the army is strategically relevant--can the army get to one of these unpredictable trouble spots in a hurry? To a certain extent, there's a political as well as a strategic need for the army to address the Task Force Hawk problem. But again, that is only a small part of the overall ability of the army to project power. In the future, what the army is going to confront is not just the need to move quickly to a distant trouble spot, but the ability to do it in the absence of access to large forward fixed bases. And the reason for this is that, increasingly, adversaries are going to take advantage of this military revolution to acquire technology that enables them to stare at these large fixed forward bases, say, from space. And with the combination of the proliferation of ballistic and Cruise missiles, they're going to target these bases.

One recalls the old western movies where the wagon train is trapped by the Indians. The cavalry is riding to the rescue. The quickest route is through the canyon, and of course the Indian scout says, "Don't go through the canyon. They know that's the quickest route. That's where you'll be ambushed." And of course the young lieutenant always takes his troop in, and gets ambushed. And sooner or later, John Wayne has to rescue them all.

In a sense, these fixed forward bases are the canyons of the twenty-first century. As long as we continue to project power that way, the enemy knows we has to pass through that choke point. The army must transform itself to be able to operate independent of these forward bases, to project power into a threatened region without having to funnel forces through them. Or else these kinds of bases could become the Omaha Beaches and the Anzios of the twenty-first century for the U.S. Army.

General Shinseki testified to Congress about this. He said that the biggest threat to us is being predictable, such as having an airfields where you must land your forces, or the one port you must come in through. Is there a gap between recognizing the problem and solving it, or incorporating it into what you do? Where is the problem?

The army confronts several problems. One is a resource problem. The army is already strapped in terms of its budget, so any new initiative has to come out of its hide. And there's no one right now willing to give the army the slack it needs, for example, in terms of maintaining forces for the two-war posture or in terms of its rotations of forces to various peacekeeping operations. So that's problem number one--getting the resources to do it.

Problem number two is that, to some extent, addressing these problems requires the cooperation of the other services. For example, if you're looking at avoiding putting your forces at risk by funneling them through hostile airbases or major ports, then you've got to talk to the air force about different kinds of airlifts. You've got to talk to the navy about different kinds of sealifts. Perhaps a sealift that can deploy forces over beaches, for example, as opposed to going through ports. And of course, these services are also strapped for resources right now. What that means is you need leadership from the top. You need someone--a senior defense official, the secretary of defense--to say, "Look. What I want you to do is place greater emphasis on preparing for these kinds of future challenges. And yes, I'm willing to take a little bit of risk in terms of our ability to wage two wars in the near term. I want to free up the funds that it's going to take to experiment with new kinds of equipment and new kinds of operations."

And perhaps, finally, the challenge the army faces is an internal challenge. What you're talking about here is an emphasis on different kinds of forces. Typically the forces or the dominant cultures within the army over the last 40 or 50 years have been the heavy mechanized forces, the armor, the mechanized infantry, and the tube artillery. And what you're saying here is, "You folks are not going to be unimportant. But you're going to be relatively less important as we conduct these kinds of operations."

And that's a tough thing to hear when you have a legacy of racing across Europe as Patton's Third Army, staring down the Soviets during the Cold War, and winning the smashing victory in Desert Storm. To somehow be told that, "Well, that was a fabulous job, but in the future you may be less relevant." That's some pretty bitter medicine to have to swallow.

How much will General Shinseki be able to achieve?

General Shinseki's term is limited to four years. And I think there's a strong belief on his part that somehow he has to lock down this transformation before he leaves, lest the forces that oppose change begin to reverse the work that he's done. Unfortunately, when you look historically at a transformation, a large-scale change in military organizations, it typically takes at least a decade, often more, to bring about this kind of change. So in a sense, Shinseki is caught between a rock and a hard spot. If he doesn't lock it down quickly enough, he risks his work being undone. If he focuses on the longer-term challenges, for example the challenge of deploying in the absence of forward bases, and keeps the process of transformation going, he runs the risk that his successor won't see the value of that kind of transformation.

How do you assess his chances?

