Ronald Reagan was President of the United States during 1981-89, and during that time he pushed for both the development of weapons systems already on the drawing boards or launched new ones, all of which were used successfully later during the two Persian Gulf Wars against Iraq. Among these were the US Air Force’s stealth technology and the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the M-1 Abrams tanks that defeated the elite Republican Guard of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and drove into his conquered capital, Baghdad to bring down his regime in 2003.
The biggest defense buildup in US peacetime history occurred under President Reagan, the largest since the Kennedy Administration during 1961-63. During 1980-85, the money spent on defense more than doubled, from $ 142.6 billion to $ 286.8 billion, with the Navy going from a fleet of 479 combat vessels to one of 525, and the Army buying thousands of new Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
The Army’s Apache attack helicopter also made its debut under “Ronnie,” and was a key component of both the 1991 liberation of the Iraqi-occupied Emirate of Kuwait and the invasion of Iraq herself in 2003.
According to reporter Tom Bowman of the Baltimore Sun, “Hundreds of attack aircraft, from the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat to the Air Force’s F-15 Eagle, took to the skies, while the Pentagon rapidly modernized its nuclear force with the Peacekeeper Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the Navy’s Trident submarine and the B-1 bomber.” A book by author James Kitfield---Prodigal Soldiers---detailed the arms buildup under President Reagan during the 1980s. According to then Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger in the Reagan Cabinet, “They bought us what we needed. You can see it today.”
Fast M-1 tanks appeared in the Army inventory that could fire while moving, replacing the old M-60 main battle tank that had to stop to discharge its main armament, and the old jeeps of 1940 were finally superseded by today’s Humvees. The President also buffed up the Army’s National Training Center in the Mojave Desert of California---an area the size of the State of Rhode Island---that was used as the premier mock tank-on-tank battle site, training also useful later during the nation’s twin Iraqi wars.
The Air Force F-117 stealth fighter---armed with two 2,000-pound laser-guided bombs---also came on-line. Noted Bowman, “Although only 36 stealth fighters were deployed in the First Gulf War and accounted for 2.5 % of the total force of 1,900 fighters and bombers, they flew more than a third of the bombing runs on the first day.” Thus, the First Gulf War came to be called “mostly an air show,” according to retired Air Force Gen. Merrill “Tony” McPeak.
Asserted former Secretary Weinberger on June 8, 2004 after the President’s death at age 93, “He was the cause of the fall of the Soviet Union,” pointing to Reagan’s military funding increases, his advocacy of a defense against nuclear missiles---the much touted AND ridiculed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI or “Star Wars” in the words of Massachusetts US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy)---and “His tough stance against the Kremlin.”
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