Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The End of the Military? Hardly

No doubt, you’ve all heard about the end of American dominance because of the upcoming military spending cuts. Forget it. That’s bull. Yes, the defense cuts will certainly mean some loss of capabilities, but that’s a meaningless point. What matters is whether or not we still have enough men and material to maintain our dominance over other countries and our superiority on the battlefield. And that we do.

Top of the World Ma!: First, let’s debunk this idea that somehow our budget is being gutted. Even after the cuts being proposed right now, the US will spend more on its military than all of the top militaries in the world combined. Notice the chart below, which is accurate.
But the raw numbers only tell part of the story. Running a military is expensive and you can’t do it in parts. For example, you can’t put to sea with only 10% of an aircraft carrier and buying one plane is not as effective as buying ten. In fact, the military needs to work as a single, complete machine to achieve its full capability. The less of that machine you own, the less capability you get, and it’s not a straight line drop-off.

Said differently, not every dollar spent projects the same value. Ergo, if a nation spends 10% of our budget, that doesn’t mean they get 10% of our capability. It more likely means they get 1% of our capability. So even if all the foreign military budgets combined equal ours, their capabilities don’t.

To give you a concrete example, consider this: the United States is the only country in the world that is capable of projecting force beyond its immediate neighbors. In other words, we are the only country that can transport troops overseas, send hardware, and reach anywhere in the world with our bombers and missiles. Even our big threats Russia and China are incapable of going anywhere their troops can’t drive to or walk to. In fact, even if you took the transport capabilities of every other country and combined them, you still couldn't do what we do. Ditto on navies and air forces and ground troops. Hence, even if everyone else in the world ganged up on us, their total military capabilities simply don’t compete with ours, even if their overall budgets combine to be about the same.

Not As Deep As You Think: Next, realize that the cuts are not as deep as you are being led to believe.

For example, the Army is going to be reduced to 450,000 soldiers: “That’s the lowest it’s been since before World War II!!” Yes, it is, but we were fighting an aggressive foe of equal size at the time – first the Nazis and then the Soviets. There's nothing like that now. Also, there is an apples and oranges number here. In 1940, the entire military (Army, Navy, Marines) was only 458,000. Today, the Army alone will be 450,000 before you add in the Navy, Marines and Air Force. Indeed, even after the cuts, we’ll still have more active duty personnel than any country except China and India.

FYI, the number of aircraft carriers will remain the same at around 11 (depends on how you count them). Russia and China combine for 2.

To give you a perspective, the Army is being cut about 14%. At its current size, our military has been able to fight a 13 year war in Afghanistan and fight a war in Iraq, while defending Korea and Europe and projecting US power all over the globe. A 14% reduction should not be a problem, given the wind down in Afghanistan.

Further, contrary to popular belief, less than half of the “troops” in the army aren't what you think of as soldiers. Most are clerks or support, and DoD seems intent on reducing their numbers first. In fact, DOD is looking to expand the special forces.

Not The Same Weapons: A lot of the screaming is about scaled back programs. But it's important to realize that we don’t always need new weapons. For example, American aircraft are generations ahead of the competition and no one can compete with us. We dominate the skies and no one has the budget to catch up to us. Thus, there is no significant pressure to keep buying newer and newer planes. Also, there is a massive shift underway from manned aircraft to drones. Drones are much cheaper to build and operate, don’t endanger the lives of pilots, and are proving to have excellent capabilities. The future is drones, missiles and missile defense, not snazzier fighters. So we shouldn’t be rushing out to buy hundreds of billion dollar aircraft until we’re sure they will be the most effective use of those dollars.

Other equipment is similar. The M1-Abrams tank was first put into service in 1980, but it’s still the world class... no one comes close. So why replace it? Instead, you do what we’ve been doing, which is improving the model with each generation. The modern engine, for example, uses 40% fewer parts than the original engine. There are electronic systems on this tank that weren’t even conceived of when it was made. And there have been dozens of other upgrades. Our aircraft are the same – more advanced radar systems, better missiles, better defenses. Our ships are much more capable than they’ve ever been in history. The point is, you don’t always need a new program to stay ahead of the world. So when you hear screaming about cancelled programs or reduced buys, the real question is whether or not we really needed those to stay ahead. Nothing I’ve seen getting cancelled has been needed.

A “Safer” World: Also, keep in mind that there are fewer military threats today, which means we need less to guarantee our security. From the 1960s through the 1980s, we needed to fend off communists in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, defend Europe from a possible Warsaw Pact invasion, defend South Korean from North Korea, contain China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. Today, most of that is gone. Our threats today are Iran, North Korea, China and Russian bullying... if we care. That’s a short list that allows us to reduce our capabilities some because we no longer need to watch everything on the planet. Indeed, the real enemy today is Muslim fundamentalism, and as we’re learning, that can’t be fought militarily.

