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The Sustainable Defense Task Force Cuts

June 21, 2010

 Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and others in Congress plus leading defense experts have combined to recommend major cuts in the weapons systems for the US Defense Department. I am not surprised and New Wars has been warning that the military should learn to live within its means for some time. The splendid budgets of the last century is finally giving way to reality, as Third World powers nowhere near as immaculately equipped as Western militaries have arisen to change on a near equal basis.

We are near bankruptcy trying to contend with the forces of insurgency by deploying basically two militaries, one for the type of conventional warfare we are used to from the Cold War and the World Wars, to one in which the lowly infantryman and patrol boat is more important than a stealth bomber or trillion dollar missile defense program. For this cause its seems someone in Washington is getting the message that change is upon us, and a new way of warfare where high technology may not always be the answer. In fact, the tech very rarely compares to the right training and the will to take the fight to America’s enemies. Realistically, this has always been our strength, less about weapons, more about who we are as a people.

The following from a paper aptly titled Debt, Deficits, & Defense: A Way Forward, includes 14 proposed cuts:

  1. Reduce the US nuclear arsenal.
  2. Limit the planned modernization of the nuclear weapons infrastructure and reduce research activities.
  3.  Selectively curtail missile defense & space spending.
  4. Reduce US military presence in Europe and Asia by one-third and cut military end strength accordingly.
  5. Rollback the size of US ground forces as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.
  6. Reduce US Navy battle fleet from current 286 ships to 230.
  7. Only retire two Navy aircraft carriers and two naval air wings.
  8. Retire two US Air Force tactical fighter wings; Reduce F-35 fighter procurement by 220 aircraft.
  9. US Air Force Joint Strike Fighter cancellation or delay.
  10. US Navy Joint Strike Fighter cancellation or delay.
  11. End procurement of MV-22 Osprey and field alternatives.
  12. Delay procurement of the KC-X Aerial Refueling Tanker for five years; In the interim, retain and upgrade some existing tankers.
  13. Terminate the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle; field alternatives.
  14. Reduce base budget spending on R&D by $5 billion annually, including classified expenditures.

The study goes on to reveal that the above cuts would eliminate $138.7 billion from the Pentagon budget from 2011-2020. Space and time forbids me to comment on each proposal individually but I would like to touch on several which are of interest to New Wars and its readership.

  • Nuclear cuts-This is a good idea. I would further propose doing away with the land based deterrent altogether and depending wholly on the Trident ballistic missile fleet. These should probably total a minimum of 12 boats.
  • Cut Missile Defense-Another idea I support. A very expensive answer to a comparatively low tech problem. Almost any rogue nation can obtain ballistic missiles, and an arms race using First World weapons against Third World technology can only hasten our bankruptcy. Technically it rarely works very well, and I think MAD is the best options of two evils. Plus, it is mainly a “feel good weapon”, since it doesn’t work too well, it at least makes you feel like you are doing something to counter the rain of projectiles falling on you from space.
  • A 230 ship navy-A very interesting proposal and not unexpected, even under current budgets. Here specifically is the fleet we will have after the knife:
  • 9 aircraft carriers with 8 air wings,
  • 7 strategic ballistic missile subs,
  • 4 guided-missile subs,
  • 37 attack subs,
  • 85 large surface combat ships,
  • 25 littoral combat ships,
  • 27 amphibious combat ships,
  • 36 logistics and support ships.
  • Further reductions in aircraft carriers-This is an excellent way to find savings, since each ship alone costs at least $20 billion to procure and arm, plus the expense of their 5000+ crewman. No one else has them, and their landpower mission basically duplicates that of the army and air force. Justification for these enormously costly platforms in the age of the guided missile is losing steam. I discussed this proposal in detail in the Thursday Carrier Alternative post.
  • *****

    A few other quotes in this proposal stood out that echoes my own ideas on how we can get by with fewer high end warships–“Our present capacity to oppose the power of other nations at sea far outstrips the requirement.” In terms of conventional capability, we continue to invest in overkill. Against low tech forces, especially littoral attack craft and submarines we have been under-investing, as we consistently point out. This type of sea control as proven in past and present wars requires large numbers of cheap but good warships–corvettes.

