The House Appropriations Committee awarded the army transformation a billion
dollars. But at the same time, they kept the new air force fighter program,
the F-22, alive. Do you think that it was a good idea to continue funding the
A former Army Lt. Colonel and author of several books on the military, he
initially was a skeptic of General Shinseki's efforts to change the Army. He
is the author of Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?
At present, the F-22 is far and away the most wasteful system we're funding.
It is a legacy system. If you look at the things we're doing, like Kosovo for
instance, the F-22 would have made zero contribution. It wouldn't have
improved our effort in any regard. It's essentially meant to be used in
dogfights, and nobody is coming up to dogfight us. No air force is preparing
for that. The airframes we already have, such as the F-15 and the F-14, are
vastly superior to anything out there that's being built or has been built.
The F-22 is a shameful, disgraceful boondoggle and it revolts me.
The army traditionally claims less for itself than the other services. But
is the army hanging onto legacy systems that it shouldn't keep?
Oh yes, indeed. Now, I do see the army at present as underfunded. But that
being said, the army, because of institutional inertia and horse-trading within
the organization, is still buying the Crusader, the heavy howitzer system.
They are supposedly going to reduce its weight from 100 tons for the pair of
vehicles down to perhaps 70-odd tons. That's still vastly too heavy.
At the end of the day, we're paying the penalty for the excesses of the Cold
War. During the Cold War, the army was faced with fighting the Soviet hordes
in Europe. The equipment was pre-positioned. The army didn't have to worry
about weight when shipping the stuff over there. It was in climatized
warehouses in Germany. The army didn't have to worry about fuel. There was
plenty in western Europe. The army didn't have to worry about weight on
bridges and roads. West Germany and western Europe in general had a
tremendously sound road network. The troops would just theoretically fly in
across the Atlantic, fall in on the equipment, and roll out to fight.
Well we still have that mentality. But the army has to be able to get there.
Today, we need expeditionary forces in all of the services, and the army is
belatedly waking up to that. But no matter how theoretically effective it may
be, an army that cannot get to the war or conflict is useless to the American
Talk about Task Force Hawk, the army Apache helicopter mission in
Task Force Hawk has certainly been bisected and dissected endlessly. But the
basic lesson is the army could not get even helicopters to the conflict zone in
time. There were some factors that usually aren't discussed. The Italians
didn't want us coming through Italian territory and basing out of there. There
were problems on the ground with the French in Pristina, in Albania. But all
that said, we found that the army's attack helicopters, the premiere weapons
system, couldn't get there, couldn't be sustained, and couldn't protect itself
and, oh, by the way, the aviators weren't properly trained for that kind of
fight. It was a sad day for the army.
Andy Krepinevich from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
says that the medium force is, for the most part, a short- term response--that
they'll solve the Task Force Hawk problem, and that's primarily what they're
I have tremendous respect for Andy Krepinevich, and I think he's right, in the
sense that it's not a permanent solution. But I see it as a critical
transition to the force of the future. The medium-weight brigades that General
Shinseki is trying so hard to convince Congress, the army, and the
administration to build are essential for the present, just so the army can get
But they're not going to be a static organization. The medium brigades, while
they'll be immediately useful, will also be test beds, in the sense that they
will teach us what we really need, what we really can do and where the gaps
are. If the money's there, they'll drive research and development for better
systems. The problem today is that the U.S. Army's heavy divisions are easily
the most lethal ground force organizations on the planet. But they can't get
there in time.
And when they do get there, they need tremendous support in terms of fuel,
spare parts, and ammunition. The medium brigades will get there faster,
although still not quite as fast as we'd like, but it'll get there faster, use
less fuel, less moving parts, and require less support troops. So the
footprint, as you say in the military, will be much smaller. Yet the medium
brigade will not be as lethal as a heavy division. It will not have the
protective armor of a heavy division, true. But it's an interim step as we
develop true twenty-first century systems that will be lighter, and yet through
innovative technologies, will have equivalent or better armor protection than
today's Abrams tanks. They will have greater lethality than today's artillery
or armor systems with lower calipers or innovative sorts of guns. . . . So I
really see this very much in Silicon Valley terms. It's not going to hold
still. You're not going to build the computer and have it be the perfect model
that sits on the shelf and satisfies everybody for a generation.
The medium brigades, as all military organizations will have to do in today's
environment, will evolve and continue to evolve. It will be a self-correcting
system, where we'll learn from our mistakes. And that's how a military gets
better. You will never design a perfect military organization in a lab or with
smart people sitting together in a room. You do the best you can. You design
it, you build it, and then you let the troops break it.
What about this whole wheels-tracks debate? There's a focus on equipment,
maybe an excessive focus on equipment. Some people argue that that's because
there really is no overall vision or doctrine to support it. . . .
The debate about wheeled vehicles versus track vehicles would be useful if it
were honest. But the voices I hear insisting that we must have track vehicles
are simply contractors and their paid spokesmen trying to sell systems. I've
been to many countries and watched a number of conflicts or their residue, and
I've served in the military. I've served in heavy divisions. And I can tell
you that if I had to make the choice today, I would go with a preponderance of
wheeled vehicles in those medium brigades. You might be able to make a case
for some tracks, but if it were an either-or, it would be wheels for me.
