Under a wilting sun in the historic courtyard of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Bancroft Hall, the Navy Friday rang eight bells for the change of watch at the pinnacle of the 215-year-old service.
After four years as chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Carlisle A. H. Trost was ceremonially relieved of command by his successor, Adm. Frank B. Kelso, another veteran of the submarine service. Trost took the opportunity to warn the nation against a spreading “epidemic” of euphoria brought on by the disintegration of the Communist regimes of the Warsaw Pact.
A day earlier, at Andrews Air Force Base, Gen. Larry D. Welch, the Air Force chief of staff, similarly was formally replaced by Gen. Michael J. Dugan, who rose from the ranks of fighter pilots. The ceremony was punctuated by a fly-by of the Air Force’s new F-117 Stealth Fighter.
The two new service chiefs join the nation’s senior military brotherhood at a time of contracting military budgets, sweeping change in the world’s security system and at the dawn of a long battle with Congress over the size and mission of U.S. armed forces.
From their seats on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Kelso and Dugan will help shape the Pentagon’s future. Their voices will affect arms control agreements limiting conventional and nuclear arms and their convictions will help determine whether and when the nation will send troops into harm’s way.
“This nation has required sea power from its inception to ensure its security,” Kelso said upon taking the Navy helm. “We will undoubtedly have difficulty in these changing times reaching consensus on how much is enough, but in this debate my goal is clear--to maintain U.S. maritime superiority.”
Kelso indicated during his recent confirmation hearings that he intends to place increasing emphasis on undersea warfare.
He conceded that while a major conflict with the Soviet Union has grown increasingly unlikely, if it does come, it is more likely to be a subsurface game of cat-and-mouse.
“The Soviets may, with the collapse of the Central European buffer states, put more emphasis on the interdiction of the sea lines of communication,” Kelso told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“If this turns out to be the case, they may even emphasize submarines more. That, along with their having the largest sub force in the world, makes it most prudent and I believe very necessary that we continue healthy anti-submarine warfare research and maintain robust ASW (anti-submarine warfare) forces,” said Kelso, who most recently served as commander of the U.S. Atlantic Command, based in Norfolk, Va.
Kelso already has been a leading force in shaping a future role for the Navy in one of the Pentagon’s hottest new prospects--the drug war. As Atlantic Command boss, Kelso oversaw the preparation of one of the most aggressive responses to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s call for the preparation of new initiatives by the military’s principal field commands.
Among the proposals Kelso sent to Cheney was to dispatch an armada of U.S. Navy ships, led by an aircraft carrier, to patrol for drug traffickers off the coast of Colombia. Once made public, the initiative sparked a diplomatic firestorm between Washington and Colombia and was quickly shelved.
Dugan, the new Air Force chief, is described by fellow officers as a genial Irishman who will use his fighter-jock bonhomie to cultivate good relations with lawmakers. His style is a distinct contrast to that of his predecessor, who won respect more for his analytical prowess than his warmth.
Like most Air Force chiefs of staff in the youngest service’s history, Dugan is a flier.
But as the Air Force stakes its future on its ability to bring firepower to bear in distant places, it is still notable that Dugan wears the wings of a pilot rather than the “pocket rocket” insignia that distinguishes Air Force missile officers.
In budget proposals submitted to Cheney, the Air Force has de-emphasized modernization of its long-range nuclear missile force in favor of maintaining and improving its nuclear and conventional aircraft, such as the B-2 bomber and the advanced tactical fighter.
In confirmation testimony, Dugan reflected the Air Force’s new emphasis.
“The Air Force must be prepared for projecting American power in the context of a new world order,” Dugan said. “For most of the contingencies we are likely to face in the future, there is an ‘air option’ that we are uniquely able to execute in support of national objectives,” he added.