So what is my point with this article? Well, it’s this: don’t panic.

Everyone wants to scare you with "the end of America!" these days, but these cuts aren’t that. Even after these cuts, we will still have the men and material needed to maintain our dominance over other countries and our superiority on the battlefield. No one compares to us, and no one will because they aren’t trying. And as more of the world integrates economically and moves into the realm of middle class countries, the dangers of the world recede. So while it is true that these cuts will eliminate some capabilities, they won’t ultimately make the nation any less safe or secure. That’s not to say we shouldn’t monitor them carefully to make sure, but let’s not panic and tell the world we’re weak when we aren’t.


Tennessee Jed said...

good points. It becomes more of a political issue than reality. Politicians love to scare voters.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, It does. And it's dangerous. The surest way to end up in a war is to tell the world that you are weak. And right now, everyone on both sides of the spectrum are screaming about us being militarily, economically and "courageously" weak. That's a bad thing.

Critch said...

All good points. My little squadron in Memphis had more C-17s than the entire RAF. With all the griping about getting rid of the A-10, these armchair pilots forget that it came online in 1979 and it is vulnerable to modern AA weapons. It's still a great airplane, but we can't keep it around for nostalgia...our nuclear weapons program needs some work, but mostly on the human level. The Air Force for sure and probably the Navy have really botched how they handled the folks who handled their nukes..for years, 22 at least, they have been told they were irrelevant in a modern military, how do you counteract that? If Chine gets very aggressive around Japan they will find their shiny new aircraft carrier is a big target, as well as all the support vessels. Japan has a good navy, a very good navy. Part of me would love to see the Baltic States, Ukraine and Turkey turn on Russia and give them some back, the Russian military is a mess right now. I'm not sure they could hold. People seem to want to idolize Putin, he's an old KGB colonel, I don't think he's real bright, I don't think he's stupid, but he is a showman.

BevfromNYC said...

Hence, even if everyone else in the world ganged up on us, their total military capabilities simply don’t compete with ours, even if their overall budgets combine to be about the same.

Said every former superpower throughout history...

Kit said...


Let's look at the countries listed. There are 10: China, Russia, UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil
It should be noted that four of those countries, UK, France, Germany, and Italy, are members of NATO and all of them are in the EU which ties them economically to NATO. 3 are on the Euro.

After that you have Japan which is a military ally of the US with the new Prime Minister working to have a closer relation with the US in the face of China.

And the US has been moving closer economically and militarily to India to split them off from the Chinese (and because Pakistan is a basket case).

That leaves Brazil, China, and Russia. Brazil is not America's closest friend in Latin America but its not exactly a sworn enemy.

BevfromNYC said...

Kit - The militaries of Germany and Japan have been limited to domestic security and "humanitarian aid" since that little kerfuffle called WWII. The UK, well they are too busy living the glory days of Queen Elizabeth I and their former military might. And let's be honest, France (and I don't mean any disrespect) will just surrender anyway. Remember that Western Europe is beholden to Russia for most of their energy needs. And with the Middle East joining the Russian allies, they could freeze Europe out literally. Fortunately Spring and Summer are coming.

All China has to is foreclose on US and they win. I still think we should give them California, but that's just me.

And I don't mean to be an alarmist, but just last week, Russian naval ships entered the harbor in Havana to lend support to Cuban in their "support" to the dictatorial regime in Venezuela to quell the "unrest" of anti-government "protesters". Is this sounding familiar {{**cough, cough**Ukraine**cough, cough**}}}

So, now that Russia has openly entered South America militarily, that, does not bode well. Oh, I know, that's what we do all the time...but hey, did you know the Poles are gladly welcoming the US military today and by "today", I mean right now on March 12...

I realize that I am rambling...

Kit said...

First, a word on our debt to China. Then I'll get to the rest.

China is the largest foreign owner of US debt and owns a fair share of it, $1.317 Trillion. However, our National Debt is $17.479 Trillion that means means China owns, and I did the math here*, only 8% of our debt.

Japan also a little less of our debt followed by several foreign nations that add up to about 30+% as of March 2013. The majority of it (60+%) is owned by US federal agencies, state and local governments, and the American people. Hooray, I guess.

Not great news but its not the apocalypse.

*I had to do the math myself because no news source would. It took some searching to find the March 2013 figure. The number of news sources that mention the actual percentage of are surprisingly rare.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Critch!

