Nunn’s Bleak Tale

June 1, 2006

“DOD Must Thoroughly Overhaul the

Services’ Roles and Missions”

Sen. Sam Nunn

Address to the US Senate

Washington, D.C.

July 2, 1992


Not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) shook up the US military with a ringing call for change. The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman did so with a memorable 7,000-word Senate speech, one that painted a bleak portrait of service parochialism and wasteful duplication of capabilities. He called for a major review—and revision—of roles and missions.

At the top of Nunn’s hit list was overlap in airpower, particularly in power projection within the Air Force and Navy. Nunn argued that redundancy in airpower was squandering billions. However, in a report unveiled in early 1993, Gen. Colin L. Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed strong support for maintaining such redundant capabilities as a hedge against surprises. Still, the pressure created by Nunn’s speech has never dissipated.

I am convinced it is time for General Powell to conduct a no-holds-barred, everything-on-the-table review of the current assignments of roles and missions among the military services. …

The first area of potential streamlining is projection of airpower. [The 1991 Gulf War] provided compelling evidence of the critical role that airpower plays on the modern battlefield. Tactical aircraft were among the first forces in theater to deter further advances by Iraq, provided an ongoing air defense screen over Saudi Arabia while the reinforcement proceeded, and conducted an extremely successful interdiction campaign once the war started.

But we spend tens of billions of dollars every year operating tactical aircraft squadrons in each of the four services. The services now have over $350 billion worth of new combat aircraft on the drawing boards, with only limited efforts to achieve commonality. We must find ways to save billions of dollars with streamlining and eliminating the duplication in this area.

We have two modes of airpower—land-based aviation and sea-based aviation. Land-based aviation provides the mass needed for modern air combat. Sea-based aviation provides presence in areas where land basing is not possible or until it becomes possible. Both are unique capabilities and assets we require. From my point of view, the issue is not whether we have one or the other. The issue instead is choice on the margin: As we invest scarce resources in coming years, what is the most cost-effective mix of forces

As I review the service plans and programs, I note several items that cannot be considered apart from a careful assessment of roles and missions. For example, this year’s budget request contains an $800 million down payment on a $4.8 billion aircraft carrier, and $165 million to start the development of a $60-to-$80 billion new stealthy medium-range bomber to fly off aircraft carriers, the so-called AX airplane. At the same time, the Air Force is proposing to start a $5 billion upgrade to the B-1 bomber.

This raises several important questions. What is the most cost-effective way to provide air interdiction in the future—with long-range bombers from the United States or with large numbers of aircraft carriers with medium-range bombers on their decks? …

I am not saying we do not need aircraft carriers or do not need long-range bombers. But I do believe that as we look to a future of shrinking budgets and changing requirements, we need to make some clear-eyed decisions about the most cost-effective mix of these forces.

There are other areas of duplication in airpower. The Navy operates F-18 aircraft as multirole fighters and the Air Force operates F-16 aircraft as multirole fighters. The Navy wants to buy a new version of the F-18 that will cost nearly $5 billion to develop and $55 [billion] to $75 billion to procure. The Air Force wants to develop a new multirole fighter in the future to replace its current F-16 fleet. That airplane will cost tens of billions of dollars as well. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps all operated one fighter—the F-4, which was an extremely successful aircraft.

This raises several key questions: Can the services cooperate and develop a common multirole fighter? Could the Air Force use the Navy’s F-18 as its multirole fighter? …

The Air Force operates some 26 equivalent wings of fighter aircraft. The Navy operates 13 wings, and the Marine Corps operates four wings. Each wing costs hundreds of millions to operate and train annually, and billions to outfit. Obviously, each of the services would like to keep all their own wings of aircraft. But we must ask some specific questions. Do we need separate and parallel fleets of multirole fighters in the first place? How many squadrons do we need and how many should be in the Navy, in the Marine Corps, and in the Air Force? Should each of the services have a complete cross section of types of aircraft or could the services specialize?

The fundamental question is not what is best for the Navy or the Air Force or the Marine Corps. The fundamental question is what is best for America.