COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 29, 2011 — Persistent global conflict coupled with efforts to reduce the nation’s $14 trillion debt will require the entire Defense Department to better align its decreasing resources, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.
Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright addressed Defense Logistics Agency professionals and industry representatives at the 2011 DLA Industry Conference and Exhibition.
The military will continue drawing down in Iraq until there are only about 10,000 service members left there by the end of this year, and surge forces in Afghanistan will start returning this year, Cartwright said. But as the military exits from these conflicts, others loom on the horizon, he said.
“Today, you have 2.5 million men and women in uniform supporting the persistent global disruption out there. I don’t really see that changing anytime soon,” the general said.
In Libya, for example, the military is contributing in ways America’s allies can’t, Cartwright said.
“And this conflict is not going to be a conflict of days and weeks any more than Iraq or Afghanistan were conflicts of days and weeks,” he added.
Meeting these global challenges in a financially tight future will require more than strategy or policy shifts, Cartwright said.
“We’re not going to change that by merely buying less, and then trying to match the same strategy against less resource. It’s just not going to work,” he said.
“People can say we’re going to fix acquisitions, or we’re going to fix requirements, or change the strategy and tweak it on the margins, and not do this or that, or we’re just going to cut money and see what happens,” Cartwright continued. “These are all things that we’ve had experience doing before, but the challenge that we face today really has no precedent.
“We’re either going to have to fundamentally change how we do business, or we’ll have to step back,” he said. “Those are the stark realities that face DOD right now.”
Changing the process by which the department categorizes and procures equipment can help ensure expenditures fit the military’s needs, both in the present and the future, Cartwright said.
“Today, we want 15 years to produce a truck — that’s absurd,” he said. “Competitive edge exists in days, weeks and minutes on the battlefield, not years. If it takes us 15 years to build the next fighting vehicle and field it, and then the first conflict comes along and we have to do major modifications in order to adjust it to the conflict we’re in, it becomes irrelevant very quickly.”
The cost to the department then is incredibly higher compared to what is imposed on the enemy, he added.
To get away from the one-size-fits-all concept, military equipment will soon be placed in one of three tiers, Cartwright said. The first tier will include items urgently needed on the battlefield, regardless of cost.
“It’s a very difficult thing to say, but I don’t really care about how much it costs and I don’t care about performance,” he said of this category. “If I can save one life, I want it in the field now.”
On the opposite end of that is the development of a new bomber aircraft, Cartwright said.
“It’s going to take me time because I don’t want to screw it up,” he said. “Cost is very important, performance is important, but I’m willing to wait for the attributes that I’m going to need on the battlefield for the next 50 years.”
In between those tiers are hybrid programs in which equipment is built on the condition it will be adjusted or modified to fit the conditions of future conflicts, Cartwright said.
“We’ll work our way through that to make sure modifications and updates can occur in stride and that people are out in the field making those modifications as they occur, because we can’t afford to ship equipment back and forth, and it’s just too much delay,” he added.
Cartwright concluded by calling service members a national treasure.
“They are our youth, and they go out there and do this time and time again,” he said. “We owe a debt to them and to their families, probably a debt we can’t repay, but we have a moral obligation to try and never forget them.”
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