China: May 29, 2001

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A secret Pentagon review may provide the basis for the Bush Administration's expected major overhaul of US military structure and strategy. The secret review, conducted by Andrew W Marshall, calls for the US to focus on Asia and the Pacific rather than Europe and the Middle East. It is a strategy that ultimately calls for more submarines and bombers and for fewer Army divisions. The strategy assumes that China would be able to wreck most forward US bases with ballistic missiles before the US was ready to fight. The US would have to operate a smaller tactical force from whatever bases were left, while a larger strategic force would operate from bases farther away from the conflict. Heavy bombers and submarines, both loaded with cruise missiles and other long-range precision-guided conventional weapons, would be the backbone of the war fighting forces. Whatever ground troops were already in place (plus a couple of divisions of Marines or Paratroops that could be easily transported) would be enough, as the strategic units would do more of the fighting. The plan calls for more tanker and transport aircraft to be able to move forces to and sustain them at remote bases. Current stockpiles of weapons and munitions, in bases close to the potential scene of a future war, are regarded by Marshall as vulnerable where they are and too hard to use if positioned further away. The uniformed military is openly skeptical of the plan, and calls for improved missile defenses at forward bases so that the tactical forces would remain in action, while downplaying China's ability to put such bases out of action due to their lack of recon and targeting systems. While the report expresses concern that the Navy's big carriers might be vulnerable to massed missile attacks, the Navy is convinced that multi-carrier task forces, including cruisers loaded with new defensive missiles, would be able to fight their way right to China's doorstep. The uniformed military notes that nothing China is likely to field before 2020 can match the forces that Russia had deployed in the Pacific in 1989, and the US Navy fully expected to fight its way past the Russians to bring tactical fighters in range of Russia's Far East. They want systems, tactics, and plans to knock out China's recon forces, leaving China's missiles blind and unable to find targets. What they want are better systems to control American forces and target any potential enemy, not new weapons that work from farther away. Mr. Marshall dismisses the military criticism as its inability to think of new ways to do things. The uniformed military questions whether Mr. Marshall has a firm grip on the way military operations are conducted in the real world and challenges his theories of what yet-to-exist technologies will be able to accomplish. The key question is just how vulnerable American forward bases and aircraft carriers really are, and how vulnerable they would be in 2020.--Stephen V Cole

 

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