WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is preparing to unveil a new war-fighting and peacekeeping strategy that might determine the size and shape of the nation's military for decades to come.
That strategy is likely to be politically contentious, and defense analysts who favor more sweeping change are questioning whether the new national security blueprint will bring the revolutionary change that President Bush promised during the campaign.
There is widespread expectation that the administration will scrap the decade-old strategy that says the nation must be able to fight two wars simultaneously - one on the Korean peninsula and another in the Persian Gulf.
Instead, the Pentagon might focus more attention on the nagging Balkans-like skirmishes and terrorist threats that have marked recent history, according to Pentagon officials, defense analysts and lawmakers.
Moreover, the administration appears ready to place a greater emphasis on Asia, at the expense of Europe, in its military and diplomatic plans.
The strategy a nation adopts is important because it determines the number of troops and the types of weapons needed to execute it.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is finishing up a wide-ranging review of Pentagon programs and strategy. The president will offer a glimpse of the new strategy when he delivers the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 25. Rumsfeld, however, might not make his recommendations on weapons for weeks or even months.
Bush has already committed his administration to an ambitious plan to protect the nation and its allies from ballistic missiles. Now, in conjunction with Rumsfeld, he is moving to determine the forces needed to take on more traditional military missions.
Some of Rumsfeld's advisers are pressing him to trim the nation's 2.4 million active-duty and reserve military personnel and cut back on fighter aircraft, ships, tanks and artillery weapons.
The savings could be shifted toward the creation of a 21st-century force of unmanned bombers, battlefield sensors and more sophisticated communications designed to quickly pinpoint and target an enemy.
Rumsfeld, at a news briefing last week, was asked whether he planned to alter the two-war strategy.
"It's an important question," he replied. "It ranks right up there with the subject of missile defense and the use of space.
"How ought we to size our forces? How ought we to organize these forces? Where ought they to be located?" Rumsfeld mused. "So the question comes, mightn't we want to size our forces also for some other things, like a Bosnia or a Kosovo or a noncombatant evacuation in some country, or maybe one or two or three of those things?"
Even though no announcements have been made, the ripple effect from reports of possible manpower and weapons cuts has lawmakers, military leaders and defense contractors girding for a fight.
More than a dozen Pentagon panels have been advising Rumsfeld on a future course, although the secretary recently told top Senate Republicans that he has not reached any final decisions on the number of troops or types of weapons he will recommend to the president.
Said a Capitol Hill aide familiar with the meeting: "He said, 'If I took every panel's recommendation, there's not enough money to buy things.'" Still, the aide said, "There are going to be cuts in weapons programs. That's the way he was talking."
Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and one of the leading defense voices in Congress, said he expects "major structural and procedural reforms" in the Pentagon.
Despite expected cutbacks in weapons systems, those familiar with the various proposals under consideration predict that few, if any, of the major projects will be eliminated, other than the Army's Crusader long-range howitzer, an estimated $4.3 billion program.
That talk is upsetting to some analysts who advocate deep change, such as John Hillen, who helped write Bush's main campaign speech on defense issues, a September 1999 address in which he pledged to "begin creating the military for the next century."
Even so, Rumsfeld's advisers appear to be preserving what Hillen dismisses as "industrial age" weapons - among them fighter aircraft and carriers. As a result, the Rumsfeld team is not saving enough money to build the futuristic arms and communications systems that Hillen and like-minded analysts favor.
"I don't think the political forces are aligned enough to have a revolution," Hillen said.
The Pentagon's biggest-ticket item is fighter aircraft, a $350 billion program through 2020 that includes the Air Force's F-22 Raptor, the Navy's F/A-18EF and the Joint Strike Fighter that will be used by the Navy, Air Force and Marines.
"I think they'll keep all three [aircraft] programs, but they'll significantly cut back on the buy," Weldon predicted. Hillen and some other defense analysts favor cutting such short-range aircraft in favor of long-range bombers and small, unmanned drones that can spy on or bomb an adversary.
Weldon also expects the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey - a hybrid of a helicopter and a plane - to survive, though two of them crashed last year, killing 23 Marines. A Pentagon board said this spring that the Osprey needs more engineering work before a decision to begin full production is made.
Lawmakers are working to save weapons systems believed to be targeted by Rumsfeld, especially those made in their states.
Rep. J. C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma, where the Crusader is to be built if it survives the Rumsfeld review, is pressing the Pentagon to retain the howitzer, saying its precision firepower is needed to fight massed armies on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere.
And Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican, urged her colleagues last week to sign a "Dear Secretary Rumsfeld" letter to save the Navy's new destroyer, the DD-21. Bath Iron Works in Maine is one of the bidders in the project.
At the same time, Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has warned the Pentagon not to cut back on aircraft carriers, which are built in Newport News, Va.
Navy officials have also pressed Rumsfeld's aides to retain the carriers. Some of those advisers dismiss the carrier as a relic that could easily be destroyed by short-range missiles, which possible U.S. adversaries such as China and Iran have built or obtained.
Adm. Vernon Clark, the chief of naval operations, also defended carriers in a speech last month. "These platforms are tough, with extensive defensive and offensive systems," he said. "They're mobile and fast. ... That presents a serious targeting problem."
Pentagon officials say that as a result of these efforts, the carriers appear to have survived the ax, at least for now.
Meanwhile, some of Rumsfeld's advisers are pressing for troop cuts. One proposal calls for a cut of 100,000 from the active-duty Army, the largest of the services at 480,000, and a cut of 70,000 from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve, which together total 550,000.
Some in the Army say those proposals are now dead, and a congressional aide said Guard reductions are politically unacceptable."[Lawmakers] care about the Guard. It's in every state," he said. Four years ago, Pentagon plans to cut 25,000 Guard troops were rejected in Congress.
But Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican, said military personnel cuts are likely. Rumsfeld "is going to have to look at [troop] strength. I think he has no choice," Weldon said.
Andrew Krepinevich, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments who served on one of Rumsfeld's panels, agreed. "I think it's going to be very hard to do some of the things they want to do in space, on missile defense and in [military] transformation without force structure cuts," he said.
There have been reports that Rumsfeld will push for annual spending increases ranging from $20 billion to $35 billion to the Pentagon's projected $310 billion budget. Weldon and Krepinevich said they doubt that the president or Congress would go along with such large increases.
"We're not going to have big budget increases," said Weldon, who said voters are more interested in education, tax cuts and prescription drug benefits. "Every major poll shows defense dead last."