The man poised to become House Armed Services Committee chairman in the new Congress will push for a major increase in defense spending, particularly for procurement, and wants to restore a “two-war” requirement, which could bring additional force structure to the services.
Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, R-Calif., also is one of Congress’ strongest champions of ballistic missile defense and has waged an extended campaign to reduce the size of the Pentagon procurement bureaucracy in an effort to speed up weapons acquisition.
Although he is in his 12th term representing part of San Diego County, with its huge Navy and Marine presence and a large shipbuilder, Hunter has good “joint” credentials as an Army Vietnam veteran and a big proponent of airpower.
With regard to the latter, Hunter is an advocate of long-range airpower and may use his position as chairman to push for resuming B-2 stealth bomber production–a move the Air Force leadership opposes.
Hunter became the senior Republican on the House panel with the retirement of the former chairman, Rep. Robert L. Stump (R-Ariz.). Hunter was supported for the top post last year in a letter signed by 24 of the 31 GOP members, including the now second-ranking Republican, Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania.
Plans called for Congress to confirm his status after reconvening this month.
In a late November interview, Hunter said the nation needs to strengthen its defense capabilities because he believes “this is going to be a very dangerous era. Nine/11 dispelled all the euphoria that this was going to be a century of peace.”
Forward to the Past
He also cited as “a cause for reflection by the President and the committee” the surprising declaration by North Korea that it had continued nuclear weapons development despite its agreement to stop in exchange for a package of benefits.
“That raises the prospect of two contingencies,” he said, such as conflicts with Iraq and North Korea at the same time. “That revalidates the requirement that we have a two-war capability.”
In fall 2001, the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review adopted a new standard for sizing the armed forces. The old post-Cold War force-sizing standard envisioned being able to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously. It has now been set aside, and the new standard calls for building a force that can defend the homeland, deter aggression forward in four critical theaters, and swiftly defeat aggressors in any two theaters at the same time, but with only one of these to feature occupation of the enemy’s nation.
Hunter noted that the Army used the equivalent of eight divisions against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and would need a similar force against North Korea. Today’s Army has only 10 active divisions, he went on.
“That gives us a reason to look at force structure and not to slip the two-war standard,” he said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has opposed the services’ requests for military personnel increases, arguing that they could gain additional combat power by reducing support structure and shifting personnel to fighting units.
“There is validity in looking at the tooth-to-tail ratio, in getting more capability with less bureaucracy,” Hunter agreed.
He noted that for years he has sponsored defense authorization amendments requiring yearly cuts of 25,000 procurement workers. Those amendments cut the workforce from “more than 300,000 professional shoppers” when he started, to less than 200,000.
“The real challenge for American security is to be able to field technology quickly,” Hunter said. But the Pentagon bureaucracy “has grown so large and cumbersome, it’s hard to get technology into the field.”
“The real transformation in DOD will be in reforming the bureaucracy,” he said.
“I think there is room to cut bureaucracy. Rumsfeld’s right in that,” he said.
But he pointed out the deep reductions in force structure in the 1990s, citing specifically the Air Force’s cut of nearly half its fighter wings.
Now, “the optempo is so severe on our aircrews it is causing a chronic shortage of pilots and crewmen, and it’s worse in maintenance personnel. Optempo affects retention,” he said, using the shorthand term for operating tempo.
Longer Legs for Airpower
Despite his belief in the value of airpower in combat, Hunter warned that “the use of airpower is going to be affected by the threat of contamination of US troops in the theater by chemical or biological weapons.”
The air bases in South Korea particularly “have to expect to be targeted by Scud-type missiles” with unconventional warheads, he said.
That, plus access denial by potential host nations, will make it difficult to maintain tactical air bases around the world, Hunter added.
“We saw that in Afghanistan, when the Air Force was struggling to get in,” he said.
“That demonstrates that long-range airpower is going to become more and more critical,” he continued. “It shows it was a mistake not to build more B-2s. It also was a mistake to stand down the B-1s.” He was referring to the Air Force decision to retire 33 B-1B bombers to free up money to improve the 60 remaining Lancers.
Air Force officials have argued that the current bomber force is adequate because precision munitions enable one aircraft to hit multiple targets, instead of needing multiple aircraft to take out a single target.
“My argument back to them is that while they say precision munitions are the order of the day, we’re low on precision munitions, based on their own stated requirements,” Hunter replied.
Hunter has warned for years that all the services lack the ammunition stocks they would need to fight a major war, and he has tried to boost munitions funding in the annual defense authorizations.
More recently, he has stressed the need to build more Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the GPS satellite-guided bombs that were used extensively in Afghanistan.
“The numbers are classified, but I can tell you, we don’t have enough,” Hunter said.
More Stealth, Precision
“We have learned the value of the combination of stealth and precision,” he said, adding, “but the people who say stealth and precision are the keys to winning wars don’t buy enough stealth and precision.”
Hunter was particularly concerned about the limited fleet of B-2 bombers.
“I think we have to have more,” he said. “Twenty-one is not enough.”
Asked if he was advocating reopening the B-2 line or designing a new bomber, Hunter noted the manufacturer’s offer to build an improved B-2 for much less than the $2 billion each of the existing Spirits cost, including development expenses.
“That’s something that’s really promising,” he said.
Hunter said the Air Force’s proposal to develop a bomber version of the F/A-22 “has some promise,” but he wanted to look at the proposed FB-22’s bomb load and range capabilities.
“There is a question whether you can stretch a fighter into a bomber,” he said.
Hunter was not prepared to side with the Air Force in the USAF-Pentagon debate over the total number of F/A-22s it will buy. But, he said, “I like the F-22. We need larger numbers than what Rumsfeld wants to build.”
