Pentagon chief says Russians provided impetus for U.S. military modernization
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MOSCOW - Defence Secretary Robert Gates told students at an elite Russian military academy Saturday that much of the inspiration for the U.S. military's modernization in the 1980s came from Moscow.
In a rare appearance for a Pentagon leader at the Military Academy of the General Staff, Gates outlined the history and implications of U.S. military transformation, saying they are relevant to Russia as it seeks to professionalize its army in an era where the dominant security threat is Islamic extremism.
He said the seeds of U.S. combat successes in the 1991 Gulf war were sown a decade earlier with an infusion of new ideas on using modern technologies to fundamentally change the nature of warfighting.
"What is less well known -especially in America - is that much of the original thinking on these matters was done by the Soviet military as far back as the 1970s when officers wrote about what was then called a 'military technical revolution,"' he said.
Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent much of Friday in tough talks with their Russian counterparts on a range of arms control and diplomatic issues, topped by an unsuccessful effort to bridge differences over an American plan to expand its fledgling missile defence system to eastern Europe.
Gates was flying back to Washington after his appearance at the military academy, which is roughly equivalent to the U.S. National War College in Washington. The last U.S. defence secretary to speak at the academy was William Perry in 1996, according to Pentagon officials.
In his prepared remarks, Gates cited the Soviet military's work in the 1970s on how to use sensors, reconnaissance and command-and-control systems to gain a battlefield edge. In the next decade, he said, top Soviet generals envisioned a scenario in which conventional weapons could be as effective as nuclear weapons - "owing to the gains made in precision, information technology and communications."
That became the standard for U.S. military innovation, which first bore fruit in the successful campaign to oust the Iraqi army from Kuwait after it invaded in August 1990 and triggered a U.S.-led invasion.
In the future, Gates said, one of the most important roles for the American military will be helping the security forces of friendly nations defeat extremists within their own borders, rather than having U.S. troops intervene directly.
"So we're thinking about how best to incorporate those capabilities into our armed forces in a way that does not detract from their warfighting responsibilities," Gates said.
Following his prepared remarks, Gates took several questions from the audience, which included officers ranging in rank from lieutenant colonel to two-star generals. One asked him about the fact that while the United States often complains about Russian arms sales, the U.S. is the world's largest arms merchant and sells to unstable areas such as the Middle East and Pakistan.
The subject, Gates said, had been raised by his Russian counterpart on Friday. "The best way to describe it is, at the end we decided to agree to disagree," he said.
Before he turned to the most serious sections of his speech, Gates offered some lighthearted recollections of his experiences during the Cold War as a CIA analyst and later as chief of the spy agency in 1992.
He recalled a May 1989 visit to Moscow when he was told that while staying overnight at the U.S. ambassador's residence he should expect his room to be bugged by the KGB.
"As I prepared for bed I said aloud, for the benefit of whoever might be listening, that I would be going right to sleep - immediately; I had no companionship planned for the evening; and that whoever was listening could take the rest of the night off."
"I thought I heard a chuckle but it undoubtedly was only in my imagination," he said.