Right now the, the army is focused overwhelmingly on resolving the Task Force Hawk problem. When you hear the army talk about the interim brigade formation, the phrase you keep hearing is, "We're going to deploy that brigade 96 hours after wheels up." To a certain extent, if you look at the growing risks to forward bases, that's almost akin to the army saying, "We're going to get to the twenty-first century ambush point more quickly." It's like Custer saying, "I want to get into the valley faster."

If you don't think through the long-term consequences of the near-term transformation, what you can end up with is essentially transforming yourself down a blind alley--ending up with a false or a dead end transformation. You could get a force in 2010 that solves the 1999 Kosovo problem very well. But that force isn't really prepared to deal with the challenges of 2010 and 2015.

. . . Will transformation only happen when war is on the horizon?

It's always difficult for a large successful organization like the U.S. Army to engineer a major change in the absence of "a confirming event"--a wartime situation that exhibits some sort of shortcoming or failure. But successful militaries have done it in the past. Look at the American navy and the rise of naval aviation in the 1920s and 1930s. Successful military organizations adapted and transformed from a battleship-centered navy to a carrier-centered navy. You can look at the German military around the same time. And again it points out the importance of the leadership having a clear vision and a clear understanding of what the new challenges are at the operational level or the campaign level of war.

The German head of their shadow general staff after World War I told his officers, "The last war was a war of position. The next war will be a war of movement. The last war was a long war of attrition. The next war will be a short war, a blitzkrieg kind of war. The last war was a war of mass armies. The next war will be decided by elite forces." That foresaw the Panzer forces or the tank forces that became part of the first air-land mechanized battle formation that was known as the blitzkrieg. So if you're looking at the American army today, you could ask, where is the corresponding vision that says, "This is what is today, and this is what will be tomorrow, and this is why tomorrow is going to be very different from today?"

The German army in the 1920s and 1930s essentially said, "Our operational problem is restoring mobility to the battlefield. We can't afford to fight a long trench war like we did in World War I." And they employed tanks, they employed aircraft, they employed wireless or radio to coordinate fast-paced, fast-moving operations--all to solve that operational problem. And as they began to build on that, they asked, "What do we do after we break through the lines and we're penetrating deep into the enemy rear, so he can reform his trench lines? How do we protect our flanks?" After experiments and exercises, it was determined that the German air force could provide flank security, and that the Germans would have to not only have mechanized tanks, but also motorized artillery that moved along with the armored formations to protect them.

So this is why a long period of experimentation is important. But more importantly, this is why it's important for the army leadership to communicate clearly and effectively--not just to the civilian leaders in the Pentagon, and not just to the people on the Hill and the people in the media--but to its own officer corps. "This is our vision, clearly stated. These are the operational challenges we want you to address. How do we project power in the absence of forward bases? How do we evict enemy forces from urban terrain? How do we control urban terrain in a peacekeeping operation? How do we develop formations that could do what no other army can do, which is to see deep and shoot deep? And how do we think about defending the American homeland when it's very politically incorrect to talk about doing that in the current environment in this country?"

Why is it a good idea to get rid of 2MTW?

The people who look at the 2MTW posture say we are over-investing in a very low-probability event. What we have here is a very low risk in the near term that a war will erupt in the Gulf and in Korea. Above that, if a war does erupt in the Gulf, we probably have too much war structure, because there is no version of the Republican Guard there today. It's a pale shadow of what it was in 1990. If you look at Korea, the problem is different. It's not likely that you're going to get those five army divisions into Korea in time to win quickly, decisively and antiseptically.

So, number one, you're over-insuring against the risks. Number two, you are buying the wrong kind of insurance. You've got too much insurance in the Gulf. You've got the wrong kind of insurance for Korea. And not only that, but the real danger, the big risk, is long term. What we're talking about here is power projection, whether you're talking about the Persian Gulf or Korea or someplace else in the future. And the longer you hang onto these forces that do power projection the Desert Storm way, the longer you give your adversaries to frustrate them on a power projection, specifically by going after base access in the future.

Begin to transform your force now. Take on some increased risk. Rearrange your insurance portfolio. If you don't do those things, you're going to defeat the purpose of strategy, which is to minimize the near term and the long-term risk. You're going to get to that future with a heritage Desert Storm force that would be great if only you could go back to 1990. And it's going to be less and less relevant as you get to 2010 and 2015.

