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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Military News Highlights: December 16 & 17

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Uncertainty marks White House review on Afghanistan, Pakistan

In regards to the highly touted release of the administrations review of Afghanistan, one-step up and two-steps back. 

 One-step up, “strategy is showing progress”; two-steps back, no new information on how soon Afghan Security Forces will be able to assume responsibility for security and when the “rat-lines” coming out of Pakistan can be severed.

 One-step up, “we are on track to achieve our goals”; two-steps back, gains are still “fragile and reversible” and the size of the July 2011 drawdown is unknown.

 One-step up, “COIN is working”; two-steps back, but we can’t truly measure its progress until late Spring 2011, which may shift the strategy to pure-kinetic counter-terrorism. 

Oh, and the word “corruption” is only mentioned once in the report.  Two-steps back. 

While the report mentions six times in the sparse five-page summary/report that success hinges on Pakistan shutting down its borders and “safe havens.”  Two-steps back. 

The official White House report summary can be read here:

 A summary of how the report exposes a split over Afganistan pullout timelines can be read here:

Key highlights:

  •  Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of third more casualties among NATO forces this year.
  • Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.
  • Afghanistan and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.
  • A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.
  • Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.
  • The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

A summary of what the White House report on the Afghanistan War didn’t mention or highlight can be read

Key highlights:

  • State Department diplomats have complained that President Hamid Karzai has been an unreliable ally. Political resolution is key, but the review’s language on governance questions and on the shape of an Afghan “end-state” is vague.
  • Coalition support has helped the Afghan army meet its targets in terms of troop buildup. The Afghan force quality is a mixed bag. The majority of Afghan soldiers lack basic skills, including literacy. Preparing the Afghan army and police to be capable of providing security as Western troops depart has become an increasing focus of coalition efforts but remains a challenge.
  • The administration’s review summary highlights NATO’s “enduring commitment beyond 2014,” yet it’s clear that European leaders face considerable political pressure back home to withdraw, and only Britain has a sizable number of troops on the ground. As a result, the war is becoming increasingly Americanized. On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister confirmed that country’s intention to begin withdrawing its 4,600 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
  • The review summary devotes considerable attention to the problem of AQ and Taliban leaders finding a safe haven across the board in Pakistan.  The document calls for greater cooperation with Pakistan but is short on specifics about how to get there. Pakistan clearly has ambivalent feelings about the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. It doesn’t want Western forces to leave behind a mess in its backyard, but at the same time it doesn’t trust the government in Afghanistan.
  • The review summary highlights “significant progress” in disrupting al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. “Al-Qaida’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways,” it states. The war’s initial aim of driving al-Qaida from Afghanistan has also largely been successful. Yet al-Qaida remains a mobile threat, and it’s unlikely the U.S. can readily muster 100,000 more troops to chase it outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Ratlines’ threaten White House Afghan war plans

While US troops logistics and lines of communications are held hostage to: the tyranny of terrain, the necessity of maintaining logistic hubs in a very inhospitable nature of Pakistan (and now the end around the bordering “stans”), the growing contractor base of support, and the necessity of pushing supplies to forward combat outposts and patrols.  It appears that the insurgency has little trouble maintaining their flow of supplies and refitting at their leisure while ensconced in Pakistan (and in controlled Taliban areas within Afghnistan, i.e. anywhere outside of Kabul, Kandahar, and Khost). 

The border with Pakistan remains porous and US/NATO/Afghan efforts to seal the flow of supplies “threaten Afghan war plans.”   Practically speaking we should dissuade ourselves from thinking that there are “safe havens” per se – a clearly marked area or region – in fact the entire country of Pakistan is a safe haven for the Taliban, AQ, and their confederates (i.e Haqqani and Hekmatyar network). 

Ultimately that is the root of the problem and one without a solution.

