Armed services to spur modernization

The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), said Jan. 9 that the modernization of the country's fighting forces will be the key mission of the committee during his tenure as chairman.

As part of his plan, Hunter has realigned the committee into six subcommittees, each with a focus on a specific mission. The six new subcommittees are:

* Tactical Air and Land Forces, which will be responsible for the Air Force and the Army, as well as other tactical air commands.

* Readiness, which will oversee the military's readiness and ability to respond to global threats.

* Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, which will oversee the deployment and use of special operations forces and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

* Total Force, which will combine the oversight of the personnel and military construction subcommittees and be responsible for all personnel, including active duty, activated National Guard and reserve forces.

* Strategic Forces, which will oversee the areas of missile defense, the Energy Department and nuclear weapons programs.

* Projection Forces, which will handle sea power, heavy lift and heavy bombers.

"The old system was not mission-oriented," Hunter said. "We have been far behind the modernization curve for a long time, and I am of the opinion that sometimes the best way to modernize is to just buy the equipment. We need to move the bureaucracy aside and get the new technologies and systems to the field quickly, and we may have to move laws aside to do it."

Hunter said that $90 billion annually must be spent to ensure the armed forces remain as modern as possible, and said the funding for modernization slipped to between $45 billion and $50 billion during the Clinton administration. Last year's budget had $71.8 billion for modernization purposes, and Hunter said he would like that figure to continue to rise.

"Some technologies that were still in the [research and development] phase became big successes," he said. "The Predator, for example, saw its system established because the exigency of war [in Bosnia] drew it into the theater. [The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] is another example. They escaped the bureaucracy and couldn't be recalled."

Hunter said the Armed Services Committee will work closely with a blue ribbon panel established by Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, to rapidly move innovative technologies from the drawing board to the field.

"If a contractor or small business can make a system or subsystem cheaper than the incumbent contractor and with greater warfighting ability, that innovator will be able to go before the blue-ribbon panel and make a case," Hunter said. "The challenger may have a better system. That will put pressure on the those [incumbent] producers — who could be comfortable, overpriced, and less innovative — that would foster good, old-fashioned U.S. competition."

Hunter would not comment specifically on the size of the next defense budget and would not break down which technology program might see an increase or decrease in funding.

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