The unclassified version of the 2009 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) — the U.S. Defense Dept.’s four-year strategy planning exercise — has yet to be released. But an unprecedented gag order placed on those responsible for developing the QDR, combined with Monday’s proposed terminations of programs — like the Air Force’s newly operational air-superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor — has military experts concerned the writing may already be on the wall.
“I am appalled at the decisions just made by the secretary, as are other very senior Air Force general officers,” retired Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney (U.S. Air Force), told HUMAN EVENTS following U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ press conference yesterday.
Gates proposed delays and terminations of current and next-generation platforms and weapons systems programs, which included, among other particulars:
- cutting aircraft carriers from 11 to 10 and decreasing production of other surface combatants
- delaying amphibious ship programs
- halting the planned increase of ground-based interceptors in Alaska
- cancelling a second airborne laser (antimissile) aircraft
- terminating the ground-vehicle element of the Army’s Future Combat Systems (essentially killing the program)
- delaying production of a new presidential helicopter
- ending development of a new Air Force search and rescue helicopter
- canceling the development of a new bomber
- ending the C-17 transport aircraft, and
- stopping production of the F-22 at 187 fighters
Additionally, the secretary of defense vowed to “maximize the production” of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and up the purchase of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps’ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from 14 to 30 in Fiscal Year 2010.
“But the F-35 cannot survive a Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile, and the F-22 can,” says McInerney, a former assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force. “The question should be, why don’t we have a fly-off between the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter?”
McInerney adds, “He [Gates] is trying to make the Air Force a supporting service. He does not understand airpower.”
Among the concerns expressed — in the wake of yesterday’s proposed cuts before the QDR — is that the current crop of defense planners and policymakers may be suffering from shortsightedness. They may be dismissing potential strategic military threats to the U.S. as overblown. They may be capitulating to the “change” crowd in Washington. Or all of the above.
Asked if he was “walking into a buzzsaw,” Gates responded: “There’s no question a lot of these decisions will be controversial. My hope is that — as we have tried to do here in this building [the Pentagon] — the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole.”
But Gates’ remarks in 2008 in which he said, “I have noticed too much of a tendency towards what might be called ‘next war-it is,’” have fueled fears among many retired generals. And the QDR gag order (a non-disclosure agreement reportedly signed by defense officials stating they will not discuss the QDR) is certainly not alleviating any concerns.
“It’s the first time it [the agreement] has ever been done in history,” says McInerney. “If I was one of the chiefs, I would have said there is no way I’m signing anything.”
A general who spoke on condition of anonymity added, “[A] serious naiveté has begun to fester [in the Beltway],” and the White House and senior defense officials “want to shape the military the way they think it should be without debate. They don’t see Russia or China as a threat. And the idea that we should not focus on future potential conflicts — from guerrilla operations to even air or sea battles — is troubling.”
Retired Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely (U.S. Army), former deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Pacific, tells HUMAN EVENTS, “There is no overriding strategy, not only for the war against radical Islam — the planners don’t even know what to call it anymore — but no broad strategy for the Middle East and beyond. We do not seem to have senior people — particularly among the political appointees — who understand the threats against us, much less how to develop a strategy to meet those threats.”
McInerney says — based on information he and other retired general and flag officers are gleaning — whatever strategy is being planned seems to be too narrowly focused on ground-centric, irregular warfare operations and forces. Though, he adds, those forces are critically important in the 21st century, so are sea, air, and space forces which must never be neglected in the face of emerging and yet-unseen threats to national defense.
“Ground forces will not deter China from going into Taiwan,” says McInerney. “The Air Force and the Navy’s carrier strike groups have been fighting for 19 years. They are worn out. They need money.” The money, he argues, is desperately needed for recapitalization (also known as resetting — essentially putting a new engine in an old F-15) and modernization (replacing an F-15 with a brand-new F-22).
Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Cash (U.S. Air Force), former vice commander of the 7th Air Force, agrees.
“I think there is some shortsightedness,” Cash tells HUMAN EVENTS. “The Sec. Def. does not seem to realize that the major long term threat to this country may well come from Russia and China. The only way to negate that threat is through development and maintenance of a continuing strong deterrent. The F-22 will provide that deterrent by insuring command of the skies over the battlefield for the next 50 years. UAVs will not.”
Cash says U.S. Army and Marine forces have enjoyed air-superiority above their battlespaces “almost continually since the inception of air warfare” without which those ground forces could not survive.
Therein may lie one of the problems: America’s air and sea forces are indeed so dominant — the equipment and technology so superior to anything fielded by other nations, and the training of American airmen and sailors so effective — that much of America has grown to take that dominance for granted. “Our equipment and people are simply so good, they make warfighting look easy. But there is nothing easy about what we do,” Lt. Gen. Gary L. North, commanding general of U.S. Central Command’s Air Forces, told me back in 2007.
Peter Brookes, a former CIA operations officer who also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, tells HUMAN EVENTS, “The QDR needs to show a balanced force capable of dealing with a range of contingencies because the next war is not necessarily going to be like an Iraq or Afghanistan. It could be with Russia, China, even a conventional war with Iran or North Korea. And because of the lag time [from drawing board to fielding] of these weapons systems, we must be moving out smartly on next generation systems.”
As Brookes says, “You can build a second lieutenant in six weeks, but you can’t build a ship or a tank in that same time.” And the longer we postpone production of a new weapons system, the more expensive that system becomes.
But it’s not simply development lag time and increasing costs: America’s Defense-Industrial base cannot afford to atrophy. If production of ships, planes, and tanks is halted, it will be difficult — perhaps impossible — to reengineer and retool from “cold iron” quickly enough to defend the country in a 21st-century environment. “The world is far different today than it was in World War II,” says Brookes. Time is critical.
Maj. Gen. George B. Patrick III, former special assistant to the director of Air National Guard and chief of staff U.S. Air Force, believes that much of what we will see in the forthcoming QDR will reflect Gates’ belief that the focus should be on the near-term threat. “But some of our high-tech weaponry that has been broadly listed under this ‘next-war-it is’ heading, is very effective in the global war on terror,” Patrick tells HUMAN EVENTS. “And if we do not continue to leverage the technology that’s available to us, and if we don’t pursue the fifth-generation fighters and other systems, potential peer competitors will.”
Patrick adds, “In my opinion, the QDR over the years has become something of a budget drill, making the threat and the resources needed to address the threat match the reality of the projected budget. It should, however, be a true empirical analysis of what our threats are regardless of budget.”
Barack Obama’s 2010 baseline defense budget is $534 billion: Still, “$26 billion below four percent of GDP, according to the Senate analysis,” writes Rowan Scarborough. Four percent is what many analysts and experts believe we should be spending as a minimum on defense.
For perspective, the U.S. was spending a whopping 34.5 percent of GDP for Defense in World War II. We spent 11.7 at the height of the Korean War, nearly 10 percent at the height of the Vietnam War, six percent under President Reagan in 1986, and 4.6 percent in 1991, the year of Gulf War I.
“Four percent for baseline Defense budget is certainly not too much to ask,” says McInerney. “After all, we spent $787-billion on a stimulus package that gives $3-billion to ACORN.”