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April 04, 2009

I Give Up

Here is the list of the 20 largest militaries in the world today:

People's Republic of China
United States of America
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Republic of Korea
Republic of China (Taiwan)

How many stable democracies do you see on that list? How many that are friendly to the United States?

Now, how many flagrant violators of both human and civil rights are there? This is the context in which Robert Gates wants to slash military spending:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to announce on Monday the restructuring of several dozen major defense programs as part of the Obama administration's bid to shift military spending from preparations for large-scale war against traditional rivals to the counterinsurgency programs that Gates and others consider likely to dominate U.S. conflicts in coming decades.

..."He is strategically reshaping the budget," said Gates's spokesman, Geoff Morrell, who declined to provide details. The secretary is "subjecting every program to harsh scrutiny, especially those which have been over budget and/or behind schedule. . . . The end result, we hope, is a budget that more accurately reflects the strategic priorities of the president."

I've been in the software business for a long time now. Most large scale defense systems are software-intensive, and in over a decade I've rarely seen a large and complex software project that delivered on time and on budget. Scope creep alone accounts for many of these problems, but DoD does a particularly poor job on requirements definition. There are structural and institutional reasons for that, but the bottom line is that is reality.

It is axiomatic within military circles that we're always fighting the last war and never ready for the current one. During the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, we were resource constrained in both people and weapons. So it is frankly astonishing to me that the Secretary of Defense would blithely assume the only future conflicts we need to be prepared for are counterinsurgencies, or that he thinks it's good strategy to hamstring the military for decades simply to ensure current spending aligns with this administration's priorities.

Have we already forgotten the MRAP debacle? For months, we couldn't produce MRAPs fast enough, and then by the time politicians were done overreacting, we had too many of them:

Marine commanders in Iraq are asking the Pentagon to slow down deployment of IED-resistant vehicles in order to give them more time to figure out how best to employ the heavily-armored trucks, a top Corps official Wednesday.

Congress and the Pentagon have devoted billions to a crash program to field so-called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles that are said to protect troops from deadly roadside bombs more effectively than up-armored Humvees. But the vehicles are more than four times heavier than an armored Humvee and may require different tactics for their use.

"I would say 'relax,' we don't know how we're going to use them, nobody does," said Brig. Gen. select Larry Nicholson, deputy commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command based in Quantico, Va. "And anyone who says ... 'this is exactly how many we need and this is exactly how we're going to use them' is not being truthful."

The defense industry can't design and manufacture large scale defense systems on a dime, yet with the lion's share of the defense budget going to personnel costs, it is precisely our future defense capability we're mortgaging:

Peril lies ahead, Franks cautioned, noting that the so-called peace dividend when military outlays slumped in the 1990s left the United States with a huge amount of catch-up spending in the current decade. "Remember some of the mistakes we made," which ought not to be repeated, he said. Democratic President Clinton and a Republican-led Congress were "complicit in reducing the military by one-third," Eaglen recalled.

After years of soaring defense outlays that roughly doubled since 2001, the outlook for defense programs is bleak, and no one should be fooled by estimates that President Obama may go for a total defense budget of $535 billion to $545 billion in the next fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2010, a hold-steady pace, experts warned.

There likely will be billions of dollars of cuts in weapons acquisitions programs, not just in fiscal 2010, but even more in 2011 and later years, the experts predicted.

...The biggest, easiest target to hit is aircraft procurement programs, Goure said, for the same reason that Jesse James robbed banks: that's where the money is.

Even large cuts in vehicle or shipbuilding programs wouldn't produce the amount of savings that can be pulled out of aircraft programs, he said.

But if aging aircraft aren't replaced, in a Catch-22, that only will result in huge and rising costs for the military to maintain creaky old planes that aren't being replaced, he said.