You seem to be saying that we may have to fight two wars and that we do need to prepare for that possibility--but that there is an old way of preparing and doing it, and a forward-looking way of doing it.

It's not only that. . . . In Desert Storm, we used 7 percent of our munitions with precision-guided weapons. Right after that war, we started to increase our inventories of PGMs. Then, in Kosovo, even after the carpet bombing toward the end of the war, over 30 percent of the munitions used were precision guided. In Desert Fox, it was almost 100 percent precision guided.

So, in that respect, we were a much more effective force, even though the force structure was a bit smaller. . . . If there had been an issue when inspecting the Iraqi plants in 1994, we could have done that. . . . If there was a danger of war then, obviously one reason that the Iraqis backed down is that they understood that that the American giant wouldn't have to do a lot of heavy weapons to be a weakened version of what it had obliterated in 1991.

When you say we need to change the nature of the forces, you've used a boxing analogy.

The American army is perhaps almost certainly the only army in the world that has an opportunity over the next 20 years to develop formations that can see deep into the enemy rear area and strike deep. . . . You'd want to seize that kind of opportunity if need be. Imagine a fight between two boxers. The first phase is to be close in and destroy the enemy. You beat up the other guy in the clinches. Well, imagine a boxing match where you can blindfold the other guy, and you've got a reach advantage on him. Then fighting in the clinches would be the last thing you'd want to do. You could just stand back. He couldn't see you, and you'd just pop away because you have a reach advantage. That's the kind of opportunity I think the army has. And it already has some of the basic tools to begin to experiment with that kind of formation.

In terms of seeing deep, the army can tap into the assets of other services, and use satellites, for example. The army can borrow from the marine concept of hunter-warrior, using extended range and small patrols to fill in gaps in terms of the ability to see deep. The army can also use staff helicopters to develop that deep picture of the battlefield. Then the army can strike deep. And it can experiment with things it has on the shelf now. It has rocket artillery that can fire over 100 miles. It has attack helicopters. It can use surrogates for unmanned combat aerial vehicles--pilotless aircraft that can drop bombs. . . .

And if you can't get those five heavy divisions to Korea in a hurry, you could get a couple of these deep strike brigades into Korea. Wouldn't that be a marvelous thing to have to support the South Korean army? They could begin to break up these North Korean formations before ever getting to the point of closing with and destroying the enemy. So the army has the potential to seize an opportunity at the operational level. It would be a shame to see that opportunity pass, the way that some militaries failed to catch on to the value of armored formations and Panzer divisions during the 1920s and 1930s.

You said that all the military services have walked up to the abyss and looked down and seen what's required to remake the military, and then stepped back from the brink. What is scaring them?

This military revolution is presenting new kinds of challenges to the American military, and that's inducing a rather high level of discomfort. The service chiefs look at this issue of forward basing access . . . in their own war games. This would be the abyss. They see how difficult it is. They see how it challenges some of the dominant service cultures.

For example, the air force is engaged in modernizing its short-range tactical aircraft. These aircraft have to move through forward bases. They are chained to those forward bases; they are stuck in those canyons. For the air force to say, "We need to change. We need to think about other options in addition to this," is to challenge the dominant culture of the air force today, which is the fighter pilot culture.

The navy's new attack aircraft that are replacing the ones we're facing now actually have a shorter range, not longer range. "If we, the navy, want to help the army and the air force win the battle ashore, we're going to have to belly those carriers up to the coast, or at least as close as we can get. That gives us less warning time against anti-ship Cruise missiles or against a submarine attack." That's challenges the dominant culture of the navy.

It's similar for the army. "Perhaps we can't get those heavy mechanized forces in there quickly, and perhaps even if we can, we can't support them logistically the way we'd like to." Again, that challenges the dominant culture. . . . Perhaps in the future, the army forces will screen the deep strike assets. In fact, these formations will emphasize long-range aviation--rocket artillery as opposed to tube artillery, and light infantry in small formations, as opposed to mechanized infantry. Those are all difficult operational problems to deal with. But they are also difficult cultural problems for the services to deal with as well.

What are the dominant cultures in the army? . . .

