Leadership: Making The Most of the Present

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p> May 21, 2008:  The U.S. Secretary of Defense has ordered the service chiefs and their subordinates to cut back on developing weapons and tactics for the next war (wherever and whatever it might be), and concentrate on the current ones. This directive is based on the assumption that the U.S. military can already defeat any potential foe, and the near future appears to include more irregular fighters and terrorists, than masses of tanks, modern aircraft and high tech warships.

 

All of America's likely foes (North Korea, Iran, China) have conventional weapons that are a decade or more behind what the U.S. has now. Against all three, American air, naval and nuclear weapons power is overwhelming. It's long been U.S. policy to avoid wars that involve lots of ground troops. The current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, involve only about 200,000 troops at any one time (out of 1.2 million soldiers and marines available), and a casualty rate that is less than half what was suffered in Vietnam, Korea or World War II. The Department of Defense wants the troops to become more effective at dealing with irregulars and terrorists. The current war is giving the ground troops invaluable combat experience, making American ground forces the most capable on the planet. The idea is to capitalize on that, not new, untried and very expensive technology.

 

The U.S. Army has been trying to get more money for what it calls FCS (Future Combat Systems). This includes new vehicles, weapons and electronic devices that take advantage of the latest technologies. Many in the Department of Defense see this as another procurement boondoggle (along with the F-22 and the navy's new destroyer). So money is being cut back for the FCS. The army is not complaining too loudly, because the hundreds of billions it is getting to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is also paying for new, state-of-the-art gear. This is stuff that is being tested in combat, and what passes muster becomes the most effective gear available.