I agree. There are definitely some things that need to be streamlined and improved, but that is again a different issue that just the overall size of the budget. I am actually encourage by the shift in thinking (1) toward the Pacific and (2) toward more special forces troops. I just don't see any huge land wars (and certainly not in Europe) in the future.

I also agree about China. If push comes to shove, they will learn very quickly that that their aircraft carrier isn't worth jack the moment the Japanese or an American sub or missile find it. And the more they mess around, the more the Japanese are looking at building a full-sized military.

Agreed on the Russians -- they are a mess. Look at how they've struggled in places like Chechnya and Georgia... hardly world powers. Look also at how incredibly poorly their equipment has fared in places like Iraq and Syria.

On the A-10, I love the A-10, but I also understand that it's out of date and the military has been trying to dump it for at least 15 years now. As you say, nostalgia isn't a reason to hang onto military hardware.

I think the key to remember is two things. First, let's not get carried away with doomsdaying. That only encourages the bad guys. Secondly, the real questions we need to ask (and I know the military does ask this) is how do we keep making our military more powerful and more capable of meeting the challenges of the future, not "how big is it."

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Our military post cuts is still more powerful than our military that was 10 times larger during WWII and even more powerful than the military double it's size in the 1970s and 1980s. And that's without the same enemies facing us.

And by enemies, I'm talking about this huge aggressive nations like Russia who were spending 25% of their GDP just to compete with us. We face different threats today than we did when we needed that much more manpower. Plus, even after these cuts, we'll still have the third largest military by personnel size -- right now we are second.

I'm not saying that we should just blindly slash away, but I am saying that this is not a reason to panic. It is a reason to pay attention and to make sure the results don't create a danger.

Kit said...


re Japan's military

Japan is led by a hardline Nationalist government that in recent years that has resulted in (1) a more antagonistic relationship with China and (2) announced a military build-up to "stand up to China".

Not exactly the pacifistic state they were 20 years ago. Memories of World War 2 are fading.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Let me address this point by point.

1. The militaries of Germany and Japan have been limited to domestic security and "humanitarian aid" since that little kerfuffle called WWII. The UK, well they are too busy living the glory days of Queen Elizabeth I and their former military might. And let's be honest, France (and I don't mean any disrespect) will just surrender anyway.

Yep. What this means is that they are pointless and not a threat to us. So remove their budgets and suddenly the "world against us" side is down to a third of our budget.

2. All China has to is foreclose on US and they win. I still think we should give them California, but that's just me.

I'm happy to give then California. That said, the thing about the debt is that it's on paper. If China went to war with us, we stop paying and their budget and their currency collapses. That's a huge incentive for them not to do anything stupid.

3. I don't mean to be an alarmist, but just last week, Russian naval ships entered the harbor in Havana to lend support to Cuban in their "support" to the dictatorial regime in Venezuela to quell the "unrest" of anti-government "protesters".

Yep. And this was one single, rusting ship. The statement this made was really just how impotent the Russians are these days. It's like those two Iranian ships coming to our water -- it just demonstrates how they are nothing compare to us.

4. you know the Poles are gladly welcoming the US military today

The Poles are a different place than the Ukraine. It was never realistic that the US would lift a finger to help the Ukraine, but Poland has become an integral part of Europe and it has American installations. Poland is off limits, the Ukraine isn't. That's why Putin picked the Ukraine. It would be like us roughing up Guam just to flex our muscles.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I had to do the math myself because no news source would.

When it comes to China (and formerly Japan and before that the Soviets), the media loves to run with doomsday statements and never bothers to actually look into things. I've pointed out several times that China is in no way the power that people have been told. Its economy is barely enough maintain internal stability. Its military is large but useless. Its foreign influence was growing until they started pissing off the locals wherever they went. Its future is problematic because its population will crash. And the amount of debt they hold only makes them dependent on us, not the other way around.

On Japan, that situation worries me. I am worried that the Japanese are about to start an arms race over there which could well lead to a regional war, which will bring us in.

Anthony said...

I think its pointless to worry about other country's military spending. We are far ahead, everyone knows it and no one is willing and able to spend the money it would take to close the gap.

The big challenge for our military isn't other uniformed militaries in conventional wars, it is non-state actors like Al Queda. On a related note, occupations are a lot harder than wars.

For example, knocking over Iran wouldn't take much, but the occupation would make Afghanistan and Iraq look like a day at the beach (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has an extremely strong tradition of suicide bombing).

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I think that's right. At this point, no one is even trying to catch up to us because it's basically economically impossible. It's not just a matter of buying more stuff, the problem for them is the stunning cost of inventing competitive stuff first. And then you need to buy it, learn to use it, and find a way to project it. There is no one who is capable of that.

