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Big Defense Corrupts Democracy

November 1, 2009

I often discuss here how the high tech arms, the superweapons America has come to rely on for its security is detrimental to our armed forces in vastly decreasing numbers we can buy, making them nearly impossible to replace, never in adequate numbers. Superfighters, supercarriers, supertanks also take away from other essential low tech functions, like our present insurgency conflicts on land and at sea. When they are used against poorly armed foes, they become so much over-kill, never worth their horrible expense. Here is another sad fallout of producing weapons which take decades to procure, and price in the many billions of dollars. Read how defense spending has become woefully politicized, less about Security, more about votes. From the Times Online:

More than 30 US politicians, among them seven members of a defence procurement committee, are being investigated in congressional ethics inquiries into influence-peddling, according to a document leaked accidentally on to the internet.

The disclosure sheds light on a process by which billions of dollars a year are spent on defence projects that the Pentagon does not want and which limits funds available for US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense lobbyists have their own pet politicians who they keep in power with massive campaign funds, but especially by keeping unwanted military contracts in certain districts, ensuring jobs, which also ensure votes:

House Representatives named in the document include John Murtha, the chairman of the House Defence Appropriations Sub-committee, who added so-called “earmarks” worth more than $100 million (£61 million) to last year’s defence budget and received $743,000 in campaign contributions from defence contractors.

And once a program gets started, it is nearly impossible for it to end. The supposedly canceled F-22 program, taking three decades to enter service, is no exception:

Up to 20 more F22 fighters could be built next year at $145 million apiece even though they were designed for dogfights against Russian MiGs and, as one expert noted, “the Taleban doesn’t have an air force”. The US will also build a $2.7 billion DDG1000 destroyer that its Navy does not want. In all, taxpayers will fund nearly 800 defence or defence-related projects that the Pentagon has not requested.

So when the politicians are bought, they have sold out their principles and their country. It’s their own fault, but those who make it possible, the defense contractors are much to blame. Also, We the People, who too often fail to speak out and say Enough!

Those nations wishing to join the First Rank of powers, with your own arsenal of superweapons, a military industrial complex of your very own plus power and prestige, take note. Creating a USA-lite military, trust me, its not worth it.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe permalink
    November 3, 2009 2:33 pm

    I think combining all of those nations would end up giving you a plane with too many bosses and not enough workers. It’d be a trans-national jobs program. The grouping that supported the Eurofighter ended up creating the 2nd-most expensive plane on the face of the earth, when R&D costs are factored in, didn’t they? And it’s led to partner nations not being able to afford a full buy.

    I do, however, think you can end up with individual nations having a unique expertise/ability in one set area and that larger group of nations like you spoke of could band together in a sort of defense trading group.

    I agree though on the continual upgrade notion. It’s what makes the most sense to me. Stealth should have a role, but we cannot afford an all-stealth fighter force, an all-stealth bomber force, stealthy destroyers, etc. Something has to give or we’re done. Each new system cannot be many multiples more costly than what came before.

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 3, 2009 1:10 pm

    I don’t see much value in either the F-35 or the F-22. Hey, if China (which, incidentally, produces seven & a half engineers for every one we come up with, usually in US universities) gets frisky, we can take the lazy route. Get some good spies. Reverse-engineer their shizzle. Poetic justice, dammit!

    I don’t see a great need for either the F-35 or the F-22 & I don’t see either as viable options given the economic climate. I’d rather see what we could do to upgrade existing airframes. Either that or try a truly collaborative effort with Europe, Israel, Japan & South Korea (meaning, we don’t pay for everything) for a 4.5 Generation fighter that can be produced quickly & effectively & in sufficient numbers to make it useful.

    I mean, hey, the Germans built the BEST INDIVIDUAL tanks in WWII but they were complicated, expensive & hard to maintain. The US crapped out Shermans & The Russians rumbled out T-34s from factory to battlefield in absurd numbers. Stalin was right on this point: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

  3. Joe permalink
    November 3, 2009 10:36 am

    My Question: Would you advocate the F-35 be axed as well? Immediately?

    Tarl’s Response: I would. If we were going to reduce from two fighter programs to one, we picked the wrong one.


    I posed that question to Mike figuring he would not answer it. If memory serves, I’ve asked it of him one other time and he bypassed it then, also.

    I have two reasons I figure he doesn’t take a fraction of the time to discuss (or just dis) the F-35 like he has the F-22.

    One of them is that the F-35 program is the only game in town that will eventually produce a STOVL variant – the F-35B. As much as Mike has blasted “Big Air” and advocated “Small Air”, he’d be hard pressed to advocate we put into reserve half of our carrier fleet and buy nothing but the as-currently-designed LHA-6 (or smaller like the HMS Ocean class) if we didn’t have a supposedly forthcoming F-35B to fly off those smallish decks.

