Redefining the Military’s Role

At one time, military planners envisioned wars of the future being fought by missile-firing ships standing offshore over the horizon and aircraft dropping “smart” bombs from high aloft. When the whiz-bangery was over, the ground troops could walk in and do what little was necessary to finish the job.

Iraq and Afghanistan have changed all that. How much is evident in President Bush’s proposed $419.3 billion 2006 defense budget.

The Air Force and the Navy, the glamour services of the Cold War, take a couple of hits. The new budget smiles on the ground troops – Army and Marine forces who have done the bulk of the heavy lifting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Navy loses a number of planned ships – two destroyers, two submarines and two amphibious warfare ships – and one of its 12 aircraft carriers will be retired. Bush would close production of the F-22 in 2008 after 179 aircraft, 96 fewer than the Air Force had hoped for, and shut down production of the C-130 transport in 2007. Even missile defense, long a Bush priority, took a $1 billion hit. All of these programs, however, have powerful congressional patrons, so the last word hasn’t been spoken.

The main defense budget would cut Army spending a fraction to $100 billion in 2006. But the main budget doesn’t include two supplemental appropriations – $81 billion the administration will introduce shortly and $25 billion approved last year – to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bulk of that money goes to the Army.

The number of uniformed personnel will remain steady at 2.2 million, but the Navy will lose 20,000 slots and the Army will gain 30,000, to 1.1 million. More of those will be in the combat arms as non-combat duties are passed to civilians or the reserves. The Army will scale back on artillery and air-defense units in favor of civil air and military police units, two specialties that have proved vital in Iraq.

The number of Army mobile combat brigades, intended for rapid deployment, will increase from 33 to 43. And $3.4 billion, an increase of $600 million from last year, will be spent on the Army’s Future Combat System, a futuristic network linking commanders with every aspect of the battlefield.

The Marines, meanwhile, will be restructured to add two more infantry battalions and their associated reconnaissance and intelligence units, again as part of a quick-response strategy in the war on terror.

The Pentagon has looked at the foreseeable future of war and it is Fallujah.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)