The real danger is the "asymmetrical" stuff -- terrorism, cyber war, drones, disruptive attacks, etc. Those are the new military dangers, and that is where we need to focus our attentions.

Agreed on Iran. It would be easy to take them out. But holding the country is another matter.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - Don't get me wrong. Warfare has changed in the 20 years and our military industrial complex must adjust to meet that change. As Anthony states, conventional border warfare is a relic of the past and over. We are back to guerrilla warfare that can strike at any moment at any place at any time. And btw, the reason other Western countries have smaller militaries because that's what they depended on us for. Do you really think that Canada has to allocate much to their military and domestic security? No, because they know they are protected under the umbrella of our missile defense systems and we cowboys will ride in a save the day.

And I know you think that old Russian rust bucket is laughable, but that's optics. The Russian Navy has a formidable nuclear sub program and they really, really want dominion over the Arctic oil. Oh btw, what other country has a rich oil industry...Venezuela. Look, I don't think we should go to war with Russia over Ukraine, but I also think that it is foolhardy to be so blasé and dismissive about it .

Koshcat said...

I completely agree with you Andrew and I have been railing against the perpetual build up of the military for years. We don't need as large a land force that we currently have. I would prefer to focus on Navy/Coast guard because free waters equals free trade. The air force because in every modern battle controlling the skies are important. I agree with increasing drone use and also add in to this area space force. I would like to see the army down to almost 0 and instead focus more money on National Guard. They are more useful for day-to-day issues for Americans (natural disasters) and they can be mobilized to active duty rapidly. I would get rid of most "special forces" and focus time, energy, money on Marines. Each branch doesn't need its own special forces; they have them because of ego. The marines are the first ground troops you would send in to another country. Keep them well trained and mobile.

I agree that we don't always need to absolute newest product but would still would continue pushing for improvements. The stealth bomber is expensive but how awesome is it we can fly them out of Missouri to the other side of the world, bomb the crap out of them, fly home. No special bases just mid-air refueling. I would like to see our nuclear weapons system re-evaluated. Do we really need missile silos with current technology in submarines? Does it make sense to focus on large multi-megaton, multi-entry warheads or would low level "tactical" nukes be more useful. Finally, are we really prepared for something like an EMP. Protect equipment and this becomes a useless weapon.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I'm not being blasé or dismissive about it. This article was written in response to the truly shrill stuff I'm hearing all over talk radio... pure doomsdayism. Indeed, these guys are screaming the most insane crap about our military basically being disbanded and becoming second class. The prevailing chicken-little wisdom is that we are "giving up our military dominance" to "rising powers" like Russia and China. That's total crap and I want to point it out.

The truth is that Russia remains a rusting paper tiger. The only danger they pose to us is nuclear. China is the bigger threat, yet their budget is tiny compared to ours, their reach is limited, and they simply lack the capabilities to fight us or the technology to catch up to us. And even with these cuts, there is still no one who can match us militarily.

What we need to be looking at now is how do we meet the dangers that we're actually likely to encounter rather than wasting money pretending that another European land war is imminent. In that regard, there has been a tremendous investment in information gathering equipment, like drones, in weapons that let you destroy the enemy without endangering our own troops, and which allow a smaller, more mobile force to do serious damage with a great deal of speed -- exactly the kinds of capabilities you need to fight asymmetrical wars.

Again, I'm not saying, "Hey, cut away." What I'm saying is that these cuts are in no way what the guys on the radio are screaming -- they are not the end of our dominance and they will not neuter our military. Moreover, what we should be asking is "do we have the capabilities we need and how do we make them more effective." Not, "how much are we spending" and "how many troops do we have."

Koshcat said...


I'm not singling you out, but I'm going to defend the French a little. They lost 10% of their adult males in WWI with 1.4 million soldier deaths and another 4.3 million wounded. In WWII they lost about 1.4% of their population compared to UK at 0.9% and US at 0.3%. About 35,000 French troops helped cover the Dunkirk Evacuation. They allowed most of the British units to evacuate and about 100,000 French soldiers. Those left behind were prisoners of war for the rest of the war. The French have their problems and I don't always trust them. But I think the story that they are cowards is greatly overblown and unfair. We don't say the same about the Russians although they had far more territory overran and had somewhere between 8-13 million troop deaths and 4-9 million civilian deaths (10-15% of the total population).

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Bev, as an aside, Venezuelan oil (like Iranian oil) is dirty oil (heavy with sulfur) and requires a ton of processing, so it's not very desirable on the world market. Also, don't worry about the Russians, worry about the Chinese who have been buying up the Venezuelan oil industry.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Koshcat!