    Also this concerning forward deployment of ships–“Typically, between 105 and 125 ships are on deployment continuously… But the link between generalized “presence” and specific outcomes is too tenuous to warrant the cost.” Again I propose small warships, motherships and SSKs should replace our high end warships in forward basing, which would fulfill this presence mission at much less cost, allowing the conventional battlefleet to rest and train until required in war or crisis. This would entail drastically fewer large ships, probably less than the proposals here.


    18 Comments leave one →
    1. B.Smitty permalink
      June 22, 2010 10:15 am

      west_rhino said, “OTOH, taking the scalpel to federal budget items that are not required by the constitution and not filtering the meager funds through the bowels of the beltway seems far more prudent.

      Doesn’t defense filter “meager funds through the bowels of the beltway” as well? (I can see several defense contractors on the other side of the beltway from my office window)

      Is amount we spend on and the size of our military really in line with a strict interpretation of the constitution? (even if using a strict interpreting of the constitution was a good idea, which it isn’t, and would be highly subjective anyway)

      I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t reduce defense spending. Given the fiscal reality, this may be inevitable regardless of who is in office.

    2. west_rhino permalink
      June 22, 2010 9:56 am

      Granted, defense is the whipping boy of the left and a few things could well go. OTOH, taking the scalpel to federal budget items that are not required by the constitution and not filtering the meager funds through the bowels of the beltway seems far more prudent.

      Cognate with leaving many things at the states’ doorsteps, within the aegis of the tenth amendment, how many more jobs disappear under Barney Flit’s mandate that the US not be as “Butch” in flushing DADT.

    3. Hudson permalink
      June 22, 2010 1:50 am

      And what would all this ship-to-shore firepower be all about? In WWII, the Navy built dozens of fire support ships, jammed with rockets and guns, to soften up shore defenses for big invasions. What large scale invasions does the U.S. contemplate in the future, laying siege to Havana when Castro finally dies?

      One land weapons system that shows promise in a naval mount is the 120mm mortar, which combined with 20-40mm auto cannon and small multi-modal missiles could perform useful ship-to-shore fire support at modest costs for modest missions.

      Super long range guns, rail guns, could reach far inland–but again, to what purpose? Close air and artillery support is dying out in Afghanistan. Every time more than half a dozen civilians are killed in a support strike, the rules of engagement are tightened even more. It’s become more fashionable to allow Marines to die in combat to achieve relative “success” than foreign civilians.

    4. Al L. permalink
      June 22, 2010 1:24 am

      y2kurtus said:

      “Interested to hear all your thoughts”

      Regarding your expedient weapons suggestions.

      1. None of the weapons you mention are designed for ship movement. They would require substantial redesign to incorporate stabilization and testing to accomodate ship movement. Without that the possible results could range from terrible accuracy to blowing up the ship.

      2. The rocket systems you mention do not have back blast designed for a ship. Torched sand isn’t a big deal, torched ship is.

      3.The m777 produces a sustantial recoil thats normally restrained by large spades digging into the earth. On a ship sustantial anchoring
      would be required or no more than a few shots would slide it into the ocean. Maybe just one.

      4. Patriot requires at least 4 tandem truck to tractor trailer size units. The pictures I’ve seen indicate you probably can’t fit them on much less than an acre and have a safe functional system.

      That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      As for the underarmed LCS. That’s a running debate as well as a substantial real issue. This blog has a weekly Wednesday commentary going back months on LCS. You can read those posts and comments.

      Several other blogs cover the LCS regularly including this one He has an LCS tread under popular topics.

      You could also read this document for some background on possible uses of the ship.

    5. y2kurtus permalink
      June 21, 2010 10:44 pm

      Are the LCS’s really so under armed?

