Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Power Shift at the Pentagon

You realize control of the purse strings at the Department of Defense has changed hands when Boeing Aircraft offers new C-17 transport planes to the US Army. In a desperate, and my opinion crucial bid to keep the plane's assembly line open a few more years, Ares reports:

...that Boeing is offering the C-17 to the US Army. With a straight face, no less. As we commented before last week's Association of the US Army convention, the best way to get anything funded these days is to paint it green. The Army has been given its way with UAVs - UCAVs, in fact, since the Sky Warrior is designed and intended to carry weapons.

Last week I mentioned in a posting that our best defense against rogue states is a forward deployed Army in the Middle East. This is a fairly recent phenomena in US history, who, like the British before them relied on a well-maintained fleet as our "first line of defense". The two great Anglo democracies, from fear of a military coup by a large standing armed force, has alway kept small numbers of troops at home, keeping the larger battalions busy on some far distance garrison duties. For Britain, her Army protected a global network of trade bases and colonies. For America, the troops defended the wide expanses of the Western Frontier.

As recently as 1950, and faced with warfare on short notice in a push button age, the 2 nations reversed this age-old precedent and created large standing armies. With the Soviet ability to launch her vast tank divisions quickly into the Central European plains, there was little alternative for both states to became virtual armed camps to maintain their freedoms.

Then, in 1991 came the astonishing American victory over Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, as the extra expenditures given to the Army to rebuild after defeat in Vietnam paid dividends. More credit also went to Airpower, but as later realized in the former Yugoslavia, and even dramatically after Afghanistan and Iraq in the new century, "boots on the ground" were essential in this new, more chaotic post-superpower era.

Both the Air Force and the Navy might be victims of their own success. The Navy's victory in the Cold War was with her stealthy secret submarine forces, tapping in on Soviet phone lines and spying off the enemy coasts. In the event, the Navy's primary operations were kept from public view. The Air Force's own brilliant successes with smart bombs and missiles in the Gulf Wars, might have convinced budget allocators the need for fewer of these highly effective but super expensive warplanes.

So we see a shift in priorities at the Pentagon. The Army already plans to deploy new cargo planes, so-called "baby C-130s" and recently won a ground breaking fight with the Air Force over who controls unmanned aerial vehicles. The once predominate USAF, which fielded tens of thousands of bombers, fighters, and missiles in the Cold War, not to mention held a dominate voice during budget allocations, seems to be struggling to maintain relevance in this new robotic age, when it should be leading. As for the Navy, with her rapidly diminishing fleet and little to do, she seems to be left floundering.