In terms of what the military should look like, I tend to trust the military planners. They've done a really good jobs since the 1940s and they seem to be doing an amazing job today. So if the Pentagon says they can eliminate a division, I tend to believe them. If they say they want more special forces and fewer regular forces, I believe them. If they say they don't need a weapons system, I believe them.

In terms of procurement, I am periodically involved in the procurement arena and I can tell you that the military is super active in making sure it is staying on the forefront of technology. Unfortunately, people tend to focus on a couple big projects as a proxy for "technology" -- like the F-22. But that's not really where you get the most bang for the buck. The real improvements come from small things like the introduction of drones to provide troops with information and constant overhead support, improvements in armor plating or weapon accuracy, dramatic improvements in radar systems, robotics, field medicine, etc. And in those things, the military is intensely active in R&D.

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to get an F-22 every generation, but the real value of technology is in the millions of small improvements that no one but the military pays attention to.

AndrewPrice said...

Wow, first we had to defend a member of the Bush family and now the French. Where did this blog go wrong?!! LOL!

In all seriousness, I think the idea that the French are cowards came from the speed of their collapse once the Nazis marched through, and then wasn't helped when they refused to join NATO, got whooped at Dien Bien Phu, neutered their military spending along with the rest of Europe, and then refused to help in the first Gulf War.

I can't say it's fair to call them cowards for that, but it is the prevailing mood.

tryanmax said...

A couple things.

On foreign debt, the pundits almost always get it backwards. It's the debtor nation that is likely to go to war--to throw off its debts--not the indebted nation. I've said for years now that the way to get the peaceniks onto the conservative side is to press this historical fact and scaremonger a bit.

On military spending, I couldn't agree with the article more. I am so tired of the radio talkers screaming falsehoods about the precariousness of our military position. It's taken as gospel among most conservatives I meet that we are just one misplaced penny away from being overrun by (enemies). It's upheld by some mangled tortoise v. hare reasoning where the US is a neurotic hare afraid that slowing up will lead to Rip Van Winkle napping. (Sorry to mix my analogies, but it worked.)

Kit said...


Re France, are you referring to the 1991 Gulf War or the 2003 Invasion?

I know they refused to let Reagan use their airspace to bomb Libya.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, On the debt, what I think people forget is that the guy really holding the risk of loss is the guy who loaned the money. If we went to war with China or even just got upset enough at them, we just refuse to pay them back and they lose the money. Their only recourse is to not loan us more in the future. Sure, that's not good for our credit, but it would crush the Chinese economy and government.

On spending, I concur. Talk radio is selling this idea that we are literally only a handful of dollars away from essentially being disarmed. That's why I wrote the article, to remind people that this simply is not true. And pretending that it is only scares people and encourages the bad guys. What I'm hoping, with the article, is to point out why this idea is completely false.

And let me say again, this does not mean that we can just cut willy-nilly. What it means is that we need to get smarter about the questions we are asking. Rather than asking: "how many dollars/ships/planes/men do we have?" we need to be focused on what we need them to do and do we have what we need to achieve that mission.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I should have been more clear. France participated in the first one, but constantly complained and then stood in the way of the second, to the point that US military and diplomatic personnel were getting upset at them. In 2003, the US wanted to take out Saddam, but the French said there was no proof to support such an action. At the time, US Secretary of State Jed Babbin said, "going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion."

True, I recall the Libya thing too.

Koshcat said...

"I would rather have a German division in front of me, than a French one behind." Attributed to Patton but probably never said it.

The French are a pain in the ass, no doubt. I also think they have grown up with such an aversion to war they have gone too far the other direction. Now their finances are so screwed up they are ripe for something bad.

El Gordo said...

I´m sorry, but I´m hearing too many sentences that start with "We still are...".

You cannot easily quantify the margin of safety (or "dominance") in military affairs. Do not forget that our margin needs to be huge because our enemies rely on asymmetric warfare and attrition. For example, you do not pit carriers against carriers, you pit them against whatever combination of means the enemy has. And being able to do so requires a huge margin. Maximum capabilities, the best training. Because we can´t take attrition. Therefore, if we reduce the margin of safety, we increase the danger of losing even against nominally weaker foes.

An enemy may not be able to occupy far away places but they can make trouble and then make themselves impregnable. They don´t even have to be right. It´s bad enough if they wrongly believe they can get away with it. The belief that Americans can´t take casualties has been a constant encouragement for our enemies since before WW2 and the knowledge that we don´t have to take many casualties to kick ass has been our insurance.

I hope they will cut only the right things but this is a moneysaving exercise and nothing else. For the sake of saving a tiny percentage of our annual deficit. I mean, I´m delighted that all of a sudden $10 billion are a lot of money again. but as long as this applies only to defense what good does it so? How many government programs cost more than a nuclear submarine? Ok, how many that you can name?

