AS vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William A. Owens is the second-highest-ranking officer in the United States military. In a recent interview with Monitor editors in Boston, he talked about the future of the American armed forces in an era of cutbacks. Excerpts follow:
On the defense budget
We are faced with a defense budget that is significantly lower than it has been for a long, long time. The defense budget goes down by about 40 to 45 percent from the end of the 1980s to the end of the '90s, ... the greatest decline that we have had since World War II. [It can't] be managed like a business would manage its fixed and variable costs because, of course, we are dealing in a democracy with many interests associated with each of the bases; with many interests associated with the industrial base; and with a Congress that is a democratic Congress that we must -- and like to -- deal with as we undertake these changes. This is a real challenge for us to downsize.
On new technology
It has enormous ramifications as we try to do military operations cheaper and more effectively because you can take advantage of the technology. You can see a large battlefield much clearer in the future because of the sensors and the systems and the communications. So the revolution in military affairs is a very interesting and exciting area for us because it really is the smart front-end of warfare, and it will change many of the theories of war that we have appreciated over the hundreds of years of war fighting.
On military personnel today
They are the best we've ever had.... We are very satisfied with the quality of this military.
It is very important that we continue to prime this pump of good, young people coming into our military because there is a sense in the country that the cold war is over, the military is downsizing, what's in this for me? ... We've seen a significant downturn in the applications for the academies.... It is a trend that we must reverse to ensure that young people are well aware that this is a tremendous career for them -- for both men and women.
On women in the military t has been a big success story. The quality of the young women and their integration into the military has been to our great benefit as America....
In the future, you will see more and more women as the leadership of our military.
On expectations of zero casualties and new threats to American security
We do have to be very frank with the American people when we undertake these operations [and] be very clear about expectation that there will be loss of life....
But we can continue to remind America that the use of force is to be very carefully employed and that when we do expect to have casualties that we need to be quite upfront with the American public about the possibility that that will happen.
There are new threats out there that we have to react to, too. Biological weapons ... look at what's happening in the subways of Tokyo. How do we deal with that? How do we prepare ourselves for that? It's a real threat. It's the poor man's nuclear bomb.
On a possible mission to rescue UN peacekeepers in Bosnia
The timing certainly matters a lot. We are going into the summer now. There are evidences that both sides are gearing up to go at each other. If we [must take the UN peacekeepers out] right now, is it the same in two months, assuming they do increase war levels of fighting? How do we prepare for it?
We have made a decision with just a few troops -- 20 -- as part of a NATO force of 80 to pre-position some communications in preparation for an UNPROFOR withdrawal.... This is clearly a very complicated situation with many countries involved, some of which don't have the foreign-language ability to talk with others.
On making use of off-the-shelf, commercial technologies
If you look at R&D in the Defense Department today as a percentage of the R&D in the country, ... it's probably down from about 20 percent of the total amount in the country to 3 or 4 percent of the total R&D in the country.... Here is a challenge for us to see what's out there and bring it into the military. For example, the worldwide fiber-optic network. The amount of data you can send around the world is increased by a factor of 10,000 -- 10,000 times more data than you can pass on phone lines, hundreds of times more data than you can pass via satellites.
We may want to stay plugged into the fiber-optic network when we are doing war-fighting because it can send an awful lot of data and information to us.
On armed forces personnel and domestic militias
All of us, when we come into the military, take an oath to defend and support the Constitution of the United States against all enemies. Anything that is not in line with that is not in line with what we expect our active-duty military to be doing.