John Lehman: China, Russia, Iran threaten ‘New Pearl Harbor’

John F. Lehman. Photo: US Naval War College

John F. Lehman. Photo: US Naval War College


The former US Navy Secretary insists that the main weakness in Navy preparedness is a painfully slow weapons procurement system

Former US Navy Secretary John F. Lehman has warned in an exclusive interview with Asia Times that the US faces the danger of a “New Pearl Harbor from growing cooperation between China, Russia and Iran that is marked by increased military and technology sharing.

“China, Russia and Iran are doing joint naval exercises and they are sharing anti-aircraft and antisubmarine technology,” Lehman said. “They don’t have to be allies. They figure if they carry out their designs in co-ordinated fashion that this will stretch the US so thin that we can’t deal with it — and that is the worry right now.

But as the US military confronts a three-way alignment that Lehman compares to the Tripartite Alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan before World War II, Lehman says the chief danger isn’t from anti-ship missiles or supercavitating torpedoes. Rather, the main threat to American preparedness, he says, springs from a painfully slow US process for procuring new weapons systems. He also blames recent collisions involving Navy ships in Asian waters on the combined pressures of generational change, and training and budget cuts, on a smaller, peacetime Navy.

“All these problems are fixable,” Lehman said. “We just need the leadership and will to do it.”

Lehman served as the Reagan administration’s Navy secretary between 1981-1987. He was the architect of the 600-ship Navy that harried the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

He believes the past is repeating itself in the current face-off between the US and a new set of foes. “If you go back and read how the Triple Alliance before World War I or the Axis alliance before World War II evolved, you’ve got exactly the same thing happening now. Russia, China and Iran are concert parties,” Lehman said.

Procurements maze

Against this backdrop, Lehman sees an urgent need to quickly develop and deploy new US weapons systems. But he says a tortuous, decades-long acquisitions process involving the Pentagon, defense contractors, and Congress, makes many US planes, ships and supporting systems obsolete by the time they are operational.

The former top Navy official reckons it takes the US more than 22 years to get a major weapons system up and running. Russia and China, he says, can do it in about 6-7 years. He notes that new Congressional legislation is needed to streamline and simplify the procurements process.

“We’re strangling on bureaucracy and overhead,” Lehman said flatly. “In digital technology, the procurement system has become so paralytic that by the time we get new digital weapons and electronics deployed, it’s ten years old.”

Navy mishaps explained

Lehman says this has been a major factor in a series of fatal accidents involving Navy ships and planes in the western Pacific this year. A total of 20 US sailors have died in incidents which are stirring doubts about Navy preparedness as military activity surges because of a nuclear crisis with North Korea.

“There has been this constant pressure to do more with less,” Lehman noted.

The Navy, according to Lehman, is also reeling from generational change as older, more experienced personnel are replaced by younger types who are lower on the learning curve. “People are standing watches that they’re not experienced enough to stand,” Lehman pointed out.

He adds that the Navy faces a staff retention problem as budget cuts and other changes make the military a less desirable place to work vs. the private sector. Fewer ships also mean extended deployments, taking sailors away from their families for longer periods.

“This happens frequently between wars. The last time was in the 1970s and we’re reliving that now with the hemorrhaging of the most qualified people,” Lehman said.

Full article: John Lehman: China, Russia, Iran threaten ‘New Pearl Harbor’ (Asia Times)

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