Eaglen, too, sees tactical fighters and other fixed-wing aircraft headed for huge cuts, along with missiles. Navy shipbuilding may suffer cuts as well, but they won't amount to nearly as much in dollar terms. Rotary-wing aircraft procurement programs, however, might see a gain, she said. In a tension between providing for today's armed forces, and providing for the personnel in uniform of tomorrow, today's force wins every time, she said. That means replacing worn-out platforms over buying new equipment, buying items to replace those destroyed in wars over acquiring next-generation systems, and the like.

Franks, likewise, sees a move to cut the Army Future Combat Systems (FCS), a sweeping $160 billion program led by The Boeing Co. [BA] and SAIC to provide new vehicles, aircraft, communications and more for a 21st century land force to replace war-torn assets.

FCS, he said, is "easy to attack," adding that perhaps the huge program, second-largest among Pentagon procurement efforts, should be broken into more affordable multiple components.

A time when the federal government has taken on unprecedented levels of risk is no time to unilaterally disarm. We keep hearing about how many folks would be put out of work if the auto industry went under. How many jobs are tied to the defense industry? Is there some vital difference between "stimulating" the auto industry to save jobs and stimulating the defense industry?

Unanimous among Washington policymakers and defense officials is the notion that the U.S. military is the best-trained and best-led in the world. What assessments of America's military often overlook, however, is that the bulk of platforms and weapons systems that equip today's forces are decades old and in need of replacement. Due to the funding decisions of the last 15 years, the current U.S. military force is too small and too old relative to the requirements of the National Military Strategy. Without at least maintaining today's levels of procurement spending, the U.S. will be unable to modernize its forces to the degree necessary to preserve its security within the necessary margin of safety.

Because longer-term economic growth is a priority for a robust defense budget, smarter defense spending is needed in Washington to maintain the basic military building blocks that form the foundation of strategic planning. The federal government should operate within an environment of finite resources, a requirement to which the defense budget is not immune. There is no blank check that would allow defense officials to avoid prioritizing budget needs. As responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, senior defense officials and Members of Congress must acknowledge that reforming the weapons acquisition process and military pay system are required. However, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) highlighted in a conference call this week, any potential savings realized as a result of procurement reform should be reinvested within the defense budget.

We've already seen the tragic consequences of squandering the peace dividend in the 1990s.


In addition to that old saw about the perils of fighting the last war, policy makers might care to consider another old chestnut: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

Truly, we never learn.

Posted by Cassandra at April 4, 2009 11:49 AM

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How many stable democracies do you see on that list? How many that are friendly to the United States?

No big problem -- there are only *four* of those islands of unfriendly instability that have nuclear weapons. Well, *five*, actually, but I'm giving Pakistan the benefit of the doubt.

Unanimous among Washington policymakers and defense officials is the notion that the U.S. military is the best-trained and best-led in the world.

As was the British military between 1775 and 1783.

We all know how well that worked out for them...

Posted by: BillT at April 4, 2009 12:47 PM

The proper rejoinder to that, Bill is:

"Well! We know what works! And it's working so well that we can afford to stop funding it."

And we want to let the federal government manage the economy.


Posted by: Sneezy the 8th Dwarf at April 4, 2009 12:56 PM

Okay, so if governmental *intellectual* instability counts, do I add the US as number six?

Posted by: BillT at April 4, 2009 01:09 PM

"How many stable democracies do you see on that list?"

In truth, there are none. Not one.

Posted by: vanderleun at April 4, 2009 01:26 PM

Hah. *Somebody* got the word that Cassie's judged the caption contests...

Posted by: BillT at April 4, 2009 01:35 PM

In truth, there are none. Not one.

I'm tempted to agree.

I know I didn't get the caption contests up this morning.


I need to get the file off my other laptop. Excuses, excuses ;p

Posted by: Sneezy the 8th Dwarf at April 4, 2009 03:13 PM

Oh. It's on your *other* laptop.

Well, that's one excuse I *haven't* used for not doing a new 'toon, soooooooo -- "Thank you, Ma'am!"

