After five years of sweeping every mess under the rug, some in the media are starting to think maybe this Obama character isn’t as shiny as a new penny.
After five years of sweeping every mess under the rug, some in the media are starting to think maybe this Obama character isn’t as shiny as a new penny.
At least, not when it comes to active duty troop levels.
One of my frustrations when frequenting Milblogs with a naval or air centric theme is that in tough budget times, the authors and commentariat are quick to offer up ground forces on the budget alter. “Oh, put the bulk of ground forces in the reserves!”
Well, here’s the thing. In the almost seven decades since the end of World War II, we’ve found ourselves time and again involved in manpower intensive ground combat.
Recently, retired Admiral Gary Roughead and defense analyst Kori Schake published a paper from the Brookings institution recommending that, in effect, all the looming budget cuts in DoD should come from the Army, and that the Navy and Air Force should see their funding levels maintained.
First, thanks guys, for validating the suspicion many of us harbored that AirSea Battle wasn’t a doctrine, but political maneuvering to preserve Navy/Air Force budgets. One can hardly fault a former Chief of Naval Operations for being a tad proprietary when it comes to his service’s budget.*
But to wave your hands and pronounce that henceforth, wars will be high technology affairs with little or no need for manpower intensive operations is to ignore not just the last seven decades of history, but all of history.
It would be nice if the United States could simply opt out of all messy conflicts, but it cannot. Global connectivity means that conflict in any part of the world has cascading effects. These are most intense in neighboring states or regions as combatants, refugees, money, disorder, crime, and weapons flow back and forth, but in most cases will spread even further. The recent conflict in Libya shows this contagion effect, when there is no sustainable security following the defeat of an enemy regime. In the future, major conflicts anywhere will affect the global and American economies, increasing commodity prices, disrupting the supply of goods and services, and creating uncertainty. U.S. economic growth will depend, in part, on whether the global economy is generally stable or conflict-ridden. This will make it difficult or impossible for the United States to totally avoid major conflicts (although it does not mean the U.S. will intervene militarily in every major conflict). The profusion of global diasporas will also make it politically difficult to ignore major crises or conflicts.
Now, Metz and Lovelace are not unbiased, either. They work for the Army War College at the Strategic Studies Institute. But they’re quite right that in spite of all our efforts to avoid messy operations on the ground, we seem to always end up there.
I’ll grant that one reason we tend to fight land wars is that in recent history, our naval power has been so overwhelming as to effectively preclude a naval war. And I do fully support the nation keeping a strong, forward naval presence throughout those areas of the world that hold our strategic interest. But the Navy has done poorly at managing the relatively strong support it has received. That’s not to say the Army has done much better, but before the Navy and the Air Force raid the Army’s budget, maybe they ought to consider which branch has born the brunt of the nation’s fighting for the past 70 years.
*We’d be a lot more sympathetic if his term as CNO hadn’t been such a goatrope in terms of shipbuilding.
Former George W. Bush speechwriter and current slightly-right-of-center pundit/gadfly David Frum posted a Tweet a few hours ago that referenced his article “American Hawks: Behaving Badly” in Canada’s National Post. It caught my attention, as I have recently been deluged by questions from those on the left of the seeming hypocrisy of the GOP, claiming to be pro-defense while at the same time participating in a process that will so clearly weaken the military. Seeing David Frum pick up this line of argument is not surprising to me, as he appears these days to make his bread from a continuous string of articles and appearances that can best be summed up as saying “Republicans would be much better off if they thought and acted like Democrats”.
That said, Frum (and others) raises a good point, one that has to be addressed. Why would GOP legislators be prepared to allow the sequester to continue and accelerate the ongoing hollowing of the U.S. military?
I had planned on writing about sequestration and its impact on the DoD last night, but as it turns out, Bryan McGrath has already done that for me.
A few thoughts on the implementation. If you didn’t notice, one of the major concerns about sequestration has been that between it, and the fact that DoD is operating under a Continuing Resolution, DoD has virtually no authority to shift funds from one account to another.
This is by design. The sequestration was a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff. As such, both sides strove to impose political costs on the other should sequestration actually come to pass. The GOP strove to minimize any possible loopholes that would render it toothless. The Democratic party strove to make any cuts to budgets as painful to GOP interests as possible. Fully half of the sequestration cuts come from DoD, which the Dems figured the hawkish GOP would move heaven and earth to avoid, lest they be called soft on defense.
Having said that, there was some discretion in how the cuts were to be made. While the sequester law calls for across the board cuts among all DoD accounts, it also allows the President to exempt certain accounts, provided the dollar amount exempted is made up elsewhere. For instance, the funding for personnel was, by law, to be cut by the same amount as any other. The President, however, has already signaled to Congress that he has exempted that account (otherwise, troops would either have to be summarily discharged, or go without pay). This was expected. But that dollar amount has to come from somewhere. With most of the procurement and R&D budgets already obligated during the first half of the Fiscal Year, virtually the only accounts left to raid were the various Operations and Maintenance accounts. These are big accounts, larger than the R&D and procurement budgets, th0ugh smaller than the personnel accounts.
Worse yet, DoD, via the White House, ordered the services to assume that sequester would not be implemented. Modest savings that might have been made in the first half of the year were not to be had.
In the short term, the effects will be awful. As Esli noted, his battalion simply won’t be able to roll any tracked vehicles for the rest of the year. No training above the squad level will take place. Having just finished a rotation at the National Training Center, the highly perishable skills they have will quickly atrophy. And indeed, the frustrations of many of the best and brightest will cause them to leave the service, in spite of the daunting civilian job market.
Worse, short term savings tend to have long term costs. The disruptions in depot level maintenance for major systems will mean the lifetimes of several platforms will be shortened. Replacement costs for those platforms will have to be paid sooner rather than later.
But as Bryan notes, for all the doom and gloom, it’s not the end of the world. The immediate impact this year is bad, but next year won’t be quite as bad.
Further, and more importantly, the GOP (and I!) see the explosive growth in government as the true threat to the United States. Our federal spending is 40% higher than it was in 2007. Do you really feel like you’re getting 40% better government? The effective taxation rate is currently running at about 25%, which is above the long term historical average of 20%, and history suggests it cannot long remain that high. Borrowing to fund this massive increase in government cannot go on forever.
Americans have always asked its servicemen and women to make great sacrifices in the defense of our nation. And this is one more. And it may be the most important one yet.
Because if we can’t get our obscene addiction to spending under control, there soon won’t be a Republic worth defending.
So, Congress kicked the can down the road a bit yesterday. But sequestration is still on the table for two months from now. And if it comes to pass, the DoD is gonna take it in the shorts.
So, where and how should cuts be made?
The first big targets are always acquisitions and personnel. Both have aspects that make them attractive, and both have aspects that make them harder to realize.
First, acquisitions- high visibility programs are always tempting targets. And the word is, there are no sacred cows this time. The LCS and the F-35 are obvious targets, either for cancellation or scaled back funding. The Army’s GCV program is almost certainly going to slow down, and possibly the JLTV program, the planned successor the the Humvee. What are some other programs you think are vulnerable or should be? One thing that mitigates against cutting acquisition programs is the pork aspect. Congressmen that have defense contractors in their districts don’t like to see them go out of business.
Personnel costs are the single largest costs of DoD, so of course cutting troop levels is attractive. And that is actually already scheduled. But unlike the civilian world, it’s hard to lay off 50,000 in just a few month’s time. But I suspect further end strength cuts are coming. How big should the Army be, in terms of brigade combat team equivalents? How many fighter wing equivalents should the Air Force have? How big should the Navy be, in terms of ships and airwings? Where can they shave personnel without severely undermanning already shorthanded, overworked ships? The Marine’s force structure is the only one written in law, but their end strength isn’t. So when they cut numbers, what non-core Corps jobs go away?