U.S. Army Modernization Review Set for Dec. 22

“Here we go again, same old stuff again.  Marching down the avenue…”  Next week senior Army leaders will conduct a modernization review to determine the future of weapon and equipment systems.  Called the Early Infantry Brigade Combat Team (E-IBCT) equipment set, it was originally developed as part of the whiz-bang, bells-and-whistles Future Combat Systems (FCS) program which thankfully Secretary of Defense Gates ended.  But here we go again, marching back up that avenue to see if the Army can get some of the FCS components and systems approved for further development and tactical issue.  The question Undersecretary Ashton Carter should ask is, “would any of these equipment sets and systems, if deployed tomorrow to a Soldier in Afghanistan, and given the costs required to field them, improve his/her force protection while defeating the threat he/she faces?”  It’s a simple standard, because what Joe needs right now, this very moment, is equipment and small-arms that will increase his force protection posture while providing him a dead-certain lethality.  If the “Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit can’t meet this standard, then don’t waste the money, time, industrial base, or organizational energy that is being put into the E-IBCT.

Yearly Price Tab for Afghan Forces: $6 Billion, Indefinitely

Speaking of guns and butter, the waiter serving security in the outdoor cafes of Kabul, Kandarhar, and Khost just gave Uncle Sam the tab for training and equipping Afghan security forces — $6 Billion annually – indefinitely.   No problem, we’ll pay with a Chinese credit card.

Unused in Afghanistan, Longbow Deliveries Continue

The vaunted “Longbow” didn’t help the 11th Aviation Regiment in support of the 3rd Infantry Division’s fight north in OIF I, yet we still are procuring the system and deploying it to Afghanistan where it is not being put to use.  Great investment.  Great idea.

 

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Military News Highlights: November 19, 2010

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U.S. deploying heavily armored battle tanks for first time in Afghan war

Let’s be frank about why a company of M1 Abrams tanks are being added to the fight in Helmand province – because of their survivability and the firepower they bring to the fight against the current threat in Helmand (i.e. IED’s that disrupt lines of communications, concentrated enemy positions supported by complex IED/minefields, lack of local support).  The reality on the ground is that in order to gain an upper hand requires a new combination of light and heavy armor to defeat it.  In simple terms we must escalate to de-escalate.

The Washington Post does not discuss the timing of the M1 Abrams tank deployment or in otherwords when they will be put into action.  But if you really wanted to surprise the enemy, the M1 tanks would be flown in one-by-one on C17 cargo aircraft into Kandarhar Airfield under the cover of night, and then quickly added to the fight.  But, CNN has confirmed that the M1 tanks will not be deployed until early spring.  Really?  Next spring?  Here is the CNN report, read it yourself.

“The U.S. Marine Corps plans to use a company of M1A1 Abrams tanks in restive Helmand province by early spring, said Marine Maj. Gabrielle Chapin.”

I don’t get it.  On one hand the US telegraphs to the world and the Taliban that the US is in a hurtbox in Helmand and requires heavy armor like yesterday to secure victory, but then on the other hand announces that they tanks will not arrive until spring.   If you need tanks in Afghanistan, you can get them there in relatively short order – delaying their deployment until next spring makes no sense.

Details given on attack that killed 5 soldiers

Last weekend was a particularly bloody day for one unit in Afghanistan as it conducted a series of missions in support of Operation Bulldog Bite. Six US soldiers were killed, five of them in a six-hour gunfight, details of which are just being reported.  The firefight was so intense that medical evacuation of the wounded (a figure not released) was not successful until late in the evening.  The commanding general stated that, “this is a huge blow to the enemy” and had broken the morale of Taliban in the area.

U.S. Army to Weigh Buying More FCS Gear

The Tactical and Urban Unattended Ground Sensors, the Class 1 Unmanned Aircraft System, the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle and the Network Integration Kit are the remaining components of the failed Future Combat System.  In short order, top Army officials will decide whether to outfit one Army Brigade in 2012 with these systems.  The systems scored poorly in recent evaluations and were not considered reliable, there are unknown costs, and most importantly a  potential a lack of operational utility.  Given these circumstances, you can bet that Boeing will secure the contract.

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