(This is a cross post )
America’s global commitments, from Japan to Germany, from NATO to Afghanistan, from EUCOM to AFRICOM, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf, from USPACOM in Honolulu to CENTCOM in Tampa, Fl., all are being reassessed – at home and abroad. Can a superpower whose infrastructure is rapidly decaying to third world standards in many sectors, and in need of a $1 trillion facelift, afford to be the free world’s gendarme, spending more on defense than the rest of the world put together?
From a no-win Afghan war, where Pakistan, a “major non-NATO ally,” would be happy to see a reformed Taliban regime rule the tribal roost (sans Al Qaeda); to the perceived need for some 700 U.S. military bases and outposts at home and abroad; to the presence of 75,000 troops in Germany, a country that is cutting defense spending to 2 percent of GDP; to the very purpose of NATO if many of the allies see little value in collective defense -- everything is bound to be part of an agonizing reappraisal.
All these questions should not lead people to conclude the United States can afford to be isolationist. Clearly U.S. military presence is required in Japan, a major power that worries about being left in the lurch with big brother China, well on its way to superpowerdom in Asia. Also in South Korea as a deterrent, or tripwire to the dangerous antics of dictator Kim Jong-il, clearly a cruel despot who could be tempted to end it all by launching a nuclear missile or bomb on Seoul in a final “Gotterdammerung.”
The Persian Gulf is critically important to Western security and an over-the-horizon U.S. carrier task force may not deter Iran but it would go a long way to reassuring our Gulf friends, as it did throughout the Cold War.
A Muslim fanatic with a British passport said on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN/GPS Sunday program that in a free election in most Muslim countries today, Osama Bin Laden would probably win. This is one of the reasons most Gulf leaders would welcome US bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities as well as the capture and execution of OBL.
The F-35 will be the last manned fighter built by the U.S. for the U.S. and many of its friends and allies. Military commitments in the 21st century will be less visible and less expensive.
Remote controlled aircraft, beginning with the Predator and the Rapier, are the first entrants in robotic wars of the future. Pilot and co-pilot sit in a mock cockpit in Nevada and fly drones over Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal border areas and press a button, instead of squeezing a trigger, as they see via satellite relay hostile guerrillas with AK-47s slung over their shoulder. Soon unmanned bombers and fighter-bombers will succeed many of today’s manned military aircraft.
Robotic wars of the future are in the planning stages. But the U.S. is still spending countless billions on legacy systems. It is now hard to imagine the U.S. involved in tank warfare thousands of miles from home base, as it was briefly in Iraq in February 1991.Yet we still have to pay for the maintenance of almost 9,000 tanks.
Can the U.S. afford $6 billion destroyers that can’t operate in shallow coastal waters? More useful would be World War II-type PT-Boats – but with devastating firepower.
All manner of UCAVs are now on everything from drawing board to production line to flight line. Last week, the British defense contractor BAE Systems unveiled Tiranis. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the Tiranis takes unmanned fighting aircraft to a new level of robotic warfare. It can fly anywhere in the world guided and operated by satellite to spy, drop precision-guided bombs or missiles – and even fight back like a fighter-bomber if attacked by another drone or by a manned aircraft.
Tiranis is leading the charge into robotic warfare.
Next to fly will be Boeing’s Phantom Eye that can operate for four days at 66,000 feet (20,000 meters). Already available are tiny UCAVs that can be carried as part of a soldier’s backpack and used for an overhead view of an enemy attack. Some are the size of a large beetle that fly into an enemy HQ, settle on a wall and transmit conversations. Flocks of bird-sized MAVs (Micro-Air Vehicles) can swarm all over a target. Already, UCAVs are a $5 billion business that is grounding pilots.
UUVs (Underwater Unmanned Vehicles) are already in the water. Autonomous perimeter security mobile robots are also deployed. How long before terrorists get their hands on the same technology?
The Terrafugia (Latin for escape from land) company Bloomberg Businessweek reported, produced a car-cum-aircraft, the flying automobile many fantasize about when stuck in barely moving commuter traffic. The FAA recently gave the car-plane an exemption so it can carry air bags and other car safety features. This puts the “Transition” at 1,430 pounds, or half as much as a Mini Cooper, that can be pre-ordered for $194,000 (delivery by the end of 2011
The Transition goes from car to plane or vice versa in about the time it takes to lower the top on a convertible, says Carl Dietrich, the co-founder of Terrafugia in Woburn, Mass. The company plans to produce 300 to 400 a year. It must take off and land at an airport and can fly 460 miles at a speed of 110 mph. On the ground, wings folded alongside, it can easily cruise at 60mph.
The latest Quadrennial Defense Review looks ahead about five years, instead of 20 years as was the original intent, say House and Senate lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, who are focused on defense issues. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking for savings in the $100 billion range in a $861 billion defense budget, or 22 percent of the total federal budget, which propels the deficit to a record $1.6 trillion in 2010.
The deepest and longest recession since World War II is bound to produce an agonizing reappraisal of America’s global commitments.
(Arnaud de Borchgrave is the UPI Editor at large).