Uncomfortable Combat Helmet: Deal with it!

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One wonders at the insensitivity or blatant carelessness demonstrated by the public relations and advertising departments of major firms.  This latest promotional ad from Team Wendy – which makes military helmets rather than hamburgers – suggests that men and women in uniform should should quit their belly-aching and cope with the safe but uncomfortable military helmets Wendy’s manufactures.

Wendy Promotes Uncomfortable Helmet

A veteran of many wars brought  Team Wendy’s recent promotional ad to the attention of SFTT and asked for our comment.   Frankly, we are not sure what the message is, but we are quite sure that Wendy’s management must be a little red-faced at the suggestion that men and women in combat are responsible for the ill-fitting and uncomfortable military helmets that they manufacture.  After all, the Wendy Epic helmet is standard government issue and our military leadership surely knows what is best for the troops that serve in harm’s way.

Perhaps, troops in the field might weigh-in on how best to interpret Wendy’s promotional ad.  It is interesting to note, that Team Wendy goes on to promote the safety features of their combat helmet.  I suppose that might prove reassuring if troops were actually wearing the helmet, but one suspects that an ill-fitting helmet may well be used for other purposes  than protecting our troops from head injuries or even worse.     Surely, Team Wendy can’t be blaming the troops in the field for the uncomfortable helmet it produces?  SFTT hopes that this is not the message you are trying to convey to troops that wear your protective gear.


“I’m Just Saying…” by Jim Magee

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Congratulations on being nominated for Secretary of Defense, Mr. Panetta.  Or should I say my condolences on being nominated for Secretary of Defense?

I’m just saying —- DOD isn’t the CIA.  You’ll need all of your considerable skills in your new job.  You’re the right guy to deeply cut the enormously high DOD budget. You’ve been in the Office of Management and Budget, been the White House Chief of Staff, been in Congress and run the CIA, so you know how Washington works. DOD’s nearly three quarters of a trillion dollar budget is going to get cut, really cut. There will be no hiding behind black programs as you did at CIA; no assumptions that the 535 members of Congress who think they know what DOD should do, and how much they need in resources to do it, that they can be handled by a classified briefing or a few phone calls.  The demands for cuts in the DOD budget will go well beyond the reasonable demand that we stop spending $2 billion a week trying to bring a 13th century country like Afghanistan into this century; risking the lives of 100,000 soldiers and Marines in a country with no strategic relevance to US security. But the good news is that the DOD budget is ripe for cutting.  I’m just saying — cut immediately and cut a couple hundred billion dollars deep.

There are numerous programs that you can cut immediately and not adversely impact US security. Here are a few:

Terminate the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program

The Navy says that its ships will have to stay at least 100 miles from a potentially hostile shore because of the anticipated proliferation of shore-to-sea, high speed, anti-ship missiles.  Yet, DOD has recently approved procurement of 20 LCS ships that are specifically designed to operate in this very same littoral environment, well within the 100 miles from shore, the very area in which the Navy claims their ships cannot operate in because of this deadly threat.  Oh yeah, you’ll also note that the Navy didn’t program any money for the “mission modules” that each LCS needs to be effective. Basically, we’re buying ship’s hulls, but not the offensive or defensive capabilities needed of a warship. 

Terminate the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) Program

The taxpayers will love you for killing this corporate welfare program.  With a truck fleet in the Army of 266,000 trucks, one truck for every two soldiers, we don’t need and certainly cannot afford the JLTV.  I’m just saying that a 30,000-50,000 lb JLTV isn’t light. Have you seen one of the huge prototypes? Fifteen feet high, ten feet wide; envision a marginally slimmer MRAP.  Expensive?  Consider that the last Jeep we bought (M151) costs the taxpayers $18,000 each. We replaced that Jeep with the Humvee for about $48,000 each; then we up-armored the Humvee for about $160,000 each.  And now the Army reports that the JLTV could cost around $800,000 each with GFE.   Over three quarters of a million dollars for a Jeep replacement for which there is absolutely no evidence that the trucks in the Army and Marines current fleet (Humvee’s, MRAPS, etc.) cannot do what the industry hopes the JLTV can do!  I’m just saying —- if industry wants to continue development of the JLTV, let them do so on their dime, not the taxpayers.

