Former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne argues below that Defense Secretary Gates’ acquisition decisions last week reflect that the United States is focused so intently on “becoming the armed custodians in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq” that the country is engaging in a “strategic drawdown.” I thought Wynne might have some interesting thoughts on the Gates decision, especially given the scale of the cuts to the service he used to lead so I asked him to write something for Buzz readers.
Although the decision to curtail F-22 production attracted much ink in the last week, Wynne argues that the F-22 decision– while important — must be analyzed together with Gates’ other decisions to understand that the Pentagon is “reducing the President’s options to protect U.S. interests.”
On top of the change in strategic direction which Gates has ensured by his acquisition decisions, Wynne argues that the decision to kill half a dozen programs will result in “a searing indictment of America’s capability to design and build modern weapons.”
We’ve all heard the predictable congressional howls about parochial interests, but there has been relatively little trenchant debate about the strategic effects of Gates’ actions. Read on for Wynne’s take.
The F-22 Decision in Perspective
On December 3, 2008 (only four days from the anniversary of Pearl Harbor), President-elect Obama argued that as President he “would maintain the strongest military on earth.” The decisions announced last week by Secretary Gates undercut the President’s strategic objective. Instead, the decisions re-enforce the ability of the ability of the US to manage occupation, not to ensure the ability of the United States to protect its global interests.
Although the F-22 termination has received significant press, the real issue is that the decisions affecting the power projection forces set in motion a process of reducing the President’s options to protect U.S. interests. The F-22 termination is bundled with a group of decisions – putting on hold amphibious capabilities, next-generation destroyers, pushing the carrier modernization to the right, delaying the bomber modernization, undercutting missile defense and opening up a significant fighter gap – which further reduce the ability of the US to maintain a strategic lead in the development and production of power projection forces for the US and allied forces. We are now entering a period of strategic pause in which others can enhance their ability to undercut the capabilities of the existing power projection forces, while not fearing breakout capabilities delivered by the United States and a general process of further weakening the ability of the US to produce power projection forces The symbolism was stark: the North Koreans launch missiles in our direction, and we respond with a strategic drawdown. I am sure the North Koreans fear the MRAP fleet as a deterrent force; and the Iranians are cringing in their boots about the threat from stability forces.
In other words, the F-22 termination is a symbolic decision that forecasts a different approach to our international involvement in the future. The waning of independent action and the rise of consensus action is upon us. The question of it becoming reality becomes the sort of issue that America never debated in the past 70 years. The larger argument that we should be having is how to expand and not contract the sovereign options we offer to the president.
Our national interests are being reduced to becoming the armed custodians in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq. It is our inherent strength in deterrent or global engagement forces that allows us to engage in wars of our choosing; sapping this strength limits our choices or bring to us the agony of a war not of our choosing.
The evolving strategic environment simply does not support the reduction of US engagement to imperial custodianship. A strategic debate worthy of the name must take into account that recent intelligence actually advanced the fielding date for the Russian fifth generation fighters; and sees nuclear capability for North Korea and Iran as very near term, which could spark regional or larger conflict. China has accelerated its strategic military funding; and at the same time worries about poverty driven uprising; and may need an external focus to meld their country. Future estimates of demographics indicate that the energy-rich north Asian landmass currently owned by Russia will dramatically lose population; On the other hand as China’s energy appetite accelerates the region’s population is increasingly Chinese nationals. Consensus on peace may well be the talk of the society; but there are near-term indicators that this might not be acceptable to rogue leaders who are more concerned with strengthening their hold on power than achieving international good will. Resetting of global relationships should not be defined as accommodation to what others offer us regardless of cost.
So the argument about America’s place in the world should be actively debated; the clear signal on weakening America’s global engagement forces; while investing heavily in occupation forces, will not go unnoticed. From an analytic policy standpoint, we are weakening our asymmetric advantage, and becoming symmetric with our peers in order to become more qualified to fight groups that do not threaten our nation.
Another strategic consequence of Gates’ decisions would be to provide a searing indictment of America’s capability to design and build modern weapons. The terminations in the air, space, helicopter and bomber domain will essentially gut American aerospace engineering — the very area that has provided our sea-locked nation with strategic advantage and strategic reach. This action; in combination with the actions to save finance and automotive should make our heads spin. Lockheed made the case that 95,000 jobs were dependent on the F-22; well, you can more than double that for the other products. In addition, this will make any other products or design and development work more expensive.
This may prove to be the greater weakening of defense; as we found out in the last lost decade. We lost talent that was available for the Reagan buildup; but was not there when we need it now. Now we are giving up design and development talent with no means to carry it into a dimming future.
In other words, I see this not as a single action stopping the F-22 well below the recommended military level; but as a broader action by a weary Defense Department to limit our sovereign options in the foggy future, by postulating ‘Peace in our Time’.