Army chief to make force lighter, faster, more lethal; Top officer Shinseki says the transformation could take more than 10 years


WASHINGTON -- The Army's top officer said yesterday that he plans to transform the nation's largest service from its Cold War structure to one lighter, faster and more lethal, able to arrive quickly and fight Kosovo-like skirmishes and full-scale land wars in Iraq or the Korean Peninsula.

"The Army will undergo a major transformation," said Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff. He said units now are either too armor-bound to move quickly or can arrive on time but without adequate firepower.

Shinseki said it could take more than a decade before technologies emerge to help transform the entire 10-division Army. The general said it could be several years before the first smaller-scale experimental units are able to arrive in overseas hot spots.

Army sources said Shinseki would seek either cuts or transfers of money in the current year's budget to start the process.

Shinseki said he would begin beefing up the Army's undermanned combat units this year by transferring thousands of soldiers working in staff and headquarters positions. That process is set for completion in 2003.

The four-star officer said he would begin the transformation of the 480,000-member active-duty Army this year by sending prototypes of new weapons to Fort Lewis, Wash., where two brigades will begin training with them.

One Army source said the two brigades -- one infantry and one armored -- would combine parts of each, becoming two "medium-weight" brigades that could move fast and have more firepower.

Ultimately, Shinseki said, he hopes to be able to move a 5,000-soldier brigade anywhere in the world in 96 hours. And he hopes to be able to move five 15,000-soldier divisions in a month, though it took six months to move such a force to the Persian Gulf.

The Army has been criticized for its cumbersome division structure and for spending too much on weapons such as the M1-A1 Abrams tank and the Crusader artillery gun, which are too heavy to move overseas quickly and designed to repel the heavy armor of the former Soviet Union.

Shinseki signaled a change in such efforts. "We will prioritize solutions which optimize smaller, lighter, more lethal, yet more reliable, fuel efficient options."

His comments received mixed reviews from defense analysts.

"He's talking the talk, and I'm very heartened. It looks like he's going to walk the walk," said Richard Armitage, a former assistant secretary of defense.

But another analyst, Andrew F. Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Shinseki was taking "baby steps."

Pub Date: 10/13/99

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