The Clinton Administration unveiled plans Wednesday for a modest restructuring of the nation’s armed forces to enable the United States to meet the requirements of the post-Cold War world while still reducing the size of the military.
The proposal, the result of a five-month “bottom-up review” ordered by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, calls for continuing to pare the Army and Air Force, while improving the ability of the military to move its forces to trouble spots quickly. The overall size of the armed forces would dip to 1.2 million by 1999, from 1.4 million today.
In a briefing for reporters, Aspin said that the plan, approved by President Clinton on Tuesday, would enable the United States to maintain its “forward presence” overseas and to fight two major regional conflicts--such as in the Persian Gulf and Korea--nearly simultaneously.
Aspin said that the document fulfills Clinton’s 1991 campaign pledge to restructure U.S. military forces for the post-Cold War era. “We have a highly mobile, high-tech . . . force here that will deal with the dangers of the new world,” he said.
The review process was the most comprehensive in recent memory, covering everything from the threats to America in the post-Cold War era to the modernization of weapons and the preservation of the nation’s military industrial base. Even so, Aspin’s recommendations are remarkably similar to the “base force” defense structure and programs set forth by the George Bush Administration.
Aspin declined to discuss the budget implications of the new defense plan, saying that they would be incorporated into a broader review of all government operations soon to be completed by a task force headed by Vice President Al Gore.
However, Administration sources said privately that the plan is expected to increase Clinton’s latest defense budget by about $2.8 billion a year--or $14 billion over five years--a modest, but politically significant change in view of Clinton’s earlier push for cuts.
To help maintain U.S. presence abroad, the report calls for allowing the Navy to keep 12 aircraft carriers, 11 for use as part of battle groups and a 12th set aside for training, and for permitting the Army to maintain 100,000 troops each in Europe and Asia.
It also proposes reducing the size of the Army to 10 active divisions and five equivalent units of reserve and National Guard troops by 1999--down from 14 and six, respectively now. The number of Navy ships would be cut to 346, down from the current 443.
The plan also calls for reducing the number of active fighter wings in the Air Force to 13 active-duty and seven reserve units, from 16 and 12 today. The Marine Corps would have 174,000 troops, down from 182,000 now but 15,000 more than the Bush plan had proposed by 1999.
The proposal also would revamp plans for acquiring new tactical aircraft. The Air Force would be permitted to build a new F-22 Stealth fighter. The Navy would be granted permission to build new versions of the F/A-18 fighter but would be forced to scrap its plans to build the even more advanced AF/X fighter.
The Navy also would be permitted to upgrade its existing F-14 aircraft but would have to speed up the retirement of its aging A-6 attack planes. And the B-1 and B-2 bombers--initially built to carry nuclear bombs--would be refitted to handle conventional weapons.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the Administration’s proposal centers on its contention that, despite the cuts, the United States still would be able to fight and win two major regional conflicts nearly simultaneously.
Several analysts have questioned whether the nation still would have sufficient forces and weapons to do so if the Administration’s plan were adopted. When Washington poured forces into the Persian Gulf War, for example, the military was substantially larger than it is now.
Aspin said Wednesday that the Administration hoped to offset the reductions by increasing its airlift and sealift capability, by storing more equipment and supplies on ships deployed abroad and by buying more laser-guided weapons, such as “smart” bombs.
The Administration also hopes to improve the nation’s defense ties with U.S. allies around the world so that other nations can assume a greater share of the burden whenever regional conflicts arise. And it wants to beef up U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world.
The review also contained proposals to help manage the cutbacks by providing adjustment programs for the defense industry and by overhauling the Pentagon’s acquisition policies to help save money on new weapons systems.
In a departure from previous policy, the Administration said that it will buy a third Seawolf attack submarine--at a cost of $2.4 billion--even though the Navy does not need it, almost entirely to help maintain the ability of the boat-builder to provide critical technology.
Aspin said that the Pentagon hopes to save billions of dollars by developing warplanes that would use common components, electronics and engines in versions used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Today, most of the nation’s warplanes are tailored for a specific service.
The review also stressed the need for the armed forces to eliminate “excess infrastructure” by closing more unneeded military bases, consolidating training and inventory wherever possible and parceling out more maintenance to private industry.
For all the time spent preparing the report, the document made virtually no effort to link the defense strategy to the Administration’s foreign and national security policies. The White House is said to be working on a policy paper to do that.
The New Post-Cold War Military
‘90 ’93 ’99* Active divisions 18 14 10 Nat. Guard divisions 10 6 5 THE NAVY Aircraft carriers 15 13 11 Active air wings 13 11 10 Reserve air wings 2 2 1 Ships 546 443 346 THE AIR FORCE Active Fighter Wings 24 16 13 Reserve Fighter Wings 12 12 7 THE MARINES Active troops 197,000 182,000 174,000 Reserve troops 44,000 42,000 42,000
Source: U.S. Department of Defense