Saturday, January 17, 2009

Time to Bailout the Pentagon

Congressional Budget Office of the Congress of the United States published a report in January 2009 entitled Long-Term Implications of the Fiscal Year 2009 Future Years Defense Program (Pub. No. 3184). A must read and think twice document.

Senior DoD officials must read and repeat 10 times the following sentence on the blog of Robert A. Sunshine, Acting Director of CBO: “Decisions made today about national defense –whether they involve weapon systems, military compensation, or numbers of personnel– can have long-lasting effects on the composition of the nation’s armed forces and the budgetary resources needed to support them.”

CBO’s projections of the amount of budgetary resources might be needed in the long term to carry out DoD’s the 2009 Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) demonstrates that to fulfill DoD’s plan require sustaining higher inflation-adjusted levels of spending than those that occurred at the peak of the defense buildup in the mid-1980s.

CBO lists four key factors that account for the projected high level of spending:

1) Plans to purchase more new military equipment over the next several years and then to sustain that rate of procurement over the longer term;

2) Plans to develop and produce weapons systems with new capabilities and rising estimated costs;

3) Plans to increase the size of military forces, coupled with the increasing cost of pay and benefits for military and civilian personnel;

4) Plans to meet rising operations and maintenance costs for both aging equipment and newer, more complex equipment.

In CBO’s projection of DoD’s current FYDP,[1] defense resources average about $549 billion annually (in 2009 dollars) from 2014 to 2026 (excluding potential future supplemental or emergency appropriations).

Possible unbudgeted costs[2] have the potential effect of increasing the projection of long-term demand for defense funding to an annual average of about $652 billion through 2026, or 26 percent more than the funding provided for 2009.


Costs for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and for other purposes related to the war on terrorism in 2008 rose to $187 billion in 2008 dollars, or 28 percent of defense funding that year.

Well, finding this money is not that of a problem because the US government can always print more dollars (as it does now) which eventually will have long lasting negative impacts in the future.

Top Number 1 priority for any sound long term plan is to know what or where DoD would want to be in the future? And that requires guesstimating or anticipating the future threats.

What kinds of wars are likely to take place in the future and with whom? Current fashion is irregular one. But is the Pentagon procurement program in line with that or in line with the real needs?

Procurement Nightmares

Center for Strategic & International Studies published a nice document in late 2008 (Anthony H. Cordesman and Hand Ulrich Kaeser, America’s Self-Destroying Airpower: Becoming Your Own Peer Threat, CSIS, October 2008). It says:

“No military service currently demonstrates that it has leaders that can create affordable procurement programs. Every service has, to some extent, mortgaged its future by failing to contain equipment costs, and by trading existing equipment and force elements for developing new system that it may never be able to procure in the numbers planned. ….. The US defense procurement system has effectively become a liar‘s contest in terms of projected costs, risk, performance, and delivery schedules. Effective leadership is lacking in any of these areas. In both shipbuilding and military aircraft manufacturing, the services have become their own peer threats.”

They say “fish rot from the head down.” With this they mean “The Secretary and Deputy Secretary have failed to manage from the top. DDR&E, the Comptroller, and PA&E have failed in one of their most basic missions. Documents like the Quadrennial Defense Review – like all of the service strategy documents – have become pointless statements of doctrine, policy, and good intentions that are not supported by workable force plans, procurement plans, program budgets, and measures of effectiveness…….the Office of the Secretary of Defense in a struggle to determine what capabilities will actually be needed in the future,”

They state that the US must establish clear priorities for irregular warfare relative to more conventional threats.

Meanwhile, they outline the fact that the Air Force and Navy have made major cuts in their number of existing combat aircraft, in part to fund modernization plans they will never have the money to fully implement.

They note that “Combined US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps tactical fighter strength dropped from 5,783 at the end of the Cold War in 1992, to 3,985 in 2000 at the start of the Bush Administration, and 3,542 in 2008. The number of bombers dropped from 276 at the end of the Cold War in 1992, to 208 in 2000, and 180 in 2008. Similar shifts took place in the transport, tanker, and helicopter fleets.” This happens at the time USAF’s O&M budget increases while fleet readiness decreases. Average aircraft age is increasing and hence cost of flying hour.

Former Chief of Staff General Moseley and Secretary Wynne had called for a fleet of 381 F-22 which led to a clash with Secretary of Defense Gates, “who stated in February 2008 that the F-22 had no role in the war on terror.”

The F-22 (supposed to replace aging F-15s) has almost tripled in unit cost, and comes close to $200 million a piece (excluding R&D costs). Meanwhile, the planned procurement quantity has been reduced from 750 to 183. F-35 (supposed to replace F-16s and F-18s) and B-2B face or will face a similar fate. F-35 is one of the most expensive single procurement programs in the history of the DOD, even though a unit cost for the F-35 is half of F-22. Marine Corps’ procurement priority V-22 Osprey (a tilt-rotor aircraft to replace CH-46 helicopter) has become a “flying shame.” The bomber B-1B is now recognized as a failue. See CSIS report for details. One way or the other, most USAF procurements have problems with performance, technology risk, delay, cost escalation.

By the way, why should USAF replace, say 100 F-16s, with 100 F-35, if one F-35 is much more capable and superior compared to F-16?

I don’t agree with the authors’ argument that “The only alternative is a major increase in real defense spending.” But this is another issue.

Challenges, Needs, Tradeoffs, Perceptions, and their Implications for the Future Military Force

Now let me highlight some very important points from a report called The Joint Operating Environment: Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force, United States Joint Forces Command, 25 November 2008.

