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Jewish World Review June 5, 2002 /24 Iyar, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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The next new thing | In Afghanistan, the American military disproved the old saw that generals are always ready to fight the last war. The Pentagon won the Gulf War a decade ago with more than 500,000 troops, tank divisions, and bombers. In the inaccessible mountains of Afghanistan, it smashed the Taliban more swiftly and effectively than anyone thought possible. We did it through a powerful combination of technological prowess and information warfare. For the first time, we used ground spotters on the battlefield linked to satellites in space to provide targeting information accurate within several meters.

We used JSTARS radar, drones, unarmed aerial vehicles, and satellites to monitor and improve visibility, reducing the "fog of war" by transmitting video and other targeting data back to command posts and attack aircraft, dramatically increasing battlefield transparency. We also reduced sensor-to-shooter time-the gap between finding a target and destroying it-to less than 20 minutes. The information system became what the Pentagon likes to call a "force multiplier."

America today has the infantry divisions, the tanks, bombers, guns, and aircraft carriers to overwhelm any conventional enemy. We can easily prevail in the kind of conflict that dominated the world from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to the end of the 20th century, wars waged predominantly by states, fought for territory by armies that generally resembled one another.

Unconventional war. But military spending is enormously expensive. The Bush administration is asking for an increase in the defense budget of almost $50 billion this year and, by 2007, an additional $100 billion more than the Clinton administration envisaged. We have to decide our priorities because, as Sen. John McCain pointed out, not everything is affordable. The priorities must turn on an assessment of our likely enemies. We no longer have to resist thousands of Soviet tanks rolling toward the Fulda Gap.

We may have to fight that kind of conventional land war in North Korea or somewhere in the Middle East, and we must be prepared to do that. But the most likely enemy we face today is the international, nonstate terrorist organization. Like the rogue states that often host them, the terrorists know that on the open battlefield, we are overwhelming. That's why these new adversaries plan to strike directly at cultural, political, and population targets. They understand just how big an impact these attacks can have on markets, communications, and cultural icons and how hard it is to attack them when they secrete themselves in civilian populations or in remote, inaccessible places.

The terrorists' arsenal is asymmetrical, ranging from low-cost, low-tech military hardware up to weapons of mass destruction. We must respond to this threat accordingly, projecting effective military power with ever greater rapidity into any location on the planet. We need systems that can be deployed quickly without local bases or substantial prepositioning of supplies.

We are at one of those rare moments when new technology can marry with new strategy. The history of warfare is littered with those who failed to make such adaptations. Seven centuries ago, heavily armed knights on horseback were rendered obsolete by archers with 6-foot bows; in World War II, the blitzkrieg of Nazi Panzers and fighter planes rendered irrelevant the Maginot line and slow-moving soldiers of our allies.

The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has recognized this and has made some tough choices. The Army wanted to spend $11 billion on the Crusader artillery system. But Rumsfeld has made the right choice in deciding to spend the money instead on systems that are stealthier, more lethal, more able to strike at long distances, and able to operate without the huge logistic trains or vulnerable bases near the conflict.

We cannot limit the technologies of tomorrow's battlefields by failing to wean ourselves from Cold War capabilities. It is natural that members of Congress representing the districts in Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania where jobs will be lost are fighting to maintain the Crusader program. It would be unfair to say they put local jobs before national security. But that will be the effect if the first major turning point in the transformation of our military capacity is stymied by yesterday's thinking.

Rumsfeld has a formidable opposition to overcome. But what will be the effect if we allow vested-interest politics and an sclerotic military culture to join with the iron phalanx of contractors and members of Congress to reinstate Crusader? Rumsfeld must convince the House and Senate appropriation committees, including Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Democrats like Sen. Robert Byrd and Rep. John Murtha. It would be tragic to focus on the kinds of battles we will not be fighting and so risk losing the battles we are certain to face against the terrorists arrayed against us.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman