The National Journal December 8, 2001
Defense Web Sites
By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
Best of the Top Sites
Sites Worth a Look:
Recommended by Fred Downey, defense staffer for, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
Downey likes this site belonging to the defense think tank, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, because it combines detailed budget analysis with sweeping strategies for military reforms "For the good, cautious budget assessment, that's what I go to."
Like the Pentagon itself, the Defense Department's online incarnation is big, byzantine, and unavoidable. Yet within this virtual labyrinth lies some good stuff. At the upper left on the home page are links to the latest press conferences and briefings from famously pithy Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Just below, under "DoD Sites," is an alphabetized index of Web sites on major defense issues (a far better tool for navigating DefenseLink than its myopic search engine).
It's unsurprising that the military branch with the most high- tech weaponry has the sleekest Web site. The site has clearly labeled links to Air Force headquarters and bases, a comprehensive library of fact sheets on planes and weapons, and an exhaustive alphabetized archive of general officers' biographies. It is so well organized, it is often the easiest pathway to information about the other armed services.
The big buttons at the upper left of the Navy Web site's home page link to its best features. The "Fact File" contains entries detailing different types of ships, aircraft, and weapons. And the "Status of the Navy" shows your taxpayer dollars at work: Updated daily, it gives not only the exact number of ships and sailors in the fleet, but also how many are at sea at any given time.
Once ill-organized and buggy to the point of uselessness, the official Army Web site has received a dramatic makeover and has now risen to mediocrity. The best substantive feature of the new site is its direct links to the full contents of recent major Army publications.
The Marine Corps has some of the most enthusiastically helpful public information officers ever to wear a uniform, which is just as well because its Web site is arguably the worst. Recently upgraded with video clips of current operations, the site now has a better organized list of major units and even a helpful index of topics.
CALL, the site of the Center for Army Lessons Learned, is a little-known trove of modern military history. Perhaps the most brilliant of this Web site's many facets is the link to the Foreign Military Studies Office (call.army.mil/fmso), an organization of soldier-scholars who study other people's wars. The FMSO Web site includes lengthy analyses of everything from Russian mistakes made against Muslim militants in Chechnya to ambush tactics from the last war in Afghanistan.
Both of these Web sites are the spawn of defense expert John Pike. Famous for his biting criticism of missile defense, Pike used his time at the Federation of American Scientists to turn the FAS Web site into an exhaustive, if eccentric, encyclopedia of deadly things. Patient clicking through FAS's forest of links reveals information on experimental lasers, nuclear bombs, and U.S. Army tactics, some of it scanned in wholesale from official manuals. Since Pike's departure to form his own company, FAS has discarded some of this data-but much of it is resurfacing, piece by piece, on Pike's new Web site, globalsecurity.org.
At backwoods bases far beyond the Beltway, young Army officers are logging on to this Web site (and a spin-off, www.platoonleader.org) for advice on everything from plowing through paperwork to leading men into enemy fire. Anyone who has ever managed people will recognize the officers' struggles to deal with irascible superiors, embittered old-timers, and nervous new kids.
For at least two decades, a band of maverick defense thinkers inside and outside the Pentagon has been crusading for military reform. Patriotic, embittered, and often insightful, these mavericks take aim at everything from Pentagon budgeting to national strategy itself. This site, Defense and the National Interest, is one of the best reflections of their thinking.
Copyright 2001 The National Journal, Inc.