Pentagon Lets Services Keep Their Pet Programs Military Strategy It Lays out Is on Conservative Side

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The Pentagon's road map into the near future illustrates again how conservatively military people think.

The map was made public Monday under the official title of the Quadrennial Defense Review. It's a guide to spending priorities - and thus, to military strategy - in the coming lean years of military budgets.

Basically, the review boils down to: Same Old Stuff, Different Numbers. One Force, Two Wars When work started on the review, some people thought the Pentagon might scrap its insistence on being ready to fight two wars at the same time. But two-wars-at-once remains in the new review. This strategy is formally known as Two MRC - "major regional conflicts," clashes of Desert Storm proportions. The Pentagon wants to be able to counter the Iraqis (or Iranians) while simultaneously clobbering the North Koreans. Trouble is, one Desert Storm badly strained the armed forces in 1990-91. After Desert Storm, some military people questioned the two-war strategy. They called it an unlikely scenario that put impossible demands on the armed forces. Even so, the Pentagon is sticking with the two-war strategy, probably out of conservative pessimism. Military people always plan for the worst case; they look at an enemy's capabilities, not his intentions. Yes, the Iraqis and the North Koreans are unlikely to make mischief at the same time. But they can, and that's what military people plan for - wh at an enemy can do, not what he's likely to do. Why? Because war is, very literally, a matter of life and death. Planners who cut corners and guess wrong can kill a lot of young soldiers. Thus, the two-war strategy. It sends a message to the Middle East and North Korea: If one of you starts a war, the other shouldn't bank on a distracted America. Whether Monday's review fortifies the message with enough people and money remains an open question. Sacrifice And Salami On Friday, Defense Secretary William Cohen said, "We are not going to have any salami-slicing." But Monday's review gives off a strong whiff of salami. Salami-slicing is the bureaucrat's term for across-the-board budget cuts, in which sacrifice is doled out in equal portions. Salami-slicing causes less ruckus than hacking some programs entirely so that others can be kept (or added) in their entirety. But Monday's review lets the services keep their pets: The Navy and Marines will get their new F/A-18E, the Super Hornet, albeit in reduced numbers. The Air Force will get its new F-22 Raptor, in reduced numbers. The Navy will keep all 12 of its carrier battle groups while mothballing some surface ships. The Army will keep all 10 of its divisions. The Marines will keep all three of their divisions. The big aerospace firms will get, at some point early in the coming century, the Joint Strike Fighter - still a futuristic paper design up for grabs between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, with millions at stake for a huge supporting cast of subcontractors. Given the tight budgets, something will have to give. The Navy, Air Force and Army will shed more than 58,000 people. If that falls short of paying for the force structure and new weapons, the services probably will cut their budgets for training and operations. Pilots fly fewer hours; soldiers maneuver less often; sailors stay at sea longer; efficiency and morale fall together. Some military people would rather hang on to older weapons and spend the savings on tough training. …