America’s Defense Meltdown

This announcement was cross-posted from the Defense and the National Interest website (DNI).

America’s Defense Meltdown

Sometime within the next few weeks, the Center for Defense Information will publish a major anthology by the A-List of the shadow defense establishment. This is a unique volume by a collection of authors that have never collaborated to this degree before and, it is safe to predict, will never again. They include:

  1. Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired), author of several books including (most recently) If We Can Keep It, Editor of DNI.
  2. Tom Christie, close colleague of John Boyd’s, co-author of the energy maneuverability papers, and my boss at the TACAIR shop in PA&E.
  3. Bob Dilger, guru of the A-10’s gun, the GAU-8, and who showed how competition could reduce the cost of munitions by 90% while improving quality; long-time advocate for close air support.
  4. Bruce Gudmundsson, retired Marine and author of seven books, including the classic Stormtroop Tactics(available from the DNI book store).
  5. Bill Lind, who needs no introduction to DNI’s readers.
  6. Doug Macgregor, hero of 73 Easting, author of Breaking the Phalanx and Transformation Under Fire.
  7. John Sayen, also retired Marine, author, and one of the best military analysts writing today (he and Doug Macgregor co-reviewed my chapter).
  8. Pierre Sprey, another of Boyd’s closest colleagues, driving force behind the A-10 and a major influence on the F-16. Now runs Mapleshade Studios in Maryland.
  9. Jim Stevenson, long-time author, publisher, and defense analyst; wrote the classic study of defense program mismanagement on the A-12.
  10. Don Vandergriff, another author who needs no introduction; probably the leading expert on instituting leadership programs for 4GW (see an archive of his work here).
  11. GI Wilson, another colleague of Boyd’s, member of the team that put together FMFM-1, and co-author of the paper that coined the term “fourth generation warfare.”
  12. Winslow Wheeler, who also edited the volume, long-time congressional staffer, and author of another classic, The Wastrels of Defense.

Here, attached (PDF), is the Table of Contents, Preface, and Executive Summary.  Donald Vandergriff has posted the Executive Summary at his website.  More information is coming soon on how to obtain the complete volume when it’s published. 

Opening of the Preface

The vast majority, perhaps even all, of Congress, the general officer corps of the armed forces, top management of American defense manufacturers, prominent members of Washington’s think-tank community and nationally recognized “defense journalists” will hate this book. They will likely also urge that it be ignored by both parties in Congress and especially by the new president and his incoming national security team.

It is not just that following the recommendations of this book will mean the cancellation of numerous failing, unaffordable and ineffective defense programs, as well as the jobs, and more importantly careers, those programs enable. The acceptance of data and analysis presented in this book, and the conclusions and recommendations that flow from them, would require the elite of Washington’s national security community to acknowledge the many flaws in their analysis of weapons, Pentagon management and leadership of the nation in a tumultuous world. In too many cases, it would also require those elites to admit their own role in the virtual meltdown of America’s defenses.

The mere notion of a “meltdown” within the U.S. military may seem ridiculous to many. America’s armed forces are surely the best in the world, perhaps even in history. Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates and conservatives in Washington all agree on at least that. On what basis does a bunch of lesser known, if not obscure, analysts make such a preposterous assertion? Our equipment is the most sophisticated and effective in the world. We easily whipped one of the largest armies in the Middle East, not once but twice, and we have now clearly mastered a once difficult and ugly situation in Iraq. Success in Afghanistan will not be far away, once we devote the proper resources there. Those who take comfort in the last three sentences are the people who need to read and consider the contents of this book the most. Reflect on the following:

America’s defense budget is now larger in inflation adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War II, and yet our Army has fewer combat brigades than at any point in that period, our Navy has fewer combat ships and the Air Force has fewer combat aircraft. Our major equipment inventories for these major forces are older on average than at any point since 1946; in some cases they are at all-time historical highs in average age. …


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts on the FM site about Grand Strategy and National Security:

Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  3. The Fate of Israel , 28 July 2006
  4. Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
  5. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  6. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  7. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
  8. One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military , 10 March 2008
  9. America needs a Foreign Legion , 18 April 2008
  10. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW  , original September 2005; revised 30 May 2008
  11. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  12. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  13. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  14. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  15. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  16. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  17. Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW , 8 July 2008 – chapter 5
  18. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” , 8 July 2008 — chapter 6
  19. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
  20. The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
  21. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus , 11 August 2008  
  22. No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008

15 thoughts on “America’s Defense Meltdown”

  1. I don’t the see point of mentioning the fact the Army has less combat brigades, Navy has fewer ships and USAF has fewer planes given how technology vis a vis large procurement spending has created a profound force multiplier.
    Fabius Maximus replies: There is little evidence of a “force multiplier” in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our entire land forces and much of our allies tied down fighting tiny numbers of opponents.