For a variety of reasons. One, they're faster. Two, they don't break down as
much. They don't require as many replacement parts. Three, they consume less
fuel. Look at what the Russians did in the closing phases of the Kosovo
conflict, when they did their dash from Bosnia through Serbia down to the
Pristina airfield. We, the U.S. Army, could not have done that. Track
vehicles could not have done that. They don't go fast enough. They break
down, and it takes longer to fix them.
I think track vehicles certainly have their place. And nobody's talking about
getting rid of the heavy force. General Shinseki is talking about a balanced
force, with the heavy forces in reserve for when we need them, if we have to do
Desert Storm Part XII. The medium forces should be the workhorses for the kind
of actions in which we are increasingly and frequently involved today. And we
still need some light forces, because they get there very fast and can do some
But we're looking at a force that's just balanced across the spectrum. So the
debate of tracked versus wheels? We've got tracks in the heavy divisions and
we're going to have them for the indefinite future. Right now we need a
lighter, quicker, more mechanically robust force that can get there and do
something. And I have found the debate simply disingenuous based upon greed,
not national security interests.
Do you have the same conclusion about calling it a peacekeeping force?
It is absolute and utter nonsense to insist that, because we're going to a
preponderance of wheeled vehicles in the medium brigades, it is only a
peacekeeping force. It is dishonest, and really it angers me as a citizen, as
well as a former soldier. Certainly the Russian military is very oriented to
war fighting and always had a heavy proportion of wheeled vehicles. And they
have been the most robust and effective in the Russian motorized or mechanized
infantry arsenals--a force that can get there and move fast and outshoot the
enemy is going to be very lethal.
In the Gulf War, U.S. Marine Corps wheeled vehicles were killing Iraqi T-72
tanks. Now the people that sell us the heavy armor and heavy guns would have
told you that was impossible. But the Marines did it. And again, you cannot
look at only today's technology and look backward and say, "This is the history
of wheels or tracks." You've got to look forward and see what's the potential
of tracked or wheeled. We may learn eventually that, in fact, in a
medium-weight division you will want one tracked brigade, or two wheeled
brigades. Or in a brigade you may want a tracked battalion and two or three
I don't think you want to break it down to that point. But we have to try it
and experiment in the field. It's a rather long-winded answer, but the debate
has not been honest. A wheeled force does not automatically mean a
peacekeeping force. Tell that to the Marines.
What about the notion of continuing today's force around the M-1 tank?
The M-1 is the best tank in the world, if you can get it to the war in time, if
you have a Saddam Hussein who'll give you seven months to move your forces in.
If the Mexicans ever cross the Rio Grande, Fort Hood is ready for them. It's a
great tank. It's lethal. But clearly, velocity matters.
In military operations today, in the kind of things we're doing, speed matters.
Nobody is talking about getting rid of the M-1. But we are talking about
reducing the numbers somewhat, so that we have some forces that can actually
get to the conflict in time to make a difference. All these charlatans,
whether they're on Capitol Hill or they're the contractors' flacks or just the
people who grew up in the armored community and love their tanks--some are true
believers. Many are charlatans who don't understand or refuse to understand
the fact that we've got to move this force forward. What the army has is an
industrial age force. It's a fine industrial age force, but nonetheless, it's
a twentieth-century army. We need to start building a twenty-first century
army, and we are running late. General Shinseki's vision convinces me, and I'm
hard to convince.
There's a criticism that there is a lack of vision, that it lacks a
doctrinal underpinning. Unless you know the road along which you're going, and
where you intend to go, are you starting too soon by just fiddling with
There's certainly a place for doctrine. But doctrine has to arise out of
practical field experimentation and out of the world around us. I see much of
our doctrine being used as a justification for yesterday's way of doing
business. I think General Shinseki has a legitimate vision, and it is based
upon the world reality. Not the war the army wants to fight, but the conflicts
and wars with which we are actually faced. So you can't write the doctrine
first and design tables or organization equipment and predict accurately we
need this, this, and this. Those are five-year plans, ten-year plans. They
don't work. They never did, never will. Get the force in the field. See what
it can and cannot do. We cannot anticipate accurately.
It's just impossible to anticipate what the real problems and gaps and pitfalls
and vulnerabilities will be. Field experimentation is the only practical way.
And by the way, conflicts will tell us a lot about the force itself, too. So
first get them out there. Then write the doctrine. See if it works. If it
doesn't, adjust it, fine-tune it. But for God's sake, don't put American
creativity in a doctrinal straightjacket unless you want to end up as the
It's interesting you should say that. In last year's testimony in front of
the Senate, Senator Lieberman said to General Shinseki, "So what you're saying
here is a notion like blitzkrieg." And Shinseki replied, "I have a lot of
other things on my plate that World War II German generals never had to worry
about. I've got Haiti, Bosnia, Somalia. In other words, basically, I can't
worry about a single doctrine in a single theater."
Shinseki has the great misfortune of being a man of great integrity in a town
that doesn't value it very much. I don't know General Shinseki personally, but
I'm always impressed when he goes to the Hill and tells the truth, which breaks
a long-standing Army tradition of obfuscating, if not lying outright.
The blitzkrieg. Let's remember that the German Army fought the blitzkrieg with
very few tanks, and with an army that was primary horse-drawn. At the same
time the blitzkrieg was raging across Europe, the proudest division in the U.S.