      I’ve read several reports and comments that the LCS’s are over priced and under armed. If they were to be sent into battle in their current “naked” configuration than I would have to agree with that assessment.

      However lets hope (and pray) that our nations military leaders are smarter than that. I’m wondering if there are unpublished plans to leverage several existing (combat proven) weapons systems into the LCS “modular” platform.

      with the large mission bay and open rear deck the LCS-2 should be able to carry several M270’s allowing a substantial land strike option with a 40km range.

      If the mission calls for fewer but longer range weapons swap out the rockets for missles:

      The MGM-140 offers 100 mile range and is again combat proven and ready to simply roll on to the LCS-2 misson bay.

      If you need to send even more warheads ashore the LCS could in theory outgun any navy ship afloat if you covered the large aft deck with the outstanding new 155mm guns the marines are buying:

      The new rocket assisted shells can travel up to 40km and are GPS guided. In the wikipedia article there are very positive reports of its combat effectiveness. Any reason why you couldn’t put a battery of these highly respected guns on the flight deck of the LCS-2 class?

      If you want to boost air support as part of a multi-ship mission why not employ the Patriot abord a naval ship?

      Assuming they could withstand a marine enviroment an LCS-2 with patriot battery would have almost the anti-air capability second only to an AGEIS class warship.

      In summary, I think the Littoral Combat Ship is being judged a bit prematurely. Lets see what kind of force multipliers the joint cheifs have in mind for the “modular mission” packages.

      I’m hopeful that the LCS Indepence class will mark an new era of flexibility between the Army, Navy, and Airforce.

      Interested to hear all your thoughts

    6. Mike Burleson permalink*
      June 21, 2010 8:28 pm

      Philbob asked “Also no Sloops or “Colonial Cruisers” in your force?”

      Again, this isn’t my proposal but the Sustainable Defense Task Force proposal. Here are mine, from 2009:

      Blue Water Navy
      Aircraft Carriers-3 or 4, with at least 2 more in ready reserve.
      Amphibious ships-10, all helicopters carriers.
      Destroyers-With the cruiser/destroyer role now virtually identical, only 25 of a single type.
      Littoral combat ships-see below
      Submarines-including SSGNs about 40 total.
      Support ships-20 or 30

      Littoral Navy
      With the money saved from 200 ships, each of which costs many billions to build (save for the half billion LCS), funds would go toward creating a true littoral fleet consisting of numerous shallow water-capable warships rather than a single frigate type. High Speed Vessels and patrol ships already in service would be supplemented by cheap corvettes, mines ships, fast attack craft, and offshore patrol vessels. Monitors, and Vietnam-type swift boats (Arrow boats?) would be utilized for riverine warfare.

      It is possible that the latter fleet could consist to up to 500 vessels…

      I have change my views on cuts very little since starting out way back in 2005:

      The Navy: Cancellation of all new construction programs, especially CVN-21 carrier, DDX destroyer, and the VIRGINIA class submarines. Changeover from a carrier based force to one armed with cruise missiles. Build arsenal ships and swift and inexpensive catamarans like HSV SWIFT, and diesel submarines.

      “Cancellation” may be too harsh for the Establishment to handle, so instead consider a Big Freeze on new construction of legacy carriers, cruisers, destroyers, SSNs and amphibious shipping for about a decade, allowing the rebirth of the flotilla, which we need the most but invest the least.

    7. Philbob permalink
      June 21, 2010 5:55 pm

      hate to say it but to people like Frank’s even the “Navy after Next” force structure is most likely to big, I would be more impressed if he was willing to cut the butter and leave cutting the guns to people with more credibility.

      Also no Sloops or “Colonial Cruisers” in your force? Im a bit surprised.