Don’t start the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) Program

 I’m just saying —- this son of the Future Combat System (FCS) Program is a dog that won’t hunt.  Kill it now until the Army can identify what it wants, and industry can demonstrate what they have that satisfies those wants.

Reduce Military Headquarters Personnel

Cut personnel in every headquarters above Army Corps, Navy Fleet, Numbered Air Force and Marine MEF levels by one fourth, focusing the cuts on GS-12’s and above civilians, officers at or above Major/LtCdr, and enlisted personnel at or above E-7.  In the 1980’s, US Army Gen Bernard H. Rogers, former USCINCEUR and NATO’s SACEUR, used to refer to such headquarters as “echelons above reality.”  Today’s DOD echelons above reality are the vastly overstaffed Service headquarters (HQMC, HQ-DA, HQ Air Force, OPNAV); all Services’ “Forces Commands”; all Theatre or Specified Command headquarters, (EUCOM, PACOM, CENTCOM, SOUTHCOM, NORTHCOM, TRANSCOM, STRATCOM and AFRICOM), as well as their theater Service component headquarters; all twenty-eight (28) Defense Dept agencies, and lastly and particularly the unbelievably staffed beyond all reality 20,000 person (+) headquarters of your DOD staff and the enormously inefficient and overstaffed Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OJCS).

Change the Military Procurement Process

If you truly want to make an impact, save the taxpayers from throwing good money after bad, and get the immediate attention of DOD and their bosom buddies in the defense industry:  take control of the Defense procurement morass by announcing an immediate policy that “DOD will no longer fund the development of new systems until after their benefits have been demonstrated to DOD in the prototype stage.”  I’m just saying —- If the military-industrial complex has a better system or weapon for DOD, let them build a prototype and demonstrate it to DOD before any taxpayers’ money is committed to its further development and procurement.

I’m really just saying —- welcome aboard (you poor bastard), and good luck!


Jim Magee


Iraq’s Triangle of Death: A Mother’s Story

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SFTT received the following note from Sue Diaz, journalist, Blue Star mom and a leader of writing workshops for veterans. SFTT is proud to share a Mother’s story which she documents in Minefield’s of the Heart.

“I’d like to share with you a video story of the beginning of my son’s journey home after two long deployments in Iraq’s Triangle of Death.   Here’s the YouTube link:

It’s a true story that also offers hope. And I think it’s one that many military families can relate to. If you think so too, please feel free to post or share it with others in your online community.


Sue Diaz —  journalist, Blue Star mom, and leader of writing workshops for veterans

On behalf of all American, we would like to thank the men and women in uniform who continue to give so much for our country. We hear you Sue Diaz.


Helmet Padding may help with PTSD

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The news media is alive with the idea that a “simple tweak” of padding in military helmets will reduce TBI (“traumatic brain injury”) and, perhaps, PTSD (“post traumatic stress disorder”).   Ms. Claudia Cowan of Fox News, published an article on Aril 22nd which suggests that “a little padding goes a long way . . . to provide better protection from blunt force contact.”

Quoting scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Ms. Cowan suggests that ” by adding just a quarter-inch, or even an eighth of an inch, of padding, helmets had a 24 percent reduction in force to the skull.”


“‘When you look at the accelerations that can cause injury, just a small increase in thickness can knock that acceleration down to a point where it’ll make very severe injuries potentially a little less severe, and very light injuries maybe not happening at all,’ explained Michael King, the study co-author and a Lawrence Livermore mechanical engineer.”


The yearlong study, funded by the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization,  “concluded that the Army’s helmet padding  worked just as well as the padding in NFL, but that there just needed to be a little more of it.”


“Concussions among U.S. troops in Afghanistan increased from 62 diagnosed cases in June to 370 in July when the new rules were imposed, according to the U.S. Central Command, which oversees combat here. From July through September, more than 1,000 soldiers, Marines and other U.S. servicemembers were identified with concussions, more than twice the number diagnosed during the previous four months, Central Command says.”


While adding more padding may sound like a simple fix, it would require soldiers to wear a helmet one size bigger, and carry additional weight on their shoulders all day.  Helmets normally weigh about 5 1/2 pounds, and a larger size would add about 4 ounces. 