Posted by: BillT at April 4, 2009 04:12 PM

I *have* 4 laptops.

If you want another excuse, my dog is very ill. If any of you are talking to the man upstairs, please put in a good word for him.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 4, 2009 05:45 PM


Posted by: BillT at April 4, 2009 05:56 PM

My prayers for your doggie :-) *get well soon pup!*

If I may, I've always felt that we shouldn't have sent ground troops in so soon (or at all) to being with regarding Iraq and the issue with ill-equipped Humvees and the like. I don't have the whole picture but from my p.o.v I just wanted to say that. Thank you.

Posted by: Red at April 4, 2009 07:11 PM

So we fight smarter, right? Wasn't that Shinseki's vision with Transformation after being told by Clinton to cut the military to the bone?

Or is the idea that we not be vigilant at all, since everyone else is nukular...

Posted by: Cricket at April 4, 2009 07:51 PM

Sorry to hear about your little pup Cass... My best wishes for the pup.

Posted by: Manchurian Bubba_hun at April 4, 2009 07:54 PM

Cassandra, you are "on the money" as usual! Personnel costs are huge; but without the equipment to protect the personnel and allow the personnel to do thier job, all that "personnel money" is wasted. I went through the "do more with less" era and the era of the "peace dividend." I remember having to bring in our own toilet paper, because the budget wouldn't cover those costs. It was crazy! There needs to be a happy medium some where; I just hope someone can find it. And I do hope your doggy gets well.

Posted by: Lela at April 4, 2009 09:36 PM

I know your doggie is ill. I don't know all the hurts and sickness that he has, but I will be keeping the wee beastie in my prayers; that if he needs to set foot on the Rainbow Bridge, that he will be easy; and if he is to recover, it will be a full one.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you, let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid." John 14:27

Posted by: Cricket at April 4, 2009 10:12 PM

Yup, Cass nails this topic, as usual.

In times past the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean afforded us some protection. In times past the state of the art in warfare and transportation afforded us time to recover from being unprepared. In times past, the largest majority of citizens could be counted on to face up to a threat and pull together. Those times are past. We can not afford to place ourselves at the mercy of those in this world who have no mercy.

Yeah, I remember the 70's. Those good old days when we had a drastic cuts in defense spending. When we had those character building experiences of cannibalized everything that did not move so as to keep those that did, going. I can remember stocking up on items such as resistors, capacitors, transistors (single switching devices for the young'uns),zener diodes, etc., etc., etc wire and plexiglass while in port. All due to our national leadership. I know Kbob remembers just exactly what I'm talking about. Having to fabricate full wave bridge rectifiers to keep 440v/400Hz and 28VDC aircraft service controllers running on the carrier, among other critical systems.

Unfortunately, with the visionaries we having running the show these days we are, at least in my opinion, in a heap of trouble.

Posted by: Manchurian Bubba_hun at April 4, 2009 10:22 PM

Whoops... The previous comment was rushed and reads as such. But I guess my meaning is discernible.

Never attempt to drink, yap on a phone and type a semi-coherent comment at the same time ladies and gents.

Posted by: Manchurian Bubba_hun at April 4, 2009 11:00 PM

Your post read just fine and segues into another debate I am having elsewhere. We cannot afford to be at the mercy of those who have no mercy.

Interesting...may I borrow that, suitably attributed?

Posted by: Cricket at April 5, 2009 02:19 PM

Miss Cricket,

I'm honored... Use it as you will.

Posted by: Manchurian Bubba_hun at April 5, 2009 05:13 PM

I noticed that someone said that Britain had the best military in the world between 1775 and 1783. Nope. France and Prussia had better armies. Austria probably did, although that would be harder to prove. Sweden and some of the other German states had armies that were the equivalent or superior to the British army. Even the Russian or Turkish army could give Britain a run for the money

And the British army was *small*. So small that they had to hire German mercenaries during both the American Revolution and the French Revolutionary wars.

