May 25, 2001
Hew Study Challenges Orthodoxy of Rumsfeld Defense Review
A Swift, Elusive Sword, a new study by retired Air Force Col. Chester Richards, suggests that ancient strategic wisdom may help solve the dilemma now confronting the U.S. military: spending on defense exceeds that of any combination of potential adversaries, but the services still face cancellation of weapon systems and lack of funds for training, spares, and care and feeding of the troops. The only solution offered by political leaders is to spend even more — as recent leaks about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's strategic review suggest.
This study explores an alternative. Dr. Richards argues that by returning to the historical roots of strategy — people, ideas, and hardware, in that order — U.S. military leaders can break out of the "dollars equal defense" mindset, and create forces more effective for today's confused world. The study is the first in a larger effort by the Center for Defense Information to explore new strategic approaches to take the U.S. military into the 21st Century on a rational and affordable basis.
Dr. Richards has detailed the theories of the two key figures in a school of strategic thought that goes back more than 2,500 years — ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, who wrote The Art of War; and the late American strategist and Air Force fighter pilot, Col. John R. Boyd, who was the intellectual father of the F-15, F-16, and F-18 fighters. This line of strategic thinking centers on the issue of "What makes a force effective?" The answers are largely independent of the particular age in question and the specific weapons in use, and the Richards study is an attempt to apply those answers to the problems facing the U.S. military today and tomorrow.
Rather than the Cold War logic of relying on new technology and ever-higher defense spending to maintain a military edge, Dr. Richards argues that the focus must be on strategically-trained personnel, and a structure that allows them flexibility to use that training on the battlefield.
The strategy of Sun Tzu and Boyd suggests structuring U.S. forces for ambiguity, deception, quickness, surprise, and maneuver. These ideas have been tested, time and again, over nearly three millennia. Great American commanders from Washington to Grant to Patton also relied on similar strategic concepts. Needless to say, Sun Tzu is standard reading for China's military today.
The study recommends a straw-man "evolutionary" force, designed to start the transformation process to a more flexible military. The findings echo the sentiment of defense hawk Sen. John Tower, who said in his 1989 nomination hearings for defense secretary, "[I]f there were no Soviet threat we'd be spending enormously less than we spend now. We'd be maintaining the kind of Army we had in 1938 ... about half the size of what the Marine Corps is now."
This article authored by Marcus Corbin.
Tags: On Strategy
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