The Pentagon unveiled its 2004 budget on Feb. 3. In the months leading up to that event, the Bush Administration said frequently that it would reveal a vision of a distinctly different military, one optimized for 21st century battle. Senior officials promised new thinking and hinted strongly at sweeping change, including possible elimination of weapons and doctrine.
A detailed assessment of the spending blueprint and official statements boils down to this conclusion:
The United States military has indeed embraced potent new warfighting concepts, as the recent war with Iraq demonstrated to a certainty. However, all signs indicate that radical near-term “transformation” isn’t in the cards. The budget blueprint offers no dramatic shifts on either spending levels or major programs. Change will unfold over many years.
The gist of the transformation philosophy is that the emergence of information technologies and longrange precision strike capabilities have changed the nature of war. Massive, force-on-force engagements between armies are no longer even necessary—and certainly not desirable.
Rapid mobility, stealth, speed, increased range, precision strike, and dramatically slimmed-down logistics all are expected to rise in importance over the next two decades, in the Pentagon view. The question is how to acquire these capabilities.
DOD seeks $379.9 billion for Fiscal 2004, which starts Oct. 1. This budget, if approved by Congress, will mark the sixth straight annual increase since post–Cold War budgets hit bottom in 1998, after 13 years of decline.
Spending, in nominal terms, would go up by $15.3 billion. However, more than half—$8.5 billion—is needed to cover the effects of pay raises and inflation in other areas. Moreover, the armed forces since the Sept. 11 attacks have been saddled with more costly force protection needs, pegged at $5 billion per year.
Simply put, the increment that is left over for new investment is a mere $1.8 billion. (The cost of the Iraq war is covered separately.)
Reaching a Milestone
The 2004 defense budget always loomed as a milestone for President Bush. This, it was often noted, was the first budget to be completely shaped by his Administration.
“ It is really this year’s budget … that is the first to fully reflect the new defense strategies and policies,” Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told Congress.
The new budget, though, neither introduces nor cancels any big weapons program, as some expected. Nor does it reveal dramatic new technology efforts or investments. It pays lip service to the goal of devoting three percent of DOD spending to science and technology.
For all that, Administration officials maintain the Pentagon budget was indeed transformational, when measured in certain ways.
They note that DOD’s new budget allocates $24 billion—a third of its $73 billion procurement fund—to concepts, systems, and technologies designed to help underpin future warfighting concepts. That is just the start, officials emphasize. Over the 2004–09 future years defense program, such transformational procurement would total $219 billion. The rest would go to so-called legacy systems conceived in the Cold War era.
A second measure of transformation centers on use of “discretionary” funds. According to the Pentagon, only a fifth of the budget—$75 billion—is discretionary, meaning it is not tied to old contractual obligations, permanent personnel expenses, or other fixed costs. DOD said it rearranged and reordered about $25 billion of that amount to reflect new thinking and promising new technologies and concepts.
In the hierarchy of officially declared goals, force transformation wasn’t at the top. DOD documents said the highest goal was “winning the global war on terrorism and meeting near-term demands.” Number two in order of importance was sustaining a military of “high-quality people and forces.” Transforming the fighting military and “defense establishment”—the acquisition system and so forth—was the third priority.
A defense budget official told reporters the Pentagon was seeking to balance near- and long-term risk. Thus, less money was available for long-term investments because current operations demand substantial outlays for consumables such as spare parts, munitions, fuel, and maintenance.
It further appears that Rumsfeld has decided to forgo additional improvements to most of today’s generation of weapons and instead shift funds to promising new systems and emerging capabilities.
To cite three prominent cases in point, the Army will discontinue programs to upgrade the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and the Multiple Launch Rocket System. Money once earmarked for those programs will go instead to items such as a lighter and cheaper Army vehicle, the Stryker. Being airmobile, it presumably will be able to get into combat faster. The Army has been given a green light to buy the RAH-66 Comanche scout helicopter but at a slower pace and in fewer numbers.
Under current plans, the Air Force will procure no additional F-15 or F-16 fighters, despite the fact that both are getting long in the tooth and soon will start aging out of the force in large numbers. They will not be replaced on the line until the Air Force starts to field large numbers of new, transformational F/A-22 and F-35 fighters.
Though the service currently worries about a looming shortage of fighters, the Pentagon has decided to withdraw from active service a total of 114 F-15s and F-16s right now, a move openly described as an economy measure. Money that would have been spent to upgrade these aircraft now will be diverted to fund new data links and weapons capabilities for the remainder of the fleet.
Elsewhere, USAF will remove from service 115 of its most geriatric aerial tankers and transport aircraft. Again, Rumsfeld proposes no orders for replacements. To the surprise of many, the budget made no mention of an Air Force idea to lease up to 100 Boeing 767s to serve as aerial refuelers.
Likewise, the Navy is accelerating the retirement of 19 destroyers and seven other warships, which will leave the Navy with a battle fleet of 291 ships in 2006. Not since the 1930s has the Navy deployed fewer than 300 warships. Some 259 Navy and Marine aircraft will be retired early. That combat power won’t be replaced immediately, either.
“ The basic point of this year’s budget is that we have accepted nearterm risk in order to transform for the longer term,” said a top Pentagon official. “These aren’t useless systems. They just, marginally, don’t add enough to justify keeping them, relative to the priority we wish to set for transformational systems.”
Despite speculation that Rumsfeld might cancel a fighter modernization program, the new budget anoints both the Air Force F/A-22 Raptor and multiservice F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as “transformational” systems. This designation stems from their speed, stealth, and powerful air-to-ground punch.
