WASHINGTON, July 14, 2011 — Defense Department officials are applying new ways of thinking to everything from cost saving initiatives to the nuclear triad, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright replied to wide-ranging questions as part of a Defense Writers Group meeting this morning. From the military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan to tightening budgets and smarter acquisitions processes, Cartwright spoke of the decision-making under way among top Pentagon leaders.
As vice chairman, Cartwright chairs the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, co-chairs the Defense Acquisition Board, and is a member of the National Security Council Deputies Committee, the Nuclear Weapons Council and the Missile Defense Executive Board.
On Afghanistan, Cartwright said Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, whom the Senate confirmed on June 30 to replace Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, must spend the next few months determining which units should be removed from the country, and when, as part of the drawdown.
“It’s pace more than scale that import in these first few months,” Cartwright said. “What you take out will set the battle space geometry for all the moves after that. That’s something we have to take time with, and we want to give General Allen as much time as possible to do that.
“The piece I’m most worried about is not necessarily the number of forces coming out, but the timing,” he said. “I don’t want to create a hole in the battle space.”
Also, Cartwright said, it is the combat “enablers” – the support functions such as intelligence, reconnaissance, and technology, and aircraft and logistics – “that really tend to drive the factors we lay out.” Those units are not likely to be among the first to leave Afghanistan, he said.
As for the drawdown in Iraq, Cartwright said, the Iraqis need to decide soon if they want U.S. forces in those specialties that Iraqi forces lack, such as logistics and air mobility, to stay in the country past the agreed-upon deadline of Dec. 31.
“Those answers really are on the shoulders of the Iraqi people,” he said. “We have a say in it, for sure, but it’s they who need to decide if they want a force to stay behind, and what the role of that force would be.”
Such a decision will take time, because it requires an act of Iraq’s legislative body, Cartwright said. A change in the agreement would have to spell out how any remaining U.S. forces would be protected and their rights to protect Iraqis and their assets, he said.
A recent uptick in insurgent attacks in Iraq has been increasingly deadly and “we want to make sure we have the ability to protect ourselves, as well as those around us,” the general said. Currently, U.S. troops must contend with a slow process of trying to secure a judicial warrant against insurgent suspects, then determine what role they and the Iraqi forces will play.
“That’s a slow process for chasing rocket attacks, so those lethal attacks are starting to worry us,” he said.
Another area Cartwright spoke about is the ability of the department’s acquisitions process to field equipment quickly. Officials began working last year to make a more flexible system in which the urgent needs of warfighters would be calculated against perfect research and development and costs, he said.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Cartwright said. “Sometimes a sense of urgency changes the risk calculus.” In those cases, he said, “a 30-percent solution is good enough, because it’s going to save lives.”
On the opposite end of the acquisition spectrum, “which is really how we do business today,” Cartwright acknowledged, is “a very risk-averse” protocol of spending as much time and money as is necessary to create perfect vehicles and equipment.
Where the department is headed, Cartwright said, is a middle method of procurement in which vehicles and equipment are built with open architecture to be flexible enough to field faster, then be adapted as threats change. An example, he said, is the Predator unmanned aircraft, which was adapted from analog video technology to digital.
As for the budget, Cartwright acknowledged that he and others are looking even beyond the additional $400 billion in cost savings President Barack Obama has asked department officials to find. The general said he is doing so on his own accord to offer different options in savings.
“I’m certainly doing budget drills beyond $400 billion,” Cartwright said. Looking at other, sometimes more expensive options, he said, “you may make different decisions.” “We’re doing due diligence,” he added.
Looking out in the first three years of cost savings, Cartwright said, readiness and operating costs are the first considerations. In the second three years, the number and structure of forces is under consideration, he said. Beyond six years, he said, infrastructure and entitlements are evaluated.
Asked how budget constraints affect combatant command’s requests, Cartwright said the grand strategy is about matching ends and means.
“We are not limitless on our resources. … They ask us for things we can’t give them, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t ask,” he said.
Cartwright also was asked about the nuclear triad of air, sea and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. He said he is concerned the military is not getting its money’s worth on bombers, and that he would like to see more discussion about moving to unmanned bombers.
“I’m known as the bomber hater, I guess,” he said, noting that the military increasingly buys far fewer bombers for the same cost. “I’m worried that we’re kind of pricing ourselves out of the market with the approach we’re taking. If we’re going to go out and spend billions of dollars on something less than 20 [bombers], then I question the investment. Building five or 10 of something is not going do it. I want us to think in terms of hundreds again.”
Cartwright said he also would like to see more discussion of long-term U.S. nuclear deterrence, such as what nuclear deterrence should look like in 2020 and whether the triad should reflect different approaches to different potential threats. “I think we haven’t leveraged our intellectual capital on that,” he said.
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