The report is “speculative in nature and does not suppose to predict what will happen in the next twenty-five years. Rather, it is intended to serve as a starting point for discussions about the future security environment at the operational level of war.”

The forward of the document, written by General J. N. Mattis, U.S. Marine Corps, Commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, states that “When future war comes, our concept developers across the Armed Services should have the fewest regrets if today they study, challenge, and implement solutions to the security implications defined here in the JOE. In our line of work, having the fewest regrets defines success when the shocks of conflict bring the surprise that inevitably accompanies warfare."

The report says that in the future conventional wars are less likely. Note that another report[3] by the National Research Council’s Committee on Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability[4] concluded that a high-confidence CPGS capability would be valuable; that technical development and assessment should be pursued immediately; and that if system effectiveness is demonstrated, production and deployment should follow as soon as practicable. If the DOD’s stated goal of achieving “global” strike[5] were to be accepted as a strict criterion, it would rule out potentially attractive options. Long range is an important element of CPGS but not the only factor of interest.

Back to the U.S. Joint Forces Command report. It says:

“In the long-term, the primary purpose of the military forces of the United States must be deterrence
….
In planning for future conflicts, joint force commanders and their planners must factor two important constraints into their calculations: logistics and access to bases in the immediate area
….
innovation and adaptation require imagination and the ability to ask the right questions. They represent two of the most important aspects of military effectiveness…. the ability to innovate in peacetime and adapt in war to the actual realities of the battlefield. Unfortunately the present culture and bureaucratic structures of the Department of Defense place major hurdles in the path of future innovation and adaptation….Two areas that demand change are acquisition and the personnel systems.
…..
Without a thorough and coherent reform of the acquisition processes, there is the considerable prospect an opponent could incorporate technological advances more affordably, quickly, and effectively – with serious implications for future joint forces.”

Very well said but not sufficient.

Each senior DoD planner (and Mr. Antony Cordesman) must read and repeat 100 times the following sentences written by Lieutenant Colonel Gregory C. Wilmoth in False-failed innovations (JFQ, Autumn/Winter 1999–2000, pp. 51-57)

“To succeed technology must meet a need that involves choices and tradeoffs. Needs shape development. Provided needs are met, technology can be shaped in various ways, even irrational ones. As needs change over time, so do the characteristics of a given technology.
…..
technologies that are inappropriate in one age have been resurrected through adaptive methods and organizations to fill essential requirements at a later time
….
there must be a clear grasp of future requirements. Needs drive how technology is shaped and used. Only by analyzing requirements thoroughly and defining them objectively, unconstrained by narrow thinking about how traditionally military capabilities have been used, can a failed technology become a false-failed innovation. Look first to needs. Revising organization and doctrine must follow, then identifying available technology. Achieving innovations, false-failed or otherwise, frequently requires vision but always calls for hard thinking that transcends a didactic, linear conception of how technology becomes capability.”

But this does not mean that for every simply need we need to develop high technology gadgets.

Now, see what President Bush understands about Defense Transformation (from speech given at West Point in December 2009): “we are transforming our military for a new kind of war that we're fighting now, and for wars of tomorrow.… As part of our transformation effort, we are arming our troops with intelligence, and weapons, and training, and support they need to face an enemy that wages asymmetric battle…we've been transforming our military since early 2001 to confront other challenges that may emerge in the decades ahead. For example, we have begun the most sweeping transformation of America's global force posture since the end of World War II. We're shifting troops from Cold War garrisons in Europe and Asia so they can surge more rapidly to troubled spots around the world. We've established new military commands to meet challenges unique to Africa and to support our homeland…..We've invested more than a half a trillion dollars in research and development, so we can build even more advanced capabilities to protect America from the dangers of a new century. We're making our forces more joint and interoperable.”

No comment. We will see whether Obama will do any better.

In a recent article appeared in Foreign Affairs magazine (A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age, January/February 2009) Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates[6] states that “The United States cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything. The Department of Defense must set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs and opportunity costs.”

He argues that “it is unwise to confront the United States directly on conventional military terms.” Therefore he gives the image that investment priorities should focuse more on specialized gadgets which are supposed to be well suited to today’s irregular wars and less on traditional, or conventional weapons systems.

He believes that the major issue is to build “innovative thinking and flexibility into the rigid procurement processes…... The key is to make sure that the strategy and risk assessment drive the procurement, rather than the other way around.” Well, instead of saying it he should have done it.

Let me finish with some final remarks. Too much body, too many gadgets but too little head is not an option for future military leaders if they would like to meet future challenges. They have to possess rigorous intellectual understanding and critical thinking capability with a non-myopic strategic insight. Are American tax payers sleeping?

Footnotes:
[1] The FYDP is prepared by the Department of Defense (DoD) for each fiscal year and submitted to the Congress as part of the President’s budget request.
[2] This includes several possibilities: That the costs of weapon systems now under development would exceed early estimates; that medical costs might rise more rapidly than DoD has assumed; and that DoD would continue to conduct military operations overseas as part of the war on terrorism, albeit at reduced levels relative to current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
[3] U.S. Conventional Prompt Global Strike: Issues for 2008 and Beyond, Committee on Conventional Prompt Global Strike Capability, National Research Council, 2008.
[4] Conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) is a military option under consideration by the U.S.
[5] The committee concluded that setting a goal of 1 hour for execution time in a conventional strike was sensible when viewed in terms of feasibility, value, and affordability.
[6] I don’t agree with most of Gates’ thoughts, especially the following: “Other nations may be unwilling to challenge the United States fighter to fighter, ship to ship, tank to tank. But they are developing the disruptive means to blunt the impact of U.S. power, narrow the United States' military options, and deny the U.S. military freedom of movement and action. »

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