Army, the one you really wanted to belong to if you were an up-and-coming
officer, was the First Horse Cavalry Division. In fact, were it not for World
War II, instead of the Interstate Highway system we would have had the
Interstate Bridal Path. Senator Leiberman is a wonderful man. I really think
he's another man of great integrity, but he's not a military guy. And Shinseki
just tells the truth.
General Shinseki has told us is that he really doesn't want this
transformation to be identified with him. But it seems that it's almost a
paradoxical situation that he's in. If he wants it to happen, he has to lead
with his chin. At the same time, he knows that the lifetime of this change
will be much longer than four years. . . .
My sense is that General Shinseki is a soldier we would all like to be--a
genuine selfless man. It's amazing that he ever got four stars. That being
said, of course a medium-weight force will be associated with him, as Normandy
is associated with Eisenhower. And it also will be associated with him because
he's very much a lone crusader. Now he's been garnering some support. But the
institutional army is an extraordinarily conservative and often myopic
organization that clings desperately to the past. And General Shinseki has had
the courage, in the face of tremendous internal and external opposition from
multiple sides to say, "This is right. This is what we need to do. Let's get
The Ninth Division offers a sobering lesson in the power of the army branch
units. The heavy armor guys basically killed an experiment at Fort Lewis in
the 1980s for a rapidly deployable unit looking towards the future. Where will
General Shinseki find the resistance to what he wants to do?
General Shinseki has several advantages today over those who tried to build the
Ninth Division as a quickly deployable force. The Cold War is over. You can't
argue that we need those heavy divisions to fight the Russian hordes on the
plains of Germany. That being said, the institutional army, those who have
their careers invested in heavy metal, will certainly fight him tooth and nail.
But I think there's just a growing awareness, certainly in the middle ranks of
the army where Shinseki has a lot of admirers, that the heavy divisions are
eventually going to wither away.
We will need heavy divisions for the immediate future. But clearly the goal
has to be medium-weight divisions--perhaps in 15 to 25 years. Through
judicious investments in our research and development and wise purchases, you
will get medium-weight divisions that will have the hitting power and the
survivability of today's heavy divisions. The country that spawned Silicon
Valley and put man on the moon can certainly design a lighter weight tank that
can do the job of the behemoths of the twentieth century. What we lack is
simply the institutional commitment, both within the army and on Capitol Hill,
and certainly within the Department of Defense overall, to spend the money on
At a time like this, when technology is evolving so swiftly, as the world
environment is evolving so swiftly, you should be pouring money into R&D,
not buying legacy systems like the F-22 or the Crusader. But R&D budgets
have actually been going down. And that really alarms me. The train wreck is
down the road, where we haven't invested wisely, where we haven't invested in
people, for that matter. We just keep clinging to the past.
We talked to General Paul Funk (retired), who serves on the Army Science
Board. He said that, to his knowledge, General Shinseki was the first general
to come out and actually talk to the study group on the Future Combat System.
Is it unusual to find someone who's looking towards the development of the FCS
The army in the 1990's went into shock, into virtual paralysis, when the Cold
War ended. . . . We had a series of very well meaning, but frankly weak chiefs
of staff, men who were trying to hold the past together, instead of jettisoning
the deadwood and moving onto the future. And they were panicked by the army
And the response, instead of trying to be innovative, was to circle the wagons,
to batten down the hatches, to pile on the clichés. General Shinseki
profited by watching their errors. But at the end of the day, I think he's
just a man of vision--not always supremely articulate about that vision--but
he's got it. And he's very Reaganesque in that sense. He sees it even if he
can't always tell you what it is, but you sense it from him. And also he's got
backbone, he's got spine. So I was actually initially skeptical of General
Shinseki, because he was the institutional choice and I didn't know him. But
he is a blessing for the army, and I think for America.
What's ironic is that, when General Shinseki was first nominated, he was not
seen as the transformer that he has now become.
General Shinseki, when he actually took the chair of chief of staff of the
army, was a horrible surprise to mediocrities in uniform everywhere. People
really didn't think he would be a revolutionary, and he is an innovator. He
clearly bided his time, and kept his views to himself until the mantel fell
upon him. And since then he has displayed vision and courage. We are truly so
The general officer and admiral corps today who are our flag officers are
perhaps the most mediocre in the past century. There are certainly some good
ones. But we have really promoted organization men, people that don't know
much out of their sandbox. When you talk to them, these are dull and often
dull-witted people. And here comes Shinseki against all odds. What a
Does Cold War thinking still dominate the military and, more particularly,
Cold War thinking is not nearly so pervasive as it was even five years ago. The
dinosaurs are going, but they're clinging to their jobs with the best spirit of
Tyrannosaurus Rex. It's going to take a generational change. But that change
has begun. We're in for another five-to-maybe-eight really rocky years until
we get rid of the last twentieth-century thinkers. But the process has begun,
and it is inexorable. You can only resist the thrust and the flow of history
for so long.
Where this Cold War heavy metal mentality lingers most profoundly is in the
armored community. I mean, this is their life. And it's sad to me that,
instead of getting on board with lighter vehicles and a medium-weight force
with the spirit of the cavalry, which is what the medium-weight force is . . .
when faced with the chance to do it, to get there fastest with the mostest,
we're clinging to these old twentieth-century behemoths. So I see the
medium-weight force as innovative, certainly, in terms of what we have today.
