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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 21:37 GMT 22:37 UK
Bush seeks 'military revolution'
US President George W Bush
Mr Bush faces a tricky task in reforming the military
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

US President George W Bush is expected to unveil a radical new approach to America's future defensive capabilities.

In a speech on Friday to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he has the opportunity to recast America's strategic thinking and its armed forces for possibly decades ahead.

The president needs to articulate a new vision for the armed forces. He needs to set out just what sorts of missions they are likely to engage in.

Picture: Federation of American Scientists
The DD21 destroyer - one of the US' most advanced projects
From this strategic blueprint could follow a fundamental transformation of each of the armed services to fulfil these new roles.

For all the talk of reform, overstretch, and lack of readiness, America's armed forces are simply too large and unwieldly for the sorts of operations they may have to face in the future.

Cold War thinking

While there has been some slimming down and an effort to graft new digitised command systems onto existing units, US forces have not fundamentally changed since the ending of the Cold War.

US tanks
Massed armour may not win future wars
Operation Desert Storm - at least in terms of US deployments - was a re-run of plans for a European conflict transposed to the Middle East.

American forces are seen as too heavy, and need to be more agile and harder hitting.

The air operations against Serbia revealed shortages of key assets, like airborne electronic jamming aircraft that were insufficient even for one limited conflict, though the Pentagon's post-Cold War planning benchmark has been a capacity to fight two medium-sized wars.

This benchmark is likely to be one of the first things to go under the Bush review.

New environments

There is also likely to be a much greater emphasis upon Asia and a growing focus upon China and its military modernisation plans.

Chinese armed forces poster
The US perceives China as a "strategic competitor"
Political changes around the world have altered the environment into which the US may deploy force.

But changes in military technology are also shaping the challenges of the future. More accurate and longer-range weaponry is proliferating.

New reconnaissance systems promise to give commanders an unrivalled view of any future battlefield.

The tempo and range of future combat may be very different. The US remains the technological leader, but it needs to use this advantage in new ways.

Vested interests

Fundamental change, though, in the Pentagon is a matter as much of culture as of planning. Each of America's armed forces represents a huge bureaucracy of vested interests.

US Vice President Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney: Widespread military experience
The US needs more joint effort between the services and less duplication. To take on such interests, President Bush has chosen a strong team, not least Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a veteran Pentagon insider.

This administration is full of inside military knowledge; from Colin Powell - a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - at the State Department, and Vice-President Dick Cheney, a former defence secretary.

Fundamental defence reform is not going to be an easy brief. It will require an extraordinary investment of political capital.

Some defence experts believe that Mr Bush may have much more success in the nuclear field, where there may be a significant shift away from regarding Russia as the benchmark for constructing America's own nuclear forces.

Painful choices

But in the conventional field, where every weapons system has its supporters in both the services and on Capitol Hill, difficult choices will quickly become painful choices.

The bottom line, as ever, is the dollar. Mr Bush has given strong backing to missile defence, which could eat up funding.

Defence reform is going to need new money. Some $30 to $35bn in additional money may be needed in the 2002 fiscal year.

But that will not be enough to bring about the military revolution that Mr Bush has effectively promised.

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See also:

01 May 01 | Americas
Hurdles for US missile defence plans
09 Feb 01 | Americas
Bush orders major defence review
30 Apr 01 | Americas
Bush: The first 100 days
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