Study praises U.S. forces, faults outdated attitudes


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military came out of the Persian Gulf war -- a war that signaled a revolution in the nature of conflict -- still focused "to an unwise degree" on the old Cold War and the Soviet threat.

That was a main conclusion reached in a six-month private study that faulted the Navy in particular for its limited supplies of "smart" weapons, antiquated minesweepers, inadequate sealift to move ground forces and communications problems during the air campaign.

The 53-page report on "Military Lessons Learned" from the Persian Gulf conflict was made public at a briefing here yesterday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Its study group included government, academic, defense industry and military experts with close knowledge of the gulf war.

Generally praising the performance of U.S. volunteer military forces and the high technology underlying the revolution in warfare, CSIS briefers said the United States emerged from the conflict as "The" world superpower.

But, as they noted, their study was a vigorous warning against overestimating U.S. power.

A topmost lesson for the post-Cold War era, with its likely regional conflicts, was that the United States would be politically, financially and logistically dependent on allies, as it was in the gulf.

"The option of 'going it alone' simply does not exist," the report said, "and all foreign and defense policy decisions must be made with this realization."

In one of its forward-looking chapters, after detailing the past successes of arms and uses of technology, the study found assorted flaws in the Pentagon's switching to a new strategy. The strategy was first outlined briefly by President Bush last Aug. 2, by coincidence the day Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The United States would cut back its focus on the Soviet threat, cut its military deployments in Europe and gear its reduced forces to "regional contingencies" where U.S. interests were seen to be threatened.

For all its unique character -- superb bases thousands of miles from home and no enemy interference with a five-month buildup, for example -- the gulf war was the first contingency of the kind envisioned in the strategy.

"Despite the U.S. military's new emphasis on a regional contingencies strategy," the CSIS study found, "much of the U.S. defense establishment is, to an unwise degree, still focused on and structured for the Soviet threat."

The report proposed an overhaul of the intelligence services, to direct their efforts more toward regional crisis areas, seen as neglected as they concentrated heavily on the Soviet Union. It urged reexamination of the military reserves' missions in a future calling for very swift movement of forces.

It said the United States must expand its sea- and airlift capability. "Disaster" was averted in the gulf because Iraq inexplicably did nothing during a five-month allied buildup in Saudi Arabia.

The CSIS report cautioned against over-reliance on high-tech or any specific weapons systems at the expense of adequate funds for personnel and maintenance.

"This was in the end a war won by people, not machines or technology," the report said. It admonished the government to guard zealously the U.S. lead in technology, but said:

"There is no point in having a poorly trained military force armed with the most modern missiles and laser-guided bombs if it is not motivated to fight, if its leaders cannot lead, if its technicians cannot maintain their equipment and if its troops are not schooled in the basic aspects of warfare."

The study saw the success of air power as "the most convincing confirmation of the revolution in war" and looked for precision-guided weapons -- one aircraft, one bomb, one target destroyed -- to remain a key U.S. advantage.

Describing naval aviation shortcomings in the gulf, the report said that carrier aircraft were "less effective" than those based on land, though they would have been critical if Iraq had invaded Saudi Arabia at the start.

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