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Economic Chaos an Opportunity for Defense Reform

November 10, 2008

“Chaos is a friend of mine.”
Bob Dylan

With a new, more liberal President in office, along with a dominant Democrat Party which has made no secret their intent to cut defense spending in the US, its obvious the military is headed for crisis. Long-overdue modernization plans for aging Cold War weaponry were hardly underway when 9/11 further delayed purchases of new airplanes, vehicles, and warships. While the Navy is somewhat better off in the age of their equipment (managed by drastically reducing fleet size from 600 in the last decade to less than half today), the Air Force has planes literally falling from the skies, while the army continues to patch up 1980’s era M-1 tanks.

With the Iraq War winding down, and a financial crisis unmatched since the Depression era upon us, there is little hope the US Military will be able to replace in adequate numbers the traditional arms which it has depended on for decades and given us such dominance in international affairs. Listen to this from

The obvious targets for savings would be expensive new arms programs, which have racked up cost overruns of at least $300 billion for the top 75 weapons systems, according to the Government Accountability Office. Congressional budget experts say likely targets for reductions are the Army’s plans for fielding advanced combat systems, the Air Force’s Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy’s new destroyer and the ground-based missile defense system…

Some critics, citing the increase in military spending since Sept. 11, 2001, say it would be much easier to cut military spending than programs like Social Security and Medicare at a time when most people’s retirement savings are dwindling because of the financial crisis. Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has raised the idea of reducing military spending by one-quarter.

How can such shortages occur when the US Defense Budget now exceeds World War 2 allocations when we built hundreds of thousands of warplanes, millions of tanks, jeeps and other vehicles, thousands of warships including 100 aircraft carriers? Obviously the individual cost of weapons has greatly magnified over the decades, but one has to wonder can a smaller more costly military which can only be in a few places at once perform as well as a lo-tech force which has global ambitions?

With the chaos in spending approaching a climax, we will then see which of the 2 approaches to weapons procurement the US will take. Will it be a much smaller military with only a handful of highly complicated and ever costly warplanes, ships, and tanks, or might there be a better way? Our desperation might lead to inspiration, if we can solve the continuous rise in the cost of arms, of ships which enter service with numerous faults and are of dubious value anyway, or aircraft carriers which are purchased only at the cost of gutting essential surface combatants.

History is replete with revolutions in warfare, of armored phalanxes defeating charioteers, and later of horsemen regaining the initiative from the infantry for a spell, with the foot soldier making a long comeback until its reign is ended or at least diminished by the tank and industrial age warfare. The same lessons apply on the sea, with battleships dominating for  a time, only to be outclassed and out sailed by smaller corsairs, when the former gets too big to maneuver or build in adequate numbers.

With the advent of smaller and numerous new anti-tank and anti-air weaponry, we think the dominance of the “poor, bloody infantry” has returned. Proof of his can be garnered mainly from lessons learned in the Middle Eastern wars, with Israelis and American armor often running rings around less well armed and trained Arab armies, but never quite able to deal the latter a decisive blow.

Likewise is war at sea reverting to form, with the new battleships: giant aircraft carriers and missile destroyers forced to carry ever more costly defensive equipment, and affordable in decreasing numbers by only the richest of world powers. Meanwhile the new corsairs: submarines and small attack craft can be bought by the simplest of world navies, some barely industrialized, until now they threaten to overwhelm with their low cost and sizable numbers the traditional and more civilized powers at sea.

We see then in this present Budget Crisis, a chance for real and meaningful reform, long delayed since the end of the Cold War. Industrial Age weaponry which are ever harder to afford should give way to austere platforms, plus armored cars, unmanned aerial vehicles, and highly survivable submarines which can carry new Digital Age arms like smart bombs and cruise missiles. The savings would be tremendous, and allow the replacement of battle-worn weaponry easily and quickly, with less a need for our selfless troops forced to fight future wars with the weapons of the old.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    November 10, 2008 9:45 pm

    Call me a fool. The real revolution, Gerry, is not in last century industrial age platforms which can be bought or built in ever decreasing numbers (compare the 200 or so F-22 Raptors bought to the 1000+ F-15, or 5000 F-4 Phantoms). The real revolution is in weaponry which we are using now in all our wars, can be mass produced, and shipped to out troops when they need them, not a generation down the road.

  2. Gerry permalink
    November 10, 2008 9:38 pm

    To retreat from the high tech weapons that have saved so many lives from indisciminate bombing and protected so many troops. To exchange them for lower quality mass produced vehicles that won WWII? While China, Russia and India are upgrading at every opportunity? This is truely the wish of fools. I have no doubt China and Russia will see this as a great leap toward peace in the world. The military equality of all. On the other hand, Americans in the continental US have never been under attack in over 150 years . Perhaps we need a wakeup call every 150 years.


  1. Breaking: Defense Board Calls for Deep Cuts « New Wars

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