    But otherwise I agree with you Tarl on the F-35. It needs to go.

  4. Tarl permalink
    November 2, 2009 11:20 pm

    I think the US surface fleet in 2009 is quite comparable in character & function to the German fleet in in 1939-1945

    Gee, I can hardly wait to hear how that argument works.

    WW2 German Navy: no aircraft carriers, very unbalanced fleet, hunted to death by overwhelmingly superior opponents, emphasis on commerce raiding, never affected battles on land.

    Modern USN: generally balanced fleet with a dominant naval air arm, no naval opponents to speak of, emphasis on striking land targets.

    Yeah, you can totally see the terrifying similarities there!

    Would you advocate the F-35 be axed as well? Immediately?

    I would. If we were going to reduce from two fighter programs to one, we picked the wrong one.

  5. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:45 pm


    The Mythbusters are a force to be reckoned with. See what they can do with coffee creamer, a water heater and…thermite & ice. Then call the FBI. ;) -G

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 9:08 pm

    Thanks Graham. I am posting something concerning US ships and their vulnerability in the morning.

    Mythbusters? Haven’t watched that in while but now it interests me!

  7. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:06 pm


    I’ve made some references before to the German surface fleet actions in WWII. I don’t have all the links but at the mo’ but I’ll try to find them. Frankly. I think the US surface fleet in 2009 is quite comparable in character & function to the German fleet in in 1939-1945 (arguably 1936-1945). Good ships but not effective given available resources. No snark, this is terrifying.

  8. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 2, 2009 9:03 pm


    How about we just let the Mythbusters handle national defense? Not only would they kick ass on the most shoe-strong budget since the A-Team & Killdozer, but it’d be cool & we’d have a hot chick who likes miniguns in the mix. Just sayin’…

    (JOKING, PEOPLE: But Kari Byron cutting down trees with a mini-gun is hot. B honest people. Smile a little. :) -G)

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 4:27 pm

    Joe I fixed the “misquote” you mentioned. It wasn’t intentional.

  10. Joe permalink
    November 2, 2009 1:59 pm

    First, thanks for selectively misquoting me Mike and then base a speech on it.

    My point was simple – Gates should keep it real and quit fronting. If he simply dislikes the F-22 and wants it dead, then he should have approached it from that angle and have been done with it. Don’t hate on the attributes of the F-22 and say they’re of little use in today’s wars when, for the most part, the plane he wants to succeed it shares many of those same attributes.

    I read far less from you on the F-35 program than I have on the F-22. Would you advocate the F-35 be axed as well? Immediately?

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 2, 2009 8:26 am

    Joe said ” But I stand by my axe to grind about the “Gates-ian” logic of saying that items like the 5th-gen F-22 should be canceled because they were designed for a foe that doesn’t exist and are of no use to us in current wars’

    If the F-22 had been a program started in World War 2, it would have entered service during the Vietnam War, where it couldn’t have been used there either, mostly a COIN conflict (or shouldn’t be used, recalling the F-111 debacle). The F-22 is so over-engineered, it was born to die. We can no longer bear the burden of decades long defense programs, in which war are after war passes as it isn’t used. In which the deterrent doesn’t deter, and our troops have no body armor.

    Don’t let fear stop us from canceling a barely used weapon when so many other extremely useful projects get the short end of funding. It makes no sense.

  12. November 2, 2009 12:56 am

    The Pirates thing is showing how off the U.S. Navy is on this threat. Sorry Navy I love you but….

    As Mike has shown before, think of how much cash is being expended for a Tico class cruiser, (or even Burkes) in manpower and sustainment dollars, to turn on the overheads and pull someone over. This is a job for helicopters, affordable frigates and corvettes at the pointy end of the spear.

    But hey, I am sure some PowerPoint wiz will show how DDX does great for anti-pirate work.

  13. Joe permalink
    November 2, 2009 12:35 am

    Mike, it may be that the time has arrived that ‘first world powers’ consider something more proactive than reacting defensively to the situation with the pirates.

    I agree – having a “low” end to our military is key. Sending in $2 billion ships to do the job that a $200 million one could do just as effectively isn’t making anyone “extra” safe.

    But I stand by my axe to grind about the “Gates-ian” logic of saying that items like the 5th-gen F-22 should be cancelled because they were designed for a foe that doesn’t exist and are of no use to us in current wars….only to see a doubling down on another 5th-gen plane that is becoming just as expensive as its cancelled sister, our build partners increasingly cannot afford it, and the plane itself would be just as costly/worthless in a COIN-style conflict as the F-22 is purported to be.

    Gates thinks he’s proposing true reform when he spouts BS like that, but it really just comes across as rearranging the pork on the plate. As ELP says and I expand upon, where is the talk of the relaunched, basic A-10 line or the OV-10? What about committing to building new P-51 Mustangs or are they still “exploring” the viability of the idea? Saying to heck with the LCS and “buying foreign” to get price and capability we can no longer do on a small scale?

