Back in 1187, Muslim warlord Saladin threw the Crusaders out of Jerusalem. Big Dog Don Rumsfeld is at war against another Crusader, the Army’s new siege cannon that would be great for fighting the Battle of the Bulge, but isn’t much use in fighting Saladin’s 21st century descendants. It’s a war Rumsfeld must win, because it sets the tone for defense budgeting in the next several years.
Walking around the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base last Saturday during the annual Defense Department open house I was awed yet again — not so much by the array of aging weapon systems on display — but by the people who stood by them. One, a Marine Cobra driver, chatted me up about his small, deadly helo. Having taken the stick, all too briefly, in various fixed-wing aircraft, and failed utterly in flying a Navy helo simulator, I told him how much I admired his skill. As you’d expect from a pro, he shrugged off my praise. When one of the gents with me asked why the Marines had so much greater success with the bird than the Army, I answered for him: because they’re Marines, that’s why. He chuckled and smiled, grateful that I’d said what he couldn’t. People like him — so rare in the civilian world — were all over the place.
In one quiet corner was the Army display: an M-1 tank, a Bradley fighting vehicle, and a Paladin self-propelled cannon. The Paladin is old and tired. The Crusader was meant to replace it, bringing an enormous amount of firepower to the battlefield. But the question is, which battlefield are we talking about? In the Afghanistan campaign, Gen. Tommy Franks has had to deliver a lot of weapons and supplies to the forces on the ground. There were some odd things the Spec Ops guys needed such as the leather saddles and horse feed. One thing they didn’t need was a forty-ton self-propelled cannon that has to be followed by a fifty-ton armored ammo truck.
We learned from the Soviets’ experience in Afghanistan. For a decade, they chased the mujahedeen around the hills, but their doctrine chained their infantry to their heavy tanks and artillery. They failed. When our people went in, their flexible doctrine — not hobbled by tanks and artillery that couldn’t go where the enemy was — won. What we did was to couple heavy air support delivering PGMs (precision-guided munitions) with light infantry and special operations troops who can move faster than the enemy. The Crusader, and other huge and heavy weapons, can’t be deployed to where they’re needed.
Army guys I know and respect agree: give them lots of close air support with PGMs, and you don’t need Crusader. That’s precisely the kind of thinking we need in order to match the dollars to the threat. What we need are the weapons that people like that Marine helo driver can use to defeat threats like the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.
Most members of Congress see the defense budget as more pork, useful mainly to provide jobs for constituents. Two powerful members who don’t usually fall into that category — Sen. Don Nickles and Rep. J.C. Watts — are preparing to do battle with Mr. Rumsfeld to save the $11 billion budgeted to build the Crusader in their home state. They will lose this battle because Mr. Rumsfeld has the high ground. We now need so much for defense, the only question is what better use to put that $11 billion.
There is a very long list. The Pentagon admits to having spent about $12 billion on the war already. That’s probably only about half the real expenditure because it doesn’t count the combat losses and weapons being worn out. We need money for missile defense, and for the new aircraft, precision-guided munitions, and ships to meet the threats we face.
As one of my Navy pals reminds me, fleet strength now is about half what it was during the Gipper’s day. The Taiwan Strait is only about 100 miles across. We need, desperately, to start building the small “littoral” warfare ships that can operate in brown water and in places such as the Persian Gulf, where the bombing of the USS Cole is still fresh in our enemies’ minds. We have to revisit the fleet’s mission, and start building what we need. The Chicoms are investing heavily in anti-ship missiles, and ICBMs to overcome our anticipated homeland defense. We need to counter both, and soon, to help defend Taiwan.
We need to invest heavily in both defensive and offensive space-based weapons. Our adversaries know how dependent we are on our satellites for command and control. They also know how vulnerable those satellites are. We now lack, and urgently need, the capability to defend our satellites, and to destroy an enemy’s.
We need to pay for research and development to make the weapons of the near future as effective as possible, and to get the most out of those we already have. Another battle is controlling costs. The F-22, which was supposed to be about $50 million a copy, will be at least twice that in price. With all the other demands on the budget, it simply isn’t worth the cost. The Joint Strike Fighter can be bought to fill nearly all the missions of the F-22, but its costs also have to be kept on a tight leash. In this, and in Congress, Mr. Rumsfeld will have to fight others in the administration who see his budget like Clinton did — a pot of gold to be raided for every pet project. But Big Dog has the president’s ear. He should win most of those fights.
Mr. Rumsfeld has a good grasp of what needs to be done, and why. It’s the “and why” part that should win him most of the Congressional fights. Big Dog needs to fight Congress on its home turf: in public. He’s a media fave, and should take every advantage of it. That way, Congress will learn that if you can’t run with the Big Dog, you’d better go sit on the porch.