Even the V-22 Osprey, whose development history has forced several make-or-break reviews, will go forward if testing shows no further difficulties. So great is the promise of the V-22 to transform certain kinds of missions—particularly the highspeed, long-range insertion/extraction of Special Operations Forces—that the Pentagon asked for more than had been planned.
When it comes to force size and structure, the story is a mixture of stasis and remarkably audacious change.
There are no plans to expand the end strength or combat formations of the armed forces, despite the pressures created by ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. End strength will stay at about 1.39 million troops.
Instead of adding uniformed troops, the Pentagon hopes to make far better use of those it has. It proposes to take certain support functions currently performed by servicemen and -women and hand them over to DOD civilians or private contractors. The suddenly available troop billets would be converted to specialties in which chronic shortages exist or for which new missions are being created.
“ We estimate we have some 320,000 uniformed people doing nonmilitary jobs,” said Rumsfeld. He believes the services could add nearly that many “trigger-pullers” to combat units, if his reform plans are accepted.
New capabilities getting attention include unmanned vehicles—of which no fewer than a dozen varieties are being bought, with many more on the drawing board.
Another priority is the lighter, faster-to-develop, faster-to-deploy Army Stryker armored fighting vehicle. The Stryker was designed to be deployed one at a time on a C-130 tactical transport—the Air Force’s most numerous airlifter. The Abrams main battle tank, by contrast, is so heavy that giant C-5 and C-17 airlifters must haul it one at a time. They can carry four and three Strykers, respectively.
Special Operations Forces gained new emphasis in the 2004 budget, the result of their excellent performances in Afghanistan and Iraq. The SOF establishment will be funded to the tune of $4.5 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion over this year. Much of the hardware money for special ops will upgrade aging helicopters and provide for future SOF mobility through the V-22.
The combination of SOF teams and the heavy firepower of combat aircraft, which SOF could call down on targets with high precision, is seen as one of the top transformational concepts enhanced in the latest Pentagon budget.
Special Operations Forces, missile defense, command and control systems, unmanned vehicles, future combat systems, and the Joint Strike Fighter all would see between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in increased annual spending. All these accounts are considered transformational.
In general, the US military is now focusing its buying efforts on faster, lighter, stealthier, more powerful systems that can strike at greater range and put fewer people at risk.
In advance of the budget release, some speculated that Rumsfeld, said to be a proponent of air and space power, would seek to shrink the manpower-intensive Army and boost the air arms of the other services. However, a senior DOD budget official said he saw “no great trade-offs among the services.” So-called shares of the budget varied only slightly from fiscal 2003.
Applying “The Thing”
Retired Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation, downplayed the notion that transformation equals exotic new hardware. Rather, he said, it is the introduction of new concepts, plus a reapportionment of forces, that will be the key to reshaping the military.
As Cebrowski put it, “It’s the application of the ‘thing’ and not just how new the ‘thing’ is.”
The services have also offered up their own, in-house transformation strategies. For the Air Force, this is the Expeditionary Air and Space Force concept of operations; for the Navy, the Navy Expeditionary Strike Force, and for the Army, the Army Objective Force. All emphasize rapid deployment, quick application of power, flexibility, maneuverability, interservice interoperability, and an expeditionary mind-set.
Information operations gets increased emphasis in this budget. Having a comprehensive knowledge of the battlefield leads to smarter application of forces where and when they’ll be most effective. Information technologies such as data modems on aircraft and data-sharing networks, connecting various air-, ground-, and space-borne sensors, would get $41 billion through 2009 under the new budget plan.
One significant new initiative is the funding of research on a space based radar, which is slated for $299 million in Fiscal 2004. The SBR would be able to provide real-time intelligence of ground moving targets anywhere in the world, complementing and eventually replacing airborne platforms like the Joint STARS radar airplane. An in-service date of 2012 is forecast for the SBR.
Plans call for the Navy to refit four of its Trident submarines, removing its ballistic missile tubes and replacing them with magazines full of Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, to provide stealthy conventional striking power from any coast. One Navy official likened the conventional Tomahawk Trident sub as a “submersible aircraft carrier.”
The Pentagon also said it has expanded experimentation and joint training exercises, to better mine the force-enhancing possibilities generated by more cooperation and less redundancy between the services.
The services are still encouraged to compete with one another “to see who can do the job most effectively,” a Pentagon official said, but “adult supervision will ensure that we don’t create meaningless competition when what we want is synergy and interoperability.”
Because of the necessity to meet short-term needs even at the expense of long-term transformation, Rumsfeld said, there are a few gaping holes in the new budget.
For one thing, he explained, the Defense Department has not “fully resolved” the problem of the so-called low-density, high-demand systems. These include aircraft such as the E-8 Joint STARS, E-3 AWACS, RC-135E Rivet Joint, and U-2—combat systems that have been chronically underfunded in the past and will be in short supply for years to come.
Also, said Rumsfeld, the services have been unable to modernize their tactical air forces fast enough to even begin to reduce the average age of their fighter fleets.
The Pentagon’s leadership believes that the new budget is the tangible result of the first top-to-bottom review of the military purpose since World War II.
In an appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld noted that certain programs or activities were either stopped, or not bought, or deferred because they “simply did not fit with our new defense strategy.”
He went on, “In a world of unlimited resources, they would have been nice to have. But in a world where needs outstrip available funds, we cannot do everything. And something has to give.”