But it really is a return to the great traditions of the cavalry of getting
there fast, hitting hard, doing the job, and being gone before the enemy knows
what hit them.
Talk about the nature of the war that we're going to see. We've gone to
JRTC, the Joint Readiness Training Center, at Fort Polk in Louisiana, and to
NTC, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Those are two
very different kinds of preparations. They both use force on force, but
there's a difference in the nature of those two scenarios for war fighting.
Can you talk about that?
NTC is still preparing for the big war that may come, that was statistical in
the frequency. The JRTC is preparing for the stuff we are definitely doing
today and are unquestionably going to have to do tomorrow. That does not
invalidate a National Training Center. The things that we do out in the Mojave
Desert we must continue to do on some level, because we may have to go back to
the Gulf or elsewhere. But statistically it's a no-brainer. Most of our
conflicts and some of the smaller wars that we may face in the future, are
going to be more Balkans and less Saddam Hussein. So you've got to do both.
It's really not an either-or.
Hopefully the day will come when a future iteration of the medium-weight force
will be able to go out to the National Training Center and destroy the
opposition force. For now, of course, it can't. But that's the goal. We've
got to move toward developing a medium-weight force that can do beat all others
as well. I personally see a twenty-first century that's really split between
marvelous success stories for states such as our own, America, and
non-competitive loser states, regions, and peoples.
And when you're betting about the future, you've always got to be a bit
cautious. But I'm as confident as one can be betting that we are going to see
a lot more Sierra Leones, East Timors, Kosovos, Bosnias, Kashmirs, Chechnyas,
and Colombias. That doesn't mean we're going to get involved in any or even
most or a plurality of them. But inevitably for national interests, or because
the genocide is so horrific we cannot stay out, we're going to get involved in
some. It's not just the army, but our nation that needs these medium-weight
The Marines do a terrific job. They're a small elite force. They're a bargain
for the taxpayer. There are not enough of them. This medium-weight force is
not a threat to the Marines. It doesn't even compete with the Marines. The
army forces will always be heavier than the Marines, have more logistics, more
tail. But the Marines and the army have to work together. We need to learn
from what the Marines have done with medium-weight or quasi-medium-weight
forces. At the same time, they have to be willing to work with us in good
spirit, and not circle their own wagons and feel threatened.
The fact is our ground forces today, Marines and army, are very, very small
numerically, and in terms of capability for our global responsibilities. Given
the tremendous and potential requirements we face around the world, we have a
miniature ground force military.
When we went to JRTC, the Eighty-second was just returning for its
rotation. They tried to take the mock urban facility and had a really, really
hard time with it until they got their tanks there. And their tanks were about
six hours late, because they got caught in a minefield.
But it's an example of backward thinking to say that we have always needed
tanks to do this, therefore we always will need tanks to do it. Okay, we need
tanks today. But what can we get or build or design or buy for tomorrow that
will reduce or obviate the need for tanks? I just hate the military's
tendency to do a linear extrapolation. This worked in the past, it's working
now, therefore it will always work. Well, that's what the French Army thought
before the blitzkrieg ran all over them.
We've got to really stop clinging to this romanticized version of the past and
start looking toward the future. Okay, the Eighty-second and NTC couldn't take
the urban facility without tanks. All right. Tanks won't always be able to
get there. What else can we design for or buy for the Eighty-second that will
help them do it? Don't give me yesterday's solutions. Tell me what we're
going to do tomorrow.
When you talk to a lot of retired military people, they say that the force
is being stressed. They say that we're involved in so many small-scale
contingency operations, peacekeeping operations, that we're downgrading the
fighting ability of the force, and that we should just get out.
When I went through Officer Candidate School, one of the things the tactical
officers, the black hats, were fondest of saying to us was, "Stop whining,
candidate." It's always been an army tradition that you don't whine, you don't
make excuses. And I hear active duty generals or retirees whining about having
to do so much or about the quality of today's recruits, which by the way, is
revolting nonsense. We may have the most talented generation coming up in
history. But they're whining about having to do the things the country pays
them to do. It's a very complex world out there. America has a wide range of
interests. Some are vital, and some are not so vital, but are interests
nonetheless. There are some humanitarian interests. Stop making excuses. Do
what you need to do for our country, or else stop taking the taxpayer's money.
We pride ourselves in the army on a can-do attitude. Always did.
At this point, it's a can't-do attitude. No matter what the president asks us
to do, it's always too hard to do. We need this, this and this. And the army
has lost its credibility, as the Department of Defense has overall, by always
crying wolf. They say it's going to take 10,000 casualties, we need 10
divisions, blah, blah, blah. Then the president says, "Do it," and it turns
out we did it with no casualties, and maybe did a half-baked job of it, but it
wasn't as dire. The sky didn't fall.
And so the military has to begin with being honest with the president and with
Capitol Hill. If you are honest and you tell them, "Well, we can do this, but
this is what it will take," then you'll get it a lot more quickly, honestly.
Then you'll have a lot more credibility when the bad one comes along that you
really can't do and you're trying to explain it. But we've been such cowardly
naysayers hoarding our parade ground military. I'm reminded of Lincoln's
request for McClellan, where he said, "Dear General McClellan, if you're not
going to use the army, may I borrow it for a while?" I think President
Clinton's been wrong about many, many things. But frankly the Pentagon's been
wrong about more. And they won't admit it. Stop whining, guys. Do what
America pays you to do.