Britain had the best navy in the world (although even there it was being challenged by the the French Navy) during the American Revolution, but absent aircraft carriers navies then had little means of projecting power in an inland war.

Posted by: Mark L at April 6, 2009 05:28 PM

I noticed that someone said that Britain had the best military in the world between 1775 and 1783. Nope.

Nope. What I said was that it was the best-trained and best-led -- the Hessian levies were incorporated into the British military -- which doesn't necessarily equate to rampaging over all comers.

Sure, France, Prussia, Turkey and Russia had *bigger* armies, and numbers have a quality all their own. That said, though, Britain consistently defeated France in several North American wars and three European wars, but by and large, those wars were fought in conjunction with allies -- judging each army by the most expedient method of seeing who creams who on the battlefield and does it consistently is still up for grabs.

The Brits fought both a counterinsurgency in the South and a counterinsurgency interspersed with setpiece battles in the North, and I'd be hard-pressed to name another army that would be that flexible.

*Except* for Frederick's Prussians. Ya got me, there.

The Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus -- maybe. They were certainly well-trained and superbly-led, but lacked staying-power in extended campaigns.

Posted by: BillT at April 6, 2009 06:36 PM

You know, next to nattering on about sex and relationships, I just *love* me a good argument about armies :p

*running away*

Posted by: Cassandra at April 6, 2009 06:51 PM

Hey, Mike and I are trying to lend a little scholarly discourse and *dignity* to this thread, d'y'mind?

Posted by: BillT at April 6, 2009 06:57 PM

You're both arty?

Who knew?

Posted by: Lending dignity to what otherwise would be an unseemly brawl... at April 6, 2009 07:17 PM

I have an opinion regarding "The Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus", but I'm keeping it dark until the moment seems ripe...

Posted by: Lending dignity to what otherwise would be an unseemly brawl... at April 6, 2009 07:18 PM

How can something get *ripe* in the dark? How can you tell if it's always in the dark?? Do ya squeeze it? How can you be sure of *what* you're squeezing?
Inquiring minds wanna know, yanno?

Posted by: DL Sly at April 6, 2009 07:26 PM

Watch it.

This isn't "Ask Cassandra" :p

Posted by: Ghost of caption contests past at April 6, 2009 07:32 PM

You watch it? Wow! You sure have good night vision for someone who can't "can't see very well in that stupid little window."

Posted by: Snarkammando at April 6, 2009 11:18 PM

NVGs give you tunnel vision.

But they *do* make it easier to find the whiteout in a dark room...

Posted by: BillT at April 7, 2009 02:34 PM

"NVGs give you tunnel vision."
So do beer goggles... Plus, beer goggles negate the need for Wite-Out®.

Posted by: Manchurian Bubba-hun at April 7, 2009 04:10 PM

Beer goggles negate the *knowledge* of Wite-Out.

Posted by: Snarkammando at April 7, 2009 07:19 PM


Thomas P.M. Barnett of Pentagon's New Map fame, no shrinking violet when it comes to the use of force, has a useful refutation of your broad concerns.

The takeaway is this: "So our Leviathan still gets more than 5x what the PLA gets."

Barnett compares the Leviathan (our big war capability) to the People's Liberation Army, the nearest possible competitor in terms of troop numbers, and finds we have little indeed to worry about from these changes.

Sorry to be the optimist here, but it's a big picture view I find myself agreeing with.

Posted by: Thunderheart at April 9, 2009 01:15 PM

There wasn't much of a post there, other than the takeaway :p

China is hardly the only actor on the world stage.

During the last world wars, we weren't facing just a single opponent, but military alliances.

My point was that there aren't many stable democracies (IOW, potential allies) on that list. I didn't see that point refuted anywhere in either document, especially when you consider all the trouble we've had prosecuting 2 land wars against non-state actors - guerillas.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 9, 2009 01:52 PM