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Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2001

Military strategy reviewed

Defense chief briefs Bush on plans to transform Pentagon

March 24, 2001

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given President Bush a first look at the strategic underpinnings of a plan to transform the American military, officials said Friday.

Rumsfeld has yet to recommend specific changes that would serve as the foundation for anything that the Republican-led Congress would eventually pass in terms of defense budget legislation, according to a senior defense official who discussed the matter with Rumsfeld on Friday.

Rumsfeld gave Bush a broad overview of progress in two studies he assigned to officials inside and outside the Pentagon. One is meant to build a strategy that will form the basis for specific changes in the military; the other, a "quality of life" review, is examining ways to sustain and improve troop morale.

Changes he could recommend might include cutbacks in weapons programs or a reordering of spending priorities.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Rumsfeld briefed Bush and other members of his national security team on Wednesday to lay out the approach he is taking.

Bush ex-pressed appreciation, the official said, indicating the president thought Rumsfeld was on the right track.

Although Rumsfeld has set no deadline for completing his strategy, he has created some anxiety in Congress and among senior military leaders who wonder what it will mean for the next defense budget. The 2002 budget the administration submitted to Congress last month included few details on defense programs; Bush said he wanted Rumsfeld to think through a defense strategy first.

Rumsfeld has yet to brief members of Congress on his strategy review, the defense official said Friday.

The White House meeting did not deal with two other subjects under review by Rumsfeld: national missile defense and the possibilities for further reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, officials said.

On Thursday, Rumsfeld re-ported to the senior military leaders on his White House meeting, and on Friday the defense secretary held another session with service leaders. Rumsfeld left at least one of the service chiefs with the impression that he is far from finished with the strategy, one official said.

The Washington Post, which was first to report Friday that Rumsfeld had briefed Bush on his strategic thinking, quoted unidentified sources as saying Rumsfeld is likely to order a halt to building large aircraft carriers and start designing smaller carriers that are less vulnerable to missile attacks.

The Post also reported that Rumsfeld is expected to order the Air Force to buy fewer of its new-generation F-22 stealth fighters, but to acquire them sooner than currently scheduled. The F-22 is one of three new fighters in the works, and Bush said recently that one may have to be scrapped. The other two are the Navy's F/A-18 Super Hornet and the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter.

Many other important questions are raised by Rumsfeld's review. Among them:

l Should the production line for B-2 stealth bombers be reopened? Some argue that the long-range bombers, which staged a successful combat debut in the 1999 air war over Kosovo, are needed in greater numbers that the 21 now in the Air Force fleet.

l Should the number of active-duty troops be reduced from the current 1.4 million? The Army, for one, has argued that it needs more troops.

l Should the number of troops stationed permanently abroad be reduced? There now are about 100,000 in Europe and 100,000 in Asia.

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