Counting the Costs of Modern War
I thought this article from Reuters was a good finale to our week long discussion on becoming more frugal in defense procurement:
…Afghanistan “is one of the most expensive, perhaps the most expensive, war in U.S. history,” says Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think-tank. His estimate of the cost per year of a soldier deployed in Afghanistan this year matches the number used by the White House – around $1 million. (The Pentagon says is it is less.)
A soldier in Iraq costs less than half that. In comparison, an Afghan soldier costs $12,500 a year, a recent congressional hearing was told.
The staggering cost of the war highlights an aspect of asymmetric warfare worth noting: the insurgent has a huge advantage on the financial front. While a Marine Corps combat brigade, for example, burns up around 500,000 gallons of fuel a day (or $24 million, at an average of $48 per gallon), the marines’ insurgent enemies use a tiny fraction of that. They ride around in pickup trucks, or walk. They do not move in Humvees that average four miles per gallon.
The cost-benefit advantage the insurgents enjoy in combat occasionally features on jihadist websites. One video clip makes the point that an improvised explosives device that costs $30 to make can knock out a $3.2 million Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
We began this week with 2 posts encouraging our military and industry to “Build as You Fight” (pt 2), as opposed to trying to match every possible contingency. It is interesting that at the same time Britain announced deep cuts of 36 billion pounds in its own budget, forcing it to prioritize, passing funds to the troops in Afghanistan. The Labour government is currently getting much heat for this, despite the fact that is a right and logical thing to do for a nation at war. They will likely lose the upcoming elections for certain now, despite the fact the Tories will probably continue the same policies.
The funds are no longer there, not even for America, for nations to possess “two militaries”, one geared for the old way of Industrial Warfare, with carriers, submarines, fighters, and tanks. Such vehicles will likely be around for some time but in different forms. Their low tech versions are already being deployed, such as light carriers, light fighters and UAVs, light armored vehicles, and conventional submarines. All these are far less costly, but also not insignificant thanks to modern weapons and sensors, and thanks mostly that our insurgent enemies are unable to manage the giant construction programs we in the richer North take for granted. We continue to use these last century hammers to try and stamp out the insurgent or pirate flea, and we can no longer manage.
I do think we will fight near-peer powers like China or Russia one day. They are having their own budgetary problems, especially Russia. The type of low tech weaponry they build will be the kind we will face, are facing in current wars. I think the lead America possesses in precision weaponry will grant us enough time to understand what future fighting will incur. Bankrupting ourselves with ongoing Cold War programs will not get us there, but set us back.
I don’t think we help our cause by losing the wars we are fighting today, or trying to fight these wars by constantly fretting, looking over our shoulder at the future, fighting with one or both hands tied behind our back. All services, especially the more costly Air Force and Navy must embrace these New Wars, else they will face irrelevance and continue to see cuts on a dramatic scale. So far they have been completely shaken and seem lost without leadership in a new century. Their place is secure if only they see it.
It is no longer a matter of choosing what military we must have. The funds are no longer there, it has already been decided. Because of the immense cost of warfare today, especially new weapons and especially considering the financial crises we are enduring worldwide, the only choice left is extinction.