War and Peace

Hunter Looks to the Future of the Military as America’s Battles Continue

Posted May 6, 2005 at 1:18pm

Last month marked the second anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad from Saddam Hussein’s rule. While American troops remain stationed in Iraq, some members of the military and the Bush administration believe soldiers may start coming home within the next year, to the relief of family and friends.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces also remain in Afghanistan, raising questions about whether the military is properly equipped, with both adequate personnel and technology, to maintain two fronts. With the $82 billion war supplemental spending set for final passage next week, Roll Call Executive Editor Morton M. Kondracke sat down with House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) last week to discuss these and other issues facing the military.

ROLL CALL: How good is Don Rumsfeld going to be when he comes back up against all the other Defense secretaries of your career?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: I think he’s a great Defense secretary. … He’s been able to handle a lot of issues under very stressful conditions and keep his eye on the horizon and at the same time handle the media requirements. … He’s a guy who’s adept with ongoing wars in two theaters and yet with long-term challenges that require a lot of him. I think he’s done extraordinarily well.

ROLL CALL: What do you make of the charge that he has sort of stifled the military, that they’re afraid to say what they think?

HUNTER: I disagree with it. I think of guys like [Army Chief of Staff Peter] Schoomaker who’s extraordinarily outspoken, tough, break-the-mold kind of guy. I think of guys like that, he’s done anything but surround himself with “yes men.” I think Rumsfeld is tough, but he likes dissent. And he likes people to be aggressive and forward-leaning.

ROLL CALL: Do you think that he did an adequate job of preparing for the aftermath of the Iraq war?

HUNTER: Yeah. In the sense that the road not traveled was always perceived to be smoother. You’ve got the folks who said, well, first they of course predicted we’d get bogged down. When you look at the criticism you get, you shouldn’t bifurcate before the war, before taking Baghdad, and afterwards. The people who were saying we could never take Baghdad ‘til we got more people, ‘til we got more boots on the ground, had their interviews interrupted by news flashes that Tommy Franks had taken yet another stronghold, literally.

And so if you watched their post-mortem interviews with the same people who basically said, “Yeah it looks like we were wrong.” We took Baghdad — we had plenty of people. We had plenty of people to take Baghdad. We did it in a lightning fashion that minimized casualties. Now the idea that the country of 25 million people that you could, by flooding the AO with Americans, could somehow magically prevent lootings and save the national museums and all these other places, I think is pretty much wishful thinking. We’ve cut the Army from 18 Army divisions in the ’90s to 10. We only have 10 active Army divisions. There are roughly 180,000 Marines on the face of the Earth. The argument that we should’ve stuffed all those people or stuffed as many as we could into the theater and somehow it would’ve brought order is I think, once again, simply wishful thinking. It’s an extension of the debate by the same people who said there weren’t enough people to take Baghdad. They were clearly wrong there. And you had interestingly, on the other side, you had two schools of thought. Kind of the [Sen.] Joe Biden [D-Del.] schools of thought — one was that we needed more people in there, and the second was that we needed to give the occupation an Iraqi face and reduce our presence. Now, how do you do that? If you put a GI on every street corner, how do you turn it into an Iraqi operation? So, I think that the secretary and the war fighters and Tommy Franks and his successors have exercised good judgment. Clearly now, having more people in Iraq, having simply more boots on the ground is not an answer to [improvised explosive devices]. In fact, what it does is produce more targets for IEDs. It puts in a requirement for more convoys. A great deal of the attacks on the U.S. have been simple convoys that have been supplying the presence, the firebases. So you increase the presence, you put in a couple more divisions, and what do you do? You massively increase the amount of transport that takes place on those highways and thereby the vulnerability of the transporters. The more IED opportunities for the insurgents. I think none of these things come wrapped in neat packages, but I think that the idea that everything would’ve been calm at this point if we had flooded Iraq with American troops is as inaccurate as the early prognostications that we would bog down.

ROLL CALL: Gen. Richard Myers said yesterday that with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed services is overstretched. Looking forward, how dangerous is that?

