Build as You Fight Pt 1
Afghanistan is not Iraq, to quote General Petraeus. This is true in multiple ways, but no more so than in terms of operations and logistics. The geography and terrain in Afghanistan require what the Marines call “distributed operations,” and with what the Corps calls “expeditionary logistics.” And such logistics require air assets to connect deployed forces, and with those air assets come significant energy and basing costs. For example, two million pounds of cargo were air dropped in theater. For September of 2009, the Air Force air-dropped nearly four million pounds with an estimated 20 million pounds to be air dropped for the calendar year.
The cost per deployed soldier in Afghanistan will be multiples higher than for the deployed soldier in Iraq. Dependent on which analyst is doing the assessment, the number ranges from two to four times higher.
The Hand Dealt Us
It appears that the poorer the country, the more expensive it now costs to fight the traditional American Way of War, with high tech industrial style weaponry. The US has been for some time in an arms race with Third World countries, in other words, giant and massively expensive weapons have been justified for their usefulness in numerous brush-fires wars since at least following World War 2. We point to specifically the following much loved platforms:
- Aircraft Carriers-Land Wars such as Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, various terrorist supported regimes, and possibly Iran
- Main Battle Tanks-The same wars, notably Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991.
- F-22 Raptor stealth fighter-To be used against as yet unfielded, even uncertain Russian and Chinese 4th and 5th Generation aircraft which might get into the hands of rogue Third World powers, or the same powers shielded behind SAM missile batteries, notably Iran.
Meanwhile, terrorist groups can send a single suicide bomber into a Western rail or air terminal and change the fate of whole nations. In return America and her allies will spend trillions of dollars for a decade or more, while mobilizing its vast military, industrial, and scientific expertise to combat the same foe. The disproportion in expense and manpower to get near-equal results staggers the imagination!
The argument goes we must also prepare for future threats, but has there ever been a time in history when a free nation was allowed a choice of threats? Only aggressor nations have that option. We either manage the hand fate has dealt to us or in the future these problems will multiply against us. The issues of terrorism, piracy, porous borders and failed states are mounting. We are not allowed to ignore them anymore, only to our peril, not to mention our moral obligations to the suffering poor.
These days we go to war with one hand tied behind our backs, as the enemy most often encountered are those much poorer than ourselves, yet our budgets and planning are bound in weapons of another era. We must prioritize, and I say, give the funds to those who can use them, to the ones already in harms way. Let tomorrow take care of itself. It could be our ideas of how or who we might fight in the future could be wrong, but the terrorist foe is well known, here and now.
Another example might be seen in how we answer near-peer threats, the kind we’d much rather contend with, such as China. In a recent article at the Washington Times, Admiral James Lyons called for using the $5 billion 1990s version of the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer as a platform for the anti-ballistic missile shield. You may recall the program originally planned for 32 ships–then reduced to 7–and finally now at 3 vessels, for the fact she was over-priced and underarmed compared to the destroyer it was replacing, the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class.
This is another high tech answer to a relatively low tech threat, meaning a missile which may cost $1 million more or less, versus a platform 500 times as costly! The counter-argument might be the platform is more versatile and can destroy many other such missiles, but lets see if it is the most cost effective solution to this problem. Currently the US plans to deploy 3 Zumwalts at $3 billion each (bulk price), as was stated. In the unlikelihood this would become the 32 vessels originally called for, geared for ABM defense, the cost comes to about $96 billion. Add to this the price of 50 SM-3 missiles for each vessel, at $10 million each, raising the cost per ship to $3.5 billion. Grand cost comes to $112 billion for a narrowly focused mission, against this single peer threat.
During the time period it will take to finished the DDG-1000 program, perhaps half deployed by 2020, how many of the Chinese carrier killing missile might be built in the same time frame? The possibilities are limitless, but thousands doesn’t seem far-fetched. Add to this the number of MIRVs on the typical Chinese missile (3 on the CSS-9, upwards to 10 on future versions), the number of projectiles multiplies greatly against the DDG-1000 class.
The 10,000 projectiles our handful of very costly destroyers might have to face isn’t the primary menace. While it is conceivable that the advanced stealth and armored warship might survive such a deluge of precision missiles, its primary foe, as with all surface vessels in narrow seas, would likely be one from another age, but still deadly potent. This would be a single torpedo from a slow, clanky Chinese conventional submarine, bought at a fraction of the price of the supership, and based on World War two German submarine sub technology on a lineage from the Russian Romeo class.
Unwanted for Export
This obsession with the high tech over high numbers has affected most modern US arms development, which are so “heavenly capable there are no earthly good”. Hoped for exports for the new littoral combat ship have been curtailed for now, since the vessel is too under-armed for the tastes of corvette-centric and battle-hardened navies like Israel, and its already steep price makes upgrading prohibitive. New aircraft programs like the F-22 Raptor can’t be sold to allies like Japan because doing so would violate state secrets. Likewise is the even more important F-35 Lightning II whose very existence depends on international cooperation, has faced the same roadblocks sharing sensitive equipment.
If, however, we build as we fight, such as the low tech weapons for the kind of wars we most often conduct, against pirates, terrorists, insurgents, or deterring rising navies and militaries like China, we could increase our numbers in a bigger, more effective military force. Inexpensive but good weapons are more likely the first choice of our poorer allies, thus increasing the possibility of exports and giving much-needed employment to our struggling defense industries.
Tomorrow, the low tech proxy war.