Tough times are coming. Put your thinking caps on and try to spot the rocks and shoals ahead to minimize the troubles.
In his remarks Tuesday, Obama issued a stern forewarning on the upcoming debates, and reiterated that he will not negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling.
“As I’ve demonstrated throughout the past several weeks, I am very open to compromise,” he said. “But we cannot simply cut our way to prosperity.”
“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills they have already racked up,” Obama said. “We can not not pay bills that we have already incurred.”
Actually, anyone who’s ever had both a credit card and a savings account knows you can spend your way to ruin, but you can also save your way to wealth.
I’m constantly surprised by how Obama thinks any government spending, no matter how wasteful, is an automatic unalloyed good.
Really? Seriously? Is there not ONE damn thing this administration does that isn’t full of lies and deceit?
Kalashnikov in intensive care. Of course, he’s 93, so it’s not a terrible shock.
To horn in a bit on Roamy’s territory, this clip from SpaceX is pretty cool.
Happy Boxing Day to our friends up north, and across the pond.
Operation Christmas Drop, Via the ONT:
With a little luck, we may even have some content later today, or early tomorrow!
Eh, why not? Here’s the thing. President Obama has shown a remarkable tendency to operate outside the usual cabinet structure. He prefers to do most business via his insider circle of appointees, preferably those not subject to Senate confirmation. The Secretaries end up just implementing whatever policy they are handed.
And of the possible nominees for SecState, Kerry at least has the advantage of being highly likely to get through the confirmation process with little fuss. The comity of the Senate means no one is going to press him too hard on his qualifications, which, from here appear to be tissue thin. His record consists of being wrong on just about every important issue, which fits in well with the rest of the current administration.
We might also hear who will be replacing Petraeus at CIA. No idea who they’ll chose for that.
And rumors are still swirling over who will take Leon Pannetta’s place at DoD.
The Middle East, that is, all of Arabia and Persia, has been a basket case since before I was born. Deeply dysfunctional societies that rival sub Sahara Africa for poverty and violence.
The Bush administration’s operations in Afghanistan and invasion of Iraq were an attempt to achieve a strategic realignment of the political landscape of the region. To some extent, it did do that. Of course, a decade of US intervention is hardly enough to change a thousand years of culture. So what’s next? The Arab Spring is bearing bitter fruit. Iran is striving to become the hegemon of the Gulf. Israel faces (as always) an existential crisis, and Turkey is no longer the sick man of Europe, but becoming the sick man of the Levant.
What should the US do?
Spengler, writing at the Asia Times, says our best course of action may be to let things get worse. His hinge of history, as it were, is to support, either tacitly or explicitly, an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The response in the short term would be bad, and make the region more volatile. But doing nothing has a price as well:
Absent an Israeli strike, America faces:
A nuclear-armed Iran; Iraq’s continued drift towards alliance with Iran; An overtly hostile regime in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood government will lean on jihadist elements to divert attention from the country’s economic collapse; An Egyptian war with Libya for oil and with Sudan for water; A radical Sunni regime controlling most of Syria, facing off an Iran-allied Alawistan ensconced in the coastal mountains; A de facto or de jure Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the Kingdom of Jordan; A campaign of subversion against the Saudi monarchy by Iran through Shi’ites in Eastern Province and by the Muslim Brotherhood internally; A weakened and perhaps imploding Turkey struggling with its Kurdish population and the emergence of Syrian Kurds as a wild card; A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan; and Radicalized Islamic regimes in Libya and Tunisia.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
I’m not ready to sign off on all his conclusions, but it clear that our present course of action is deeply flawed and leaves us at risk, both in the short term and in the long term.
There’s no way the President of the United States and the Secretary of State would use the dead bodies of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans for political purposes. No, not at all.
Of course, you do realize that as soon as the caskets were unloaded, and the speechifying done, the Air Force had to load them back aboard and fly them to Dover AFB, right?
Stripping aside the partisan bickering, this little kerfuffle in Maine raises an interesting question- who is a veteran?
AUGUSTA, Maine — An ongoing feud over whether a Vietnam War-era National Guard member is qualified to serve on a state board has raised the question of who is a veteran.
Earlier this week, Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, questioned whether National Guard service during the early 1970s makes someone a military veteran.
Gov. Paul LePage, Republican lawmakers and members of Maine veterans organizations quickly expressed outrage that Gilbert raised the issue.
During a Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee confirmation hearing Tuesday on Christopher Pierce’s nomination to serve on the Finance Authority of Maine’s board, Gilbert said that service in the National Guard during the early 1970s “was not considered qualification for veteran’s status.”
Mr. Pierce, nominated to serve on the board, apparently served honorably in the National Guard, but fails, through no fault of his own, to meet the criteria established by the federal VA to be defined as a veteran. But the state criteria that calls for a veteran on the board doesn’t define who is or is not a veteran.
Offhandedly, I tend to think that if you’ve got a DD214 with an honorable discharge, you’re a veteran, even if you don’t qualify for federal benefits. But I see the point Mr. Gilbert is making, and while I’m sure he has a partisan purpose in opposing Mr. Pierce’s appointment, I don’t see that he has attacked Mr. Pierce’s service, but notes solely that it fails to meet the federal definition.
What say you?
I know I promised I wouldn’t make the blog all-politics/all the time, but with about 60 days till the general election, I feel the need to announce my endorsement.
Having heard from GEN McChrystal his thoughts on conscription, Thomas Ricks decided to weigh in with his deep thoughts on the matter.
I’ll give Ricks credit for this- he recognizes that the first flaw in a draft plan is there is no place to put draftees. So rather than recognizing the lack of need for a draft, he promptly decides what is really needed is a whole lot more busywork.
A revived draft, including both males and females, should include three options for new conscripts coming out of high school. Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.
Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.
And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.
As always, when someone comes up with a notional conscription scheme these days, they propose a non-military option. Ricks takes a relatively simple problem (providing the services with manpower) and complicates it enormously in an attempt to provide “fairness.” His scheme is unworkable for a number of reasons.
First, while a draft passes constitutional muster under the power of Congress to raise armies, and to regulate the services, there is no such similar provision to induct persons into a civilian labor force. Indeed, any such attempt would run afoul of the 13th Amendment prohibitions on indentured service. He doesn’t say it, but implies that he is sidestepping this problem by making his draft “voluntary.” There are two counters to this. Either such conditions amount to coercion (and arguably fall afoul of equal protection status under the 14th Amendment), or the system is not a draft in any form, and so his entire premise of conscription is bogus, has done nothing to provide manpower to the services, and instead only amounts to a massive government boondoggle. I’m leaning toward the second of those scenarios.
Second, said massive government jobs program is economically very unsound. We just had an example in 2009 of the difficulty of finding “shovel ready” projects on which to spend the massive $900bn stimulus. What makes Ricks think the government would be any better at finding productive work for all the unskilled labor suddenly dumped into its lap via his proposal?
And where are we to house and how are we to clothe, feed, and provide medical care to the four million or so youths inducted into national service annually? Economies of scale would call for centralized facilities, but then you end up with 50,000 teenagers stuck at a camp in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. If you spread the service force across the inhabited portions of the nation, where the tasks he wants them to perform are, the costs of “hotel services” for the force skyrocket to prohibitive levels.
And let us take a moment to look at the political and economic effects of what he would have this non-military force perform.
