1998 Congressional Hearings


Statement of James Schlesinger Before the Armed Services Committee, United States Senate, on the Report of the National Defense Panel January 29, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee: You have requested that I comment on the Report of the National Defense Panel and, in particular, to develop further the discussion of alternative strategies and alternative force structures. At the outset, let me say that the Panel has done a commendable job. Overall, its diagnosis of the emerging international scene is excellent, its stress on the need for the transformation of defense is correct. Many of its specific recommendations are admirable. While I shall later comment to some extent on alternative strategies, at the moment I simply wish to state that the reticence of the Panel in the area of alternative strategies and force structures is understandable.

For reasons I shall spell out, I sympathize with the Panel on this point, for it was facing a formidable task. Quite simply you can't get there, that desired point in the 21st Century, from here--given the apparent fiscal limits. The United States has a very ambitious foreign policy. It has accepted the role of the world's principal stabilizing power, the one universal power. Yet, there is no way that it can sustain over time the force structure that the QDR calls for--on three percent of the gross Domestic Product. That is not a matter of analysis; that is simple arithmetic. To fulfill our present commitments and to modernize the QDR force for the more challenging years of the next century would require four percent-plus of the GDP. That does not appear a surprising sum for a nation that aspires to be the sole universal power. Our present level of expenditure, relative to GDP, is less than it was before Pearl Harbor.

In this decade, we have been cushioned by allowing the principal equipments, inherited from the Cold War years, to age. Obviously such action is tolerable only in the short run. We now spend some forty billion dollars a year on procurement. Yet, the depreciation on our equipment--at replacement costs--runs over a hundred billion dollars per year. In brief, we have been enjoying an extended Procurement Holiday. By early in the next century, at the latest, we shall be obliged to spend far greater sums on procurement. Alternatively, we can watch the force structure itself age and erode--until it will no longer be capable of sustaining the ambitious foreign policy that we have embraced.

In the period around 2010, the Department of Defense believes that a new peer-competitor of the United States might emerge. It would be a time, according to present assertions, that we now intend to expand NATO to include portions of the former Soviet Union. It would be a time that expenditures on entitlements programs would be escalating as the baby-boom generation retires, and the budget is projected to go into deficit. Yet, at that very time the effects of the aging of major items of equipment and the erosion of our military capabilities would become clear. Unless we alter our present course, under those circumstances we would have no prudent choice but to retrench on our foreign policy objectives and commitments.

Can we not shrink the present force structure--and thereby provide more funds for modernization? In principal, we should be able to do so, but in practice we would encounter vast difficulties. The operations tempo of the Armed Forces is at this time at an all time peak in peacetime. Force deployments in the post-Cold War years have been far more frequent, of substantially larger size, and of longer duration than in the 1980's. To be sure, the optempo of the Services could be trimmed. We should certainly review the training regime of the Services, which has not changed since the end of the Cold War. With Goldwater-Nichols, the regional CINC's have piled on additional requirements. We
do need an overall review to see whether so high an optempo is desirable. But, we should recognize, given our present foreign policy commitments, we can only trim rather than substantially reduce the optempo. So long as that is the case, any hankering substantially to reduce the force structure remains unachievable.

Quite rightly, the National Defense Panel points to the growing strategic uncertainties of the early part of the 21st Century, the possible emergence of a peer-competitor, the serious arrears in funding the re-equipping of the forces, the emerging (re-emerging) issue of homeland defense, the need for space control, the need to incorporate the benefits of the revolution in military affairs, in short, the need to transform defense. It questions whether the two major-regional-conflicts measuring rod is realistic--or is just `a means of justifying current forces.' It points to the generally low-risk international environment of today. Quite rightly, the Panel states that the `priority must go to the future.' It argues that the pursuit of the two MRC strategy consumes resources that could reduce the risk to our long-term security. given the budgetary limits, the Panel suggests that we surrender the two-MRC standard. There are risks and certain strategic questions that arise following such a path. Yet, given the constraints, it is a plausible suggestion. Nonetheless, at this time, the optempo of the Armed Forces precludes a reduction of the force structure sufficiently large to generate the funds for re-capitalizing the forces.

The Panel recommends other means of generating funds within the present budget. It correctly urges a further attack on our excessive infrastructure--and urges the outsourcing of some 600,000 positions in the DOD, including the civilianizing of certain active military positions. I applaud the further closing of bases and I am receptive to pushing outsourcing as far as feasible. I note, however, that there are still some 20 major domestic bases to be closed still left from the BRAC of 1993. I note that most of the reductions in civilian personnel under the quadrennial review is based upon a base-closing exercise which the Congress has already rejected. I note that base closings to this point have generated less than $6 Billion in savings. Thus, admirable as a further assault on our infrastructure may be, it will not generate substantial additional savings to re-capitalize the Forces.

Yet, the suggestion that we move more vigorously to outsourcing is certainly correct. In the view of the doubts and resistance that inevitably will occur, it will be many years before the resources become available. Given the legal, administrative, and political constraints, less is likely to be obtained by these measures in the necessary time-frame than both the Panel and I would wish.