Hunter is enthusiastic about the Joint Strike Fighter, or F-35.
“I look forward to fielding it in substantial numbers,” he said. “It’s been unfortunate that we’ve been so long without stealth on the carriers.”
The F-35 would be the first carrier-based aircraft with true stealth qualities that would give the Navy the ability to hit heavily defended targets on the first day of an air war.
Hunter said he has not been briefed on the details of the planned integration of Navy and Marine Corps tactical air units but indicated some reservations.
“I would be concerned about the strike capability of maritime airpower, the depth of that capability, and about the ability of Marine units to access airpower in a combat situation,” he said.
“The reason the Marines have their own air is that they need to have it when they close with the enemy,” added Hunter. “If the leaders of the Marine Corps are confident they will have it when they need it, that’s a factor I would consider.”
Although he has supported the troubled V-22, which the Marines and the Air Force want, Hunter said the tilt-rotor aircraft has “had enough problems in recent years to require a very thorough testing in a number of areas. … It’s going to have to show me and the committee” that it can operate safely and effectively.
Hunter said the Navy must increase its shipbuilding rates to prevent the fleet from shrinking far below the 300-ship level called for in the latest defense reviews. But he said he was “encouraged by a number of things being done,” including the Navy’s plan to build a small and fast but well-armed vessel called the Littoral Combat Ship.
He called the LCS “an opportunity to marry ship technology with weapons technology,” such as the Navy’s “affordable missile” program, which is supposed to produce a precision strike missile for $500,000, much less than the unit cost for Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The combination could “provide considerable firepower for the Navy and Marine Corps in a very affordable way,” he said.
Hunter did not have a position on the Navy’s dispute with Rumsfeld over the need for a radically different nuclear powered aircraft carrier, saying he was more concerned about the aircraft flying off the carriers.
“We need to have stealth on the carrier decks,” Hunter said. “It’s not going to do much good to have a reconfigured carrier if we fail to put stealth on it.”
The Topline Problem
Most of the disputes over what programs to fund, Hunter said, stem from “the topline problem,” or the lack of money to buy what the services say they need.
“Defense spending ought to be based on what we need to defend this country, not on what’s left over,” he emphasized. “For years it’s been what’s left over.”
“The Joint Chiefs have been saying they need to spend $100 billion a year on procurement,” he added. “This year we reached $71 billion, but [the Fiscal 2003 defense budget is] still underfunded by $29 billion.”
Total defense funding should be increased by $50 billion above the current $393 billion, he said.
Hunter did not blame Rumsfeld for the level of defense spending because he believed the Defense Secretary lost the fight for more funds with the White House Office of Management and Budget.
“I hope this time we really have a sit-down [discussion] with the Administration, with OMB, before they put the budget down,” he said.
Hunter noted he also was “very concerned” about homeland security.
“We need to know who and what is coming into the country,” he said, citing particularly the threat from the thousands of shipping containers that come into the country every day, virtually uninspected.
Long before 9/11, port security was a major issue for Hunter. He blocked the Port of Long Beach’s effort to use part of the closed Naval station as a container terminal for the China Ocean Shipping Co. He called the firm, which is owned by the Chinese Army, a “threat to national security.”
He also has fought against relaxing export controls on defense related materials and computer technology, even though those restrictions hurt the aerospace and high-tech industries that are major economic factors in his state.
Because of the threat of terrorism, Hunter said security officials “need to know in real time what’s in our air and water. We need to be able to detect very quickly something that’s been released. That should be a priority for the President and for the committee.”
Hunter has been a vocal advocate for another area of homeland security–national missile defense–since former President Ronald Reagan’s ambitious Star Wars plan.
He echoed President Bush’s view that there is no distinction between a national missile shield and theater defenses.
“I think the Administration finally took the right perspective,” said Hunter. “It’s a seamless challenge. … We have to be able to defend against slow and fast missiles.”
During the interview, Hunter said if he became chairman he would propose that the House panel establish subcommittees more like those of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He suggested subcommittees on air-land issues, on sea power, on strategic matters, on emerging threats, on military construction and readiness, and on personnel.
That structure would allow the subcommittees to follow programs from research and development through procurement, he said. And with GOP control of the Senate, similar subcommittees would make it easier to hold joint hearings.
“It deserves at least a look,” he said.
Just “Showing Up” All the Way to the Top
A native of Riverside, Calif., Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, 54, attended college in California then enlisted in the Army in January 1969. He went through recruit training, Officer Candidate School, and parachute training at Ft. Benning, Ga.
He went to Vietnam in October 1970 as a platoon leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. When the 173rd was sent home in June 1971, he served with the 75th Ranger Regiment until October, when he returned to the States and was discharged.
He said of his Vietnam service, “I didn’t do anything special. I just showed up.”
After the Army, Hunter worked at farming and construction while he attended Western State University in San Diego, where he earned a law degree in 1976. As a lawyer, he specialized in poverty cases in a Hispanic area of San Diego until 1980, when he rode the Reagan landslide to victory over veteran Democratic Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin.
During his early years in the House, Hunter was considered aggressive and abrasive, often defying his party’s leadership. He was an early supporter of Newt Gingrich’s effort to drive the House Republicans to the right, was among the few elected Republicans to support Pat Buchanan’s 1996 Presidential bid, and was one of seven senior GOP members who threatened to vote against the budget in 2000 to force Speaker Dennis J. Hastert to add $4 billion for defense to the supplemental.
Otto Kreisher is a Washington, D.C.-based military affairs reporter for Copley News Service and a regular contributor to Air Force Magazine. His most recent article, “Air Wings Built for Two,” appeared in the December 2002 issue.