The “Redheaded Stepchild”

Jan. 1, 2008
Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.) is head of the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on strategic forces. In a Nov. 8, 2007 meeting with the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C., she discussed the defense program, budgets, nuclear weapons, missile defense, Iran, and a host of other topics. What follows are excerpts of her remarks.

Neglect of USAF

“The Air Force effectively [is] the redheaded stepchild [in the budget], just like the Navy is, in the Pentagon. They’re just being completely constricted in their capabilities in order [to permit DOD officials] to deal with what you have to do for [Army and Marine Corps] ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. … How long are we going to do this?…

“When it comes to money for the Pentagon, we’ve got to replace everything with a wheel and a wing on it that currently is in theater. What’s that going to cost us? Eight hundred billion? A trillion dollars? … We’ve got a military that’s at war and a country that’s not at war. We don’t have an industrial base that’s at war, either.”

Lack of Airlifters

“You need to have a healthy, vibrant, robust airlift capability in order to do anything that we’re doing anyhow. … Why aren’t [DOD officials] asking for C-17s in the budget? Why are they depending on the Congress to add them in? …

“What I have done, and what I’ve been very happy to do, is to help keep the C-17 line warm. … The Pentagon and the President have not asked for one C-17 for the last, I think, three years, and we’ve increased them by 36 over the last three years.”

The C-5/C-17 Mix

“My concern [is] that we’ve got [many] models of the C-5, and some of them are dogs, and some of them are better than others. The problem I’ve got is that the C-17 and the C-5 have similar missions but not the same capabilities. I don’t want to go to just one model too fast. I think that we have every reason to believe that we need to have both of them right now since we’re renting Russian [An-124] planes to go around the world and do things.”

Desperate Situation

“I’ve been enormously concerned about the senior military leadership not telling the civilian managers how desperately bad our readiness is, how significantly we are unable to deal with any other contingencies.

“We have no C-1-rated ground force unit in this country. We have broken the Guard and Reserve. We are allowing criminals into the military. We’ve degraded our ability to recruit and retain. We have broken families. We have a military medical system that is a scandal.”

Lowered Standards

“There are a number of [recruits] that have been allowed to come into the military with criminal records, which was not true just even two years ago, two-and-a-half, three years ago. Now I’m all for rehabilitation, and I’m all for people getting a second chance. That’s not why we’re doing this. We haven’t decided that there is a cadre of folks that have been rehabilitated and now they can come into the military. This is about the fact that we need people with pulses that are willing to come into the military. And I find that to be startling.”

Long, Hard Slog

“It’s just amazing to me that, when we know what the success of the volunteer professional force [means], when we know the requirements of it, when we know that it’s a ‘have-to-have’ and not a ‘nice-to-have,’ that we went for so long breaking it and then we expect to be able to turn on a dime and have people just forget about what’s going on today. It’s not like we’re out of Iraq. It’s not like we’re finished with Afghanistan. It’s not like we’re coming home to rest and recuperate. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Nuclear-Force Questions

“In the House, … we’ve said we want a Congressional blue-ribbon panel to do a study of exactly what our number of weapons should be. What is the strategic need and capability for the United States for nuclear weapons? The Senate asked for … an accelerated new Nuclear Posture Review for the new Administration [that arrives in 2009]. … We think that they complement each other, and so that’s what we’re doing. We’re going forward with our Congressional blue-ribbon panel. We think Congress has a reason to weigh in. We think we have a reason to have our own people take a look at this.”

Triad Still Needed

“That’s a good question. That’s one of the reasons why we have the commission that the Congress is [putting] together. I think that we need a fresh look at everything. I’m not saying that we don’t [need a mix of land-, air-, and sea-based nuclear weapons], but I think we need to take a look at everything.”

“Hedge” Warhead Problem

“Suppose I had to go to work every day, and I had to have a car that I knew worked every day. It was so important that … I had a couple of cars. I had my primary car, but I also had a couple of ‘hedge’ cars. If the first one didn’t turn over OK, I went to the next one. Then I went to the next one.

“That’s what our weapons stockpile is like right now. We have the stockpile, and then we have a bunch of what we call hedge weapons. And that’s caused us to have thousands of weapons. … In the Moscow Treaty, we’re coming down to someplace between 1,700 and 2,200, but that’s still a lot of weapons.”

The “Reliable Replacement Warhead”

“I will tell you that, over the last three years that we’ve talked about RRW, the foes have diminished and the fans have increased. We’re still not sold on it, and [we have] a very cautionary investment strategy … but, at the same time, I think that many of us are hopeful that it is a path to get to where we want to go.”

Missile Defense Hokum

“I believe that the 2004 deployment of the missile defense system at Ft. Greely [Alaska] and Vandenberg [AFB, Calif.] was a political statement. I don’t believe that [the US] has done enough operational testing. …

“We don’t have credible deterrence with this missile defense system. It certainly hasn’t deterred the North Koreans. They have [backed up], but it’s not because they think our system’s going to work. We certainly haven’t achieved credible deterrence with the Iranians and others who are developing these long-range missile systems.”

Iranian Missiles

“Who has the most short- and medium-range missiles in the Middle East? The Iranians. They have 600. … What is the current threat? The current threat is 600 short- and medium-range missiles in Iran against Europe and our troops that are forward deployed there and, of course, Israel. What should we be trying to defeat? Those systems.

“So what I have insisted on is that we begin to first ‘NATO-ize’ the [US ballistic missile defense] system.”

The Escalation Threat

“If the Iranians decided to pop one off into southern Europe, Article 5 [of the North Atlantic Treaty] says that we’re in. It’s very easy for us to understand that this is a prerogative of the Iranians to do this, and it certainly is an imperative for us to protect ourselves, so I think we’ve got to work hard to get this idea of a NATO-ized system up and going.”

Pakistan’s Nukes

“We’ve been watching this percolate for a long time, knowing that it was going in the wrong direction, going from simmer to boil for a long time. … We need … a much more robust and significant American commitment to international regimes for arms control. We need a lot more visibility on what is going on in Pakistan. Who does have that ‘football?’ Who is next in line? What is going to happen should something untoward happen? …

“I’ve learned that we don’t have as strong a handle on it as I thought we did.”

Vladimir Putin’s Russia

“You have to be wary of a country whose leader has figured out how to maintain control even though he has got term limits. … I think the trend lines on Russia are not good. They still obviously have a tremendous amount of [military capability]. … That is not somebody that you stiff-arm; that is somebody that you grab by the collar and bring as close to you as you can. … You bring people very, very, very, very close if you’re worried about them.”