Achieving Balance Over Time
By Gregory S. Martin
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been articulate and decisive in moving the Defense Department, military services and agencies toward a more “balanced” force.
But one must ask, “Will the balance for today be the right balance 20 or 30 years from now?”
Although U.S. forces have been dominant in conventional conflicts, they have not been as decisive against the insurgents and terrorist forces, using irregular warfare techniques with less technologically sophisticated weapons.
Whether U.S. forces are inserted into a peacekeeping and stabilization situation, or left with the task of stabilizing and reconstructing a nation after a major conflict, they will be faced with irregular warfare adversaries. While increasing emphasis on those irregular warfare capabilities makes sense, balance should not mean focus on today’s wars with little concern for the very real possibilities of future challenges.
The nation must not lose focus on the technologies and capabilities that have given its military forces the ability to be dominant in high-intensity conflicts. The world is unpredictable and the future security challenges may look far different than those the United States faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Gates announced the termination of the C-17 and F-22 production lines; cancelation of the next combat search-and-rescue helicopter, the presidential helicopter, the multiple kill vehicle, the next generation bomber and the transformational satellite communication system, he delivered a potentially destructive blow to America’s air and space industrial base.
Individually, some of the decisions may seem appropriate, but in the aggregate they could unbalance the forces needed in the next 20 to 30 years in a way that may increase the risk to this nation’s national security. If the decisions made by Gates are sustained by the Congress, thousands of engineers and aircraft and space systems craftsmen will depart a work force that has been one of the only manufacturing sectors to achieve a positive trade balance with overseas trading partners.
As members of Congress consider Gates’ budget and program proposals it is essential that they fully debate the balance in capabilities needed for both the current conflicts and those likely to be joined in the future. Isn’t it ironic that the same person who, as the CIA director, suffered the results of the 1970s’ dismantling of this nation’s human intelligence capabilities may now be visiting a similar fate upon our nation’s air and space capabilities?
Gregory S. Martin is a retired Air Force general. He served as commander of the Air Materiel Command and of U.S. Air Forces Europe.