  2. Daskro: Looking through the list of authors, the Boyd influence is great. And “People, Ideas, Technology, IN THAT ORDER” is one of the guiding principles. For a very good reason.

    Technology does have its place, but often to simplify and reduce costs or increase performance. The F16 is a very high-tech aircraft, even when it came out. It used fly by wire controls, it was deliberately unstable, etc etc etc. But it was technology designed to be in service to the role and the task at hand, and often saves money (wires are easier to deal with than hydraulics, for example).

    And technology can often be countered. EG, “just don’t protest” the USAF. Instead, go for distraction, disorientation, and camoflage. Embed the tanks in schools, and spread fake tanks all over the place, and let the US drop $50K JDAMs onto wooden vehicles, and lob HARMs into microwave ovens.

    Tactics count for a lot, and with numbers, can easily overwhelm technologically superior opponents. Remember, a $250 RPG-7, with a $25 warhead, can take out a $6,000,000 blackhawk.

  3. Quantity has a quality all its own, Daskro. Besides, we already suffer from excessive aversion to losses. Finally, WRT Army brigades, COIN requires large numbers of human, approachable troops, not Robocop.

  4. Language matters and word definitions are important. You might call a dandelion a rose and then try to analyze why it doesn’t smell better but you would be unrealistically wrong.

    “America’s Defense Meltdown”? No, “America’s Continuing Imperialism Meltdown”, which was notably initiated in that little dust-up in Vietnam, and is quite a good thing, actually, thanks to those who resist US militarism.

    “COIN”? No, Counter-occupation, see Vietnam above. Insurgencies are directed against established governments, not occupying armies. When “COIN” is applied to Iraq and Afghanistan it is a misnomer, and the concomitant idea that the US is the establishment government of these stricken places doesn’t wash.

    So wrong language leads to wrong analysis, and when the analysis is done by career military types it’s like asking a house painter to give an oil painting class.

    What we are witnessing, and what these commentators are unqualified to comment on, is America’s National Power Meltdown, national power being an amalgam of everything that makes a country strong — education infrastructure, health care, justice, social equality, defense, etc.

    The “defense” aspects that this study addresses have actually contributed to a decrease in America’s national power. Specifically, in the countries “blessed” by US military occupation, the military forces act as recruiters for America’s enemies, and the expense of misguided Pentagon spending detracts from other investments that would make America stronger.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree with this. However, in a practical sense, we use the words in the way defined by the community. As it says in the About Fabius Maximus and this blog page:

    “This is written for a general audience, hence you will see few abbreviations, jargon, and technical terminology. Definitions of military terms follow the Dept of Defense Dictionary, JP 1-02, to the extent practical (click here to see the PDF of JP 1-02).”

  5. Considering the US military succeeded in toppling the Saddam Regime in weeks with a fraction of the bombs dropped and troops on the ground compared to past conflicts, the evidence of a force multiplier is abundant. Let us not confuse the invasion with the occupation as their military objectives are separate from one another and thus require different tools, tactics, and strategies to be successful. On that note, I’ll make my question more specific with Fabius’s premise. With the consideration that our ground forces have been bogged down in two occupations, what is the point of reflecting the fact the Navy has fewer ships and USAF has fewer planes when technology has enabled them to be just as effective otherwise?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I find this comment difficult to understand.

    “Considering the US military succeeded in toppling the Saddam Regime in weeks with a fraction of the bombs dropped and troops on the ground compared to past conflicts, the evidence of a force multiplier is abundant.”

    The point is to win wars, not battles. Low intensity war (LIC) — of which counter-insurgency is one form — is the most common form of fighting since WWII. We show few signs of skill at it. No signs of any “force multipliers”.

