Thursday, April 09, 2009

Gates following Rumsfeld’s lead?

Is it just me or does the second part of SecDef Gates’ two-part defense plan, as summarized by Austin Bay at Townhall, not echo Rumfsfeld’s, “As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Gates' defense plan, presented this week, seeks to embed these [the first part] capabilities ["small war" capabilities, including counter-insurgency skills, local security training programs, rule of law projects, and economic and political stabilization capacities] but also [the second part explained more below] thwart the most likely current and emerging conventional threats, what he called "the security challenges posed by the military forces of other countries -- from those actively hostile to those at strategic crossroads."

"Most likely" sounds bland, but for Congress, defense industries and many military leaders, they are fighting words. Money isn't the only reason -- legitimate debate over what constitutes adequate preparation for a "war of national survival" is not only justifiable, but a duty. The reason the United States confronts terrorist threats is that America has the combat power to win conventional force-on-force fights, and that must be retained.

Gates doesn't dispute that -- he argues for balance. Budgets are limited. Procuring the expensive "perfect" may be ideal, but acquiring sufficient numbers of "the better than good enough" is more rational.

As a specific example, Gates bets that a sufficient number of F-35s assures U.S. air dominance in the coming decades, so the Pentagon can buy fewer F-22s. Now a battle over numbers flares. Gates says 187 F-22s. I estimate the right number is around 250. Hey, it's not quite thin air. It's based on attrition and operational estimates, and posits a U.S.-China clash over Taiwan.

No one wants that conflict, but if it occurs sometime in the next 20 years we'll rue the day we didn't buy more F-22s. Gates, however, wins the bigger point -- America has less expensive systems that more than overmatch potential adversaries.

In hindsight Rumsfeld’s comments, which seemed so outrageous at the time in the context of the under-armored Humvees, really did merit the opening phrase, “As you know….” It comes down to economics like so much of life (and death). Bay continues:

Choices must be made, and Secretary of Defense Gates has made his. He has done so with an acute assessment of the long-term strategic benefits of assuring success in Iraq and Afghanistan complemented by a cool, intellectually defensible estimate of future requirements. His proposals now become a Washington budget warfighting document.


Stephanie said...

You're trying to make me read something, like Defense Plans, that don''t have anything to do with Adam Lambert, aren't you?

Scooter said...

Nah. Just thought that Rummy got a bit of raw deal. He was all about bringing the military into the 21st C. Yeah, he didn't get the surge and counter-insurgency deal, but I've felt for a long time he was on the right track otherwise.

I want 500 each of the F-35s and F-22s and 20 carriers (Wasn't it Clinton's first statement whenever there was a world event--where are the carriers?)...but I can't forego the force that can get the job done in favor of the force that can do the job with near zero casualties given...that word again, economics.