HUNTER: Here’s the problem. The problem is we’ve got a military that the Clinton administration during the ’90s took us down from 18 Army divisions. Now they had planned to be drawn down to 14 pursuant to the Powell-Cheney analysis of ’92. Instead of going down to 14, they took us down 10. We went from 18 divisions to 10. That’s what we have today. Roughly half the size of the Army. We went from 24 fighter airwings to only 13, 541 Navy fighter ships to a little under 300. Capabilities have actually gone up in a number of areas because of the utilization of precision munitions. You no longer have to fly over a bridge, for example, and carpet bomb it. You can send one precision munition to one struck, and you can knock the entire bridge down. You have more explosions on target with the smaller force on the airpower side than you had before. But the size of the Marines is roughly 180,000 personnel. I added some Marines last year, a couple thousand Marines and some 20,000 Army personnel. And after all that we ended up solidifying. You have a fairly small ground occupation that’s labor intensive. One of the lessons of Iraq is that if you pave the road with JDAM precision munitions, a very small force could take lots of ground very quickly and eradicate an enemy very quickly. But the occupation it takes as many people to guard a bridge over the Euphrates River as it did in the days of the Roman legion, you’ve got to have at least one on each side. Occupation requires coverage. So the coverage requirement is manpower, attention and does require a commitment. That’s a fact of life. That’s basically what the chiefs tell us.

ROLL CALL: What do you have to do to improve recruitment?

HUNTER: You gotta let people see our advertising, and having recruiters. Just like in a business, having advertising and having recruiters in the field, on the street, is a way you get the jobs. We also have pretty good bonuses but the bonuses aren’t going to compare to what people get coming on board with packages in the private sector, but it’s basically meat and potatoes work — advertising and recruiting.

ROLL CALL: So you don’t think that it’s the decreasing popularity of the war and the chance of being sent there that’s reducing recruitment?

HUNTER: No. The Marines sign up to deploy. That’s all they do is deploy. My son signed up after 9/11. He fought hard to get into theater. That’s what they do. They deploy constantly, same thing with the Army. A lot of folks in the Army, especially the combat disciplines, that’s what they sign up for. Lots of them like to get over in theater, want to get into theater. We’re lucky we’ve got those people.

The interesting thing, the instructive thing is the guy who’s watching the war on television is more deterred, if you will, from signing up then the guy who’s actually been in the war. Maybe he understands that things aren’t as bad as what he sees on television. On television, you see wall-to-wall car crashes. Analogize it to a freeway. It’s like if you live in one of these towns where the TV station shows nothing but car wrecks, you think if you get on the freeway, in 10 minutes you’re going to have a wreck. So people who have been over there in theater understand and have not been deterred from re-enlisting.

ROLL CALL: What do you think the end strength of the armed services ought to be?

HUNTER: I would like to have a couple more divisions but the key is as Schoomaker has put it, is the number of deployable, effective fighting units. Right now we have 33 brigades. … He has a plan through a series of actions to increase that without any more people than we basically have on the ground right now. Because we’ve got the additional 30,000 people on the ground, increase that to 43 brigades which are modular. Meaning you can take two brigades from different bases you can send them into theater and they can work together and have a commonality of strike capabilities, communications, medical capabilities, transportation, etc., modularize these things so they’re all movable, all self-sustainable, all interoperable. So going from 33 brigades to 43 brigades. Now we can do that successfully. We’re starting right now. That will be the equivalent of an extra two divisions. I think that would be, if we could do that successfully, that would meet our base infantry, our base arming requirements. … Now the way we’re going to do that is by trimming hedges, by taking a lot of jobs that are presently done by military guys and moving those jobs to the civilian sector. … We’ve reformed the civil service and made it easier to use civil service for jobs that, heretofore, had been hard to qualify for those jobs and get them into the jobs. It’s easier to turn to a guy in uniform and say, “Sergeant, this is a direct order, go do this.” And the sergeant salutes and does it. It’s not a good use of sergeants. We’re going to move thousands of jobs to the civil service side. Today you have about 60,000 Army personnel in transit at any given time. Those folks when they’re in the process of moving from Ft. Carson to Ft. Hood or when there’s a permanent change of station moving them from Germany back here, they’re not available to anyone. So we’re going to link the tours so people will have more stability in their location. And also so there’s fewer people in transit. That’s 60,000 unavailable soldiers. The other thing we’re going to do, and this is Schoomaker’s rain barrel. If you take a big rain barrel and you kick it about a third of the way up. There’s always about a third of the people you’re not using. Right now we’ve got a relatively small percentage of Guard and Reserves who are used constantly because of their MOS’s because they’re in the combat support and a large number of them who have other military occupation specialties that are rarely used and they never go. If you take the Guard and Reserves as a whole, we’ve got some that go all the time, and some that never go. We need to change the specialty mix. And Schoomaker’s in the process of doing that. … To reduce the number of people that are unavailable because they’ve got headquarters that are leadership heavy, bureaucracy heavy, we can handle those issues. We produce more warfighters and we produce brigades that are modular — self-sustaining, self-deployable, and we end up with 43 brigades, effectively increased that 10 divisions by about 25 percent.

