San Diego Union-Tribune

July 29, 2001

Effort to remake military erodes into war over turf

By Otto Kreisher 

The goal was ambitious: reshape the military for the challenges of a new era.

But it's running into the realities of the Pentagon, as protracted infighting among the military branches over their roles and limited defense dollars appears to be stalemating several Pentagon reviews of potential reforms.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld downplayed the resistance. 

"I've been around this town a little bit," he said, "and it came as no surprise to me that when someone wants to change something, someone's not going to
like it."

Yet Rumsfeld, who arrived at the Pentagon with a presidential mandate to revamp the armed forces, has hinted lately that the changes may be less than

The struggle over roles and funding appears to be mainly pitting the Navy against the Air Force and the Marine Corps against the Army.

The infighting was also no surprise to defense analysts.

"You can never expect the services to reach consensus," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. "They are inherently competitive."

Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who worked on one of Rumsfeld's reviews, said the services' responses to new conditions seem to be more of the same.

" 'Give us any threat . . . the force is the same,' " he said of the services' proposals.

The turf fights began even before Rumsfeld started his studies. They were triggered by the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review.

The past defense review, in 1997, was criticized as a coordinated effort to protect the status quo. This one appears to be shaping up as a scramble for
bigger pieces of what is probably a shrinking pie of defense dollars.

The strongest public rivalry is between the Air Force and the Navy. Both are competing for the primary role in what is emerging as a crucial mission: breaking through an adversary's defenses.

This is an extension of the two services' prolonged fight over their relative capabilities for striking far from home.

Showing the flag and wielding the "big stick" overseas has been the Navy's primary mission for a century. But the Air Force claims the Persian Gulf War and the clash over Kosovo prove that air power alone can win a distant conflict.

The Air Force started more than a year ago to pitch its message through well-attended monthly forums on Capitol Hill and frequent briefings for reporters. The presentations, led by a charismatic officer, Maj. Gen. David Deptula, promote air power as the way to deal with enemy efforts to hold back U.S. forces.

The concern is that a future adversary will not make Saddam Hussein's mistake of allowing U.S. forces to mass on its doorstep. Instead, it might use sea mines, diesel submarines, short-range missiles -- possibly with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads -- and terrorist or guerrilla attacks to keep U.S. forces out.

Senior Air Force officers proclaim that long-range air power, primarily in the form of the stealthy B-2 bomber and F-22 fighter jet, can overcome the obstacles, crush the enemy's will to fight and allow the other services to mop up.

The Navy belatedly started a public relations counteroffensive, led by the low-key Rear Adm. Joseph Sestak. He argued that aircraft carriers and amphibious forces in their routine "forward presence" missions can assure access for other U.S. forces. The Navy never claims that it and its Marine teammates can win major conflicts alone.

But the Navy appears to be losing the public relations fight, defense analysts say, based on preliminary reports of the Pentagon reviews.

"The Navy has had problems selling what it has done . . . in the arena of transformation," said a congressional defense analyst who spoke on the condition he not be identified. "The Air Force view . . . is so well-defined that it can take a program conceived in the Cold War, such as the F-22, and show how it fits into a new concept."

Daniel Goure, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute who served on one of the review panels, said "the Navy has an extraordinarily good case" and may be the first service to truly adapt to the future.

But he also agreed the Navy's sales pitch was lacking, saying, "I don't think they've gotten it out as well as they could have."

Goure and the congressional analyst said the Navy's achievements have been mainly in less-than-sexy-sounding technical innovations, such as the network centric warfare concept. These innovations do not have the public relations effect of the Air Force's high-tech aircraft or the Army's new highly mobile,
wheeled combat vehicles, they said.

Navy leaders have been reluctant to embrace more radical proposals, such as the small, fast and well-armed ships called "street fighters," or the high-speed catamaran ferry that impressed the Marines during recent Australian exercises.

Another interservice squabble has emerged recently as the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Jones, has felt compelled to defend its traditional role as the landing force against the perceived threat of new faster-deploying Army units.

The Army has not joined in the public turf fight. But inside the Pentagon, Army leaders are reportedly fighting proposed cuts to their 10 combat divisions.

O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution said the struggle to find the optimum future force is complicated by the fact that "you've got four salesmen" making their best pitches.

He said the solution "is for civilians to get deeply enough into (the dispute) to judge."