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Ending the Defense Buffet

December 15, 2009

Excellent list at National Defense Magazine detailing how out of sync Pentagon weapons’ programs are with the times within this past decade. One example:

2004 Troops Confront Rumsfeld Over Lack of Armor

At a December town hall meeting in Kuwait, a soldier put Secretary Rumsfeld on the spot when he asked why troops had to dig through local landfills for pieces of rusted scrap metal to up-armor their vehicles. “Why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?” the soldier asked amid raucous applause from the crowd.

The secretary’s reply was memorable, and spoke volumes about the Pentagon’s dysfunctional ways of procuring equipment. “As you know, you go to war with the army you have,” Rumsfeld said.

Adding insult to injury, Rumsfeld reminded the soldier of the cruel facts of war. “You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.”

Subsequent to that exchange, outrage about the lack of armor set off a furious scramble in the Army to ramp up production. The episode also came to epitomize the disconnect between the weapons-acquisition process at the Pentagon and the real needs of troops in the field — an issue that still is being debated.

Here are 3 main forces which are striving to end production of traditional platforms such as large warships, superfighters, ect.

  1. We can’t afford them. All monies are going to the troops in the Afghan Surge.
  2. They are too vulnerable. Smart technology and advanced sensors on guided weapons have placed at risk our strategy of placing all our hopes in too few systems (like the 5 Battleships).
  3. There are cheaper, equally effective alternatives. Numerous small platforms, reasonably priced and bought off the shelf have been empowered by the same technology that is making excessively large and complicated, and declining numbers of traditional platforms obsolete. Examples include MRAPs, UAVs, and Strykers.
     

When the new Secretary Robert Gates came to the Defense Dept. in 2006, he came with a mandate that the Pentagon must “Build as It Fights”. More from National Defense:

Programs that were regarded as “too big to fail” got the axe. Gates’ decisions marked a critical turning point. They signaled that the Pentagon could no longer afford to fund expensive hardware that was not relevant to the crises the military now faces.

This new view concerning platforms, which have been consistently updated to fight our wars since the last century, is not a popular one. Still, it seems clearer that the problems we have building planes, warships, and tanks are not budgetary, but signs of obsolescence. There is only so much you can do with a ship, like an aircraft carrier, which began life as a 20,000 ton vessel carrying 100 warplanes, to today’s hundred thousand ton ships where we struggle to get 70 warplanes of a 1970s design on her giant decks.

Meanwhile, the troops lack body armor, and must plead to receive armored vehicles and helicopters. The air force planes used in ground support average 20, 30, even 50 years in age (the B-52), while new-build planes like the F-22 are sent to airshows. We can only hope sanity will soon return. The signs are now favorable.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe K. permalink
    December 21, 2009 12:38 am

    Anyone can say, “Oh, because the Stryker is cheaper [and you can mount a heavy gun on one variant] than the Abrams tank we should buy more Strykers.” But the cost: armor, protection, and the ability to fulfill the Abrams’ role (which even GlobalSecurity.org says can never replace the Abrams).

    And anyone can say, “Because an RPG is cheaper than a tank we shouldn’t spend more on tanks.” But who can say that the capabilities of a tank amount to only that of an RPG? No one. Why? Because there is no comparison. Sure, an RPG is more mobile because it’s hand-carried. But it can’t protect infantry from small arms fire, it doesn’t have the power of the tank’s main gun, and it certainly isn’t something to send into another country to invade it.

    Using the word “alternative” should not denote something that is just as capable. It mean’s it’s cheaper in fulfilling a specific set of roles while sacrificing everything else that the original provides. Sure, a UAV can be manually controlled thousands of miles away in near-real time but with that distance there is an increased risk of control disruption through jamming. And sure a frigate is less-costly than a destroyer or cruiser but you do make sacrifices in moving in that direction.

    Anything that could do the same as one piece of equipment and more for the same or less cost are not alternatives, they are successors. In no way do I mean that a Stryker can do more than an Abrams. They both are susceptible to similar and varied threats and both are deployed for specific areas. You can’t look at it from one or even a few angles. You need to see it from all sides.

  2. nico permalink
    December 16, 2009 8:44 pm

    actually I wouldn’t mine hearing about your opinion. :)

  3. Joe K. permalink
    December 16, 2009 11:15 am

    The whole fiasco with the armor was the result of Rumsfield trying to run the war on the cheap both in terms of resources and manpower. Hopefully they’ll get it through their skulls that wars should not be handled like a private company. The only way to properly fight a war in a quick manner is to commit the full force of the military rather than relying on “think” tank logistical planning or trying to field a “lean” military.

    As with regards to your statements on our platforms of tanks, planes, and warships, I will merely hold my tongue because the answer is so obvious but you refuse to listen.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 16, 2009 5:58 am

    It’s our theme this week. Thanks for the encouragement and welcome!

  5. nico permalink
    December 15, 2009 10:01 pm

    OMG, did I just read a well reasoned, common sense approach to defense matters?
    I thought common sense had gone the way of the Dodo bird. Keep up the good work.

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