ROLL CALL: What do you think needs to be done about the National Guard and the Army Reserves, which seem to be especially overstretched? People sign up to be citizen soldiers, anticipating that they might get a call up once or twice in their careers at the outside. And then we’ve got a situation where they’re repeatedly called up and they’re leaving their families and all that. Does there have to be some kind of wholesale reform?

HUNTER: People talk about how the National Guard is going to break. These people are a lot tougher than we give them credit for and more resilient. And they actually, to a large degree, this is the integration of the guard and reserves for the war fighting has been a resounding success. We’ve talked for decades about how we were going to fight together, guard and reserve and the active forces. All as one force — one total force. Today 40 percent of the people in the country are guard and reservists. And that means they’re better trained, they’re better equipped. They have a higher level of respect then they’ve ever had, and they’re extremely effective. And we Americans tend to look at resounding successes and try to find a flaw. But here you have a highly effective force. In the days of the Vietnam era they referred to the “Weekend Warriors” and that’s where you went if you didn’t want to go. Today the guard and reserve are in the war fight and they’ve integrated well because we planned with the active forces. That’s been a success. The question is how heavily can you use the guard, before you deter it from joining? I’ve got the latest figures. We still have great sign-up rates at the guard and good retention rates. And these predictions that the guard is broken, people are going to fall down in a state of exhaustion and say, “I’m not going to do this anymore,” I think that underestimates the depth of our people and the character of our people. They didn’t all join the fire department so there’d never be a fire.

ROLL CALL: What do you think should be the emphasis and what will it be of transformation having been through this experience with basically two ground wars? And has Rumsfeld changed his mind at all about what transformation should involve? Should it be more ground-oriented?

HUNTER: You’d have to talk to Rumsfeld, but I can give you my idea. First, we learned that some of the old and some of the new works out very well in this war. For example, the JDAM, the precision munition that can take out an enemy tank division 30 kilometers before your ground forces get there. That’s extremely valuable in war fighting. Talking to wounded Marines in Bethesda who were pinned down in Nasirya we talked about how when the tanks wheeled in and started taking down the walls with their guns and having the Faydeen, having them come out and surrender. It impressed them mightily. Heavy armor has great value. Especially in this day and age when the IED is emerging as the asymmetric weapon of choice for the insurgents. Having lots of field between the soldiers and the blast is a key thing. And what that’s done is make us rethink transformation on the ground side. Transformation on the ground side before Iraq was that you needed to have stuff that would fit in a C-130 because that’s your workhorse intratheater hauler. We are now rethinking the proposition that you can have land vehicles that have a 1/4-inch or an 3/8-inch of steel or other composites between your soldiers and the blast in the age of IEDs. And so this is not a time to instill a major role for heavy armor, as the battlefield becomes more and more dangerous and you want to have a thinner and thinner skin between your soldiers and the battlefield.

ROLL CALL: We were going to replace the Abrams with what?

HUNTER: We were going to come up with new land combat vehicles. And my recommendation to the Joint Chiefs that I made yesterday is, let’s look at all the attacks that were made on American platforms in this theater and let’s use that as instruction on the direction we need to go with new systems. I think it’s still heavy armor and it might be a mistake to move away to lighter stuff. Let me give you an example. We’ve uparmored Humvees and Humvees are basically follow-ons to the Jeep. A Humvee’s a big Jeep. We’ve never armored our Jeeps in the past, except for a small portion that were used used for diplomatic transport, etc. Basically, Jeeps have always been unarmored until this war. Because of the advent of Humvees, we’ve uparmored Humvees. We’ve been carrying people in Humvees. The Humvee to some degree is like the little kid in the cartoon and there’s a light snow on the ground outside and his momma bundles him up. And he’s standing in the doorway and she says, “Why don’t you go out to play, Charlie?” And he says, “Momma, I can’t move because you put all these clothes on me.” You take a Humvee, which is basically an oversized Jeep, and you put enough steel on it to protect against fragments from 155 rounds and 105 rounds detonated at 5 meters? You almost overload it, in fact, you do overload it. That’s why we had to come up with new upgraded Humvee, the 114. In reality, the best protection we have now is to move the troops in these big 5- and 7-ton trucks where you can put double steel walls in the box. …

ROLL CALL: The next procurement question is the Joint Strike Fighter. It seems to have gone way over cost and we’re going to have fewer of them. What happened there and what should happen?

