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Politicizing Defense

March 17, 2009

The major impetus for weapon’s production in the US today is less for National Security concerns, but for politically and economic reasons. The result of this inconvenient fact is continued procurement of high performance jet fighters, large carrier fleets, their missile escorts, nuclear submarines, and specialized amphibious ships still in production, all of which would have fit well into the Cold War strategies of the last century.

Meanwhile, America’s principle military antagonists are poorly armed adversaries in Third World COIN operations which can hardly match our advanced and costly technology. Typical of this lesson in extreme overkill by our armed forces are $3/4  billion B-2 stealth bombers striking Al Qaeda caves in the Afghan, and $2 billion naval destroyers chasing pirate speedboats in the Gulf of Aden.

The oft-given excuse for keeping expensive and very complicated weapons in production is the thousands of jobs involved in particular Congressional Districts that would be at risk, which is stark proof of the politicization of national defense. For instance, Lockheed has insisted that the shutdown of the Cold War era F-22 Raptor production line would result in the loss of  100,000 jobs. Somehow they miss the absurdity that it takes so many thousands of employees to produce only 200 or so fighters! With a total program cost of $62 billion, this must be the most inefficient jobs program in all of history.

Reform will not come from Congress, who have too much at stake now to cancel too costly and unneeded weapons systems for the kind of wars we now fight, arms which are often too large and too vulnerable for future Hybrid Wars dominated by precision guided missiles. Neither has industry, such as Boeing, General Dynamics, or Lockheed any incentive for change, as long as they receive regular payments for complicated high tech platforms whose development might drag on for decades, no matter how faulty or how few the weapons are when they finally enter service. Talk about job security!

Change is badly required for a US Military faced with a multitude of threats in the new century, from older conventional powers, to poorly armed but fanatically dedicated insurgents, to new Hybrid Armies which is an amalgamation of the best of both tactics. The admirals and generals often concede the need for Reform, but rarely have seen a massive new arms program they didn’t like, which too often blurs their decision making on what is really important in wartime.

Military Reform can only come from a drastic cut in defense spending, strange as that might sound. Forced to prioritize, only then will the Pentagon spend scarce funds on the more immediate threats, not just vague or imaginary future wars where the bulk of allocations have gone to since the 1950s. We would then adopt the hybrid tactics of our enemies, learning especially from recent Middle Eastern conflicts, which are equally capable of fending off conventional enemies, even as it is geared toward a less costly COIN strategy, the kind we most often undertake. Some have suggested a 25% cut, but we consider 50% would go a long way in shocking the aging, bloated,  and lethargic Pentagon into real reform.

There is a very real possibility that the defense establishment (counting the Congress, Pentagon, and Industry) would circumvent any decline in revenue through “international alliances”. Britain is already doing this by keeping 2 giant and budget busting aircraft carriers in production even while her operating forces decrease rapidly. America is seeking a similar alliance with her “1000 ship navy” plans, allowing the USN to continue deploying very large carrier and amphibious ships, in ever declining numbers, while smaller but urgent threats multiply worldwide. Meanwhile, at least in theory, poorer navies would be called on to do the actual “dirt work” of escort and patrol duties with their smaller frigates, corvettes, patrol ships, and minesweepers.

They is an equal possibility that such an underhanded “business as usual” strategy by the Navy will be thwarted by historical natural instincts of nations states to seek their own interests, often at the expense of foreign entanglements.

The final arbiter of change may also be full scale war. The type of conflict like the World Wars of the last century are nation changing, able to sweep away pet theories and preferred concepts through a decisive dose of reality. Which nation will prevail are those who can survive in the initial onslaught and still be able to adapt to the new warfare in time. The Anglo nations such as Britain and the US have been able to overcome the natural reluctance of democracies to change in peacetime, through their technical and industrial superiority during wartime. We can only pray that our people and our economies are up to the challenge in the future, if these initial proposals are ignored.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 17, 2009 6:01 pm

    Ha! They’ll likely ignore me and build it anyway, West!

  2. Mike Burleson permalink
    March 17, 2009 5:38 pm

    Alex, I am too invested in reform to turn back now. I especially loathe weapons that take decades to build, are often riddled with faults when they do enter service, and are too costly to buy in adequate numbers for our myriad wars. I see Britain’s woes as the US if we continue our obsession with ever larger platforms hardly different from the Cold War, which we try to fit into new strategies like the Third World insurgent and littoral conflicts. So far America has been able to afford weapons for COIN operations, the kind we most often fight since WW 2, and a “luxury military” filled with superbombers, tanks, and carriers for the kind of wars we like to fight. And Britain is proving you can’t have both. How long can this last given the rise of the Asian economies and the suffering of our own?

  3. March 17, 2009 11:53 am


    it to enough effort to get these ships for the Royal Navy, don’t give them an excuse to cancel, or they will never get anything…I admit they would make more sense if there were 3, and they had nuclear power, but they will be useful.

    we need more escorts, we need corvettes, and America needs something better than the LCS, I am suprised you don’t like the F-22 more, at least it can drop bombs unlike the Eurofighter…at least it can do some form of ground support.

    hoping that democracies will reform their most undemocratic institutions will always be a struggle, because politicians at their heart are distrustful of them. In America this is dealt with by chucking money at the generals and admirals, in Britain it is dealt with by stripping them of all the support they and those who serve under their command so desperately need.

    yours sincerly


  4. west_rhino permalink
    March 17, 2009 10:23 am

    Mike, I find you lack of faith in building the Death Star appalling…


  1. Internationalism and the Death of the Navy « New Wars

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