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Shocking the Hawks

December 23, 2009

The 2010 US defense budget is a bitter spill to swallow, as it is so nostalgic, with weapons that wouldn’t have been unfamiliar in 1980. Tom Ricks says “give me a break”:

I believe in a strong national defense. But I don’t think buying jets, ships, and anti-missile systems is necessarily the best way to improve the nation’s security right now. In the long term, one of the best ways to make the country strong is to spend more on national infrastructure and especially education. Without the GI Bill, my father probably wouldn’t have gotten to college. As it happened, he wound up going from growing up poor in rural Wyoming to teaching at Harvard.

Ricks goes on to point out specific pork weapons:

  • $4.4 billion for two Navy destroyers and one littoral combat ship. Yow. Maybe it is time to start buying warships from South Korea, or at least invite competitive bids? Folks, this is billions, not millions. Imagine what $4.4 billion could do to rebuild our highways, or send deserving kids to college, or rebuild New Orleans. 
  • $2.6 billion for V-22 aircraft for the Marines and Air Force. I wish the Marines had just gone with the UH-60 Black Hawk two decades ago. Now the Marines have dug a hole that is killing the rest of their aviation. It makes me wonder whether the Marines, the smallest of the armed forces, should be in the business of technology innovation. 
  • $1 billion for Navy F-18s. Lots of money for an airplane that is, well,  yeeehh. Better spent on unmanned combat aircraft?

Here’s where the nostalgia comes in. Even though we are fighting a new type of warfare, against extremely low tech agile foes, they tell us we have to keep these Cold War era programs going, when the Big Wars make a comeback. The problem being, we have been fighting exclusively against 3rd World insurgents since Korea, with little change in sight.

I think its a case of “not seeing the forest for the trees”. We are in a new age where the old metrics will fail us. The problem in rebuilding and replacing old platforms like jets, warships, and tanks isn’t funding. We are awash in money. We just need a return to basics, to designing simple weapons which we can create quickly, and discard fast as it becomes obsolete.

Using the off the shelf weapons frequently promoted on this blog, a reformer could take this same budget and in 5 years build a 10,000 plane air force with a like number of UAVs, a 1000 ship American Navy, a 1 million man Army, plus sustain the 200,000 man Marine Corps. It would be a bigger, better, more powerful force, because these weapons would carry the same new missiles and sensors which giant and hard to build industrial type arms carry, only on low tech platforms. They would also be more survivable, since they would present many, many more targets for the missile, smart bomb, and road-mine equipped enemy to deal with.

In contrast, you can give our current military as established a like budget for a 10 year period and none of their programs would be near completion. You would have a smaller military than even today, because you can’t replace weapons on a one-for-one basis anymore. The F-35 program won’t be complete by 2020, and you’d be lucky to have a third or quarter of the 1500 planes on order for the USAF alone. The same goes for the Littoral Combat Ship, with 55 on order, so far we have 2 examples. I predict, even if the troubled program isn’t canceled for something better, likely only 15 examples will be in service by 2020.

Even  when the weapons enter service, they are so riddled with technicals difficulties for over-engineering that they would not be combat ready, often for years. This is the trouble we had with the B-1, more recently with the LPD-17, Oh, just pick one! The British are having like problems with the PAAMs missile (they could have had proven Aegis).

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2014 8:17 am

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  2. DesScorp permalink
    December 28, 2009 4:56 pm

    Ricks is a fool. Replace the Hornet with UAV’s? What UAV’s? Predators? Global Hawks? Does this man know anything?

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 24, 2009 10:01 am

    “Which one is ready to step into the F/A-18? None of them are.”

    Sad but true. Still, the F-18 is my candidate for the title “last manned fighter” (since it came after the F-22).

  4. Matthew S. permalink
    December 23, 2009 7:39 pm

    ” * $4.4 billion for two Navy destroyers and one littoral combat ship. Yow. Maybe it is time to start buying warships from South Korea, or at least invite competitive bids? Folks, this is billions, not millions. Imagine what $4.4 billion could do to rebuild our highways, or send deserving kids to college, or rebuild New Orleans. ”

    Those destroyers are basically light cruisers and the LCS does not have the benefits of regular production yet.

    ” * $2.6 billion for V-22 aircraft for the Marines and Air Force. I wish the Marines had just gone with the UH-60 Black Hawk two decades ago. Now the Marines have dug a hole that is killing the rest of their aviation. It makes me wonder whether the Marines, the smallest of the armed forces, should be in the business of technology innovation. ”

    I agree with this. They still have ancient UH-1’s and AH-1’s. Who knows when the government will cut off V-22 production. The USMC may get stuck with small numbers of V-22s and the newer version of the CH-53.

    ” * $1 billion for Navy F-18s. Lots of money for an airplane that is, well, yeeehh. Better spent on unmanned combat aircraft?”

    Which one? Which one is ready to step into the F/A-18? None of them are.

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