While this appears to be very good news to curb the dramatic increase in PTSD injuries suffered by our troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, one wonders why it has taken so long to come up with this “simple tweak.”  More importantly, how long will it take to provide our troops with the additional padding to protect against head injuries.  In fact, some of the articles suggest that the military leadership is reluctant to increase the weight of equipment worn by servicemembers.  Given the critical need to provide better protection for brain injury, it is hard to justify the delay when the “quick fix” adds only 4 oz to the 130 pounds of gear currently worn by servicemembers.

As SFTT has reported on several occasions, the US Army has had sensors embedded in helmets  for well over three years to evaluate brain-related injuries.    What took the US Army so long to come up with the “simple tweak”?  Will it take as long to have the additional padding deployed to our brave heroes?


The Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program

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is designed to improve “Soldier performance and readiness. Build confidence to lead, courage to stand up for one’s beliefs and compassion to help others. Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is about maximizing one’s potential.”   This program is deemed so important to forming core values of our men and women in uniform and their families, that they have even developed a camouflaged logo to promote the program.  I suspect that by the time the lobbyists and universities have milked this program dry it will cost well over $125 million, but who is counting with a Federal budget spiralling out of control.

John Hogan, writing for Scientic American in an April 18th article entitled, Beware the military-psychological complex: A $125-million program to boost soldiers’ “fitness” raises ethical questions, addresses the “big picture” issues that surround this program.  Mr. Hogan begins with a reminder from President Eisenhower some 50 years ago of the every present dangers of the “unwarranted influence” on the “military-industrial complex” on American politics.  Mr. Hogan goes on to say that “President Dwight Eisenhower also deplored the growing dependence of scientists on federal funding. ‘The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations and the power of money is ever present—and is gravely to be regarded.'”

According to Mr. Hogan, the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program is “the brainchild of one of the most powerful figures in American psychology, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. A former president of the American Psychological Association (APA), Seligman is best-known for founding the enormously popular positive psychology, or ‘happiness,’ movement, which emphasizes positive rather than negative personality traits and emotions.”

Raising doubts on the efficacy of such psychological programs, Mr. Hogan draws attention to  psychologists Roy Eidelson, Marc Pilisuk and Stephen Soldz who published a fascinating article for Counterpunch entitled The Dark Side of  “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness.”  In it, these distinguished psychologists ask “Why is the world’s largest organization of psychologists so aggressively promoting a new, massive and untested military program?”  Their “answers” or lingering “questions” certainly disturbed me and I believe that others will also be alarmed.

Found below are just a few of their observations and, I would certainly encourage SFTT members to read the entire CounterPunch article:

  • “It is highly unusual for the effectiveness of such a huge (1.1 million service members) and consequential intervention program not to be convincingly demonstrated first in carefully conducted randomized controlled trials – before being rolled out under less controlled conditions. Such preliminary studies are far from a mere formality. The literature on prevention interventions is full of well-intentioned efforts that either failed to have positive effects or, even worse, had harmful consequences for those receiving them.”
  • “We also believe that other key aspects of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness should have received explicit discussion in this special issue. It is standard practice for an independent and unbiased ethics review committee (an “institutional review board” or “IRB”) to evaluate the ethical issues arising from a research project prior to its implementation . . . This process is even more critical given that the soldiers apparently have no informed consent protections – they are all required to participate in the CSF program. Such research violates the Nuremberg Code developed during the post-World War II trials of Nazi doctors.”
  • “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness draws heavily on ‘positive psychology’ in aiming to reduce the incidence of psychological harm resulting from combat and post-combat stress . . . But writers such as Barbara Held, Barbara Ehrenreich, Eugene Taylor and James Coyne have offered compelling critiques of positive psychology, including its failure to sufficiently recognize the valuable functions played by “negative” emotions like anger, sorrow, and fear; its slick marketing and disregard for harsh and unforgiving societal realities like poverty; its failure to examine the depth and richness of human experience; and its growing tendency to promote claims without sufficient scientific support (e.g., the relationship between positive psychological states and health outcomes, or the mechanisms underlying ‘posttraumatic growth’).”
  • “Ultimately, there is a paradox that should be foremost in the minds of professional psychologists. Helping people who have already been harmed by trauma is essential. But should we be involved in helping an institution prepare to place more people in harm’s way without careful and ongoing questioning and review of the rationale for doing so? Whatever the needs for a military for national defense, or the benefits of team building, loyalty, camaraderie, and a positive outlook, militaries are, among other things, authoritarian institutions that kill, maim, deceive, and actively reduce an individual’s sense of independent agency.”