    “With the consideration that our ground forces have been bogged down in two occupations, what is the point of reflecting the fact the Navy has fewer ships and USAF has fewer planes when technology has enabled them to be just as effective otherwise?”

    What does this mean? Esp “reflecting the fact”?

  6. Dear Daskro,

    What we toppled was a military establishment that had been decisively defeated in DESERT STORM and then further decimated by 12 years of sanctions and the political whims of Saddam Hussein. GEN Schwartzkopf noted that in the first Gulf War, we could have switched weapons and the outcome would have been the same; so much more would it have been in the second.

    But we don’t need to reason from anecdotes. In Military Power (Princeton, 2004) Stephen Biddle reviews all the available data and concludes that while numerical preponderance conveys a weak advantage, technological superiority provides none at all. That is, knowing which side had technical superiority does not improve your chances of knowing who won. What does have the most explanatory power is which side can use what Biddle calls the “modern system,” which is essentially maneuver warfare.

  7. Also, Daskro: We toppled a military establishment that did not follow the tactics needed to fight the US.

    If the Iraqi army had followed William S Lind’s strategies, it would have been far more painful to even get to the toppling in baghdad, and the insurgency wouldn’t have had to rely on such stupidies as the US leaving 100+ TONS of explosive unguarded.

  8. Biddle’s wrong. First, there is nothing new about maneuvers in warfare. Secondly, in conventional warfare military victory has always favored the side with superior weapons, from the spear to artillery, machine guns, missiles, etc. In a tank battle you may maneuver however you wish but the Abrams will win because of its technical superiority. But anyhow this is irrelevant to the present situation which is largely absent conventional warfare. How do you maneuver against a guerilla??

  9. Daskro — thanks!

    Don Bacon — Re: “Biddle’s wrong. First, there is nothing new about maneuvers in warfare.” I don’t think Biddle made that claim (and I certainly didn’t mean to imply it). As for “in conventional warfare military victory has always favored the side with superior weapons,” it seems reasonable, but the data do not support it.

    Can you maneuver against a guerrilla? Sure. Why not?

  10. To expand on what FM and Chet (who is undoubtedly one of the authors collected in the above-mentioned anthology) have mentioned… Force multipliers loom large in traditional warfare practiced up through the midpoint of the 20th century. That is to say, 3rd generation warfare.

    Force multipliers remain tangential to 4GW. Having entered a new era of warfare, it seems unlikely that many (indeed, any) of America’s military opponents will make the same foolish mistakes Saddam Hussein made. Just as no sensible historian can view the battle of San Juan Hill as anything but a peculiar exception in the general trend of warfare which led to WW I, no reasonable person can view Desert Storm as anything but an exotic outlier, statistically speaking, in the historical trends which have irresistably led away from 3GW and toward 4GW.

    The larger question remains: what kind of force will our current army become? Many senior Pentagon brass have pointed out that the future for America’s armed forces involves OOTW, “Operations Other Than Warfare.” This suggests that we require FOTAA — Forces Other Than An Army. Perhaps a combination of armed peace corps, special forces, and British Raj replete with mediators and sanitary engineers to help tens of millions of global warming climate refugees build slit trench latrines in their refugee camps. William S. Lind and others have suggested changes to our current force structure and training regime which would transform the U.S. army, Navy and Air Force beyond recognition.

    More to the point, fiscal constraints will soon oblige America to downsize its military force radically and, by historical standards, with shocking speed. It remains to be seen what kind of U.S. military will emerge from the current financial hecatomb, the tectonic upheaval and overthrow of the current geopolitical order which has prevailed since the end of WW II, and the fiscal tsunami soon to ensue when the Baby Boomers retire and start slurping up 97 trillion dollars worth of future entitlement obligations courtesy of Medicaid.

  11. Chet, I think you’ve got a point there, about the importance of maneuver.

    After more than five years in Iraq, with tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, and tens of thousands more in prison, and with 542,125 trained Iraqi security personnel according to the most recent US State Department Weekly Status Report, the reason that the irreducible 150,000 US military personnel continue to be required against the handful of Iraqi guerillas that remain is because the US troops have been out-maneuvered by a few urban guerillas.

  12. FM: “However, in a practical sense, we use the words in the way defined by the community”

    FM, I am truly disappointed in you. I thought you of all people would understand the importance of speaking accurately. You are usually so precise. It’s not just semantics in this case, and language matters, in a practical sense.

