Despite Poor Map Job, Latest US Defense Report Is 'Best Seller'

HALFWAY through a just-released Pentagon paperback, there's a map with the location of every strategic force installation in the United States marked on it. Bomber bases are distinguished by small airplane icons, ICBM bases by small missiles, Navy sub bases by tiny submarines... .

Every single base is in the wrong place.

A correction sticker notes that a printing error moved all installations hundreds of miles to the left of their real locations.

Thus, several Air Force bases in the Northeast have been relocated to Canada; the Charleston, S.C., Navy base is well inland in northern Georgia; and the Bangor, Wash., sub base is out in the Pacific - a "weird, 'Dr. No' underwater kind of thing," notes a Pentagon consultant. Eagerly awaited report

Welcome to the Department of Defense Annual Report to Congress for 1992. It's one paperback whose authors will never appear on morning talk TV. But, for many of those Washingtonians whose jobs revolve around defense, the annual report is still one of the most eagerly awaited publications of the year.

A public document issued around budget submission time, the annual report is largely an attempt to explain and justify what the Defense Department has done during the year.

That's different from the Defense Planning Guidance, a secret series of documents on US strategy in the world that's supposed to be the intellectual foundation for US defense structure.

The classified Guidance documents are those that have been reported in recent days as recommending the US make sure it remains top dog in a one-superpower world, and laying out numerous war scenarios the Pentagon might plan against.

As for the annual report, it has become less and less bellicose. Back in 1985, one of the first sections in the book was bluntly labeled "The Soviet Threat," and featured all kinds of complicated charts showing how fearsome the USSR's military power was. This year, there isn't any table of contents listing for "threat" at all. Profound reduction

"The East-West confrontation is over," admits the report. "We are now in the midst of one of the most profound defense reductions in American history."

But that doesn't mean the Pentagon is going to stand meekly by while Congress dictates the budget cuts it must absorb.

Charts in the book show the Defense Department is, indeed, planning for its funds to continue to shrink for several years. But beginning in the middle of the decade, the predicted amount of spending turns upward once again. By 1997, according to this DOD prediction, the Pentagon's budget will in fact be slightly higher than it is today.

Still, the book does bow to immediate reality; it contains a section titled simply "Separation" that talks about how the services will go about slashing their personnel levels in months and years ahead. Incentive pay already allocated will be the key effort, it says. But "involuntary separations" could be a "last resort."

The report's buzzword this year is "reconstitution" of strength if necessary. Now that threats have decreased, the Pentagon says it wants to emphasize maintaining the longest-lead parts of US security, including alliances, forward deployment and base-access arrangements, and the much-vaunted US technical edge in weapons.

With Desert Storm-like regional conflicts now the Pentagon's most prominent worry, the state of airlift and sealift is discussed at length.

For instance, the report says that by the end of this decade the Pentagon should have enough sealift to move about 21 million square feet of equipment in one sailing - an increase of 6 million square feet over current levels. Airlift capacity will grow to 53 million ton-miles a day from today's 48 million.

Space systems appear to becoming more and more important to the US military; in the report they've been placed on the same chapter heading level as tactical air forces and naval warships. Desert Storm was "the first space war," says the annual report. Combing for factoids

True connoisseurs comb the annual report for factoids. Where else can one find the total number of marijuana plants destroyed by the Oklahoma National Guard in the last week of June 1991 (1,683,529, in case you're interested.)

Or discover that the Pentagon is developing land mines that destroy helicopters? Or find where the Navy conducts freedom of navigation exercises in waters other nations claim as their own? (Off Denmark, among other places.)

Then there's that map thing. At least this year they caught the mistake. Two years ago, the same map showed Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of Canada.

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