This is a pretty strong rebuttal of the “happy soldier” program now being engineered by university psychologists with little empirical evidence to justify such “training.”  The fact that it has been so widely endorsed by our military leadership is quite frightening and I suspect that the debate will intensify as public awareness of this psychological programming receives more attention.


Better Protection for our Troops in Afghanistan

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It is surprising how quickly the US government can move when matters of  “vital interest” are at stake.  Regardless of what feelings one may have regarding our intervention in Libya, it is quite amazing how we can focus our attention to prevent atrocities in a country which we have largely neglected for 40 years.

Compare our resolve in Libya to the interminable delays in getting our troops in Afghanistan the proper equipment to deal with IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices).   Congressman John Olver is quoted by IDGA as saying that one-third of deaths and casualties could have been avoided if proper body armor and vehicle armor had been provided from the start of the war.”

Indeed, SFTT has reported on this issue for several years as our frontline troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered injury and death from equipment that is simply not up to the task.  It may seem reassuring to some that defense industry lobbyists are sponsoring yet another conference on this subject,  but wouldn’t it be far better if  Congress, the Executive office and our military leadership would demonstrate the same sense of urgency to protect our own troops.

Consider the litany of unfulfilled promises and gross incompetence shown by our military leadership and documented by SFTT in getting our troops the proper protective gear.   After all, we have been in Afghanistan for more than ten years and IED attacks against US troops have been escalating at an exponential rate and all our military officials can say is that we “have the best equipment available.”  Honestly, how can one  fully trust BG Peter Fuller, Program Executive Officer of the Soldiers System Center, with the litany of combat equipment  failures so regularly documented by the GAO and others?  Is anyone home?

Take the case of the Advanced  Combat Helmet (or is now called the Enhanced Combat Helmet?).  We have been embedding sensors in helmets of troops in Afghanistan for well over 3 years.   Surely, we must have sufficient information now available to design and field a better helmet.   Don’t our troops serving in harms way deserve the same “fast track” treatment that we have so graciously provided to unknown civilians in Libya?


Sebastian Junger on Afghanistan

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The editor and writer, James Heidenry, talks to Sebastian Junger about his recent book, our troops.


What was the genesis for War?

Well, in 1996 I was asked to write a magazine story about some westerners who were kidnapped in Kashmir. They’d been kidnapped by former Mujahideen who continued training in Bin Laden’s camps. I said I’d do the assignment if I could go to Afghanistan to report on the broader problem. That was my first trip and I just kept going. Then I wanted to see what it’s like to be a soldier in the U.S. military.

How much time did you spend there?

I did five one-month trips with the platoon.

What was your take on the civilian population in Afghanistan?

When I was there in 2001 after the Taliban was tackled it was extremely positive, but a lot of goodwill was squandered by some pretty bad decisions. By the time I went back in 2007, the Afghan perspective was that it was only a matter of time until the U.S. pulled out—so they weren’t going to stick their necks out and get themselves killed.

What do you think of the gear the troops have?

If there is one complaint it’s the amount of stuff they have to carry. They are pretty loaded down and stuff just keeps getting added and the vests they wear are really heavy. They talk a lot about how it would be a different fight if they were more mobile. The Taliban probably moves 8 to 10 times faster than America soldiers. Basically it’s a naval battle where the U.S. is a sailboat and the Taliban are speedboats. Our troops have incredible firepower. They just cannot move, they literally cannot run.

How much gear are we talking about?

On multi-day operations each soldier was carrying upwards to 150 – 160 lbs, and on a regular patrol needed 100 – 120lbs just to leave the wire. Soldiers under all that weight break their ankles, their knees go. I mean they lost more guys in the platoon to broken ankles than they did to bullets.

What kind of trauma care do they get on the ground?

The medics were great. My friend Tim broke his leg and got taken out of there by Medevac. The army surgeon put a plate in his leg and did a superb job—Tim’s doctor back home was really impressed.

Col. Hackworth thought that generals too often got in the way of the men on the ground. What was your impression of the chain of command in Afghanistan?

The captain in my platoon would not have complained to me about the generals. So it’s hard for me to assess that. But I do know that the guys thought it was hysterical that the brigade commander had this sort of directive that the outpost wasn’t allowed any real tools. It was a matter of definition on paper, like “We don’t want that kind of outpost there.” But the guys were like, “It’s a 15-man outpost and we need to live somewhere.” So they ended up having to cut plywood with one guy’s Leatherman saw. The rule and the reality were not corresponding.

