Thursday, May 15, 2008

It Takes a War

We applaud the US Army, the sacrifices and tough choices the leadership has made to transform the forces in Iraq into battle winning anti-insurgents. Earlier, under the guidance of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the decision was made to cancel the Comanche stealth helicopter and the massive Crusader artillery system, which saved billions that could be funneled into essential utility choppers and wheeled vehicles urgently needed in the warzone. We've little doubt, though, had there not have been an Iraq Insurgency the Army would still be planning to fight the next Desert Storm.

The Navy and Air Force hasn't been so fortunate, if that is the right phrase, to be tested in the same manner. Only such extreme measures as trial-by-combat is valid proof whether our pet theories and chosen weaponry are up to the tasks mapped out in wargames. The lack of a peer enemy in the air or at sea has offered these services little incentive for variation in their equipment purchases or their plans for future warfare. With only previous conflicts as a reference, World War 2 for the Navy and Vietnam for the USAF, their only recourse has been to refight the same battles over and over.

The opening of the War on Terror did offer a golden opportunity for a freeze on Big Ship construction, for the Navy to move aggressively to control the littorals, interdicting the passage of terrorist pirates and illegal weapons in the shallow seas. Instead, 7 years since 9/11 the purchasing of Cold War era ships and planes continues unabated as does the cost of such last century armaments. The service belatedly deployed the first of 3 Riverine Squadrons to the Middle East in 2006, some 3 years into the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A new littoral combat ship, a concept riddled with numerous faults and excessive cost overruns won't enter full service until almost a decade after the design was finalized, if then.

With the $300 million F-22 Raptor unlikely to be ordered in large numbers, the USAF would have been better served to order new late model F-15s, F-16s, or even brand new F/A-18 Super Hornets to replace thousands of warplanes already aged from 2 decades of service before 2001. Instead, the old warhorses continue to serve in the frontlines to this day. With the further unlikelihood that the Raptor will be used in close air support missions for the land battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, there seems no replacement in sight for the near term for our antiquated airpower.

Regrettably but inevitably it takes a war to shake the hidebound mindset of the admirals and generals. radical thinkers, too often out of favor in peacetime by the military elite, must be welcomed back with open arms if we hope to overcome the desperation tactics of our enemy, the kind we are seeing in Radical Islam. Though we dread the Pearl Harbors at sea or the Blitzkrieg on land, they are too often necessary to awake us from our self-imposed lethargy.