The costs associated with simply administering such a scheme would be astronomic. The operational costs would likewise be very high. And the economic costs to the rest of the country would be high. How many civilian jobs would be lost because the government, in effect, outsourced jobs to itself that should properly be in the private sector, or at minimum, at the state and local level.
As for Ricks non-deployable force of “garritroopers,” do we really need a set of second class citizens in the services? Ricks seems to think having manual labor on hand for these tasks would save the services money in the long run. Really? No. Most of the chores he envisions them doing are either so incidental to service life that they are not a significant impact on manpower use and availability for training, or, more commonly, they are already contracted out to private companies. Now, Ricks would argue that conscriptees would be cheaper labor. But he’s wrong. The real cost of manpower in the services isn’t during their service. It’s afterwards.
Let’s say the Army hires a contractor to mow the grass at Ft. Meyer, VA. And during the course of mowing the grass, one of the contractor’s employees manages to stick his hand in the blades and get it amputated. Guess what? The total additional cost the government is $0 dollars. The contractor, through his insurance, will compensate the employee. But if the government has PFC (SCS/ML*) Smith mowing the lawn, and he similarly manages to lose a hand, the government will be paying disability benefits to him for the rest of his life.
Ricks engages in some world class fantasy to paint a scenario where his scheme could actually save money in the long term. It’s an incredibly facile look at the utilization of manpower, and lacks both an understanding of how the labor market works, and the limitations of government. Absolutely no good would come from attempting this (or any remotely similar scheme) jobs program.
Why is it so many on the left feel such an abiding need for governmental control of any and all aspects, down to suggesting repeatedly that the youth of America must serve the government for a term (but only on jobs that the left thinks are good)?
I can easily see certain scenarios where conscription could be used to provide quality and quantity to our armed forces. I suppose I could generate a scheme that would do so with minimal scope for graft or abuse. But the costs would be far higher than any supposed tightening of the bonds between the military and the society at large. And I cannot see in any way, shape or form that compulsory civilian service to the government would improve the lot of our country or our countrymen, but would instead fundamentally change the relationship of the average American from Citizen to serf.
*PFC(SCS/ML) = Private First Class (Second Class Soldier/Manual Labor)
The progressive neutering of the annual Pentagon China military power reports is unfortunate, as the report has been among the most authoritative sources of information on specific Chinese military capabilities in recent years. Given the People’s Liberation Army’s unwillingness to reveal this information itself, the report has been one of the few reliable sources of transparency to inform foreign analysts, scholars, and citizens about important Chinese military developments that often have global repercussions. China has experienced important military and security changes over the past year, yet aside from its reformatted font and graphics, the 2012 report proves thin on new content.
I vividly recall reading the annual report on the Soviets from the 1980s. Each year, it was a concise, well written explanation of the Soviet military, from their strategic aims, to the basics of their organization and equipment. For the lay reader, it was the go to source for understanding the potential threat we faced.
That the government cannot seem to produce a similar guide to the Chinese is disturbing. I’ve seen past editions, and they were a poor substitute for the old Soviet books.
One wonders, just who is neutering the publishing process?
The level of detail spilling out through media reports about crucial national security operations is raising the question of whether President Barack Obama’s administration can keep a secret – or in some cases even wants to.
In just the past week, two tell-all articles about Obama’s leadership as commander-in-chief have been published, dripping with insider details about his sleeves-rolled-up involvement in choosing terrorist targets for drone strikes and revelations about his amped-up cyber war on Iran.
I’m getting just a little tired of the Obama gang leaking just about every secret we have.
Sharing ABM data with Russia, compromising operational information on the Bin Laden raid (leaving a key source open to prosecution in Pakistan), and taking credit for a cyberattack that the Bush administration planned with Israel. I’m sure my smart readers can recall other instances.
Look, I expect politicians to take political credit for their actions. But apparently asking the current administration to weigh the risks and benefits of compromising information is just too much.
So, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (however you care to spell it!) is dead. Early reports are that he was seized while trying to flee Sirte, and summarily executed. Not an uncommon occurrence for dictators. Other reports say he died of wounds sustained in a NATO airstrike.
We shed no tears for him. And we find it interesting that he meets an end with some similarities to the death of Italian dictator Benito Mussuolini, executed by partisans while trying to flee his own people. Given the Fascist Italian imperial ambitions in Libya, it is a reminder that history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.
The question becomes what happens to Libya next. We are dubious that anything resembling what we would consider a free society will emerge. We Americans tend to think that popular uprisings lead to liberty and democracy. We cherish that illusion based on our own successful war for independence from Britain. But that is a very different set of circumstances from most revolutions. The American colonies were, for a practical matter, autonomous and self governing, with a very strong tradition of personal liberty and even in the midst of revolution, a stable society. The Founding Fathers chafed at the British crown precisely because they felt they were not being afforded their rights that any subject of the crown in Britain itself would take for granted.
Libya hardly has that history of a secular stable government, accountable to the people. Libya was long a part of the Ottoman Empire. As that regime collapsed, Libya was colonized by Italy, and exploited for its resources. Few civic institutions were instituted, and those that notionally existed were ineffectual compared to the tribal hierarchy that had always existed. The post World War II government was effectively a vassal of the Western powers. When Qaddafi seized power, it as at a time of Pan-Arabism. Charismatic leaders were seen as the wave of the Arab future. Sadly, all those leaders became dictators, struggling to balance a need to improve the economic status of their nations against entrenched powers in the tribal structure that were willing to be suborned, but not willing to be shunted aside. We tend to think of dictators as all powerful, but in truth, no one man can stand against the entire population. Every dictator has to have a power base that supports him, in order to achieve their own ends.
The popular uprising in the Arab world lead some factions that had previously supported Qaddafi (or at least not openly opposed him) to lend their support to the insurgency. Our pessimistic take is that some folks felt switching their support to the rebellion was the best way to maintain their own base of power and support.
The problem with bloody revolutions is that they tend to keep on being bloody. The factions that unified around the goal of destroying the Qaddafi regime each have their own post war plans and visions. Having just fought an uncompromising campaign against the existing regime, the elements of the TNC (Transitional National Council) will likely be in little mood for the sort of political compromise needed to form a governing coalition, and face great danger of fracturing.
Further, the TNC has to provide concrete evidence of an improvement in daily life in Libya in very short order or risk losing its legitimacy among the people. This must include both political liberty (or Islamic fundamentalism, depending on which group you ask) and economic well being. The sad fact is, peoples with little history of personal and political liberty are quick to dismiss the opportunity to embrace these liberties if they face economic hardship. Weimar Germans, only shortly before under the Kaiser’s regime, surrendered their notional democratic republic to the tender mercies of Hitler and National Socialism largely in desperation over their dire economic straits.
The future of Libya is uncertain, and what if any influence the US and our Western allies may have is unclear. Let us hope for the best… and plan for the worst.
The deliberate targeting of an American citizen for military action is, to my knowledge, unprecedented. The President, in the course of authorizing direct action against specified members of Al Qaeda, included Al-Alwaki as a valid target. And just today, we learn that he and Samir Kahn, another American citizen, were killed in a Predator strike.
Rather predictably, the ACLU (and doubtless others- I haven’t had a chance to read the entire internets yet) bemoan this as extrajudicial killing and liken it to imposition of the death penalty without benefit of due process.
While I’m certainly libertarian enough to always be wary of any expansion of government power, particularly when it is unilaterally assumed by the executive branch, the reaction of the ACLU overlooks the fact that the President must operate in the real world. Al-Alwaki hasn’t exactly been shy about his membership in, and allegiance to Al Qaeda. Further, he has been explicit in his calls for the killing of his fellow citizens. That’s not to mention his complicity in multiple attempts to kill Americans, here on American soil, such as the Detroit Christmas Underwear Bomb plot.
