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Flexibility, Adaptability at Heart of Military Transformation

Flexibility, Adaptability at Heart of Military Transformation

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.

Fort Lesley J. McNair, D.C. -- (AFPS) January 31, 2002 -- A culture of change, flexibility and adaptability is more important to transforming the military than simply having new hardware, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told students Jan. 31 at the National Defense University here.

To illustrate his point, Rumsfeld told the students about the battle for Mazar-e Sharif in November. He said U.S. Army and Air Force special operations forces teamed with the Northern Alliance.

The Americans rode into battle on horseback alongside their Afghan allies. They found targets and radioed their positions to waiting U.S. Navy and Air Force pilots who used precision-guided munitions to bomb Taliban and Al Qaeda positions.

"The explosions were deafening and the timing so precise that, as the soldiers described it, hundreds of Afghan horsemen emerged, literally, out of the smoke, riding down on the enemy through clouds of dust and flying shrapnel," Rumsfeld said.

He said what won the battle for Mazar-e Sharif was a combination "of the ingenuity of the U.S. Special Forces, the most advanced, precision-guided munitions in the U.S. arsenal delivered by U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps crews, and the courage of valiant one-legged Afghan fighters on horseback."

He said the scene in Northern Afghanistan was where the 19th century met the 21st century. The mixture of horse cavalry and high-tech weaponry is precisely what the idea of transformation of the military is all about, Rumsfeld said.

"It shows that a revolution in military affairs is about more than building new high-tech weapons, though that is certainly a part of it," he said. "It is also about new ways of thinking … and new ways of fighting."

He cited the German innovations that led to the Blitzkrieg as an example of transformation. The German army that overwhelmed France and drove Britain to the sea in 1940 took existing weapons and used them in new and transformational ways. The same could be said for the battle of Mazar-e Sharif.

"Coalition forces took existing military capabilities -- from the most advanced (laser-guided weapons) to the antique (40-year-old B-52s updated with modern electronics) to the most rudimentary (an armed man on horseback) -- and used them together in unprecedented ways, with devastating effect on enemy positions, enemy morale and … the cause of evil in the world," he said.

Rumsfeld was quick to caution the audience of senior military officers and senior government civilians not to lock themselves into the battles in Afghanistan as a model. The model is the thinking that went on in the country as U.S. forces adapted quickly to new challenges and unexpected circumstances.

Rumsfeld said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 would more than likely be the way that foes will challenge the United States in the future. He said enemy nations cannot hope to compete with the United States on a conventional basis. They will attack using asymmetrical weapons and tactics.

He explained to the students why a new national defense strategy and a new force-sizing construct are necessary. The 1990s strategy based on fighting and winning two nearly simultaneous major regional wars "served us well in the post-Cold War period, but it threatened to leave us reasonably prepared for two specific conflicts and under- prepared for unexpected contingencies and 21st century challenges," he said.

The new defense strategy is capabilities-based, not threat- based as in the past. He said the new approach focuses less on who and where the threats are and concentrates more on what the threats might be -- and how to deter and defend against them.

Rumsfeld said an adversary, for instance, might target U.S. information infrastructure and space assets and try to limit U.S. use of foreign bases.

"They know that we have no defense against ballistic missile attacks on our cities, our people, our forces or our friends," he said. That vulnerability could tempt those who wish America ill to develop such capabilities.

He listed six transformational goals of U.S. defense strategy:

  • Protect the U.S. homeland and our bases overseas.
  • Project and sustain U.S. military power.
  • Deny enemies sanctuary.
  • Protect information networks from attack.
  • Use American information superiority to seamlessly weld the U.S. armed forces together as a joint force.
  • Maintain unhindered access to space and to protect U.S. space assets.

"Our challenge in the 21st century is to defend our cities and our infrastructure from new forms of attack while projecting our forces over long distances to fight new adversaries," he said.

The new thrust means a change in deterrence. Rumsfeld said the U.S. nuclear arsenal did not deter the terrorists who attacked the United States in September. President Bush has committed he United States to cutting the number of nuclear warheads from 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200. The Russians have announced a similar drop.

Deterrence now may mean other things. "Deployment of effective missile defenses may dissuade others from spending to obtain ballistic missiles," he said. Similar efforts to "harden" U.S. satellite systems may dissuade countries from investing in "killer satellites."

Transformation also requires rebalancing U.S. forces. He said DoD must look at "low density-high demand" capabilities. He said this term is a Pentagon euphemism for "our priorities were wrong and we didn't buy enough."

"The Department of Defense has known for some time that it does not have enough manned reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, command and control aircraft, air defense capabilities, chemical and biological defense units, as well as certain types of special operations forces," Rumsfeld said. "In spite of the shortage of these and other systems, the Defense Department postponed the needed investments while continuing to fund what were, in retrospect, less valuable programs. This must change."

The pressure on DoD is to handle near-term military threats and push off transformation. "But Sept. 11 taught us that the future holds many unknown dangers and that we fail to prepare for them at our peril," he said. He said DoD cannot afford to move back into the mindset of business as usual. "The war on terrorism is a new war and 'cries out' for new thinking."

He said the men and women of DoD are up to the task. He said DoD can fight the current war on terrorism and plan the military of the future. "The impetus and urgency added by the events of Sept. 11 powerfully make the case for action," he said.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).