As for the likelihood of war and the ability to foresee threats, show some humility. The US were the only nuclear power and still had to fight a land war in Korea. Think about the world in 1982, how easily Britain could have lost the Falklands war and how dreadful the consequences would have been. Was that conflict predictable just five years earlier? Did anyone fear Argentina? You don´t know which combination of events will lead to war. You don´t know who will run a country in ten years. Not even ours.

El Gordo said...

"The surest way to end up in a war is to tell the world that you are weak. And right now, everyone on both sides of the spectrum are screaming about us being militarily, economically and "courageously" weak. That's a bad thing."

Up to a point, but the Russians, Chinese or Iranians make their own assessment and do not rely on US blogs or even newspapers. They have professionals too.

When Americans worried about the bomber gap and the missile gap, the Russians knew better. In retrospect, did it hurt us to worry to much? I don´t think so.

tryanmax said...

Gordo, thank you for providing an example of the tortured tortoise v. hare logic I alluded to earlier. The good of being out in front militarily is obvious, and no one here wants to sacrifice that. Truth be told, for all the pacifist rhetoric, few liberals want to lose it. But at this point, the political right has adopted the military policy of, at best, chasing our own tail, and at worst, running from our own shadow. If that seems like a distinction without a difference, so much the better for my point.

If you'll allow me to keep mixing metaphors, these budget cuts don't represent a U-turn for our military, or even applying the breaks. This is simply easing up on the throttle at a point where our rear view is practically empty.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I don't know anything about the French youth. I can tell you though that the German protestations of pacifism are not accurate. They THINK they are pacifists, but on a personal level I find Germans to be highly aggressive and easily led. I don't think Germany has any war plans, but I don't doubt that they would fight is they saw a reason.

El Gordo said...

"On the A-10, I love the A-10, but I also understand that it's out of date and the military has been trying to dump it for at least 15 years now. As you say, nostalgia isn't a reason to hang onto military hardware."

It was very useful in every conflict since the first Gulf War. Vulnerable to handheld missiles? That was the case in 1989. Didn´t matter so far. The Apache helicopter has suffered far more losses from handheld weapons and we are not getting rid of that. I simply haven´t seen the rationale for scrapping the A-10. If it is about money, let´s be honest about it.

El Gordo said...

"Agreed on the Russians -- they are a mess. Look at how they've struggled in places like Chechnya and Georgia... hardly world powers. Look also at how incredibly poorly their equipment has fared in places like Iraq and Syria."

They don´t get points for style but they haven´t struggled worse than we did in similar circumstances. Moreover, they are still there and not going anywhere. We used to call that "winning".

As for their equipment, it is not great but there are other factors. Western equipment didn´t win wars in the hands of Iranians or Vietnamese while French equipment was effective in the hands of Israelis in 1967. If the Israels had had Soviet equipment they still would have won.

Besides, in the Cold War we denied them access to western technology. Remember the Toshiba affair? Today nations like China or Russia can use the best software, electronics, machine tools, materials and supplier networks the world economy can provide. That must count for something.

El Gordo said...

"For example, knocking over Iran wouldn't take much, but the occupation would make Afghanistan and Iraq look like a day at the beach (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran has an extremely strong tradition of suicide bombing)."

Yes, but there is no reason why the "knockin over" part must be followed by an occupation. The goal is not regime change. It is to keep them from having nukes. Clear incentives not to go down that road could include bombing oil installations, assassination, giving aid and comfort to some of their many unhappy minorities, hitting their proxies in Lebanon and Gaza .... and not crapping on Israel. It would be brutal, though. Lots of starving children and ruined business opportunities for Europeans. Which is why nothing will happen and many countries may go nuclear in our lifetimes. One way or the other we will pay a price.

It doesn´t matter what we "could" do as long as everyone knows we will not actually do it.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, Good points, but let me respond.

First, I agree that we need a huge margin of error for precisely the reason you state. And I do agree that these budget cuts are a cost saving thing imposed by the rest of the government, not a military decision. But we do have a massive dominance in terms of size, fire power, and technology, and those things can't be easily match -- or likely matched at all. So when the Pentagon says that they can handle these cuts, I tend to accept that. Moreover, keep in mind, they aren't stopping their spending, they are just slowing it. And if anyone was in a position to say if the cuts are too deep, it would be the Pentagon.

