Article Published in The Wall Street Journal
Andrew Krepinevich’s Sept. 1 editorial-page essay “Ready for the Wrong War” offered important insights into the flaws in current defense strategy. His core thesis – that future adversaries will acquire long-range missiles and stealth submarines to deny U.S. forces access to forward bases – certainly sounds believable. However, he failed to draw the obvious conclusions concerning how military modernization plans should be adjusted.
If forward bases are not available, then U.S. strategy will need to rely on sea-based forces and long-range bombers. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration terminated production of the stealth B-2 bomber at a mere 21 planes, leaving the Air Force with an aging collection of marginally survivable bombers for the next four decades (1960s vintage B-52s will remain in the force until 2040). It also cut back the number of stealth attack subs by 40%, even though intelligence tasks and land-attack missions for the versatile undersea warships have doubled on Clinton’s watch.
The next administration needs to rethink these choices. It also needs to recognize how limited U.S. strike options may be as access to overseas bases continues to wane. Whatever the limitations of carrier-based aircraft may be, they could be the only way of sustaining air operations in theaters of operation such as Southeast Asia. By the end of this decade, a single carrier air wing will be able to generate 150 strike sorties per day deep into the interior of hostile states, each one precisely attacking multiple targets in any weather. That may not be as much firepower as the Air Force could bring to bear, but at least the Navy pilots will have somewhere friendly to land.
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