HUNTER: … You’ve got to remember … almost all these systems have birth dates. I think it’s instructive to remember the Reagan days. When according to The Washington Post the M1 tank was terrible because it didn’t get good gas mileage. The Apache helicopter was maintenance intensive so it was no good. And the Patriot missile systems had flaws and it’s taken decades to develop. In the end, all of those performed very well — very brilliantly. And no Washington Post writers wrote columns to say, “We were wrong and we we’re sorry.” All systems, especially these complex ones, have problems. I’m reminded of those systems that came in when I was a freshman on the Armed Services Committee, all the flames and arrows that were thrown at them. The M1 Tank is a great system, everybody now concurs. The B2 bomber it wouldn’t fly in the rain, according to some of its critics, which is absolute baloney. … The B2 bombers have strike force now and incredible precision. I’ve seen the after-action photos where the bomb craters couldn’t have been laid out better by a ground crew. So it’s shown its enormous precision. I had one of the longtime critics of the B2 come up to me and say, “You know Hunter, you’re right.” … It’s so good, but now my argument is it’s so great we only need 20 more. But we now accept that the B2 is a great tool in our arsenal. … The idea of having a lower-cost fighter with stealth capability that will have a multi-role capability is right on the mark. Stealth is important.

ROLL CALL: We talked about the ground elements of transformation, what do you want to see in the non-ground phases?

HUNTER: The best example is the X-Craft, which the Office of Naval Research just dubbed the most important development in the last 20 years. It’s now constructed, it’s working out of the Pacific. They built that primarily as a Congressional add-on to the Office of Naval Research. Jay Cohen, one of the hard-charging, great leaders in this Pentagon. This thing’s got a catamaran. … We’re going to couple that with the affordable weapon which is a cruise missile, with a 600-mile range. That’s roughly 10 percent the cost of a Tomahawk. And if you take X-Craft, X-Craft has a 100 times the firepower of the battleship and it has 26 people. The battleship has a crew of 1,500. So you reduce your crew size to a little more than 1 percent or 2 percent and increase your firepower.

… We’ve got the X-Craft out working out right now. And what I’m pushing to do every day is to get the X-Craft closer and closer to an operational role. … That’s the real wave of the future. What we’ve done heretofore is we’ve talked about with warfare and moving faster doing more with lighter systems. … You walk on to the battlefield and what do you see? A destroyer, a carrier and a submarine — it’s the same stuff. The X-Craft is a departure from that. It’s the wave of the future for the Navy, and we just need to reach down and seize the opportunity.

ROLL CALL: How many are built?

HUNTER: One. It’s like a ship, it’s like lightning, massive firepower, and it can use UAVs and special operators after that. It’s the wave of the future, and it’s cheap.

We have little victories now and then. And that’s one that’s coming along. And another thing we’ve done in this last year’s bill that we’re using now is more Alerters. We passed a law last year that said if you’re taking casualties all acquisition rights can be waived by the secretary and you can just buy it — no competition. It says buy American. If you want to, you can waive, buy American. If somebody else makes something that will save lives, buy it. … From the battlefield to force protection so that means in a war fight something bad comes up on the other side you don’t continue this mismatch of this slow-moving … structured system that was designed to never make a mistake. Never buy the $600 hammer again. So you wait months and years to buy stuff. The requirements of the war fighters commanders is that I needed that thing yesterday. We’ve got a jammer that we developed. We’re not going to do the 12 month procurement. We’re going to plug this thing in theater and we’re going to get it in every Humvee and we’re going to do that by total waiving of all the obligations.

ROLL CALL: Last question — base closings. Is this thing going to come off as planned?

HUNTER: We’ve made some changes. One thing that I’ve been concerned about is that we’ve got this small force. It’s impossible, almost impossible to retrieve a base once you close it. One base closed in San Diego where we had a training center, it’s already condos — you’ll never retrieve that. I’d say in other places we’ve had environmental lawsuits for decades if you try to get the base back. So we’ve got to be very careful when we give these up, especially with large amounts of airspace and training space. … What we put it in the bill the year before last is surge request. So the secretary and the base closure commission shall provide for prudent surge requests. That means just because we’ve got a 10-division Army now, don’t cut all the bases now to where they’ll just barely accommodate. We’ve got to leave some prudent surge space. And that’s something we’re going to be monitoring very closely. We had the big environmental battle, we had to change the Endangered Species Act. That proves to us how difficult it would be to get these bases back.