Last year there was a firestorm of controversy over the fact that two army
units were downgraded, and given a C-4, the not-ready-for-war rating. There
was talk of a readiness crisis. What about the readiness crisis?
There's been a readiness crisis in the military, and especially in the army,
since the mid-1990s. The former army chief of staff, for whatever reason, went
to the Hill and lied about readiness. I think what we've seen in the 1990s is
a politicization of the service chiefs and the Joint Chiefs overall. The
administration's done a good job of picking primarily weak men, which is why
Shinseki's such a great surprise. But everybody in the army knew. The people
down in the motor pools, at the training ranges, in the battalions and brigades
and divisions knew there were shortages of ammunition, of spare parts, or
training funds. And yet again and again, the chief and the deputies went to
the Hill and said, "Well, everything's pretty good, we could use a little more
of this, but we're doing fine, sir." It wasn't true.
And by the way, the great penalty was that junior officers lost trust in their
leadership. They knew it wasn't true. Lies were being told. And then a few
years ago, the administration gave chiefs permission to tell the truth, and
they went to the Hill and said we have a readiness crisis. John McCain and
others castigated them because the readiness crisis had been obvious to
everybody, except these men who were saying it didn't exist, and now suddenly
it did exist.
We do have a readiness crisis. Money has been misspent. We buy F-22s instead
of taking care of the troops, buying spare parts, fuel, and training. And good
training is what saves you, not the F-22. Yet we are still ready enough for
most contingencies for now. But our readiness declines daily. And we're not
as ready as we could be. It doesn't mean we can't do the job.
It means there are greater risks. It means that you have a greater risk of not
being able to do the mission in a timely manner, of taking more casualties.
There's this lust to buy twentieth-century legacy systems, gold-plated
aircraft, artillery systems, ships that we absolutely do not need. That will
cause casualties. And it's also stealing from the American taxpayer; there's
no other word for it.
At the same time, there are Marines rummaging for free clothing on Saturdays
and there are guys claiming that they have spare parts problems and units being
stressed. Is there a trade-off on what we can do?
Increasingly, our national defense is a business, and its business is not
primarily defense. There has always been corruption from the Revolutionary War
forward in the US military. God knows, at the beginning of the Civil War, we
were buying exploding cannons. Brooks Brothers sold the army 30,000 overcoats
that gave rise to the term "shoddy," and they had to be discarded. So it's
always been there.
But at this point there's so much lobbying power--PAC contributions, and
revolving doors of generals and admirals getting out and getting these
tremendously lucrative defense industry do-nothing jobs, which encouraged them
to keep their mouth shut on active duty about whether or not we really need
this system. The corruption at this point is horrendous. And it's not just
the defense-industrial complex about which President Eisenhower warned. It's a
defense-industrial-congressional complex. Congress buys ships even the navy
doesn't want, and buys aircraft the air force doesn't want. It's really sad
and really corrupt and it's a disservice to this nation.
But you have to accept the fact that in a market economy, there's always going
to be some wastage. There's going to be some corruption. And frankly, the
military won't always make good decisions. But we have come to a point where
budget dollars are constrained, and we are wasting hundreds of billions of
dollars on yesterday's aircraft, on utterly unnecessary ships, on artillery
systems that are not deployable. We should be buying some new, essential
things, like upgraded F-15s and F-14s--just enough to get us through to a true
next-generation aircraft. And frankly, the JSX fighter might be it.
But we need to be just upgrading enough in the army to enable us to buy
experimental systems and move to a medium-weight force. God knows the navy
shamefully killed the arsenal ship because it wasn't glamorous. But boy, it
had hitting power. Recently the air force disingenuously warned that, even if
General Shinseki gets his medium-weight divisions, the air force doesn't have
the airlift to fly them there, implying that the medium-weight divisions are a
waste of time. My answer to the air force is, "Stop buying F-22s. Buy more
airlift capability." It's just become really disgraceful and shameful, not
simply because I'm a former army officer. I've criticized them powerfully.
But really, they're trying to be relatively honest in all this.
And the price for honesty is that you lose budget dollars. The air force at
this point in history is patently dishonest about what this country needs. We
can beat the Russians, God knows. We can beat the Chinese. We sure could have
beat the Serbs. We could go to Sierra Leone and a couple battalions of Rangers
and a Special Forces contingent with some helicopters could rip apart the rough
rebels. But we can't beat Lockheed Martin.
Is this a trade off between boys and girls and toys?
Certainly. When we have soldiers on food stamps . . . I just came back from
Fort Leavenworth and was served in a restaurant by a moonlighting soldier
trying to make ends meet. Certainly no soldier expects to be paid lavishly.
But it would be nice if they could feed their families. When we signed up for
a married military, we should have planned for this. The medical system for
active duty and for retirees is certainly in disarray. People want to take
away the commissaries, because here in the United States, the major food chains
don't like the fact that military people are buying on base. The commissary is
essential for junior enlisted personnel to buy the foodstuffs at slightly
reduced rates. Others would like to take away the PXs. It's just shameful.
We want these young men and women to die for us if necessary, and then we
expect them to live on food stamps? At the same time, we're going to spend
$350 billion or $60 billion on new aircraft we don't need, we're going to buy
more vessels we don't need. If that's not a national disgrace, what is?
