Union Tribune


14-Feb-2001 Wednesday 

Bush calls for new weapons systems
   Defense agenda seen as warning to Pentagon bureaucracy

The New York Times News Service contributed to this report. 

NORFOLK, Va. -- President Bush warned the defense establishment yesterday that it should not expect business as usual as his administration pursues weapons and strategies that would "redefine war on our terms."

Bush's message, an elaboration of campaign pledges, served as a signal to the Pentagon and defense lobbyists that all bets are off in terms of future weapons systems and procurement programs, pending the outcome of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "comprehensive review" of strategy, force structure and budget priorities.

As a candidate, the president spoke repeatedly of the need to skip a generation of technology to stay ahead of future threats. On his second consecutive day with the troops, Bush recast the promise in practical terms, saying, "We must put strategy first, then spending. Our defense vision will drive our budget, not the other way around."

It remains to be seen, however, whether Bush can execute the kind of sweeping changes he suggested yesterday.

Many presidents, including Bush's father, ran up against the Pentagon bureaucracy, entrenched members of Congress and local interests that make it all but impossible to kill a weapons system, no matter how outdated, that is already in production. (When he served as defense secretary, Vice President Dick Cheney tried and failed to kill the accident-prone MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey.)

Bush's insistence on hedging his future budgetary bets has earned him some sniping recently from defense hawks who felt that he was reneging on his pledge to rebuild a robust defense establishment, after what he portrayed during the campaign as eight years of neglect by the Clinton administration.

Some conservative analysts said after his remarks that the president had made a convincing case for his approach.

"It's kind of ironic that conservatives who chastise liberals for throwing money at social problems seem inclined to throw money at the Defense Department before really conducting a strategic review to see what the threats are and how we can best meet them," said Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Some defense analysts have argued that many of the new weapons programs now being developed -- from the Army's new mobile artillery system to the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet, and from the Navy's DD-21 destroyer to the Joint Strike Fighter -- represent relatively marginal advances from previous generations of weapons.

Appearing eager to place himself at the center of the emerging military-spending debate, Bush on Monday visited Fort Stewart, Ga., where he advocated a modest $5.7 billion reallocation of funds in the Pentagon budget to bolster sagging military morale by raising pay, improving health benefits and offering better housing.

Bush asked for little more than what already is required under current law.

The president's approach -- moving cautiously on big-ticket items -- won grudging approval from liberal critics as well as from some conservatives.

"Overall I think it is a pretty sound, reassuring approach," said retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll, vice president of the Center for Defense Information, a vocal critic of most defense programs.

As Bush delivered his message about focusing on future threats, he said he had been impressed by a high-tech computerized war game he witnessed at NATO's Atlantic Command headquarters.

In the future, he said, the Army's heavy ground forces must be lighter, the light forces more lethal, and all of them "easier to deploy and to sustain."

He envisioned air power that "will be able to strike across the world with pinpoint accuracy, using both aircraft and unmanned systems."

Naval forces will "connect information in new ways, maximizing our ability to project power over land."

And he promised to "protect our network of satellites, essential to the flow of our commerce and defense of our common effort."

But to reassure military leaders and pro-defense members of Congress disturbed by his budgetary caution, the president said this transformation will take both "great effort and new spending."

"Bush has the opportunity to build a military that is technically different than what exists today," said Jack Spencer, a defense and national security analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

"Right now his team is just working through all these different pressures: Do we take an evolutionary path to modernization, or do we skip that and take the revolutionary path to modernization? It takes a little while."

Bush's first budget proposal is expected to provide the $310 billion for defense proposed by President Clinton. It would represent a $14 billion increase over the current year's funding, a bit more than the cost of inflation.

Bush said he would provide $2.6 billion in research funds, which he called "a down payment on the research and development effort that lies ahead."