What did you learn from writing War?

You always hear about the sort of group bonding that happens in war and I had never really understood it until I was around it. It was somewhat of a collective experience, a shared fate. And even though I wasn’t a solider, whatever was happening to them was going to happen to me. And there was something about that which was extremely reassuring and calming. As a result—bad as it was out there—when the guys came back to the base, they all kind of missed it. There is sort of a weird question that society has trouble confronting, which is when men come back from war, why do they miss it? But it is an important one because it impedes. If the soldiers are missing something it impedes their ability to reintegrate, and if society can figure out what they’re missing it will be that much easier to reincorporate them. You can’t just say they’re adrenaline junkies now. This is not what it is. There are actually good, psychologically healthy things that they miss. My book is essentially trying to answer that question: What is it they miss?

Is it a brotherhood?

Yeah, that kind of brotherhood is a function of the danger they are all in. As a result it cannot exist back home because there is not that danger in society. That brotherhood is a very secure thing to belong to and it’s very hard to give up. They’re also totally self-defining. In society you’re seen a certain way if your dad has a certain job, you’re seen a certain way as a teenager, et cetera. But in combat it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, ugly or poor. All those 19-year-olds are able to completely define themselves in the group and gain the respect of the men around them simply through their actions. That for a young man is such a godsend.

Your documentary, Restrepo, which chronicles a year with one platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan, has received an enormous amount of critical acclaim. What was it like to make it?

I loved using the camera and editing the film. The whole process was very hard but it was amazing. I hope audiences can leave their politics behind for 90 minutes and are able to sit down and appreciate and understand what soldiers go through.

An interview with Sebastain Junger by James Heidenry


Afghanistan: Just another face of the War

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Editor’s Note:  The following story is provided by the spouse of a brave servicemember serving in Afghanistan.  While SFTT focuses primarily on essential combat equipment and protective gear to safeguard our troops, it appears that our troops can’t even find the basic necessities at reasonable prices in Afghanistan.  We hope this is the exception, but we suspect not.


My husband is in the military and just recently deployed to Afghanistan, unfortunately his Battalion is stationed at Camp Holland which has austier living conditions and the shopping facilities have yet to be built. They do have local shops owned and operated by Afghan nationals but the prices are ridiculous, a mere lip palm is $4.00 and $9.00 for a no name brand shampoo. This unit has about 300 soldiers and I simply can not get enough packages out there on my own to help everyone, I am sending two to three care packages a week but I need help and since the american facilities will not be built for another 3 or 4 months I want to spread the word and get this unit help.


Can you imagine having do live without shampoo, soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, lotion, toilet paper, wipes, simple things that we take for granted each day. Our soldiers are there because it is their job to protect and serve, they have left behind families and loved ones to protect the very freedoms many people take for granted and then for them to have to live like this breaks my heart. I will gladly take up a collection and mail it or below is the address to my husband and he will disburse it and ensure every soldier gets some. I am working on getting a list of addresses for everyone but that is taking some time. My first step was to send out a request to all of my contacts and then I will reach out to organizations that are there for such things as well.



MSG Rodriguez, Hipolito

HHC 4-70 AR

Camp Holland, FOB Tarin Kowt

APO AE 09380





Readers of SFTT who would like to submit their own stories, simply add your story to Share-a-Story.


US military withdrawal from Afghanistan battle zone

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The New York Times reported today that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.”

The Times claims that “at least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks . . . and many times more have been wounded, often severely. Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “‘People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

Indeed!  The “compelling” rationale according to US officials is that  “the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.”

Can’t the same be said for the entire war effort in Afghanistan?  Let’s face it, the US is spending $2 billion a week in Afghanistan and have suffered 1,483 fatalities with 6,588 wounded in a war that many consider un-winnable.   And how about the tens of thousands of vets suffering TBI and PTSD?   The aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us for many more years as our brave heroes recover from the violent effects IED attacks against a ground army that was not provided adequate protective gear.  It is not surprising that over 96% of those wounded are US Army personnel (includes Army Reserves) and the Marines.   It’s the grunt on the ground that is most exposed to the horrors of war.