Air power is thought of as a silver bullet. . . . Yet it is said that the
army has the special responsibility to win the nation's wars.
When air force officers, active duty or retired, say we don't need ground
forces, they're lying. They know better. They're fighting for budget share.
It's that simple. We need the air force. We need the navy. We need the
marines. And we need the army. They exist because they do different
The army does a few things for you. One, is it's ultimately the war fighter,
the big force that goes and wins the big wars. The army is also the primary
special operations force--the Green Berets, the Rangers--although other
services certainly make their contributions. The army provides the raw
manpower for the onerous missions, the janitorial work of foreign policy, the
Kosovos, the Bosnias, etc. The army does a lot for you. In many ways, it's
the least glamorous service, but it is ultimately the workhorse.
As far as silver bullets go, I love air power. As someone who's served in
infantry and armored units, I want a lot of air power and I want it on time.
But air power alone cannot do it all any more than the army alone could do it
all. And in Kosovo we really saw the limits of air power. After all the
ballyhoo, they couldn't even find the tanks, let alone kill them. They
certainly couldn't stop massacres down in wooded ravines. You can't do police
work or close-in combat from 15,000 feet. You can't stop genocide from 15,000
feet. You can't do urban warfare from 1,000 feet or even 500 feet, although
once in a while a helicopter will help you out.
There are still many missions; in fact they're increasing. When you to do them
right, you still need boots on the ground. Peacekeeping, peacemaking, and even
war. So whenever you hear anybody in any uniform saying we don't need that
other service, they're lying to you. They know better. They're fighting for
dollars. You know they're dialing for dollars. They're not building a
We went up to West Point and interviewed Fred Kagan, who's coming out with a
book called While America Sleeps. The bottom line in terms of national
security strategy is that if you get rid of the two major theater war policy,
you're courting disaster. . . . How should we approach the 2MTW policy?
Many of the arguments about one major theater of war versus two, and what we
really need, become medieval theological arguments. I have read them so I know
what I'm saying, both the medieval arguments and the contemporary ones. Some
things are fundamental. We need a strong, robust, somewhat redundant defense.
I've worked within the system. The way we split things out in the 1990s, we
have never had a 2MTW capability. We simply couldn't have done it. It was all
smoke and mirrors. We had, at best, a reasonable 1MTW capability. That's just
My personal feeling is our forces, including the air force, are too small
today. We need somewhat larger defense budgets. And yet I am loathe to
increase them today, because you're giving Scotch to an alcoholic. You're
throwing money at somebody you know who just maxes out their credit cards. The
military services need to return to some notion of austerity, which is our
tradition. Austere forces. That being said, they also do need more resources
to slightly increase the size of the army and the Marine Corps. The air force,
rather than the high tech gold-plated aircraft it's buying for many of our
conflicts, needs more lower-tech aircraft. They certainly need more transport
aircraft to do the job. But the A-10 for instance, the tank killer aircraft
that they hate, is slow, and it's ugly. But boy, in Kosovo, had it been
permitted to do its job, that would have been perfect. It's not about
So I wish people would stop arguing about acronyms, 2MTW or anything else, and
go back to fundamentals and look at what this country really needs. We need
infantrymen. We need transport aircraft. We need military police. We need
vehicles that can get there and roll fast when they do get there. We need a
navy that can protect the sea lanes . . . but that can transport things safely
and project power ashore. Our navy's requirements today are closer to those of
gunboats on the Yangtze River in China in the1920s than the battle of Midway.
So overall, we're often arguing about the wrong things and, by the way, arguing
about them dishonesty. It's time to go back to fundamentals. First, throttle
back the services. No more gold-plated twentieth-century legacy systems. And
then let's judiciously increase budgets so that we can build the twenty-first
Invest in transformation?
Yes. The basic rule is to fund the future, not the past. Fund transformation.
Don't fund the latest slight improvement to the traditional way of doing
What do you say to the criticism of the medium brigades that it ignores the
realities of an asymmetric theater, and denies the idea that airfield supports
are going to be the canyons of the future? . . .
Again, these are arguments being made by people who have vested interests or
who have never served and simply do not know. Certainly you need an airfield
or a port to get ground forces there in sufficient numbers or sufficient weight
to do much of anything. But a medium-weight force would be easier to fly into
an adjoining nation. A wheeled force can drive there without consuming a world
of fuel, without breaking down along the way.
The mobility of the wheeled force is both strategic in terms of less airlift
required, and less sealift. But it's also operational in terms of being able
to get across a border very fast or across a country or contested region very
fast, and tactical in terms of how fast it can move around a battlefield. And
the real key to mobility isn't just speed, although the wheeled vehicles have
that. It's how much fuel consumption is required.
So I'm just saddened by what I see as a partisan, often naive, often dishonest
debate. The medium-weight force is clearly the force of the future. . . . It
can get there, it can go fast and it requires a far less logistics train. It's
easier to sustain. Again, it's a cavalry-type force, and clearly the Indians
are out there. That's politically incorrect. But we're dealing with cavalry
and Indians again, and the cavalry is what we need. Why can't we simply be
honest? Well, the answer is simple. Money.
It almost seems like you're saying . . . that it's the force that takes into
account a denial of airfields and being able to gain access to theaters. . .
