In the next six months or so, the Bush administration will make decisions on the future of the U.S. military that have the potential for revolutionizing military strategy and the supporting force structure. There are no cheap solutions. But there is the potential for bold solutions to the problem of the mismatch between strategy and capabilities.
The central tenet of U.S. defense policy for almost a decade has been the need to be prepared to fight two nearly simultaneous large regional conflicts, termed major theater wars (MTWs). The case for a two-MTW strategy arose naturally with the end of the Cold War.
Each MTW would require five to six Army/Marine Corps divisions, 10 fighter wings, four to six aircraft carriers, half the strategic bomber force and hundreds of support aircraft, dozens of surface ships and most of the nation's space-based intelligence assets.
The two-war requirement was confirmed by the two major assessments of U.S. military capabilities conducted by the Clinton administration, the Bottom-Up Review and the last Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
Despite the apparent consensus, it is likely that the two-MTW standard will be a casualty of the strategic review now underway in the Pentagon. It has been evident for several years now that U.S. military forces are being over-stretched and over-used. Deployments in support of contingencies in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans and the Persian Gulf are depleting units that would have to take part in a two-MTW situation. The divisions supporting Balkan deployment were rated as C-4, or unready for wartime duty, precisely because they are engaged in peacekeeping duties instead of training for their wartime missions.
Under the current strategy, certain weapon systems such as the E-6 electronic warfare aircraft and intelligence assets will "swing" from one theater to the other. It is clear from recent events, when operations over northern Iraq were curtailed in order to reinforce forces conducting the air war over Kosovo, that such a strategy will not work. There are not enough of these units for more than one conflict.
In testimony last year before the House Armed Services Committee, witnesses identified a number of shortfalls in the current force posture. For example, while a two-MTW strategy is estimated to require some 4,000 Tomahawk land-attack missiles, the Navy has just 50 percent of that number. Lt. Gen. Larry Ellis, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations and plans reported that the Army currently Jacks the capability to enter a conflict quickly and sustain operations. The Army also has insufficient ammunition stocks.
Similarly, Vice Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, deputy chief of naval operations for resources, warfare requirements and assessment reported that a build rate of eight to 10 ships per year is required to sustain a two-MTW fleet. Currently, the Navy is producing six ships a year.
The two-MTW standard is likely to be modified, if not cast aside, in the face of the reality that defense spending is simply too low to maintain the current force, itself barely capable of meeting current demands. Estimates vary, but the shortfall in defense spending is probably no less than $50 billion annually and could be as much as $100 billion. …