If there is a season of discontent for Bush Administration defense planners, it must surely be summer. In the summer of 2001, terrorist attacks undercut any pretense that the administration was better prepared than its predecessors for the security challenges that lay ahead. In the summer of 2002, the military services rebuffed efforts of political appointees to scale back major programs such as the CVN-21 aircraft carrier and F/A-22 fighter. In the summer of 2003, a growing insurgency in Iraq signaled that new tactics hadn’t delivered quick victory. And now, in the summer of 2004, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s most cherished initiative — military transformation — is beginning to unravel.
The waning influence of transformation is readily apparent to those who have reviewed the Strategic Planning Guidance for the 2006 defense budget and the revisions of U.S. national-security strategy due for release after the election. But the place where transformation is retreating fastest is the Pentagon’s investment accounts. Several huge initiatives championed by the administration are failing to successfully navigate the political minefield formed by unanticipated needs, budget constraints, congressional skepticism and technological complexity.
ITEM: The Army is telling Congress that it must restructure its signature modernization effort, the $92 billion Future Combat System, due to technology challenges and urgent needs in Iraq. FCS was supposed to support the Army’s conversion to networked warfare, but insiders say its networking architecture is too immature to be fielded as planned.
ITEM: Congressional appropriators are slashing funds for the Space-Based Radar that Pentagon officials say is one of their top transformation priorities. The constellation of orbital sensors would track and image military vehicles anywhere on the earth’s surface, but appropriators with other priorities are questioning both the concept and the cost.
ITEM: Appropriators also are cutting the Pentagon’s Transformational Communications Architecture, the most important technology effort begun on Rumsfeld’s watch. The space-based communications system would provide unlimited access and bandwidth to warriors no matter where they were, but legislators don’t seem to share that vision.
ITEM: The Air Force and Navy are cutting funding for the multiservice Joint Strike Fighter, ostensibly because of developmental setbacks but mainly because they prefer other aircraft. Rumsfeld’s team thought JSF could wean the military away from single-service airframes, but pilots prefer their Raptors and Super Hornets to the “transformational” JSF.
Rumsfeld set the stage for these reverses by trying to impose change from above rather than working with Congress and the services. Not only were his goals too ambitious for an administration that was barely elected, but the small coterie of true believers around him repeatedly offended players whose support would be needed when the going got tough. Now that it has, there isn’t much inclination to help him out. The key to sustaining political change is building durable coalitions within affected institutions. Measured by that standard, Rumsfeld’s transformation is a tree without roots.
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