    8. Al L permalink
      June 21, 2010 5:15 pm

      Re: “Further reductions in aircraft carriers”

      Scott B. pointed out this document:

      Page 19 has a diagram “Contingencies Navy Supported” showing activity from 1990 to 2008

      In 36 of the 72 contingencies, either a CVN didn’t participate or was used primarily as a helicopter platform or could have been replaced with an LPD if available. Most of the rest were planned operations where a CVN could have been moved in as needed. Only a few required fixed wing aircraft operations with little advance warning ( Desert shield the most notable)

      This is an example of why I believe the U.S. should stop building CVN’s and move to building sto/vl carriers based on the LHD-8 or LHA-6 .

      Keep the newest 8 CVN’s the first of which will retire in the 2036. Build 9 sto/vl LHD-8 (including LHA-6) based carriers to replace retiring LHA’s and CVNs and keep the 8 Wasp class the first of which retires in the 2030’s

      This should reduce ship building costs by at least $30 billion over the next 20 +- years but result in more ships to go more places . The savings could be half invested in new smaller ships such as LCS, JHSV, DDG etc and half cut from the budget and the Navy would still have more ships, and have a force more fit for recent challenges.
      The Wasp class can do what it has been doing, the CVN’s can be held back as the surge and high end conflict asset and the new sto/vl carriers can act as the presence/patrol force.

    9. Hudson permalink
      June 21, 2010 1:33 pm

      From the DD&D report:

      “Regarding fast-attack submarines (SSNs), the option
      provides only 75% as many as the Navy currently plans.
      This reflects a more realistic appraisal of the power of
      opponent navies, including the more limited activity of
      other nations’ submarine fleets. And it accords with a
      general shift in our strategy from a heavy emphasis on
      continuous presence to a greater emphasis on “surging”
      power when needed. The same principle can and
      should apply to the use of the new Littoral Combat Ship,
      which is why the option reduces the buy of these ships.
      They should be used as needed to meet crisis and war
      requirements, rather than as a means of establishing a
      routine littoral presence in foreign waters.”

      Well thought out report, but it leaves many questions. Can you “surge” naval vessels the same way you “surge” infantry/armored regiments and divisions? Do you berth your subs and LCS’s semi-permanently in their home port accompanied by an MP and German Shepherd, like in a tank park? Are these 25 LCS’s (assuming they are the two present models) going to be devoted mainly to mine warfare, or will the Navy beef them up to frigate standards? Where do the Perry frigates fit in?

      So much for influence squadrons!

    10. Joe permalink
      June 21, 2010 12:32 pm

      I’m not engaging in a pile-on, but Scott’s 9:44 AM post dinged something in my memory, and this thread from my birthday last year came back to mind. I can’t vouch for what navy Mike would {like/prefer/could live with}, but this is what Mike called his Navy after Next.

      1. 300 common platform corvettes, with most below 1500 tons in size.

      2. 50 minesweepers on a corvette hull.

      3. 100 catamaran HSV’s for sealift.

      4. 150 AIP subs, none larger than 3000 tons.

      5. 35 motherships, probably carrying uav’s.

      6. 12-18 Aegis motherships.

      7. 12-18 arsenal ships.

      The final paragraph of this writing was: No large deck aircraft carriers or manned fixed-wing combat aircraft. UAV’s on corvettes, motherships. Every ship an aircraft carrier with either missiles or UAVs. Fixed wing aircraft obsolete, except for transport planes. Helicopters still manned, used only for logistics and transport.


      I suggest that you be extremely careful when allying yourself with someone whose motivation for “reforming” military spending is more about using the DoD as an ATM for more social spending than it is making sure we have the right assets for the right missions.

      After all, there’s an ancient Vulcan proverb that goes, “Only Nixon could go to China”.

    11. Scott B. permalink
      June 21, 2010 9:44 am

      Mike Burleson said : “Actually this is the Task Force’s proposals, though mine are embedded somewhere in the links from an earlier post.”

      Mike’s proposed US Navy fleet structure can be found here :

      Blue Water Navy

      * Aircraft Carriers-3 or 4, with at least 2 more in ready reserve.

      * Amphibious ships-10, all helicopters carriers.

      * Destroyers-With the cruiser/destroyer role now virtually identical, only 25 of a single type.