    Why do men fight? Why does an Iraqi, faced with an occupying army which is numerically and technologically superior, pick up a rifle or a shovel and at great personal risk, at great odds, try to kill an invader? Because the invader is a “defender” or a “counter-insurgent?” Or because the invader is a foreign crusader, an alien imperialist occupier.

    Would you or I pick up a rifle against George Bush; would we be insurgents? No. Would we pick up a rifle against, say, Chinese occupiers? Yes. That’s the difference, and that’s why it’s not correct to “use the words in the way defined by the community”. The “community” has defined these words to suit themselves, and that’s one reason for the mess we’re in.

    In Iraq, Iraqis are fighting for their country, US troops aren’t. Afghanistan, same deal. The failure to understand this basic concept of why men fight is at the root of the problem. Men fight and die to combat alien invaders, occupiers, and they are not therefore insurgents, and that’s why there’s a “Defense Meltdown”, and that’s why words matter.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This sounds like something from a Trotskyite text. I write to be understood, so I use words in their conventional meaning. All the things you mention I have said in my articles over the past five years. The often vehement criticism they received is IMO sufficient evidence that folks have understood them quite well.

  13. The “problem” foreign occupiers always face is the simple fact that the land will be defended by those who have inherited the “dirt”. It’s not our dirt, it’s their dirt. No amount of coercion, bribery, force, etc., has ever resulted in a permanent multi-generational change of ownership over the long term. Total assimilation of both cultures might provide a different perspective. But, I would argue that the dirt then reverts to the local residents and does not remain a possession of the occupiers. I don’t’ believe that any current or future 4GW doctrine applied by occupiers will change this.

    I would appreciate hearing comments on the use of the terms “insurgent” and “partisan”. Or do we have only semantic manipulation by the media? The Iraqi and Afgan partisans seem to be holding their own. They have time on their side and long memories.

    Lastly I beg pardon, as I am still working on my education and am obviously not as well read as those that post here. I’m working on it.

  14. Fabius Maximus replies: “This sounds like something from a Trotskyite text. I write to be understood, so I use words in their conventional meaning. All the things you mention I have said in my articles over the past five years.”

    I’m not familiar with Trotsky. I’m not trying to mimic anyone. I’m trying to talk sense but you seem content to talk in riddles, treating truth as an inconvenience because it varies from “conventional meanings” even though “all the things you mention I have said.”

    “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
    — Lewis Carroll, The Queen in Through the Looking Glass

    “Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake;”
    — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

    You may keep your delusions. Enjoy them.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand any of this.

    “You may keep your delusions. Enjoy them.”

    What delusions? I simply said that I use words as conventionally understood. Nor have I found that poses any difficulty to communicating the specific concepts you mentioned. What is the problem here? What is the alternative?

    “treating truth as an inconvenience because it varies from ‘conventional meanings'”

    This is confused. Truth and words are very different things. That is a fundamental aspect of modern thinking in many different fields, from General Semantics to modern linguistics.

    “I’m not familiar with Trotsky. I’m not trying to mimic anyone.”

    I said “This sounds like something from a Trotskyite text.” To someone from my generation (or even older) familar with the Left that means “quarrelling over theoretical differences that seem insignificant or indecipherable to an outsider” (from NationMaster Encyclopedia).

    Let’s see how this applies to your example of the term “COIN.” I could write articles saying that this is the wrong description or label for what we are doing. I can testify that this is difficult to do without being boring, after writing almost 100 articles since September 2003 about our wars in the Middle East. For sure it is beyond my modest skills! I would like to see your articles on the subject, for comparison.

    Or one can write about the reality on the ground, for the Iraq people and Americans — hoping to help us better understand the nature of our occupation of their land. Here are a few examples my attempts to do so. You can see the OTHERS here.

    * Scorecard #4: New developments in Iraq, 22 November 2003
    * Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War, 6 October 2007
    * Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN, 27 May 2008
    * A NY Times reporter proves that we still do not understand Iraq, 31 May 2008
    * The Real War in Iraq, seldom mentioned (do not disturb the slumber of America), 16 June 2008
    * What we did we wrong in Iraq – the simple, short version, 9 July 2008
    * Is COIN the graduate level of military hubris?, 30 July 2008

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