The Cannibal Dynamic

Oct. 1, 1994

One newspaper report called it “the cannibal dynamic.” When an organization gets desperate enough, it is apt to turn on the neighbors for nourishment. It appears that some senior people in the US Army have recently become that desperate. They need money, and they are ready to take a bite out of the Air Force to get it.

Leading the charge is Maj. Gen. Jay Montgomery Garner, a longtime artillery officer and assistant deputy chief of staff for Operations and Plans (Force Development). In a memo to the Joint Staff on August 5, he launched an attack on the Air Force’s top aircraft development program, declaring that “the Army does not understand the need for the F-22 fighter.” He said that US air superiority is already better than it needs to be in order to handle a “greatly reduced air-to-air threat” and that the fighter budget should be “recapitalized.” The Army, it is presumed, would gain sustenance from such a recapitalizing.

General Garner has also carried his crusade to the public. What is most remarkable about this is that Army leaders have said nothing to contradict him. Their silence is interpreted as a sign of approval. Finally, pressed hard by Air Force Magazine on August 25, an Army spokesman said grudgingly–and not altogether convincingly–that General Garner had been “speaking personally.”

As expounded to a symposium in Huntsville, Ala., General Garner’s views were tantamount to pounding a stake through the heart of jointness. “Armies are the foundation of nearly all national military forces,” he said. “Air forces and navies are ‘add ons.’ . . . Success or failure of the land battle typically equates to national success or failure.” He conceded that “airpower contributes at the margins,” but in his book, it’s long-range Army fire that counts. An Army heavy division “has the daily firepower potential of over 8,000 F-16 sorties.”

Stealth technology, “while impressive, is unnecessary,” he said. The stealthy F-22 fighter, therefore, is “the wrong aircraft for the land support function.” Although airpower may conduct “limited strategic attacks to degrade the enemy’s ability and will to fight” outside the area of the land battle, such operations “may or may not actually be of value to the joint force.”

Do professional soldiers really believe this stuff? Does General Garner believe it himself? His vision of the Army dominating modern warfare, lightly assisted by other services, is inaccurate, contrived, and–we should think–somewhat embarrassing to the Army. In case General Garner doesn’t recall the Persian Gulf War, may we remind him that deep-striking airpower destroyed Iraq’s command and control system by dawn the first day, then closed down Iraq’s supply routes, kept the world’s sixth-largest air force out of action for the duration of the war, destroyed a high percentage of the enemy’s armor, and induced mass desertions? That was contributing at the margin

As General Garner must surely be aware, current US strategy hangs on the capability of airpower to deploy to a distant battlefield, halt an invasion in progress, and hold the line until other forces can arrive. Troops of the combined arms force will look to airpower for many things, the first of which is to keep hostile airplanes off their backs. No American soldier has been killed by enemy air attack since April 1953. That is not a coincidence, and it is a record worth preserving.

US air superiority today is the best in the world. The F-22, however, is not for today. The first squadron won’t be operational for another ten years-by which time the F-15 Eagle will have been in service for twenty-five years. The F-15 may rule the skies for a while yet, but if we intend to hold air superiority in the twenty-first century, we had better get on with fielding a new fighter.

On August 18, Deputy Secretary of Defense John M. Deutch announced a general shakedown of weapon programs, including the F-22, in search of funds to meet a budget crisis. Dr. Deutch made no pretense about his motives. He did not disparage the F-22 or any of the other programs that will now come under the gun. His difficulty is purely that the defense budget won’t cover the defense program. He is trying to squeeze some relief out of the modernization accounts. Under the circumstances, the wild attack on the F-22 could be more damaging than would otherwise be the case.

Even so, and the weakness of General Garner’s arguments aside, this budget attack across service lines is a poor tactic. The basic problem is not unfair allocation of resources. The relative service shares of the defense budget have not changed that much. The problem is that the budget is too small. The services will not solve that by turning on each other in a feeding frenzy. Furthermore, if General Garner practices cannibalism long enough, he may discover that what goes around, comes around. One day you’re picking the menu. The next day you’re in the pot.