Had Al-Alwaki been resident in the US and vulnerable to arrest, the ACLU might have a point.
But having fled US territory, and assumed a leadership position in an non-state organization with the state goal of killing Americans, can’t we agree that for any practical purpose, he was an “outlaw” in that he, by his own actions, could not be brought before any court?
Imagine taking the ACLU’s position to an extreme. Shouldn’t President Lincoln’s Justice Department have issued indictments to the entire leadership of the Confederacy, and rather than fighting the South on the field of battle, arrested every member of the insurrection? Where was the due process for the hundreds of thousands of Southern men felled in battle? After all, in the eyes of the US, those soldiers were US citizens.
It is right and proper that we remain skeptical of any president who targets citizens for military action. Vigilant oversight both by Congress, and the American people is called for.
But in this case, quite clearly, the President acted in the best interest of the American people, and his oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign… and domestic.
Early in the US intervention in Vietnam, the services began to realize that the supersonic fighters and strike aircraft developed in the 50s were not well suited to providing close air support in a counter insurgency environment. Jets flew too high and too fast to detect targets on the ground. And while the services did operate light observation aircraft such as the O-1 Birddog, these planes didn’t have any built in capability to strike targets on their own. Further, their low performance left them vulnerable to ground fire. The Air Force and the Navy both operated the superb A-1 Skyraider, with excellent loiter time, good performance, and a large payload. But the Skyraider was a large, complex aircraft, and needed a large, complex maintenance effort behind it, which limited it to major airfields.
Something smaller and simpler was needed. Ideally, this plane would have higher performance than the light liaison planes, carry a meaningful payload, have decent loiter time, and still be small and simple enough to operate from very forward airstrips in support of the infantry. The first attempts to provide this capability turned to training aircraft, modified to provide some armament. In fact, the first US fixed wing aircraft shot down in South East Asia was a modified T-28.
In addition to being handy for the US, the T-28 was simple enough that our partner nations in SEA could operate it.
But as my coauthor Craig pointed out to me in an email, turning trainers into fighters doesn’t always work that well. The T-28 had a small payload, used high octane aviation gasoline, and the radial engine wasn’t all that easy to maintain. And the landing gear, while robust, wasn’t really optimized for rough field operations.
Another trainer to fighter conversion was the Air Force’s T-37. After extensive modifications, the A-37 was born. Over 500 Dragonflies were eventually built, and served very successfully in operations in South Vietnam, both with the USAF, and the South Vietnamese Air Force.
But while the A-37 was very good at close air support (compared to supersonic fighters), it lacked endurance, and consequently, had little loiter time over the troops it was supporting. There was still room for improvement.
The “ultimate” Counter-Insurgency airplane was the OV-10 Bronco. It was optimized to work from very austere airfields, had outstanding visibility, better performance than earlier types like the O-1 and O-2, had an endurance of up to five hours, and could carry a very respectable warload. It was pretty versatile too. The Bronco was used by the Marines, Navy, and the Air Force. If the Army had been permitted to use fixed wing attack aircraft, no doubt they too would have wanted some.
While all three services used the aircraft, each actually tended to use them in slightly different ways. For the Marines, the OV-10 was used pretty much as a direct replacement for the O-1, spotting artillery fires, and acting as a forward air controller in direct support of the troops on the ground. The Air Force used their Broncos in much the same way, of course, but also used them to hunt down North Vietnamese forces on the Ho Chi Mihn trail. This interdiction mission was conducted outside the parameters of direct support of troops. Air Force Broncos also routinely operated well inside the southern portions of North Vietnam, with no friendly ground troops anywhere close to the action.
The Navy, on the other hand, operated the Bronco in as a dedicated close air support platform in and of itself. In order to provide a quick response capability to support the Brown Water Navy, the Navy commissioned a squadron of OV-10s as a Light Attack Squadron, VAL-4. Typically loaded with 5” rockets, and occasionally with a 20mm gun pod on the centerline, the Black Ponies of VAL-4 would be overhead from dawn to dusk, and could almost instantaneously provide close air support to SEALs or Riverine forces in contact. If more firepower was needed, they would then switch to serving as a forward air controller to strike planes arriving on station. These “angels on the shoulder” light attack aircraft were very highly praised and treasured by the Navy folks down below.
With the end of the Vietnam war, the Navy gave up its riverine capability, and with it, its Broncos. The Marines and the Air Force both operated the Bronco in the Forward Air Controller role for many years afterwards, but as air defenses in likely theaters grew more capable, the Air Force got out of the Bronco business, and turned to modified A-10s and F-16s to fulfill the FAC role. The Marines held onto their Broncos until the loss of two OV-10s in Desert Storm convinced them they were too vulnerable to operate in the face of modern air defenses. They replaced them with OA-4M Skyhawks for a while, but eventually with the two-seat F/A-18D Hornet. By the early 1990s, there were no light attack/armed reconnaissance aircraft in the inventory of the Marines, Air Force, or Navy.
Fast forward a decade, and the US found itself deeply involved in two theaters, Iraq and Afghanistan, where aerial Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and CAS have both been in great demand. As much ISR as the Air Force, Navy, Marines and our coalition partners have been able to provide, there’s been a constant demand signal for more from the users on the ground. The massive proliferation of UAVs at all levels met some of the demand for ISR, and the ability of Predators and Reapers to provide a limited amount of call-fires has been a boon. But there are still limitations to what a drone can do. There is still no substitute for a pair of human eyeballs and a human brain right on station.
Sometime around 2007, the Navy Special Warfare community began to get fed up with the difficulty of working with existing ISR and CAS assets, and looked to find a cheap, off the shelf method of providing both capabilities that would be organic to SPECWAR.
Pretty soon, the Navy had leased an Embraer “It’s not about flying in from 1,000 miles away, dropping some thousand-pound bombs and leaving,” Mullins said. “It’s about working with [the ground force], doing the intelligence preparation of the battlespace, doing a [communication] relay, close air support, eyes on target and if there’s squirters leaving the target, keeping up with them and tracking them down and doing [bomb damage assessment] at the end.”
Pretty soon, the Navy had leased a single Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano to test some of the ideas behind the program. The next step planned was to lease four more Super Tucanos, and give them a tryout in Afghanistan. But Congress never appropriated money for that. The Navy had hoped to reprogram some funds from other programs to fill this requirement, but Congress balked at that.
About the same time, the demand for CAS and ISR from the Army was getting louder, and when SecDef Gates fired the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force for not meeting the needs of the current war, the idea of making a large purchase of what became known as “Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance” or LAAR aircraft, started to gather steam. I’ve written several times about the LAARA program, here, here and here.
Now, leasing a handful of aircraft is one thing, but when the possibility of a fairly large (50-100) aircraft purchase rolls around, that calls for a competition. As the LAARA program first started, several firms bandied about proposals. Boeing even raised the possibility of reopening the OV-10 production line with an updated model. But one of the key demands of what came to be known as the O/A-X (observation/attack-experimental) program was that the airframe and sensors had to be non-developmental, readily available off-the-shelf. Pretty soon, the competition narrowed to two real candidates, the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, and the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II. Both aircraft are roughly similar in configuration, size, performance and capability.
Let’s take a brief look at the pros and cons of each aircraft.
