is a piece I had
in yesterday's Washington Post:
"Want a better U.S. military? Make
it smaller. The bigger the military, the more time it must spend taking care of
itself and maintaining its structure as it is, instead of changing with the
times. And changing is what the U.S. military must begin to do as it recovers
from the past decade's two wars.
For example, the Navy recently
christened the USS Gerald R. Ford , an
aircraft carrier that cost
perhaps $13.5 billion. Its modern aspects include a smaller crew, better radar and a
different means of launching aircraft, but it basically looks like the carriers
the United States has built for the past half-century. And that means it has a
huge "radar signature," making it highly visible. That could be dangerous in an
era of global satellite imagery and long-range precision missiles, neither of
which existed when the Ford's first predecessors were built. As Capt. Henry
Hendrix, a naval historian and aviator, wrote this year, today's carrier, like
the massive battleships that preceded it, is "big,
expensive, vulnerable -- and surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the
time." What use is a carrier if the missiles that can hit it have a
range twice as long as that of the carrier's aircraft?
Indeed, if the U.S. Navy persists
in its current acquisition course, it runs the risk of being like the Royal
Navy that entered World War II. As ours is today, the British navy then was the
world's biggest and could throw more firepower than any other sea service. Yet
it proved largely irrelevant in that war because its leaders had missed the
growing significance of submarines and aircraft carriers, not grasping how both
had changed the nature of maritime warfare. They thought of carriers as scout
ships, providing far-seeing eyes for battleships, when, in fact, carrier
aircraft had replaced battleships as the striking arm of the fleet.
Yes, the Royal Navy won the Battle of the Atlantic -- but that's partly
because the United States gave it destroyers and other escort ships the
admirals had neglected, as well as some crucial long-range land-based aircraft.
(One-third of U-boats sunk were hit by aircraft, with another third knocked out
by combined air and surface-ship action.)
The issue, therefore, is how to
have not the most powerful military today but rather the most relevant military
at the point of necessity -- a point that cannot be known. To have that, the
United States needs a military that is not necessarily "ready for combat" at
any given moment but instead is most able to adapt to the events of tomorrow.
The wrong way to prepare is to try
to anticipate what the next war will be and then build a military -- on land,
sea and air -- that fits that bill. Guesses about the future will almost
certainly be wrong. In 2000, no one thought we would invade Afghanistan the
following year. In 1953, Vietnam was a faraway country about which Americans
knew little. In 1949, Korea was thought likely to be beyond our defense
perimeter. And so on.
The best form of preparedness is to
develop a military that is most able to adapt. It should be small and nimble.
Its officers should be educated as well as trained because one trains for the
known but educates for the unknown -- that is, prepares officers to think
critically as they go into chaotic, difficult and new situations.
Eugenia Kiesling, a professor
of history at West Point, observed that in the period between the world
wars, "Smaller forces brought fewer logistical constraints and more rapid
adaptation to changes in technology." That observation is an argument not for a
big jack-of-all-trades military but for one that is smaller and optimized
through its spending to be nimble.
My point is not to beat up on the
Navy. All branches of the U.S. military face the same issue. By and large, the
United States still has an Industrial Age military in an Information Age world.
With some exceptions, the focus is more on producing mass strength than
achieving precision. Land forces, in particular, need to think less about
relying on big bases and more about being able to survive in an era of
persistent global surveillance. For example, what will happen when the
technological advances of the past decade, such as armed drones controlled from
the far side of the planet, are turned against us? A drone is little more than
a flying improvised explosive device. What if terrorists find ways to send them
to Washington addresses they obtain from the Internet?
Imagine a world where, in a few
decades, Google (having acquired
Palantir) is the world's largest defense contractor. Would we want
generals who think more like George Patton or Steve Jobs -- or who offer a bit
of both? How do we get them? These are the sorts of questions the Pentagon
should begin addressing. If it does not, we should find leaders -- civilian and
in uniform -- who will."