I do not know if the war is “winnable” or not.  The appropriate question is: “Is it worth it?”  I seem to recall reading an article by Admiral Rickover in which he argued that we use a country’s GNP (gross national product) to determine its political and strategic importance to the United States.   While geo-political and social purists may object to basing one’s political policy on economic relevance, common sense and our huge budget deficits dictate otherwise (let alone the blood and suffering of our young men and women serving in Afghanistan).

Specifically, examine the following three Arab countries in the news today:

  • Afghanistan:    GNP $31 billion, Population 30 million;
  • Egypt:             GNP $445 billion, Population 81 million; 
  • Libya:              GNP $162 billion, Population 6 million.

In the case of Egypt (a country where US aid is only $1.5 billion a year), Egyptian citizens from all walks of life brought down the dictatorship with the benign intervention of the military and very little direct influence by the United States.  Things are certainly more violent in Libya, but the same result can be expected.   While the future is uncertain in both of these countries, the situation is Afghanistan is clear:  the US will continue to prop up a corrupt and largely ineffective Karzai government.   

The question that must be asked:  Wouldn’t the US do better allocating our scarce resources to help shape geo-political events in Egypt and Libya, countries that have more strategic relevance to our country.  Keeping our powder dry – to use a Revolutionary War term – certainly seems far better and far less expensive than having our brave heroes provide police and security services in Afghanistan.  You be the judge.

Richard W. May


Budget Cuts and the DoD’s Priorities

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The Secretary of Defense has proposed cutting $78 Billion out of the DoD budget over five years.   That’s $78 Billion, or less than $20 Billion a year.  Are you kidding me — why even bother with such a miniscule amount?   Anyone with even a brief, passing knowledge of the DoD over the last 2 decades has to be amused that the national media has viewed this proposal as a “substantial cut.” With an enormous DoD budget that exceeds THREE QUARTERS of a TRILLION DOLLARS a year, a reduction of $20 Billion a year is almost a rounding error!

After the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) the DoD budget was less than $350 Billion per year. It is now over $830 Billion per year.  When you deduct the cost of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, DoD still spends over $549 Billion per year.  What justifies this level of spending, after you deduct war costs?  Answer – No one can rationally justify it.  Let’s consider what we’re getting for our Defense budget:

First — you are not going to find anything being spent on procuring better “troop” gear.  That ship has sailed, as Congress’ wire brushing of the DoD procurement brass during the early stages of the Iraq War for their utter incompetence in providing adequate numbers and quality of body armor, armored vehicles and HUMVEE armor upgrades, a better fitting helmet, etc. ran its course.  By 2007, the DoD, Army and Marine procurement weenies had successfully scurried to get the troops what they should have had before we kicked off the Iraq War.  In the process, they got Congress off their backs.  They have since retreated into their normal state: disinterest in things for the troops; high interest in big dollar programs.

Now — Let’s look at what DoD’s funding.

The Army, having spent almost two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars on the Future Combat System (FCS) and produced nothing deployable – or even useful – other than an engine, has been cancelled.  It has been reborn and been renamed, I think for the second time in eighteen months, and is now called the “Brigade Something or Other.”  Same focus, though, a “family of networked vehicle systems.”  Can you say son-of-FCS?   Will they ring a bell when they spend their first hundred billion dollars?  Who knows, but mind my words, any time a Service addresses anything that is wrapped in wording as a “Family of XXX” needs to be viewed as a program that doesn’t know what it wants to develop; has no earthly idea what the “Family” will cost, or what will constitute a success.   Think of it as a corporate annuity plan to feed the greed and thirst of the military industrial complex with more of your tax dollars!

The Air Force now wants to develop a new manned bomber.  To do what?  Since we can put a missile’s warhead into a 55 gallon drum from thousands of miles away, why – pray tell – do we need another manned bomber?  Isn’t our $2 Billion per copy B-2 good enough?  Is the $750 Million per copy B-1 inadequate?  The $800 Million per copy F-117 Stealth Aircraft is somehow unusable?  The B-52’s are still flying after almost 60 years of service, and seem to be upgradeable forever.  What is it that these manned bombers, our ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and our unmanned UAV systems cannot do that justifies throwing money away after another manned bomber?  Beats me.  But hey, they’re the Air Force.  These are the same guys that gave us the F-22, which at $400 million a copy, this high speed, low drag “air dominance” miracle machine cannot deploy into “an electrically contaminated environment,”  like over Iraq or Afghanistan.  Doesn’t matter to the Air Force, they want more of them.  Oh yeah, they also want a thousand of their variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, rapidly gaining on the F-22 in the cost overrun sweepstakes.  I find it remarkable that the best fighters the Air Force and Navy still get their hat and ass handed to them in Red Flag and Top Gun Exercises by fighter bombers built in the 1960’s: updated A-4’s and F-5’s.  Hey guys, it’s the ordnance and avionics, not the airframe.  But what do I know.