    And so it goes.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 1, 2009 8:52 pm

    Joe, I don’t think it should be “either, or”, conventional or unconventional. We are looking at the rise of new hybrid powers, with Third World countries armed with First World weapons, standing up to the same and not being completely wiped off the map. They may be emboldened to do more, as in this recent headline with Somali pirates assaulting an Indian frigate. Of course they were smashed but the point is that they dared to attack in the first place.

    The Hybrid Powers whose operating expenses are drastically less than the First World, yet increasingly effective, are getting bolder and better.

  15. Joe permalink
    November 1, 2009 8:28 pm

    Changes will have to take place in DC (forced on them by the outside) if you ever want true reform as it applies to areas like defense spending. You can’t expect career politicans for whom “doing what’s best for my back pocket” often ranks ahead of “doing what’s right for the nation” to effect change themselves. After all, since when are hogs ever known for willingly giving up the mud hole?

    Smitty’s lead comment (and ELP’s follow-up) in this thread hits it on the nail for me. Should America blend into its military footing a true COIN capability? Of course. But should we reorient our entire defense footing to take on the collected military might of the drug dealers and ‘war lords’ residing in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan?

    Comments like those from ‘experts’ that start, “Well, the Taliban doesn’t have….” seem to suggest just that.

  16. Tarl permalink
    November 1, 2009 8:13 pm

    How powerful is the defense lobby?


    Out of the top 100, Lock-Mart is #32, Boeing is #54 (and much of their effort is for commercial aircraft not defense), and GD is #65. Their combined contribution represents about 2.6% of the total amount contributed by the top 100.

    Politicians are for sale, and lobbying groups are buying them, but it’s not defense contractors.

    The “military-industrial complex” has given the United States 64 years of global hegemony, and counting! Other countries, take note!

  17. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 1, 2009 7:23 pm


    In answer to your question…


    Defense, the pharmaceutical & insurance industry, the financial sector & Big Food are the worst miscreants. And the Congress-critters they bribe, of course.

    On the whole, I think the Senate is worse the the House of Reps. Senators from disproportionately under-populated states or states that rely economically on one or two big companies tend to be the worst offenders. And Mike is absolutely right. As the time article indicates, corruption is an equally opportunity offender.

    My feeling is that we should hold expedited show trials for the worst offenders & sentence convicted Congress-critters and lobbyists to life terms as Wal-Mart greeters. That or turn them over to the Mythbusters for use as ballistic crash-test dummies. That would amuse me.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 1, 2009 5:52 pm

    Mark, I deleted the comment, not for any particular love for the politicians you mentioned because corruption is equal opportunity as we see time and time again. Please leave out the political bias and lets talk defense.

  19. November 1, 2009 5:08 pm

    Agree with Smitty…Dragging out the old…. “F-22 doesn’t support Operations: USELESS DIRT 1 and 2” isn’t an especially useful argument by the original author. That train has left already and as our saviour Lord Gates says is just going on with the “program of record”.

    Having said that, if the DOD was really serious about COIN, where is the new build OV-10?

  20. Paul permalink
    November 1, 2009 4:58 pm

    cmon Mark, do something other then listen political radio. I hate seeing these useless political comments on forums and comment fields. Its useless and doesnt contribute to the discussion.

  21. Joe K. permalink
    November 1, 2009 4:53 pm

    Uh, Mark, try looking up the “Iron Triangle” or “The Military-Industrial Complex”.

    Also watch the documentary “Why We Fight”. That is particularly good at painting the picture of the problem with the defense industry today.

    Whether it’s a liberal or a conservative in the White House there is no difference on this matter.

  22. Jed permalink
    November 1, 2009 12:58 pm

    But is not the whole U.S. political system setup to promote and perpetuate this situation ? You can’t be president without billions of dollars in backing, there are lobbyists around every corner and we constantly hear about “pork barrel” politics. All in all to an outside (a Brit living in Canada, both countries where politics are so dire its almost unbelievable ….) it appears the entire the systems is corrupt :-(

  23. Paul permalink
    November 1, 2009 12:52 pm

    We cant devote the entire defense budget to two guerilla warfare conflicts. We have to maintain our procurement for conventional warfare. I mean what are we going to do with all of the 1000s of armored trucks from Iraq and Afghanistan? Russia, India and China are all procuring conventional warfare products.

  24. B.Smitty permalink
    November 1, 2009 10:01 am

    “Up to 20 more F22 fighters could be built next year at $145 million apiece even though they were designed for dogfights against Russian MiGs and, as one expert noted, “the Taleban doesn’t have an air force””.

    This statement really irks me. The Taliban doesn’t have a Navy either, so do we junk that entire service?

    We have other defense considerations than just fighting the Taliban.

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