All in all, the transformation of defense is a meritorious, if not an essential, objective. Yet, it is a far more difficult task, given the resources available, than we are ready to acknowledge. We are not dealing with a system at rest, a garrison military like the pre-World War II German Wehrmacht. The U.S. military now is always on the go, moving around the world and conducting operations in dozens of countries. To transform a force so active is a far more arduous task. While we should embrace the objective, we should also recognize the difficulties that stand in our path.

Mr. Chairman, let me now turn away from household tasks to an examination of what the Panel describes as the `cusp of a military revolution.' The opportunity for such a revolution has been created by the immense technical advances in computers, microelectronics, telecommunications, sensors, and precision guided munitions. These new military technologies were first unveiled in the Gulf War. Admittedly, the conditions were ideal for exploitation of these new technologies. It permitted our senior officers to have dominant battlefield awareness, while Iraq's unfortunate generals had limited ability to communicate and were largely unaware of what was transpiring on the battlefield. However, one element must be kept in mind: our showcasing of these military technologies means that we will never again have the element of surprise, nor will we again be able so easily to exploit the advantages that these technologies offer. We shall have to labor hard, as others acquire these technologies, both to stay ahead and to exploit fully the opportunities offered by them. When I say that we must work hard, I mean that we must
not be lulled into complacency by such phrases as `full spectrum dominance.' There is no guarantee of permanent American military dominance. Others will be learning the capabilities of information warfare and weapons of mass destruction. Thus `eternal vigilance' remains essential.

That leads me--all too briefly--into alternative strategies and alternative force structures. You will understand, of course, Mr. Chairman that I can only throw out a few brief observations. A complete review would require far more time. But it is essential that, as conditions change we continue to seek alternative means to achieve military or national goals--and to choose those means that achieve our goals most effectively. I have dwelt upon the Gulf War as a watershed event. The military establishments of many nations are busily seeking to discern the lessons of the Gulf War.

In this light I find it curious that the United States, which developed, exploited, and revealed these new military technologies in the Gulf War, has failed fully to grasp at least one of the principal lessons from that war. The lesson I refer to, that has not been fully absorbed, is the immense success of the air offensive prior to and during the hundred hour ground war. The six weeks of coordinated air attacks prior to the launching of the counter offensive on the ground significantly crippled the combat power of the Iraq forces--and continued to do that during the four days of the ground war. Nonetheless, to date the U.S. military establishment has failed to absorb the lessons of the immense success of the air war into either doctrine or war plans. In touching on so many issues, the Panel failed to note the centrality of this issue of strategy. And the Air Force itself has been remiss. For so many years it treated `strategic' and `nuclear' as synonymous that it failed to analyze and articulate the strategic role that Tac Air can play.

Despite all our talk of jointness, the Services still have yet to formulate a sufficiently shared vision of our military future. Air power is not just an ancillary to the ground counteroffensive. If we have air superiority, it too can attrit enemy ground forces. And it can do so at a far lower cost in American blood. All this potentially has major implications for budgets and force structure. It is ironical that those who comment upon--and sometimes complain--that sixty percent of the procurement budget goes to Tac Air, have not fully grasped the potential advantages that that confers. It raises a question, for instance, whether the allocation between platforms and munitions is the right one. Given the military significance of precision-guided munitions, one wonders whether it is wise to allow our inventories to be as low as they are. (The Committee may wish to check what kind of a dent the air war against the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 or (what may be) the forthcoming military operations against Iraq put into our inventory of precision guided weapons.) It is a regrettable fact that, if inventories are constrained and are expected to be limited, that in itself may alter military plans--in a way that makes them less effective. The size of inventories is also a choice.

An issue of at least equal importance that we have not yet thought through is what dependence on these newly-available military technologies may do to our vulnerability. Not only is the United States more dependent upon these technologies than any other nation, its extraordinary military leverage now comes from these technologies. That makes us more vulnerable to all of those stratagems that fall under the rubric of information warfare.

That underscores at least two things. First, it is essential for the United States to continue to forge ahead of other nations, not only in the exploitation of information warfare, but in defensive measures. Other nations are now industriously studying how to exploit information warfare. The secret is now out.

Second, we must continuously examine whether or not we are becoming overly dependent on these new technologies in a way that might create a critical vulnerability. If these technologies are essential as force multipliers, neutralization by others of our exploitation of these technologies would place us at an immediate disadvantage. We must, therefore, examine to what extent we should hedge against such a vulnerability. Such hedging could be costly. To hedge against the neutralization of force multipliers, one can maintain larger forces. But if one were totally to hedge, one would forfeit the cost benefits (though not the benefits in effectiveness) embodied in the revolution in military affairs.

I close by reminding the Members of the Committee of the longer-term problems of sustaining our military advantages and thereby sustaining our ambitious foreign policy. The Department of State has recently stated (in response to Russian complaints about our indifference to their sphere of influence in the `Near Abroad') that the Department of State states that the United States does not acknowledge the legitimacy of spheres of influence. That presumably applies only to other countries, since the United States, as the single universal power, regards all the outside world as its sphere of influence. Yet, if we are unable to sustain our military forces and sustain our military advantages into the 21st Century, despite the ambitions of our foreign policy, we would be obliged to retreat.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the Members of the Committee for your attention. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.