The most dominant culture in the army is the one that emerged as a consequence of U.S. Army operations in World War II, with Patton's famous armored forces' dash across France and into Germany. The armored forces were the centerpiece of standing off the Soviets in Europe during the Cold War. And certainly the mechanized forces were so spectacularly successful in Desert Storm. Those forces are built around armor--mechanized infantry and tube artillery, as it's called. It's really the core culture along with an associated culture in the air force.

General Shinseki is experimenting with a thing called the Future Combat System (FCS). What's your opinion on . . . this effort to shift to the future?

The more military tools you put into military systems and capabilities you can put in the toolbox of those commanders out at Fort Lewis to help them address these future operational challenges, the better off the army will be.

However, there's a great danger in picking any particular tool too early and locking into that. It would be a danger for the army really to narrow down to a few systems prematurely, especially if the threat is still low. You can make a case that if there's an immediate danger on the horizon--then you need to scale up and flesh out these formations.

But look at again the example of other militaries. If you have a situation where technology is moving fast and where the future adversary is very ill defined, there's an enormous amount of uncertainty. When is that adversary going to go show up? Who is it going to be, and how are they going to fight?

It's hard to lock into particular systems without knowing answers to those questions, and so what you do is you buy yourself options. You try out different systems, different formations. They're all oriented still on solving this problem or these operational problems.

It's the same with technology. You may want a future combat system that does thus and thus. Will technology give that to you? How do you hedge against the fact that it may not? What kind of alternatives are there for accomplishing the mission? And again, can you diversify your research development test and evaluation strategy to where you give the commander significant numbers of prototypes, so that he can essentially fashion a toolbox that he needs to take with him on this particular mission?

There's been criticism . . . that you really can't get revolutionary change unless you change the division structure. So the proposal is floated to break the phalanx, to move to a much smaller unit. . . .

Brigade formations are something you want to experiment with. You don't know if they're the answer. Is that the optimum force for urban control with eviction? Is that the optimum force for deep strike operations? That answer can be much better determined after war gaming and experimentation. It's putting the cart before the horse to try and determine that now.

It seems critically important to experiment with a range of formations, and not restrict yourself to a particular kind of formation. If you look at the history of military revolutions over the last century or so, what you typically see is an explosion of technology enabling new forms of military operation, both for us and our adversaries. That technology gives you military systems or capabilities--new tools for the commander to create these opportunities, or problems. Doctrine helps inform how we can use these new tools to optimum effect. How can we integrate these new capabilities into existing capabilities, allowing us to boost our effectiveness on the right kinds of threats and challenges that we've identified?

Finally, there's the force structure issue. Can we restructure ourselves as a fighting organization to execute this doctrine, this new way of war in an optimal fashion? Really, what you see are four elements. Technology begetting systems. Systems, when they accumulate in significant numbers, allowing for new forms of conducting military operations that greatly increase effectiveness. But the process of doing that or the doctrine, is typically the intellectual breakthrough that's needed. And once that's identified, then how do you restructure the formations, what's the right mix of forces . . . that will allow us to do that?

For the army, a key part of the vision is coming to terms with just what it means by way of transformation, and force structures is one way to focus that kind of attention. In my discussions with army leaders, I've said, "Is your transformation a Panzer division transformation? Is it on the scale of blitzkrieg, where you see a new central field formation in the army that displaces the armored division? Or is it a kind of an air assault division innovation? Is it a major new field formation, like the air assault division has been for the army that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, but which doesn't displace the dominant form of military operations? Or is it some kind of an innovation or adaptation of existing formations that's on the periphery-- something that might be better termed innovation, as opposed to transformation?"

What answer do you get back?

The answer I get back is, "We don't quite know." . . . But if you don't have a vision of talking about a new formation that is, say, the centerpiece of ground warfare or the centerpiece of urban warfare, then it's very difficult to turn loose the enormous talent of the army officer and NCO corps to essentially realize that vision.

So you're saying that, ultimately, you're not convinced that there is a vision?

I certainly don't feel as though there is a clearly communicated vision. There's not a vision that lays out, in a simple direct fashion, a compelling case for transformation--a vision that says, "This is what is so different about land warfare tomorrow. This is why we need to take the world's most successful, most formidable army, and at great expense and great turmoil within the organization, transform that force to something else."

You say that ultimately, the biggest barrier to change isn't strategic, but intellectual.