The Navy’s and Marines’ procurement priorities need no explanations.  They are unexplainable. At best they are an enigma, at worst they are a rip-off of the taxpayer. No one with an IQ greater than half their body temperature can make sense of why the Navy wants to buy what it wants to buy.  For example, even though no aircraft carrier (CV) has been successful in avoiding being sunk by day two in any force-on-force exercise in the past few decades, we are still buying nuclear powered CVs at $20 Billion each, counting their air wing’s aircraft.  Yet, the adversary that routinely sinks them, a diesel submarine, similar to the subs on loan from one of our NATO allies, has not appeared in a Navy budget request in almost 50 years.  Probably because diesel boats just aren’t sexy enough and would be tantamount to admitting that our CV’s are vulnerable.  Why should we buy an inexpensive diesel submarine, when we can spend $3 Billion on a nuclear powered Virginia class submarine, instead?

We’re deeply into the enigma area when the Navy articulates their rationale for the buy of ten Littoral Combat Ships (LCs) of two very different designs, from two different manufacturers.  When the Navy is arguing against buying amphibious class ships to land Marine forces on hostile shores, they claim that the threat to these ships from shore launched high velocity missiles so severe that it will require the amphibious ships to operate at least 100 miles from the shore, or risk being sunk.  Ok, I get that.  BUT – the LCS class ships are specifically justified for operations within the “littoral,” that sea zone well inside the 100 mile threat that the Navy paints as too deadly for Navy ships. The LCS case gets even less credible when you note that the Navy has not requested any funding for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air warfare (AAW), or any other “mission modules” that the Navy says will make the LCS useful.  This folly is comparable to a fire department buying a fire truck without buying its ladders, hoses, or pumps.  The Navy seems to believe that spending a mere $7 Billion for ten nice LCS hulls, but no mission modules, is wise.  An enigma or a rip-off? You tell me. It’s just money.

The Marines finally cancelled their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), an armored landing craft designed to move Marines from ship to shore at high speed, and then provide them with an armored fighting vehicle when ashore.  The Marines spent almost 17 years and $14 Billion trying to make this pig fly in the ship-to-shore phase. If the threat to the amphibious ships, from which the EFV is to deploy, does require them to operate beyond the 100 mile mark from the shore, the EFV couldn’t carry enough fuel to get from ship to shore, and still carry Marines.  The Marines are now going to fund the search for the son-of-EFV. If 20 years couldn’t get the EFV to be mission ready, the Marines won’t find a suitable replacement in this decade.  Hey guys, save the money from the son-of-EFV search, and look at buying smaller, commercial hovercraft to ferry Marine vehicles from ship-to-shore, and to upgrade or replace the fighting vehicles the Marines use once ashore.

Lastly, if DoD wants to cut their big spending beyond what I noted above, consider the following:

  • DoD should order the Navy and Air Force to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each of their DoD agencies to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each Service and each DoD agency to cut 10% of their 2011 budget allocation for the following year, each year for three years; For example:  The Army will only get 90% of their 2011 allocation as their 2012 funding; 90% of their 2012 allocation for 2013 , etc.
  • Order each Service and each DoD agency to submit in 60 days their list, in detail, of what programs they want to reallocate money from or to to make up for the 10% funding deduction in 2012.  Budget submissions for 2013 and 2014 must reflect these reduced allocations when submitted in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Only then will we see what is really “essential,” and what is just “wanted.”

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

Jim Magee is a retired Marine infantry colonel and a combat veteran with extensive experience in special operations, intelligence and acquisitions. He commanded the first Marine Corps light armored vehicle battalion, and after retiring headed the design team for the Interceptor Body Armor system. He has held a wide variety of senior positions in the defense industry, and continues to serve as a consultant to companies in both the US and allied nations.

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