Hawker Beechcraft AT-6
Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano
Of course, there are also numerous political factors in play in any possible competition for a buy of aircraft. The first and most obvious is the number of jobs any deal will provide to US workers. Hawker Beechcraft is mounting a full court press (as are several “non-partisan” organizations) with their primary argument that buying Beechcraft would provide more jobs in the US than buying the Embraer aircraft would. And on the surface, that’s probably true. But things are never as simple as they seem at first glance. Did you know Brazil is currently looking to replace its aging fleet of high performance fighters? One of the aircraft they are considering is the Boeing F/A-18E/F SuperHornet. A major factor in international aircraft sales isn’t “what is the best plane we can buy?” but rather “what is the best trade offset that we can leverage when we buy?” That is, there’s rumors of a quid pro quo that if the US buys the Embraer design for the LAARA project, the Brazilians are far more likely to buy the F/A-18 than the French Rafale fighter. And just think of how many Boeing jobs would be saved or created by the sale to Brazil. Further, the balance of payments would almost certainly be the US’s favor in any deal of that sort.
As noted above, the Navy had wanted to reprogram funding to allow the lease of a handful of Super Tucanos for a combat test in Afghanistan, but Congress prohibited that. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suspect that Hawker Beechcraft lobbied members of Congress to stop that reprogramming authority in order to give them a chance to compete. Further, that delay has given Hawker Beechcraft more time to develop an armed version of the T-6 to suit the LAARA requirements.
A couple other objections to choosing Embraer are common among Beechcraft supporters. First, many claim that if the US chooses the Super Tucano, we could find ourselves denied spare parts by the Brazilian government if they don’t approve of our use of them. After all, the Brazilian government retains de facto control over Embraer through a “golden share” of the company’s stock. But how likely is it that Brazil would in fact be able to cripple our operations through an embargo of parts? First, it is highly likely that any US use of the Super Tucano would include procurement offsets that, in addition to final assembly in the US, would mandate a US source for most of the spare parts for the planes in US hands. Second, any embargo of parts by Brazil would almost certainly be met with a corresponding US embargo of parts for US built aircraft being sent to Brazil, and even if we don’t sell the F’/A-18 to Brazil, they operate enough US built aircraft that they would certainly feel the pinch long before we did. Remember, we don’t NEED to operate the LAARA, we want to. But Brazil absolutely depends on US parts for a large percentage of its defense needs. In effect, we have and would retain an effective veto over Brazilian defense policy.
One other complaint that Hawker Beechcraft supporters like to raise is that the AT-6 is designed to be an ergonomic fit for a wider range of pilots body types than the EMB-314. By limiting the pool of available aircrew, we’re supposedly denying some people the chance to serve in a career enhancing position. Well, if the entire US Air Force was to consist of LAARA aircraft, that might be a concern. But with a buy of about 100 aircraft, you’re looking at about 150 to 200 pilots being trained on the type. And traditionally, flying jobs in COIN type aircraft isn’t the route to stardom in the Air Force. For careerists, it is seen as more a dead end. That there are a large number of folks that would leap to serve in any LAARA community is more about those pilots wanting to be involved in a personally rewarding job, rather than striving to gain further advancement in the Air Force.
Conclusion- Either LAARA candidate is likely to prove roughly suitable for use in low intensity conflict in permissive environments like we’ve seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Either aircraft would provide a niche capability for ISR, CAS, and FAC(A) this is currently lacking. This LAARA capability will also fit in nicely with the US aim to partner with and build the security of a host of nations that we work with, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and any number of small nations that need a credible air combat capability, but aren’t really in the market for supersonic jet fighters. One such example might be the Philippines. Almost certainly, political considerations will shape the choice of which aircraft is chosen. While there may well be a “competitive fly-off” to choose the winner, the ground rules of the fly-off will be heavily influenced by Congress, and virtually predetermine which aircraft will win. Further, as I’ve already theorized, the tightening defense budgets, and the looming drawdown of forces in Afghanistan will likely lessen the pressure to buy a LAARA aircraft, and the Air Force will probably sacrifice this program on the altar of budget cuts, in favor of programs it prefers. And that’s a damn shame, because a light, cheap attack and surveillance aircraft, either the Super Tucano or the Texan II, could be a valuable tool in the ongoing low intensity conflicts we will likely face for the foreseeable future.
Disclosure- This post was written at the behest of John Hawkins, of Right Wing News. I am receiving consideration in the form of a link at Linkiest.com. John has not exerted any editorial control over the content of this post, nor has he asked for an endorsement of one platform over the other. While I can anticipate increased traffic from the link at linkiest.com, this blog is in no way monetized, and is produced solely because I enjoy writing it and fostering understanding and discussion of military and security matters.
You’d think the barren desert lands east of Los Angeles would be almost worthless. Instead, it is currently the topic of intense discussions between outdoor recreation enthusiasts and the United States Marine Corps.
There are only a handful of places in the US where large unit formations (brigade or regimental sized) can conduct live fire maneuver exercises. The Marines have long operated out of 29 Palms in the high desert, conducting live fire exercises for units preparing to deploy. But even as large as 29 Palms is, it isn’t large enough to conduct exercises on the scale the Marines need. So they are looking at putting land currently under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management to use in conjunction with existing range lands. The problem is, the land the Marines are looking at is one of the most popular chunks of land for off road vehicle users.
The Marine Corps, whose Twenty-nine Palms base is directly adjacent to Johnson Valley, also likes the valley’s challenging terrain — for similar yet different reasons.
The Marine Corps would like to include the land inside the boundaries of its Air-Ground Combat Center as a training area for large-scale, live-fire exercises where three battalions could simultaneously practice assaulting a fixed location. The land is controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Johnson Valley would give the Marine Corps a large-scale training capability it lacks at any of its bases, according to Marine brass. Even in a budget-tightening season when other projects are being dropped or trimmed, the Marine Corps has allocated $60 million for the expansion project.
You’ve seen this land, by the way. This chunk of land is very popular with Hollywood for all sorts of desert scenes and car chases.
I’m fairly sympathetic to the off roaders. Half the land west of the Mississippi is pretty much empty nothingness (and most of it is owned by the federal government) but huge swaths of that land is off limits to the public. But Johnson Valley, convenient to the the LA basin, is open to the public, and not encumbered by the hassles of so many other outdoor activity areas.
But the Marines have a valid need. There is simply no substitute for large scale live fire exercises. Until you get la-de-dah-de everybody out there shootin’ and movin’, you don’t really know how they’ll do in the real world. And the increasingly long range of weapons, and the higher speeds of the mounted systems drives a need for ever larger live fire ranges. And it is a lot easier and cheaper to expand an existing installation than start building a new one from scratch. The Marines are looking at spending about $60 million to expand 29 Palms. That’s dirt cheap. Imagine if they had to build a whole new post with roads , range control, aviation support, housing and other infrastructure.
I think the only part of the article that really annoys me is the bit from California State Parks. Really, if the issue is that important to California State Parks, perhaps they should have provides some of the states land for off road vehicles, instead of fobbing that off on the feds.
We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force. This country is in a debt crisis because we buy abroad much more than we sell. Alas, because of this trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That’s not because of our labor costs—in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It’s because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.
As one of the commenters there at WSJ notes, publishing this piece of leftist drivel is far more effective than posting 100 pieces by conservatives. I mean, unless you’ve seen such stupidity with your own eyes, you wouldn’t believe it to be possible.
Boeing is being challenged by the National Labor Relations Board for wanting to open a second 787 production line in South Carolina. NLRB alleges this action is punishment for union activities in Boeing’s Washington plants. But really, it is just NLRB punishing Boeing for trying to run its own business. Boeing’s South Carolina plant will not displace a single worker (union or otherwise) in Washington. Instead, it is intended to increase capacity over their existing plants in Washington. Boeing has managed to sell a great number of 787s. What they haven’t managed to do yet is build a lot. So they need to crank out as many as they possibly can in a short period of time (say, a decade or so). Customers may be more than willing to wait five years for a Dreamliner. But without a second production line, that same customer may be looking at a 10 year wait. Which is another ballgame entirely. And those customers will likely decide that an Airbus today is worth more to them than a 787 sometime in the distant future.
