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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 22:53 GMT 23:53 UK
Stumbling towards Pentagon reform
The Pentagon
Efforts to modernise the US military have stalled
By BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Now that the Bush Administration has belatedly given its approval for the Pentagon to order the first batch of advanced F-22 warplanes both the US Air Force and the aircraft's manufacturers - Lockheed Martin - will be relieved.

Many feared that the F-22 could become the first high-profile victim of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon reforms.

Billed as a far-reaching attempt to re-shape the US military for the conflicts of the 21st century, the Rumsfeld reform process has run into the sand.

It has prompted strong opposition from both Congress and senior serving officers. Reform there still will be, but there are growing doubts about its scale and scope.

And there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the Bush Administration has sufficient funding available to carry through its more ambitious plans.

Ambitious agenda

It all started off so well. Prior to coming into office, George Bush strongly signalled his desire to place military reform near the top of his agenda.

There was a lot of talk about abandoning old weapons systems and of jumping a generation to invest heavily in the advanced, information-based war-fighting technologies of the future.

There were plenty of ideas, and once in office the Bush team looked as though it had the people to carry it through.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
So far Secretary Rumsfeld's reform efforts has inflamed passions in the military and on Capitol Hill

The trio of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, Colin Powell at State, and Vice-President Dick Cheney, who is himself a former Defence Secretary, gave the Bush administration unrivalled security expertise.

These were men who could tackle entrenched military interests on their own terms, a team that would not have the wool pulled over their eyes.

Anger in the ranks

But things did not turn out quite that way. The Rumsfeld reform effort began with a series of secretive studies in an effort not just to draw up a new master plan for the military but also to establish a new strategic blueprint for the coming century.

Without such a blueprint, force planning would be a nonsense.

But so far no full-scale strategic rationale has been produced. And the way in which the Defence Secretary set about the process of reform has inflamed passions both on Capitol Hill and among the military's top brass.

The Generals and admirals feel that they have been left on the sidelines; the politicians feel that they have been brought into the process too late.

Obstacles to reform

What is now clear is the array of hurdles facing defence reform. Funding is one of the fundamental problems.

The Bush administration's tax cut and the faltering economy mean that there simply will not be the money available for far reaching changes.

President Bush clearly believes that missile defence is a priority, and this could drain money away from other programmes.
The F-22 Raptor
Many fear that tighter budgets will force cuts in large programmes like the F-22

If money is to be found from within the existing defence budget it can only be done in one of two ways.

Either there has to be a significant cut-back in the force structure ie a reduction in the number of army divisions, air force wings and carrier battle groups; or some big ticket programmes on the scale of the F-22 have to be cut.

Neither option is attractive to the military. Indeed some Pentagon insiders believe that far from shrinking the armed forces should at the very least remain at current levels if they are to fulfil the varied security responsibilities of the new century.

Early battles over the trimming of the B1 bomber force show the level of passions that defence cuts provoke.

Mr Rumsfeld still has some way to go and continues to keep his cards close to his chest.

But the balance is swinging against fundamental reform, unless, perhaps, President George Bush himself is prepared to put a good deal of Presidential capital and time into the project.

See also:

30 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rumsfeld denies US foreign policy split
29 Jun 01 | Americas
US military bases face closure
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