The biggest barrier to change or transformation within the army is not fiscal. I think it is intellectual. To be sure, the army has resource problems; it has funding shortages. But the real challenge is in enunciating a vision that says, "This is where we need to go. This is why we need to transform. These are the consequences if we don't. There is a penalty that we will incur if we stay the way we are, if we stay on the course that we presently have set for ourselves."

There's an absence of that kind of intellectual or strategic breakthrough that says, "This is the future in which we have to operate. These are the challenges and opportunities we face in that future that are very different from today. This is a future that we're not moving towards right now. We're not on a path to get to this future and operate effectively as an army. So we need to transform. We need to set up on a different path that's going to require us to move resources. It's going to require us to create winners and losers, in terms of systems, in terms of force structure, in terms of army culture."

It's going to require a Herculean effort to bring our sister services on board. But if you don't have a clear, compelling, persuasive message, you cannot hope to persuade a secretary of defense. You cannot certainly hope to persuade other services, and you cannot hope to persuade the Congress that it ought to fund you to do this at the expense of other competing priorities.

What do you think of the readiness crisis?

There is no easy formula that one can use to say that the army is ready.

. . . Ready for what? Ready for big wars? Ready for little wars, ready for war in six months, ready for war in two years? So an important issue is how we define what we want to be ready for. Then there's the interrelationship of the services. You can have heavy divisions that are ready to deploy to a threatened area, but if there isn't enough airlift or sealift to get it there, is that true readiness? So it's a complex issue.

Certainly there is reason to be concerned in the army . . . over the issues of army recruitment and army retention. There's growing concern about the army's ability to retain talented young officers. The migration, as I understand it, is away from combat arms and into other supporting arms. There's growing dissatisfaction with the quality of life issues. These are things that speak somewhat to near-term readiness. But they portend problems for readiness over the long term. Readiness degrades gracefully up to a point, and then you reach a kind of snowball effect.

I was in the "hollow army." For example, in my unit, spare parts shortages led to frustration on the part of mechanics and maintenance people, who then left the service. They were replaced by less capable people who misused the existing spare parts we did have. So there was increased frustration on the part of other soldiers. And you get this compounding effect. The great danger the army faces now, as with the other services, is there's a sense that it's on the ragged edge. It's at the point where, if it's not careful, readiness may become more precipitous in terms of a decline. That gets you back to this issue of an unprecedented challenge for the American army. Never before has the American army had to support a US policy of being an active global power, and at the same time transform itself to a different kind of fighting force. These are uncharted waters.

Military revolutions typically bring about not only new forms of operation, but new kinds of military capabilities and a shift in the kinds of military systems that dominate the battlefield. . . . What strikes me as odd is that, to a certain extent, we are moving forward in some areas very aggressively to procure large numbers of systems. Those systems may be dominant today, but they may not be dominant at all tomorrow. In short, they may depreciate very rapidly in value.

A case in point is tactical aviation. Right now, the Defense Department is planning on spending several hundred billion dollars to modernize its short-range tactical air forces. This seems to be a case in extremes of putting the modernization cart before the strategy horse. It seems to me that one would at least want to have some idea of how one we're going to protect these kinds of forces from missile attack over time as they're deployed to fixed forward bases. If the price tag for protecting these kinds of systems also includes massive air and missile defense systems, then maybe there are better and cheaper ways of modernizing our strike forces.

In terms of the army, is the Crusader one of those things where you put a lot of money into something of questionable value for the future?

The Crusader is problematic for the army in several respects. It's quite a heavy system, so it's not easy to get to the scene of the crime very easily. But second, when it gets there, there's the issue that it is a single system. It's logistically very dependent and you have two vehicles there. . . . Committing to a large-scale modernization of army tube artillery with a Crusader system begs the question, "Can you tell me first how you plan to conduct your operations?"

How would you answer Fred Kagan when he says that we basically need to double our military budget and double the size of our forces?

Certainly you'd like to have more money. But in this case, more money would reinforce the tendency to buy what's already in the pipeline--to improve the Desert Storm force--as opposed to prepare for the transformation force.

The real game in terms of military effectiveness and military capability is much more to be had by orienting our forces more on preparing for future challenges, as opposed to giving them increased funding to work with.

