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Weapons’ Not Bright Future

July 28, 2008

Danger Room reveals sizable cuts in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) budget of many millions. DARPA has for decades been a source of US military’s advanced weapons, many of which helped us win the Cold War and is seeing us to victory in this new world war on terrorism. Also we learn that the excessive cost of the US Navy’s high tech Zumwalt class stealth destroyers will likely force continued production a previous class of warships, the Arleigh Burkes, nearly 60 vessels in the works since 1991.

It becomes incresingly evident these are all signs that the military is unable to produce new technology and release it into the hands of our fighting forces in time for the wars we are fighting now. Almost none of the major defense projects underway before the start of the War on Terror has had any bearing on the conflict at all, some 7 years later. Other than the Navy’s fine F-18 Super Hornet, itself a retread of the 1970’s Hornet light fighter, none have even seen combat, including the USAF’s much touted F-22 Raptor.

The attitude in the military seems to be to try and deter wars with daunting and high tech weaponry. When such a wishful strategy fails, as it often does, the boots on the ground are often left with antiquated weapons left over from the last war (the A-10 Warthog), or the rare low tech platform rushed into the service (like Stryker armored cars and MRAP vehicles) just in time to make a difference.

The more technical services like the Air Force and Navy seem to look on the insurgency wars we frequently find ourselves involved in with casual boredom. They are eager to end such conflicts so they can return to “real” warfighting. This also includes periodic changes in strategies ( though little change in weapon’s procurement), endless excesses to prepare for the really Big Wars, and frequent bartering with Congress for the latest pet project which the admirals or generals have taken a liking to.

These days, the third rate powers which the Pentagon refuses to take serious are arming themselves with first world weaponry. Cruise missile armed submarines are on the market for whoever posseses enough oil wealth to afford them. Non-states like Hezbollah can arm themselves with the latest SAMs through their sponsors in Syria. Even African Warlords can shoot down our helicopters with the masses of RPG weapons available on the arms market. Terrorists like Al Qaeda can hijack entire nations with a few home-made bombs strategically placed.

The arms market is becoming less about heavy tanks, air superiority fighters, or guided missile battleships. These weapons, unlike their low tech brethren, can no longer be massed produced quickly. They have become magnificent works of art which only a few master craftsmen (whose numbers are also shrinking) can produce in dwindling numbers.

The future then belongs to tiny computer gadgets, which are bought off the shelf and obsolete in a few years. Such weapon will include robots for use in the air, on land and under the sea. Older type weapon may include light armored vehicles, light fighters, and light missiles boats; all of which will be slightly updated versions or existing copies of older designs.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    July 30, 2008 8:44 am

    Hear! Hear! Leesea, preaching to the choir. I would also replace old platforms like planes, ships, tanks after 5 or 10 years with a late model version of the same if new technology isn’t available. I think it criminal our troops, airmen, sailors must go to war with arms 20 years old or older.

  2. leesea permalink
    July 29, 2008 11:05 pm

    All major defense acquisitions should be terminated after 10 years IF they have not produced a successful product! By that time the systms & technology are by the board and the hardware is over priced. Examples: SC21/DDG-X/DDG1000, EFVs, V22 and maybe a few more?

  3. charbookguy permalink
    July 29, 2008 8:42 pm

    Right Mrs. D! Long overdue!

  4. Mrs. Davis permalink
    July 29, 2008 8:36 pm

    A new basic infantry weapon wouldn’t hurt, either.

  5. charbookguy permalink
    July 29, 2008 8:53 am

    I agree with most of what you said about future war. It seems that most of the Pentagon’s plans for the next conflict involves refighting world war 2 or the Cold War, which is why we get more giant tanks, destroyers, fighters, and carriers. Such weaponry have now grown so huge with extras to defend them from modern weapons, they are increasingly useless, or at best too costly for the kind of insurgent wars we always find ourselves involved in. Meanwhile, we can’t build enough of the things we need like armored cars, air transports, helicopters, patrol ships or enough boots on the ground.

  6. Distiller permalink
    July 29, 2008 12:54 am

    Toys! What is missing since the end of the Cold War is a thorough political discussion of national priorities. Defending America? Protecting the Empire? Be an army for big money interests?

    Btw, I can’t blame neither USAF nor USN for “futurewaritis”. Any GenStaff officer NOT looking into the future would be irresponsible.
    The current use of resources for George’s War on Terror is wayway beyond anything reasonable. That colonial war fought with battleships instead of rifle regiments and local warriors (so to speak) leaves me speechless for years already.

  7. charbookguy permalink
    July 28, 2008 10:08 pm

    Nice to be appreciated Tom!

  8. July 28, 2008 10:04 pm

    Your jarring money-quote: “Almost none of the major defense projects underway before the start of the War on Terror has had any bearing on the conflict at all, some 7 years later.”

    Bravo Zulu

    Tom

  9. Daskro permalink
    July 28, 2008 3:20 pm

    Yes, but you are asserting that DARPA is antiquated and unnecessary when in reality it has a hand in creating many of these “gadgets.”

  10. charbookguy permalink
    July 28, 2008 2:44 pm

    Glad to hear you say that! I thought you might be for some of this legacy weaponry that holds back real progress in warfare as they take decades to produce, keeps fleet numbers small, and force our brave and selfless troops to take antiquated weaponry to each new war.

    Let me also add, I just peeped at the Army report you linked to. These are the “gadgets” that I mentioned that is the real revolution in arms, not the stealth battleships or superfighters we can no longer afford to build.

  11. Mrs. Davis permalink
    July 28, 2008 2:43 pm

    There is no question of the validity of Augustine’s Law, but it is also true that we are spending astoundingly little relative to GDP on defence in historical terms or in terms of what the Chinese are spending. We need to be spending more to 1) counter the low end Islamofascist threats and 2) drive Chinese defence spending to the same economically debilitating levels the Soviets suffered.

  12. Daskro permalink
    July 28, 2008 11:20 am

    I think it should have been canceled years ago, it is the USN’s Crusader and will not be the last item scrapped in the list of big audacious systems. As the procurement budget tightens the programs behind schedule and well over cost will be cut, regardless who becomes President. I suspect the USAF will also be taken to task on programs of similar nature.

  13. charbookguy permalink
    July 28, 2008 9:33 am

    So, what is your view on the recent cancellation of the DDG-1000, Daskro? Do you think the leadership made a wise and belated choice?

  14. Daskro permalink
    July 28, 2008 9:28 am

    It’s funny you make post denigrating the fruitful technology efforts of the public and private sector when the Army just released their top 10 inventions of 2007.
    http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/US-Army-Awards-Top-10-Inventions-of-2007-04997/
    As for the rest of this, I like how “first world weaponry” in your world consists of 40 year old RPGs & antiquated air defense systems from the Walmart of international arms sales.

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