It's the force that makes it easier to work around denied airfields and
. . . Sometimes we will face airfield denial or port denial, but so far it
hasn't been a major problem for us. A medium-weight force can go into another
country, and drive across the border very, very quickly. A medium-weight force
by the way, is much lighter and easier to offload than a heavy-weight force.
It doesn't require the weight of port facilities to offload it. If we designed
the right kind of ships, you can roll it over the beach much more easily than a
tracked force. You can make wheeled vehicles armored, yet still light enough
to swim in low surf. You can't do that with heavy tanks. So the medium-weight
force makes sense in virtually every respect.
Can it do everything? Certainly not. But neither can any aircraft. Neither
can light or heavy forces. The medium-weight force is necessary for our
strategic environment, hands down. It's necessary. And I feel we can argue
that with anybody who is willing to argue honestly and not just use
When we were with General Scales and General Shinseki at Gettysburg, General
Scales pointed out that no commander during the Civil War appreciated the
technological revolution that had happened that made their operating doctrine
outdated. They didn't realize that they were fighting the last war, at a huge
loss of life.
. . . In hindsight, it's always easy to see the mistakes of yesterday's
generals. And some of the criticism is justified. Certainly the western front
in World War I was inexcusable. Those generals should have seen the lessons of
the American Civil War half a century before. Yet you must be able to see some
things, learn some things, and some things are patently obvious. And it's
obvious that technology helps us. It doesn't solve all of the world's security
problems. So I would fault today's generals and admirals for clinging
passionately to a path they understand and they knew throughout their
successful careers. But we need to start looking forward and not backward with
General Shinseki sent a book, America's First Battles, up to Congress
to try to say you need to prepare. We have had a terrible history of preparing
for the first battle. Is the problem that he's trying to change a peacetime
army? Is it simply a nearly impossible task?
Desert Storm was one of the worst things that ever happened to the U.S. Army.
It was the last great twentieth-century war. The army performed superbly and
convinced itself that it had all the answers. So we're still dealing with the
legacy of success in Desert Storm, as well as the Cold War. Certainly in
America's first battles, we traditionally have done rather poorly. Sometimes
there were excuses, like starved armies. Today that's not an excuse We have
huge military budgets, in historical terms. So if we fail in a first battle,
you can blame the generals and admirals who failed to call it right and call it
honestly. And you can blame Congress, because ultimately Congress determines
the shape of the force. So I think General Shinseki is absolutely trying to do
the right thing.
The other problem we face is that it's not only the first battle of the next
war. We are in an age of conflict after conflict, intervention after
intervention. And they're not going to stop. If you study the history of the
nineteenth-century army fighting the Indians of the Southwest and the
Northwest, read the War Department records in Washington. And every one of
those was the last one. In other words, there would be no more Bosnias, no
more Kosovos. They're all the last one.
The bad news is we are in for a nearly endless stream of these. The world is
broken and desperate trying to right itself, to find a new balance after the
dissolution of great bloc systems, great empires and dictatorships. It's going
to be decades or longer before these conflicts all play out. So while
preparing for the first battle of the big war, we've got to be able to do a
wider variety than ever of lesser, but often dangerous, and sometimes bloody
things as well. We are not only are not fully prepared for the next big one;
we're not well prepared for many of the little ones.
Some people say the army is too top-heavy.
I'm not convinced by the argument that we have too many generals. I'm
certainly easily convinced by the argument that we have mediocre generals and
admirals. I'm familiar with the pundits and demigods who hold up the
Wehrmacht, the German Army of World War II, and say, "Well, you had a sergeant
leading 30 or 40 men. You didn't need these officers. They didn't have this
First of all, the German Army in World War II lost the war. Secondly, the
nature of things has changed. The military force of today, like it or not, is
infinitely more complex than the primitive armies of World War II. We have a
much more sophisticated force technology, more complex in other respects as
well from communications to intelligence. You do need a much greater tail.
The other argument you'll hear is the logistics tail is too great, so let's
just cut the tail. That's foolish. That's an armchair general's argument.
The way you reduce the tail is by changing the combat force. If you
arbitrarily cut tail, it means you can't support the combat force you've
So you've got to take an over-arching view of things. Could you do with fewer
generals? Yes, probably somewhat fewer, if they were better. But these little
arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin just miss the
boat. We need a quality, thinking army that can do pushups and shove in the
bayonet as well. What we have, sadly, is a mediocre Department of Defense
overall--from Secretary Cohen on down.
Can the transformation take place without really restructuring the army? . .
There are always plenty of people in Washington and defense pundits willing to
say you can't do this, you can't do that, you must buy this. If people are in
love with the division, the way to deal with it is the way General Shinseki's
dealing with it. Keep the division name, change the brigades. Change the army
that way and let the brigade drive the division into its dotage.
Oftentimes people become so enamored of the name or the flag or the rank. But
as long as let you let them keep the title, you can change the substance.
And I think that's what General Shinseki is doing brilliantly. Is the current
division the structure for the future? Of course it's not. But why wage a
quixotic tilt against windmills, a fight against division, when you can let the
old boys have their division. Change its substance, change its guts. And make
it go away more effectively that way.
Do you think that's what happening in the latest announcement about the
brigades is that they're not pure units--they are combined now and being called
General Shinseki, in my outsider's reading, is not only a good strategist, he's
a brilliant tactician. He's letting the old boys have some of their toys and
their ranks, their titles, their flags, but he is building the force of the
future without telling them.
