Three years into the Bush administration's effort to transform the U.S. military -- a critical part of its defense platform in the last presidential campaign -- there is little consensus on whether progress has been made in creating the sort of radical change envisioned.
President Bush and his civilian Pentagon leaders were determined to move the military from a heavy, slow-moving industrial era-type force designed to fight the Red Army to a faster, more adaptive organization built around information age technologies. It would become more agile and easier to deploy, making it better equipped to deal with failed states, terrorism and other 21st-century missions. One of the first steps the administration took toward that goal was creating the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation, led by retired Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski.
One critic says the Pentagon's commitment to the F-22 reflects a failure to move beyond Cold War thinking. The fighter is shown at Boeing Field, Seattle.
(Ralph Radford -- AP)
But many experts say that few tangible steps have been taken.
"It is hard to pin down anything concrete that has come out of the office," said retired Army Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, who now follows defense issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, author of several studies of how to change the Army, said he thinks that, apart from better linking of military data networks, the armed forces have largely ignored Cebrowski's efforts.
"He has had no impact on programming other than to push the notion that networking will solve our problems," said Macgregor, a longtime advocate of radically changing the Army who left the service in June.
Overall at the Pentagon, he said, "I see no direction other than pouring money into a range of programs with their roots in the Cold War," such as the Air Force's F-22 fighter, the Marine Corps' V-22 tilt-rotor troop transport, space-based radars and national missile defense.
Cebrowski counters that the most important changes underway in the military are not in readily visible weapons systems and easily quantified budget items. The main successes in transformation, he said, have been in creating an openness to new ways of doing business and in organizational changes that make that possible.
The Army, for example, has moved to break its long-standing division structure in favor of smaller, more easily deployed brigade combat teams. "They aren't studying it anymore; they're doing it," Cebrowski said. He also pointed to major alterations made by the Bush Pentagon to the Unified Command Plan, which divides responsibility for various parts of the world among different U.S. military headquarters.
"These kinds of things point to how deep the roots of transformation are; whereas you add a program, you cancel a program, that's very superficial," Cebrowski said.
Cebrowski said he has pushed the military to focus less on preparing for combat in major battles, where it now faces few serious challengers, and more on the threats from less traditional directions, such as terrorism, guerrilla warfare, chemical and biological weapons, and cyberwar. He said he has affected military thinking in other areas, such as the Air Force's approach to spending on satellites and other space programs, on which the Pentagon spends billions annually.
One of the problems with the transformation effort is that, three years into it, there is not a clear understanding at the Pentagon of what the term means.
"It's become more a generic buzzword for ill-focused change," said Andrew Krepinevich Jr., a member of the 1997 congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, whose work heavily influenced candidate Bush's defense positions two years later.
Even transformation chief Cebrowski shies away from providing a definition of transformation.