Further, the author’s contention that quality necessarily suffers when production moves South is refuted by the large numbers of foreign car makers that have established plants in the South without any noticeable decline in either quality, or customer satisfaction. BMW springs to mind.
Mr. Geoghehan’s op-ed is simply union protectionism posing as concern for Boeing’s well being. But his laughably transparent attempt to bolster support for union production is counterproductive, as seen by the nearly unanimous sneering contempt in which he is held by the commenters.
If not, should it be?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization may not be dead, but it sure isn’t in the best of health. Currently, NATO is engaged in operations in Afghanistan and Libya. And SecDef Gates, on his way out the door, has lambasted the lack of military capability shown by our partner nations. Norway, with a force of 57 F-16 Fighting Falcons, says it can’t sustain a 6 jet detachment in support of operations in Libya, for example.
US operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002, while not universally successful, were by and large very effective. But as NATO joined in and provided forces, and assumed responsibility for several regions, the momentum slowly shifted, and Taliban forces regained a toehold in several areas. And have since expanded that to a foothold. Our NATO allies where hamstrung by restrictive rules of engagement that effectively kept their troops sitting inside their compounds while the Taliban built up their own capabilities. Our allies were also crippled by a lack of helicopters, intelligence and surveillance capability, and limited logistical capabilities.
The fact of the matter is, only the US is putting any real military muscle into the alliance.
It is almost a given that the US can only participate in military operations that are multi-lateral, with a “coalition” of partner nations. But that is strictly a political consideration, not a military one. There are a lot of brave, conscientious troops in our partner nations, but in a lot of ways, it is easier for our forces to operate without allies. Working alone simplifies logistics and communications, and makes the command structure much simpler, and provides a unity of effort that is impossible to impose on an amalgam of forces from multiple nations.
NATO, of course, was originally formed to defend Western Europe against an expansionist Soviet Union and its satellite vassals in Eastern Europe. In the immediate aftermath of WWII, the choice between aligning with the US/UK, or hoping the USSR would play nice was something of a no-brainer. And even if the US remained the biggest kid in that sandbox, many NATO nations made very real contributions to their own defense.
But that focus on one relatively well defined task enjoyed popular political support, and mostly took place before the imposition of the social welfare state in Western Europe, so there was actually enough money available to fund respectable military forces.
But as time went on, European nations noticed that as long as the US was the ultimate guarantor of their defense, they could trim a little force structure here and there around the margins. And with the collapse of the Soviet Union, many western European nations gutted their military forces.
And then came the Al Qaeda attacks on the US on 9/11. NATO very promptly invoked Article 5 of the NATO charter, which said that an attack on any member nation was an attack on all member nations, and brought into play the multilateral defense portions of the treaty. In a moment of solidarity with us, many NATO countries wrote a check their militaries just couldn’t cash.
And to be honest, what is really in it for our European partners? There’s only a slim margin of support for our operations overseas today, and we were the ones attacked. You can argue that fighting Islamist extremism is in their own best interest, and I’d tend to agree with you. But the problem is, our partner nations may not actually see it that way. Many European nations have very strong commercial ties with nations that we have little involvement with. And their own huge Muslim populations certainly are a domestic political factor.
That NATO nations have actually been as involved in our wars as much as they have been is really rather surprising.
But what about the future of NATO? In the past few years, several former Soviet satellite nations, such as Poland, have joined NATO. But while I’m all for the expansion of freedom to those former nations, does anyone really think our European partner nations are willing to go to war with anyone over the fate of Latvia? Russian operations against Georgia in 2008 showed the reluctance of NATO nations to interfere with Russia in what has traditionally been perceived as the Russian sphere of influence. But if NATO isn’t willing to leap to the defense of each and every member nation, it loses any legitimate deterrent value. And unless the European partners are willing to greatly increase their defense spending to field far more capable military forces, they won’t have the ability, much less the political will, to influence events outside the core German/French region. And there is little or any public support for such a buildup.
I doubt we’ll see a dissolution of NATO anytime soon. But for all practical purposes, NATO as a military alliance has withered and died.
The Army is currently roughly 48 ground combat brigades, with a number of supporting aviation brigades and “fires” brigades (what used to be called field artillery brigades). The strength very roughly equates to 12 divisions, or 4 corps.
Of the ground combat brigades, there are three main types: the Infantry Brigade Combat Team , the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the Heavy Brigade Combat Team. The “Team” part of the name denotes that each of these formations has its own supporting arms and services organic to its design, such as artillery and logistics. The Infantry BCT is primarily composed of light infantry forces, that is, those not mounted in either Bradley or Stryker armored vehicles. The Airborne and Air Assault units are IBCTs. The Stryker BCTs, are, of course, built around battalions of Stryker armored vehicles. And lastly, the Heavy BCTs are built around the M-1 Abrams/M-2 Bradley armored vehicle teams.
Heavy BCTs bore the brunt of the fighting in the early days of the war in Iraq, and indeed, were a large part of the fight there, and continue to supply Advise and Assist Brigades to that theater. But Stryker and Infantry BCTs also made large numbers of deployments there. Afghanistan has mostly been the province of the Infantry BCTs with recent deployments of Stryker BCTs to beef up the numbers there since President Obama took office.
The fighting power of the National Guard is organized along roughly the same lines, and their deployments have been roughly similar to the active components, but they lie outside the main scope of this discussion. It’s not that the Guard isn’t important, it’s that I haven’t really given much consideration to them, and want to digest that later.
Most unit deployments last about a year. And very roughly, about a third of the Army is deployed right now. There’s a rule of thumb that it takes three brigades to deploy one. One brigade deployed, one in training to replace it, and one recovering from its recent deployment. So the question becomes, is the size of the Army determining the size of deployments, or is the size of the deployments driving the discussion on the size of the Army?
In an ideal world, I’d like to see an Army with roughly twice the number of BCTs that we currently have. But that’s just a fantasy. Almost certainly, given the reduction of operations in Iraq, and the likelihood of a drawdown in Afghanistan soon, we’re going to see calls to drastically reduce the size of the Army. And the Army, rather than cutting into its institutions, will trim that size by reducing the number of BCTs. It will also resort to leaning out the manning of those BCTs. For instance, if an Infantry BCT is supposed to have 5000 men, the Army will deliberately only man them at say, 4750, or 4500 men. That short handedness hurts the unit, but it is a lot easier to bulk up a unit in an emergency, than to reconstitute a unit from scratch.
In any event, for 20 years, since the fall of the Berlin wall, we as a nation have deliberately kept the size of the Army quite small. While recruiting to fill the ranks of a half million man active duty seems challenging enough, it wasn’t that long ago we were able to recruit for a much larger Army, albeit with marginally looser standards. And ironically, as the size of the Army has shrunk, the number of missions it has been called upon to fulfill has grown greatly. While the number of troops stationed in Germany is a shadow of what it once was, we now have deployments throughout the world, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 90s, the Army found itself deploying brigades to the Balkans to provide stability to that troubled region, and we’re still there.
How far can we safely shrink our Army? What should be the balance between heavy, Stryker, and light formations? What current missions should the Army convince the political leadership to slough off? Where is the Army deployed or stationed that it shouldn’t be? Where should the Army be that it isn’t?
Slightly off topic, if I was Chief of Staff of the Army for one day, the first change I would make? I’d go from a 9 man rifle squad to an 11 man rifle squad.