John Hillen proposed . . . "Okay, 20 percent of the whole military budget is going to go through the secretary of defense's office. So we give it to you, but you only get it if we tell you how you can spend it." Is this what is necessary to steer in the direction you'd like to go, which is more forward than backward?

There's going to have to be a movement of money for transformation to work. You have to emphasize a new way of fighting, with a different systems mix within the forces. Transformation really involves a redefinition of what we want our military to do. And certainly there's very little reason for the world's number one military to transform itself, unless it thinks that the kinds of challenges it's going to face tomorrow are going to be very different from the ones it faces today.

So the first and key issue is, can you redefine the missions that you want the services to accomplish? Can you redefine the operational environment that they will have to conduct themselves in? Once you do that, then you set the new performance parameters. And that is something that the joint forces command was intended to do. . . . You begin to conduct those kinds of exercises. Pretty soon you see that certain forces are used more than others, that certain prototype systems are valued very highly. And those are the things you begin to use to begin to restructure your budgets, to move things around.

. . . You've got to force the services to compete on post-transformational challenges. And you're got to encourage the services to compete across services. You don't want to establish a service monopoly. The air force is responsible for deep attack, for example. You want any service involved in that mission to have a say, to have an opportunity to compete. Not only does it . . . enhance a particular military capability, but it also keeps the air force's toes close to the fire.

Because we've been so successful militarily, it's going to take an event to prompt change. . . .

Change never comes easy in large complex organizations, be they corporations or military organizations. Fortunately the American military has a pretty good reputation as being an innovative military. The principal challenges to transformation today are much more intellectual challenges than they are resources challenges.

I think, quite frankly, that the service chiefs see these emerging challenges on the horizon. Unfortunately there are a number of barriers that impede their ability to move aggressively in the direction of transformation. To some extent, they are victims of their success. To another extent, transformation involves challenging some internal dominant cultures. Also, they need top cover from the secretary of defense and perhaps even the president. Somebody has to go to the Congress and make a convincing case that these congressmen or these senators must act in interests other than those of their own constituents and areas.

Transformation often involves winners and losers across military services, especially in this case where technology has given each service the ability to operate so deeply into one another's traditional battle space. There is an appreciation for the need to transform. In a biblical reference, Moses knows where the promised land is. He also knows that to get there, he's probably going to have to take a very circuitous route. The question is, does he get there before adversaries do? In a sense, the adversaries present us with very different kinds of problems. They have the capability to do that in ways that begin to jeopardize our security interests, or in ways that force us to incur what we think today would be unacceptable costs.

So General Shinseki's problem is . . .

One clear problem for General Shinseki is that he feels he must not only jumpstart, but institutionalize transformation within his four-year tenure as army chief of staff. . . . In case after case, senior military leaders associated with transformation have had extended tenure. That makes sense. If transformation is a 10-15 year project, you can't give a man two or four years to take care of that job.

Is transformation going to consume large amounts of money?

Historically, transformation doesn't consume large portions of the defense budget. Look at the American navy of the 1920s and 1930s, which transitioned from the battleship and the battle line to carrier aviation. The navy buys six aircraft carriers out of a fleet of hundreds of ships. But it buys four different classes of carriers. It never buys a class that has more than two ships in it. It buys big carriers and small carriers, and it uses a prototype carrier. It's essentially hedging against uncertainty--where are things headed, and how will this help us solve the problem of moving the fleet across the Pacific to deal with Japan.

It also buys us an option so that after Pearl Harbor, after the battles of Coral Sea and Midway, the navy can scale up rather rapidly. It has an industrial base that knows how to build carriers. It has officers who know how to operate carrier task groups. It has trained pilots. It's bought an option on an uncertain future that has rapidly moving technology. It doesn't lock in any large numbers to any kind of carrier until the threat really begins to materialize in the late 1930s. So, buying options on different kinds of force structures needn't bust the army's budget. . . .

What major problem did the National Defense Panel try to solve? How successful was it?

The National Defense Panel essentially tried to do three main things. First it tried to lay out what it saw as the post-transformational problems the military had to solve. We talked about homeland defense, the basing problem and power projection, space control, about information warfare--these kinds of things. These are specific problems that the military had to address.

