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Holes in US Defense Umbrella: Wynne

[EDITOR'S NOTE: One of the debates bubbling beneath the surface over the last few months has been about just what effects Defense Secretary Robert Gates' program cuts, combined with a flat defense budget projected for the next five years, would have on America's ability to project power. Former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne argues in a commentary that the administration is schizophrenic about its national security approach. On the one hand, the State Department is offering the broadest defense umbrella it can to friends and allies. On the other hand, Gates is cutting crucial systems that would help the US extend and maintain that umbrella.]

Wynne's opinion piece follows:

What Umbrella?

Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but it is crucial for foreign and defense policy. Yet there is a serious disconnect between the foreign policy suggested by the Secretary of State and that being sustained by Secretary Gates. Recently, the Secretary of States underscored the strategic imperative of US global engagement and protection. Secretary Clinton underscored the necessity that 'America will extend its umbrella of Defense to protect its allies.' Meanwhile, Secretary Gates is continuing his path of encouraging the President to cut the tools which allow the US to indeed provide such an umbrella. By recommending the twin paths of eliminating the F-22 and significantly reducing missile defense efforts, one could ask what tools the Secretary of Defense intends to offer to implement the strategic imperative suggested by the Secretary of State

Secretary Gates has recommended that America operate with a shortened F-22 fleet and has the Air Force scrambling to figure out how to leverage this 'Best in the World' aircraft with fourth generation technology in the venerable F-15, and F-16 fleets. Citing the approach of the F-35, while rumors swirl that delays may plague this fine aircraft through its testing period, Secretary Gates remains convinced that there will be no need for an air dominant airplane to underwrite the strategic umbrella.

So; we examine the umbrella that has been promised and see that, together with the F-22 line closure, the budget also contains cuts in the Missile Defense expenditure in the very areas that were intended to protect allies; termination or delay in the Transformational Satellite program, which was a principal communications program to support the transformed Army, which also is losing its Future Combat System, and a delay in the Long Range Bomber and Reconnaissance aircraft targeted to replace an aging B-2, B-1, and B-52 fleet.

Together these cuts provide a strong signal that the United States is reducing investment in the strategic and deterrent forces, and is increasing investment in irregular warfare assets. This shift is big enough that in the preamble to the Australian Defense paper -- their equivalent to the Quadrennial Defense Review -- they state for the record that they can no longer rely in the foreseeable future on the United States to be the dominant force in the region. Australia is one of America's staunchest allies, and this is a major change in their outlook for their region. Maybe the American umbrella is somewhat frayed as it extends across the Pacific, and the Australians don't see where the irregular forces will fit in their plans for strategic engagement and protection.

Then there is Japan, seeking to replace their aging fleet of F-16's, who asked to buy the F-22. This takes a page from Admiral Mullen's 1,000-ship Navy, in which he wanted to rely on interoperable compatible partner navies since he saw the US Navy being stretched thin and was worried about strategic coverage. These worries apparently don't extend to the Air Force, as any request for F-22's by Japan has been quietly denied before they asked formally. Indeed, a Japanese buy of 60 F-22s, along with other allies, would have amortized the cost of adding additional US F-22s and provided US workers with 10 years of high technology work. The value of the exports, including support and training, for the next 20 years might have approached $100 billion; where else can the US spend $4 billion to reap $100 billion?

Eliminating the F-22 may result in Japan becoming very interested in the Eurofighter, as the costs for the F-35 continues to grow. So, even as we struggle to keep auto workers employed, we watch aerospace workers leave the roster; and prospects for job gains by European aerospace workers. This as well seems to confirm the Australian view; and has sent tremors all around the world as America signals a change in defense posture.

Some are beginning to see the impact of the change, though others see a huge victory over the beleaguered defense Industry. It certainly looks like a full blown recession for engineering talent looms in this vital industry, with layoffs from coast to coast and border to border. We worry about the lack of US citizens graduating in science and engineering, but we must remember that the defense industry currently employs almost 50% of these graduates. Is this short sighted, another peace dividend, or a weary defense institution saying no more? It is hard to judge, but history is a harsh critic, and we all hope the forecasted 'Peace in our time' is real.

One writer, Steve Forbes, in an article titled "Save the Raptor" in the latest issue of Forbes, correctly surmises that the F-22 Raptor is the finest air dominance aircraft ever built, and that the F-35, good in its own right, does not come close. Rumor has it, that the air tactics from the F-22 are not very transferable to the F-35 because of the difference in capability. Makes one wonder how much this administration really understands about what they have done, and what they have convinced this president to support. As Forbes concludes: "What a blunder."

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