From the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, the focus of the Army’s major acquisition program was on rebuilding the post-Vietnam force to face the challenges of the Soviet threat to Western Europe. In those days of extremely tight budgets, the Army had to exercise a remarkable degree of self discipline to decide which programs were really needed, and to shepherd them from conception to production and fielding. The Army’s challenge was to get the greatest possible increase in combat power with the smallest possible cost in dollars. Congress and the public were in no mood to support massive spending on defense, but the Army was in desperate need of new equipment. The only way the Army could convince the nation to support it was to have a well thought out plan, not just for acquisition, but how the Army would use that equipment, and why the programs supported had to be funded to implement that strategy.
In the end, as what later became known as the AirLand Battle doctrine began to gel, the Army focused on The Big Five- The M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle, the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter, the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and the MIM-104 Patriot surface to air missile system.
All five of these programs were controversial at the time, as each had a high unit cost, but by the early 1980s, it was clear that each program was successful, and while expensive, a wise investment.
Since the Big 5, there hasn’t been any successful major Army modernization programs (with the possible exception of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, the replacement for the old deuce-and-a-half and 5-ton trucks) . If you look at the major weapons for the Army today… It’s still M1s, M2s, UH-60s, and AH-64s, with Patriot still providing air defense.
The Army’s major procurement programs since then have mostly been a tale of woe. The poster child for letting ambition and requirements get out of touch with the state of the art, and the needs of the Army was the LHX program, which was originally designed to produce a family of helicopters that would replace the Huey, the Cobra, and the Kiowa. In the end, it was trimmed down to a light attack helicopter, the RAH-66 Comanche, but it was so hideously expensive, and filled such a niche role that it was superfluous to the real needs of the Army. But a program that runs for 20 years and costs untold billions of dollars is hard to kill. It took SecDef Rumsfeld a couple of stabs at the beast to finally slay it. Other programs that seemed to run forever included the Crusader howitzer project and the gigantic Future Combat System program.
The only procurement programs the Army seems to be able to run with anything resembling competence are those that are conducted outside the normal channels. such as the Stryker program (which was seen as an interim program until FCS came along) and quick reaction purchases such as the MRAP vehicle fleet and a lot of the personal equipment that the Army couldn’t find money for until it was in a shooting war (in spite of the fact that most of those purchases were relatively cheap).
Defense Professionals magazine has an OpEd on the Army’s programmatic woes.
This record of failure is all the more striking in view of the Army’s relative success with rapid acquisition of a variety of platforms and systems. The best known are the MRAP and M-ATV protected vehicles. But in many ways the acquisition of soldier clothing and individual equipment has been even more successful. PEO Soldier has demonstrated the ability to rapidly develop and deploy a range of new capabilities including remote weapons stations, enhanced low light/night vision goggles, man-portable robots, laser designators and cold weather clothing. Collaboration with third-party product integrators has resulted in an ability to rapidly meet a wide range of urgent operational needs for clothing and equipment at relatively low cost.
The question still unanswered is whether the broken peacetime acquisition system can be fixed. The Army has two major procurements coming soon. The first is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), the successor to the Future Combat System. The second is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) intended as the replacement for the lighter and less well protected Humvee. The GCV program has already been halted and restarted once. There are recent reports that the JLTV may be afflicted with that dreaded disease which has killed many Army programs in the recent past: changing requirements. The cost of the individual GCVs and JLTVs may also be a “killer.”
One of the hallmarks of recent troubled or failed programs in not just the Army, but all the services has been “families” of systems. Every time one of the services starts a program that is bound to be expensive, they add requirements to the capabilities in order to justify spending so much money on the program. But that drives up the technical challenges and the cost, both of research and development, and the eventual unit price and the life-cycle costs. And the added “capabilities” demanded add technical risk to the program, which always results in cost overruns, and adds additional oversight, reviews, and changes to the program, all of which add greatly to the cost and timeline of the program.
Examples of this bloat in requirements abound. The VH-71 Marine One helicopter program, the JSF, the Navy’s LCS program, the FCS family of systems, you name it.
The current Ground Combat Vehicle system program is setting itself up for failure in a similar fashion. The Army seems to have convinced itself that it can procure a common vehicle to be used both as the successor for the Abrams tank and the Bradley family of vehicles. While the Stryker family of vehicles comes in a wide variety of variants, the Army explicitly recognized that all variants would be compromises of one sort or another. But perfect tomorrow is the enemy of good enough today. But the GCV program doesn’t seem to recognize that.
Unless and until the Army can impose a disciplined set of realistic requirements, and stick to them, for each system and avoid at all costs overreaching and bloat in its programs, it is destined to fail again. While the Army and the other services have to operate under the ridiculously onerous DoD 5000 series of procurement regulations, they have also been their own worst enemies in acquisition. There are many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that are willing to spend limited resources to fund the Army, but only if the money is well spent. And until the Army can show a clear and compelling case for its procurement strategy, they won’t have earned that goodwill, from either Congress or the American people. The leadership of the Army would be well advised to study the history of the Big Five.
Universal Military Service would be a disaster for the Army. As long as I’ve been reading blogs, I’ve seen commenters arguing that the nation should bring back the draft. For several reasons, this would not be advisable. The electoral political problems are outside the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that there is not popular political support for the idea. But if there were some crazy confluence of opinion that brought it about, the supporters of the idea would quickly come to regret the decision.
Almost every discussion of universal military service claims it would be beneficial to the youth of America to serve the nation. But that isn’t the metric by which these things are measured. The only valid question is “does this improve the defense of the nation?” I’ve railed against social engineering in the service where “diversity” is proclaimed as a good in and of itself, and a goal that must be reached. No one has ever shown me the metric by which diversity makes a unit more combat ready. Most of my audience is politically conservative (as am I). How can we argue against using the military as an agent of social engineering in the case of diversity, then turn about and argue for a massive shift in our defense posture based solely on the desire to engage in social engineering of our own? If the draft isn’t implemented to improve the combat readiness of the Army, why do it? And if the draft can be shown to hurt combat readiness, doesn’t that mean that any supposed benefits to society are not worth the price?
The foremost problem with the idea of universal military service is that there are just too many people in the country compared to the size of the Army we’re willing to support. Our active Army is currently somewhat more than half a million troops, and a roughly similar size for the reserve components. Roll in the other branches of the service, and the total comes out to just under 1% of our population. For the Army to maintain its strength, it currently recruits roughly 1% of the seniors in high school, and a similar number of recent graduates. If we were to truly implement universal military students, we’d be looking at inducting somewhere around 47% of high school seniors. That’s a massive number of people, far beyond any capacity for the army to house, let alone train. How many male seniors graduate each year? And how many divisions would that amount to?
Further, large swaths of this population of seniors is unsuited for military service. Many suffer from health issues that would make them liabilities more than assets. Large numbers graduate from high school with such poor reading and math skills as to be virtually untrainable for even the most minor technical fields. Far too many have already had such encounters with law enforcement demonstrating the lack of moral fiber to be successful in the service. And of course, there are an enormous number of young Americans that are just too fat to make good soldiers. Under the current standards of service, just finding sufficient numbers of people qualified to serve is a challenge. What would we do with those people that are unsuitable? Our options would be to either drastically change the standards of service (thereby lowering combat readiness, and saddling commanders with troops that just can’t do the job) or exempt those unqualified under the current standards of service, and in effect, punish those folks who do meet the standards by forcing them into the service while others who made poor choices (ate too much, smoked dope, broke the law, failed to study) are rewarded with an exemption from service. That’s a perverse incentive system there, and one almost guaranteed to have unhappy second order consequences.