As I said several times, that doesn't mean we just blindly trust and assume all is well. No. Instead, what it means is that we need to monitor the cuts closely and make sure that we aren't losing things we need to maintain our dominance and keep out troops safe on the field. But we should not be screaming about the end of the world with no real basis except that these are cuts -- which is what talk radio is doing. Seriously, to hear these guys, you would think Obama just disbanded the military and sold all their weapons.

Secondly, while I agree that these cuts were imposed as a budget device, there actually is more going on than just cuts. This is mainly just an aside to the article, but the Pentagon has been changing its focus. For one thing, they're dropping the idea of fighting two ground wars simultaneously and are instead going with the idea of fighting one and holding the other in check. They are focusing more on asymmetrical enemies by shifting from infantry divisions to special forces. And they're shifting to the Pacific, which means a bigger role for the Navy and smaller role for the Army.

On predicting wars, let me clarify. The idea of another massive ground war against an equal enemy, such as the Soviets or Nazi, is remote at best. Moreover, the chance of a real war is virtually nonexistent in most of the world these days... something that wasn't true even as late as the 1980s when the Soviets were causing problems all over the globe. That doesn't mean we might not end up fighting a real war in China, Iran or Cuba or a handful of other countries, but it does mean that can change our planning from the idea of a World War to more of a small-country war.

In terms of the bloggers, there are two things to consider. First, there was an admiral the other day who made this very complaint because he said too many politicians and even some military men kept screaming about our weakness, and he made the point that if you say something enough, people begin to believe it. Secondly, it does us no good to mislead voters into a panic so that they start to behave irrationally when it comes to the military. And telling them that we've neutered the military and that the Pentagon can't be trusted to tell the truth is the very thing that will lead people to act irrationally.

El Gordo said...

"This is simply easing up on the throttle at a point where our rear view is practically empty."

Tryanmax, of course one can make too much of these cuts. Of course there must be a reasonable limit to military size and spending. My point is that an empty rear view means very little. The wars we anticipated didn´t happen and the wars that happened weren´t anticipated. It is a historical view not a right wing one.

Secondly, we have been on the brakes for over twenty years, Iraq notwithstanding. Our navy has been shrinking for many years, ships and aircraft are getting old and worn out, we have given up on certain capabilities - all within reason so far, but I doubt we are on a sustainable path. It is spending on consumption - which is what entitlements are - that is crowding out discretionary defense spending. Soon we will pay more for debt service than defense. To rape some metaphors myself, are we applying the brakes or are we already selling the family silver?

tryanmax said...

To respond to your last question, I simply defer to the entire discussion up til now. I agree that history shows that the greatest threats are the unanticipated ones. However, by their very nature, one cannot prepare for them. No number of tanks, ships, and aircraft will prepare you for the attack designed to subvert them all. What good is it to point woefully at the old neglected things when the one thing we know for certain is that those are the very things which will prove useless in time? The best thing we can do is have more and better of what is current while working on something new and unexpected ourselves.

One other point not really made up to this point, but in every other facet of life, "cheaper" is always a factor contributing toward "better." For some reason, people don't apply that equation to the military, but I don't believe the military is the exception. It is simple thrift that when you find a way to do something more cheaply, you save the difference rather than scramble for a different way to spend it and then some.

El Gordo said...

Andrew, I promise I haven´t listened to talk radio :-)

When you say "And they're shifting to the Pacific, which means a bigger role for the Navy and smaller role for the Army" I´m pretty sure it doesn´t mean a bigger navy?

I´m not one of those who are against any cut. Really. We have seen lots of wasteful and misguided spending, although that in turn doesn´t increase my trust in the Pentagon. I also agree that incremental improvements are often enough. I never liked the word "transformational", it sounds too much like the powerpoint bs I get at work. I´m just worried about old airframes and ships and other hardware reaching the end of their life cycle all at once and we seem unprepared. We seem to spend insane amounts only to end up with fewer actual ...stuff. Numbers. Units. Take a predicatable flop like the Littoral Combat Ship - there´s a program we could have cut earlier but we are still building it. Fewer than planned, naturally, but still at the price of a ship that would have been capable. Or we replace the perfectly fine (but old) P-3 with an all new aircraft that has fewer capabilities. Correct me if I´m wrong.

If I had reason to believe it will get better ... that would be something.

Here´s a question and an anecdote: Until the 1970s, when airplanes were designed on drawing boards, we managed to produce dozens of successful specialized designs that often were cutting edge (think SR-71). And we built them in numbers. Now in the age of high tech we spend insane amounts and decades to design a single airplane. Design, not build. We counter that by hoping it is able to do everything. Sounds to me like we should literally get back to drawing boards. Why?