      * Littoral combat ships-see below

      * Submarines-including SSGNs about 40 total.

      * Support ships-20 or 30

      TOTAL : 111 ships (including the CVNs in *ready reserve*) and no SSBN at all (unless I missed something).

      Littoral Navy

      It is possible that the latter fleet could consist to up to 500 vessels, forward deployed and supported by HSV craft and motherships.

    12. Mike Burleson permalink*
      June 21, 2010 9:31 am

      Distiller wrote “Mike, your proposal doesn’t work.”

      Actually this is the Task Force’s proposals, though mine are embedded somewhere in the links from an earlier post.

    13. Scott B. permalink
      June 21, 2010 8:53 am

      Al L. said : “Many commenters here seem to look at the carrier issue as a zero sum game: either big carriers or small ones; carriers or bases;”

      The anti-carrier advocates (our beloved host conceded to have been one of them ever since the 1970s) indeed keep framing the debate that way, for instance with such statements as :

      “No one else has them, and their landpower mission basically duplicates that of the army and air force.”

      In this context, most of the people that could be labelled as pro-carrier advocates, merely point out that carrier airpower is the primary naval contribution to the wars we fight today, as explained in this recent brief prepared by the CNA back in May 2009 :

      Carrier Operations : Looking Toward the Future–Learning from the Past

      On a sidenote, you’d be very surprised to find out that most of the people that gets (improperly) labelled as pro-carrier advocates are also quite favorable to small carriers in one incarnation or another…

    14. Distiller permalink
      June 21, 2010 8:33 am

      Haha! How long do I preach that the U.S. national security establishment has to live to make do with 50% of what they have now? Anyway.

      Pt1-3 — That’s simply wrong. Any cuts to nuclear and space are dangerous.

      Pt4 — Yes! Leave Europe! Yesterday.

      Pt6 — Define “battle fleet”. Mike, your proposal doesn’t work. [Enough SSBN for 288 SLBMs (I’d say 18+3 boats a 16 missiles), 60 SSN, drop those SSGN, 8+1 carrier battle groups (a 1 CV, 5 large escorts, 2 fast fleet replenishers), 3 amphib assault task forces with escorts and fire support ships (no ships or types here, since the whole concept of amphib assault needs to be thought over), 60 medium frigates, 12 small SSK, plus enough money for a decent and stable CS/CSS fleet.]

      Pt9/10 — Wow or LOL! The Navy speaking!? Daring, but yes! I advocate a re-orientation of that aircraft a long time already.

      Pt11 — Supporting it! Yes!

      Pt12 — Not realistic. But: Look into using the basic platform for AWACS, &c.

      Pt13 — Hm. Also yes! The alternative is a amphib cavalry tank that uses the EFV technology.

      Pt14 — Again wrong. R&D is essential.

      What is missing, or what is completely wrong is the concentration on toys. The DoD idn’t broke because of toys but because of structure. The flat, unified forces structure is becoming imperative – no way around it.

    15. Scott B. permalink
      June 21, 2010 8:33 am

      Mike Burleson said : “This type of sea control as proven in past and present wars requires large numbers of cheap but good warships–corvettes.”

      It takes an awful lot of faith to proclaim that the mythical corvette is :

      1) a good warship, when the pro-corvette advocates have so far failed to provide any tangible description of what the mythical corvette would look like, and real-life examples strongly indicate that the mythical corvette would fail to meet most if not all of the critical attributes that define what a good warship is all about.

      2) a cheap warship, when there are sooo many examples in the warship costs section ofthe blog that prove corvettes to be quite expensive for the limited capabilities they have to offer.

      At the end of the day, the corvette thingy offers one of the most mediocre return on investment because of their lack of capabilities and their often exhorbitant pricetag.

      Once this most basic reality is acknowledged and ideology is left aside, it’s pretty easy to discern that the only way to go is this : THINK BIG, not small !!!, as explained soooo many time in the past.


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