Any large increase in the number of soldiers will cost enormous sums of money. That’s money we just don’t have, and frankly, I don’t think the Chinese are all that willing to finance a large expansion of our military right now. Faced with a large increase in the end strength of the Army, the choice would be to raise and equip units to the standards we employ now, in terms of equipment and supporting logistics, at ruinous costs; or to raise large numbers of formations that are primarily infantry based, with a lesser standard of equipment and support (and probably lesser standards of training as well- training dollars and space to train troops ain’t cheap). But what would we do with these large, poorly equipped, poorly trained units? Are we willing to have two levels of competency in the Army? Regular units that are equipped and trained as they are today, and then large draftee units that, if committed to combat, would be certain to sustain higher casualties, and less likely to achieve their missions? I think not. It would neither raise the combat readiness of the Army, nor would it be fair to those people drafted.
Indeed, as much in favor as I am of a larger Army, what would the mission of all these units be? Having a large Army sitting around doing nothing isn’t very useful. It smacks of the worst sort of government make-work.
If we can’t accept ALL the available manpower into service, then the draft ceases to be Universal Military Service, and instead becomes Selective Service. But who would decide who would be selected? Almost invariably, a series of exemptions would be carved out that would allow either deferment or exemption from service. How likely is it that those exemptions would lead to the wealthiest, most privileged finding a way to avoid an unpleasant couple years of service, while the poorer (and more minority laden) slices of America would be more likely to be called to the colors? It was largely because of this injustice in how the draft was implemented that we went to an all-volunteer force in the first place. Further, loading up the Army with tens of thousands of inductees that feel that they are paying a price that the elites of the country don’t have to would build resentment. Tell me how that would help raise esprit de corps and contribute to combat readiness. Nobody ever said life in the Army was fair, but usually troops realize they’re getting screwed by the fickle finger of fate, not their friends and neighbors.
There is no practical way to implement a draft that would improve the combat readiness of the Army. I remain extremely proud of my service in the US Army. I strongly believe that most people that enlist will benefit from it. And I can recall more than once as a recruiter meeting young men and women that I wished I could compel to serve. I thought they would be an asset to the Army, and I thought that such service would benefit them as well. But there is no way devise a conscription that would be free from abuse and still help the Army recruit, train, equip, field and sustain a force second to none.
We’ve been conducting military operations against the regime in Libya for over a week now, and still the President has not sought the approval of Congress for this action. Some folks say this is an impeachable offense. Others say it is well within the President’s powers as Commander In Chief.
The Constitution clearly grants solely to Congress the power to declare war, and further grants to Congress the power to regulate the military. But the Constitution also clearly names the President as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces* As usual, the framers of the Constitution attempted to impose a balance of power between the branches of government, recognizing the need for a strong executive, but also hedging against too much concentration of power in the hands of one man.
The United States has been involved in wars, expeditions, quasi-wars and innumerable other military actions throughout its history, but has only actually declared war a handful of times. But in many cases, even when a formal declaration that a state of war exists between the United States and another sovereign nation, the Congress has passed what we now refer to as an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The most recent example of an AUMF is Iraq. Clearly, in those cases, the actions of the President were in line with the will of Congress. But what about military operations initiated by the President without congressional approval? My reading of the Constitution has always been that the founders clearly wanted to Congress to be responsive to popular will to act as a brake on military adventurism. But the founders also clearly wanted the President to be able to respond promptly to any attacks, and further, that once war was declared, to have the power to efficiently pursue it.
During the Cold War, it was seen as not only possible, but likely that the President would be faced with committing the United States to the deadliest war in history, with only minutes to act. The incredible speed and power of nuclear ballistic missiles meant any attempt to gain approval from Congress while under attack was impossible. And what of 9/11? As the nation was under attack by hijacked airliners, there clearly was no time to seek approval. These are obvious examples where I don’t think any of my readers would claim the President would need to seek approval to act. When the US itself is clearly under attack, I think we all want the President to be able to respond appropriately.
What about US forces in Germany during the Cold War? What if the Soviets starting crossing the border in the massive onslaught that the Army spent 50 years preparing for? Would the President need to go to Congress for approval when Germany is being invaded? Yes, I know that Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member is an attack on all, but who in our government is it that makes the determination that any attack is indeed an Article 5 violation? NATO’s governing body? If so, the US representative to that body is from the executive branch. Can the Congress delegate its power to declare war to a member of the executive branch, or a foreign body? As a practical matter, the inherent right to self defense that every military command holds would dictate that they would begin operations. But does that mean the President can deploy forces in such a manner that invites attack in order to avoid seeking Congressional approval?
When the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo in international waters, that was clearly a causus belli as understood in international law. But did that give the President sufficient cause to initiate operations against North Korea? Or would he have needed a declaration (of whatever sort) from Congress?
Or how about fighting secessionist states? Lincoln starting fighting the Civil War, and only later sought the blessings of Congress. If Texas suddenly seceded again, would the President be within his rights to invade, or would Congress properly have the power to determine the national response?
This is and always has been a grey area of the Constitution. There are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides, and from my cursory reading of history, the answer seems to be that the President can do whatever he can get away with. There are three primary checks against this broad interpretation of Presidential power. First, popular support. Few Presidents willingly go against overwhelming popular opposition to a policy (wars may become overwhelmingly unpopular, but they rarely start that way). Second, Congress still has to the power of the purse, and can act to defund any operations it truly objects to. And finally, impeachment. If the Congress is sufficiently convinced that the President has overstepped his authority, the Congress can impeach him and remove him from office. This is, of course, the court of last resort.
So what do you think? Where are the limits of Presidential power when initiating war?
*Extra Credit- The President has constitutional power as Commander in Chief over the Army and Navy. What about the Air Force? I presume he has statutory power, but the Constitution is silent on that matter. Is there a body of constitutional law that covers the Air Force?
The failure of the last Congress to pass a budget is having some pretty serious consequences for the Army.
There are two ways the CR hinders Army budgeting. For its operation and maintenance accounts, the Army simply doesn’t have enough money to cover its bills. In its investment accounts, which include procurement, the service lacks the authority to shift money to the programs that need it.
To keep funding high-priority programs, such as the various efforts to help families cope with the emotional and physical effects of war, the Army will have to shift base-operations funding.
If the Army has to operate under a Continuing Resolution (CR), there’s the obvious problem that funding won’t go up, but continue at previous levels. At a time when the federal budget has expanded at explosive rates, the DoD is being told it will be the first department to suffer. That’s the usual pattern.
And there are two flavors of CR, the 30 day variant, and the 12 month. The Army has had to operate under a series of 30 day CRs for a while now. So basically they have no idea if they’ll have any money for more than a month. It’s hard to plan when you have no idea if you’ll have any money next month…
But the real problem isn’t the total dollar amount. The problem is the way the money is structured. The Army has separate accounts for various purposes. And under the terms of the CRs, they can’t shift money from one account to another. The article mentions funding for buying Humvees versus rebuilding some. The Army would prefer to rebuild vehicles in the fleet rather than buy new. But because the money is in different accounts, it can’t without further Congressional authority. And the problems with contracting for new equipment aren’t just limited to the Army. When the Army can’t sign contracts for upgrades and new equipment, they also cause the contractors problems. Boeing doesn’t know when or if it will get contracts for helicopters, so it either has to pay its subcontractors with its own money, or not pay them at all. That increases costs and makes the acquisition process more expensive.
The failure of the last Congress is causing direct harm to readiness. And there likely isn’t much the new Congress can do to reverse that harm. But it can fulfill its fiduciary duty and pass a reasonable budget this year.
Via War News Updates