I once met a Dutch engineer who may have provided the answer. He worked for an aerospace company in Michigan, must have been the late 1990s. There was a process where the computer had to convert 3D designs into 2D drawing (or maybe the other way around) which used to take a few hours. This engineer was used to let the computer work at night and check the results in the morning. But the American engineers would start the program in the morning, spent a few hours relaxing, then checked the results (putting in overtime, you know) before going home. The Dutch guy wasn´t impressed by their productivity. Must have been a defense contractor.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, They are continuing to build new navy vessels every year. In terms of aircraft carriers, they have 11. One is brand new 5 others entered service in the 1990s or 2000s. You can't call those old. Two others are planned (5 years and 10 years) to replace the oldest two (1975, 1977), which have been refit to be modernized. They keep building other ships too. And I believe they just launched a new sub too.

On the A-10, they've been trying to retire those since the first Gulf War because the Pentagon thinks they are too dangerous.

On why it costs so much and why you can't just draw the planes anymore is because the planes they are designing these days are not that simple. Most aren't even aerodynamic and require strong computer systems just to keep them in the air. Parts are actually engineered at the micron level. Basically, it's beyond the ability of a human to design a modern fighter on paper.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I'm glad you aren't listening to talk radio. I hear it all the time because people around me listen to it. I has become a vast wasteland of idiocy, hate and insanity.

El Gordo said...

I know that about modern combat aircraft. I was not serious about going back to drawing boards. Still, the airplanes of the 60s and 70s were extremely advanced for their time and "time to market" was still a lot shorter. And the attributes you mention have existed for twenty years now. One would expect the cost to come down eventually. Instead what is coming down is options and numbers built. I´m just wondering.

Besides other programs like the LCS (a real procurement disaster) and the P-8 have similar problems. In this case bad decisions were definitely to blame.

I think my argument bolsters yours, namely that incremental development and/or specialized platfoms are often better. As an example of the latter, the F22 was very expensive but it was designed to do one thing, air superiority, and it is entirely successful. The additional cost of building 250 more would not have been that remarkable...

Of course I´m not the expert but I´m having a hard time deferring to the Pentagon. I have yet to see a corporation that doesn´t suffer from personal agendas, yes-men and mission creep. Lots of corporations or bureaucracies filled with well meaning and competent people have made and defended mistakes that good observers could identify. It goes without saying that outside observers can also be entirely wrong.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I've had the chance to speak to engineers in that very field and they say the reason for the high costs are the last little bits. For example, getting a plane that flies X MPH is relatively easy. Then every MPH you add on top of that becomes exponentially more expensive to produce. It's the last 5% of the performance they are demanding that is often the price killer.

That's also why catching up with us is not as easy as people think. People tend to think that catching up is a bit like two burger companies copying each other, but that's not the case. If China wants similar planes, they need to work their way through generations of those last 5% improvements that they haven't done.

By and large, incremental improvements tend to give the biggest bang for their buck. Then, every once in a while, you take a generational hop -- like the F-22.

In terms of the Pentagon having personal fiefs, that's true of every organization. But I trust them a lot more than I trust the political process. The political process has always worked the same -- "we must build whatever weapon system is made in my district." That's no way to make sure the military gets what it needs. The Pentagon at least works on studies, massive amounts of input, and IG oversight. They've also proven to be quite responsive to what the troops tell them.

tryanmax said...

Oh no! The Swedes have us beat! /sarc

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That was an interesting article because it has one small valid point about upgrading software, which it then wraps in a whole lot of BS and false hyperbole.

As an aside, that's actually an interesting plane because it's capable of rough landings on dirty roads and the such. But software updates and cheap acquisition costs can't make up for a lack of capabilities.

tryanmax said...

The thing that jumped out at me is that the Saab plane is put together using technologies from several Western allies, including the US. Isn't that what alliances are for?

One of the most common complaints from conservatives is that our country is shouldering the military burden of the entire West, but then they turn around and insist that we must maintain that superiority even over our allies. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. We know who are friends are and who they aren't.

AndrewPrice said...

In all honesty, the conservative complaints are coming from a position of ignorance. They have no idea what is really going on in terms of procurement and technological development. They have no idea what our allies do or don't do, what we are capable of, or what our enemies are capable of. They just want to scream about everything.

Take Russia. I hate to agree with Obama on anything, but he is absolutely right about Russia (in a statement today): Russia is a regional power who causes problems in their own neighborhood, they are not the Soviet menace that conservatives want to believe. Yet, talk radio is obsessed with Obama failing to see the rise of the Cold War all over again only this time with bad Putin schooling us militarily (as opposed to good Putin who hates gays). Give me a break. Russia's military is pathetic, their economy is fragile, and their demographics have neutered the country. They are built to rough up tiny, defenseless countries. That's it.

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