Secondly, in our conversations with Congress, they said, "You have to give us an actionable agenda. How will you deal with this modernization program that's before us?" And we said that we wouldn't rule anything out. "Don't take tools out of the commander's toolbox. . . . But don't pile so much of one kind of tool in the toolbox that that all you have is a very restricted number of capabilities to work with." There's an old saying at the Pentagon. "If all you have is a hammer, everything better look like a nail." But we may have other jobs to do than drive nails.

And the third thing was to say, "How do you get an answer to what kind of modernization program you should have? How you should distribute resources between the services?" That had to do with joint experimentation in joint operations that were oriented on the future challenges that we saw.

The means to solve these problems is experimentation. So we recommended the construction of a joint national training center--a joint urban warfare training center to give you a real urban environment. One with skyscrapers, subways, sewers--these sorts of situations to fight across a number of city blocks. It's fairly expensive, in the sense that they cost several billion dollars.

But those were the three things. These are the problems that you have to solve. Don't rush to buy systems until you've done experimentation. You'll get an answer, as long as the experimentation is focused on the challenges of tomorrow.

The National Defense Panel . . . and the Hart-Rudman Commission came out with findings. But any administration that comes in has the freedom to reject or accept those findings. How critical a juncture is the coming next six months?

This presidential election will offer perhaps the first true opportunity for a strategic review that we've had in the post-Cold War era. We had the bottom-up review in 1993, which pretty much set the course for the Clinton administration's defense posture and defense program. If you assume a two-term presidency, a 2001 review might be the only fundamental review you get between 1993 and 2009.

We have enough evidence now to know that the post-Cold War world is geopolitically very different from what we saw during the Cold War. And we know in terms of the trends in technology diffusion that the kinds of challenges we're going to face in the future are going to be quite a bit different. We've accumulated an understanding that we don't live in the world of Desert Storm any more. We have an opportunity here that you typically get when a new administration comes in. It's a chance to really make a course correction on where we're going. So the next six months . . . could be the best opportunity we have to jumpstart transformation.

And is it safe to say that . . . this could be the first real strategic transformation of this depth in 50 years? . . .

Some people are talking about the upcoming strategic review by a new administration as being the most fundamental review since the National Security Act of 1947. I think that's not likely for a couple of reasons. In 1947, we faced an immediate threat in the form of the Soviet Union. And we had just come out of a world war in which we learned an awful lot in terms of what worked militarily and what didn't. So you had the basis for a large-scale change. We don't have that in 2001. We're still relatively secure in the near term. There's no great public cry for new ways of conducting our national security affairs, or shaping our military. The incentive to spend political capital is relatively lower. The barriers to transformation are relatively higher. I suspect that it'll be a tougher job to engineer a large-scale change in 2001 than it was in 1947.

Where should we look for the leadership to make that change possible?

Ultimately . . . certainly in the form of a secretary of defense who can influence the military leaders who are in senior positions in the Defense Department. There is an opportunity to chose and select those people will fill those billets. There is top cover for the secretary of defense from the president, who is the commander in chief, and key leaders in Congress, who can come forward and speak eloquently on the part of military transformation.

If you're talking about tenure being a key aspect for the long haul, members of Congress who tend to stay in office for 10 or 20 years are certainly congressional leaders who can be an important element of the mix.

Are you skeptical or hopeful of the possibility?

I think there's reason for cautious optimism with respect to jumpstarting transformation following the inauguration of the new administration. A new administration will want to look for opportunities to strike out in a new direction. They won't be imprisoned by the decisions made over the previous eight years. To some extent, any administration--including the Clinton administration--has to confront that constraint.

Both candidates have said some encouraging things, such as increasing research development, testing and evaluation funding so that you can experiment more thoroughly with a wider range of systems. There's been a call to redirect 20 percent of our modernization funding. That means that money will flow out of certain kinds of systems, into the new systems. That could mean expanding the toolbox by which our commanders can experiment to identify how best to transform the force. So the glass is, perhaps, not quite half-full. But at least it's not empty.

home ·  experts' analyses ·  interviews ·  army chronology ·  quiz ·  discussion
gore & bush's military agenda ·  readings ·  synopsis
credits ·  tapes & transcripts ·  pbs online ·  frontline

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation



Solitary NationApril 22nd