Questions for Rumsfeld’s Pentagon

Oct. 1, 2005

Pentagon chief Donald H. Rumsfeld soon will wrap up his 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review. The Secretary of Defense has peppered the services with tough questions. Given the stakes—the future of our armed forces—DOD officials should be willing to respond to some questions themselves. Here are a few suggestions.

In July 15 remarks made to the Bloomberg Forum, Ryan Henry, a senior QDR official, stated, “We are going to stay within the [spending] guidelines the President’s budgeting folks have given us.”Yet President Bush himself once insisted, “Our defense vision will drive our defense budget, not the other way around.” The whole premise of a QDR, of course, is to establish requirements to help set spending levels. So: Which comes first—strong defense or fiscal hygiene

Speaking of the President’s “budgeting folks”: They want to constrain spending even as we fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a generalized global war with terrorists. They seem to see the current military burden on the economy—four percent of GDP—as the upper limit. Do you agree

Under Ronald Reagan, defense took six percent of GDP. George H.W. Bush committed 5.3 percent. Were they being economically reckless

One QDR assumption is that the US today faces no serious “traditional” military rival. Pentagon officials have cited this view as a reason for reorienting our forces away from high-end fighters, warships, and the like. How does one square that view with Rumsfeld’s comments, made June 4, that China’s investment in missiles and other advanced weapons poses a threat to US interests in the Pacific

The Defense Secretary has asked, “Since no nation threatens China, … why this growing investment?” What do you think is the answer to that question

DOD is changing its force-planning concept to (in the words of the newsletter Inside the Pentagon) “a very infantry-centered view of the future.” More funding in the future thus will go to the Army, Marine Corps, and, in particular, special operations forces, with correspondingly less going to USAF and the Navy. How will this shift improve our chances in a future military showdown with China, in which huge air and naval clashes would likely predominate

Regarding this new emphasis on light, agile ground forces: This is advertised as a way to cope with Iraq-like insurgencies. Does the Pentagon expect to encounter more such challenges anytime soon

On the subject of planning for the future: The Air Force’s recently retired Chief of Staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, said, “Look back to 1988. How well did we plan for the 1990s? Not very well.” He was pointing out that no one had raised an alarm about Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, or Osama bin Laden. Are DOD’s powers of prognostication sufficiently advanced to allow you to make better predictions about future threats and alter US forces accordingly

In 2001, a Pentagon mobility study and subsequent analysis of alternatives found that the US needed a fleet of at least 222 C-17 transports. That was before the 9/11 attacks and the resulting Global War on Terrorism, which has generated an expansion of our mobility needs. Yet today, QDR officials suggest that purchases of C-17s could be halted at only 180 aircraft. Why is it that airlift demand and airlift capability seem to be going in opposite directions

In a surprise move, the Pentagon in December cut USAF’s F/A-22 program, excising 96 fighters and $10.5 billion. You (perhaps inadvertently) thereby imputed to those lost F/A-22s a per-airplane cost of $109 million. However, the only possible replacement—the F-15 fighter—costs about $80 million per airplane. Moreover, it has less than half the Raptor’s combat prowess. Given that the December cut was an obvious false economy, was it simply an error? Or do you have no intention of replacing the lost F/A-22s

The Air Force needs one Raptor squadron for each of its 10 Air and Space Expeditionary Forces. Fielding 10 squadrons requires 381 Raptors, but you are funding 180, enough for five squadrons. Insufficient numbers surely will cause severe overuse of F/A-22s and crews. Does that fact refute Rumsfeld’s earlier position (offered in a 2002 speech at National Defense University in Washington, D.C.) that the term “low-density, high-demand asset” is nothing more than “a euphemism” for saying, “Our priorities were wrong, and we didn’t buy enough of what we need”

According to reports, senior QDR officials want to assign top priority to homeland defense—that is, directly securing US soil against terrorist attack. This is needed, they say, even if it means weakening overseas commitments and drawing down forces used for conventional combat. By contrast, 11 straight postwar Presidents (Truman through George W. Bush) have believed that the best way to defend the homeland is take the fight to the enemy overseas. Were they wrong

The Air Force’s combat airpower offers direct and enormous benefit to the other services, especially the Army. Indeed, no US soldier has been killed in an air attack since April 1953. That is a tribute to air superiority, but Air Force fighters also protect troops by destroying enemy ground forces, as in the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars. Moreover, USAF fighters more and more are linked to small, dispersed ground units that will rely heavily on aircraft for firepower support.

Have Army and Marine Corps leaders come to you to protest QDR attempts to cut or otherwise restrain Air Force combat airpower