We've had a lot of defense reviews over national defense. We're going to
have another one next year in 2001. What have they accomplished so far?
All these quadrennial reviews and national defense panels serve a very
important function in Washington. They keep defense intellectuals off the
welfare rolls. They don't do much else. First of all, I've dealt with some of
them. Committees don't think innovatively. What you get time and again is
dumbed-down insights, the consensus view. I'll trade you this for that. None
of these studies are brave or bold or incisive or worth very much. The way you
get innovation, frankly, is one or at most a handful of determined visionaries
fight for something they believe in. Think tanks will not change the world,
and they surely will not change the army.
What do you think about a proposal to change the army into smaller
Colonel Doug MacGregor's book, Breaking the Phalanx, was a brilliant
attempt to innovate. Did MacGregor get it all right? Absolutely not. I think
he's wrong about a lot of the details. But he had the basic vision. He had
the substance. And he articulated it, and he wasn't the first. Others have
said it. He just said it better and in book form. He articulated where we need
to go, towards smaller, more mobile, more balanced forces. It's clearly the
wave of the future to anyone who's served, who's been out there, and is
thinking about these issues honestly and isn't in the pay of a defense
contractor. Doug MacGregor was a hero. He didn't have all the answers, but
boy, he fired up the right questions.
Do you think that the medium brigades are following that line, or are they
departing from that line?
The medium brigades are indeed following the general thrust of Breaking the
Phalanx. But no book, no initial blueprint for our organization will get
it exactly right. We don't know how these medium brigades will ultimately
look. In ten years they might not be called brigades at all. They might look
radically different. That's the great thing about the medium brigades. First
of all, we're starting to change. We're experimenting, we're trying. And at
the same time they will be usable. You can use them in these contingencies.
And we will learn a lot from the contingencies.
One of the problems with pundits is that they're very impatient. Now, the M-1 tank is still the greatest tank in the world. You remember in the late
1970s and early 1980s, everybody was saying, "Oh, it's a lemon. It's
gold-plated, it's a turkey." These are complex systems, and certainly complex
organizations like the medium brigade need time to develop. They won't get it
right the first time. Let them experiment. Don't grab a headline by saying
it's a failure because it went out to NTC and didn't beat the opposition
forces. You've got to let them be defeated by the opposition forces a dozen
times. Then, if the thirteenth time they hammer the opposition forces and rip
it apart, you've got your money's worth. It just takes time. Let people
experiment, as long as the experiments are obviously being done in a spirit of
honesty. Don't expect perfection the first time. You won't get it. We cannot
foresee the future well enough to say that the medium brigade's the ultimate
answer. The medium brigade poses the right questions.
The war games of the Army War College at Carlyle were actually looking at a
scenario in 2015 in which the medium brigades played a larger role. Do you
have any views on that?
I have played in a lot of strategic operational and tactical war games over the
years. My general experience is the higher the level, the less useful they
are. And war games at the Carlyle level are about as useful as a raccoon tail
on a Mercedes. . . . The problem with strategic level war games is they have
such visibility. So many people are watching that they're never fully honest.
They certainly do serve a purpose. They raise some good questions. They
sometimes lead to an epiphany here and there. But we would need to conduct
them in a no-holds barred spirit of honest brutality in order to get real
mileage out of them.
What about the army's attempt to reach out to Hollywood to develop ideas
about training films and the Future Combat System?
The current initiatives to reach out to Hollywood leave me skeptical. I think
it's important to reach out, but I'm not sure the army has the sophistication
to reach out intelligently and incisively. Recruiting some has-beens who are
between projects for the next half-dozen years and imagining that they're going
to you know tell you the shape of the future is probably pretty foolish.
The sad thing is that the real expertise, the knowledge, the insight about the
future is in uniform. But I have found personally in my experiences that the
generals and admirals don't want to hear good ideas from the experienced people
beneath them. They cannot abide good ideas from their subordinates. So reach
out to some screenwriter who has never served a day in uniform, who hasn't a
clue, or some campus intellectual who's just looking for a grant and was just
too good to tie on a combat boot, and they'll hang on every word.
You've got colonels and majors and even captains out there who have seen the
future and they're fighting for it. Our military is a tin pot aristocracy.
It's really, really sad. I personally had to leave the military to have my
voice heard. The moment I took my uniform off, I had credibility. That's
absolutely backward. I should have had more credibility when I was in uniform.
The military needs to learn to exploit and respect the talent it has in the
ranks before it reaches out to people who were never in a fistfight and have
only seen them on screen.
Why do you think Shinseki will be successful in what he's trying to do?
I'm not convinced General Shinseki will be successful. I hope he will be
successful. But the institutional resistance within the army, the contractors,
the partisans on Capitol Hill who speak patriotism but are worried about PAC
money, they're all stacked against him. He's fighting a courageous fight in
the true American grain. I hope he wins. But at best I'd give him even odds.
And I'd only give him even odds because the future is pressing us toward the
vision and the reality General Shinseki has articulated.
What is the price of not changing it?
The price of not changing is we're less ready and take more casualties. And
make no mistake--you can't wage casualty-free wars forever. Kosovo was a
failure in many real terms. We will ultimately take casualties. It's not
going to be a debacle that destroys America. What it will be is debacle on a
lesser scale that kills a lot of those fine young men and women who are
currently on food stamps while serving their country.
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