The economic Death Spiral of the Pentagon

Today’s post provides a long, fact-filled analysis by Chalmers Johnson about the inner workings of our military.  It folows exhaustive research about this horror show by the Center for Defense Information.  Of course, all wisdom follows several years behind the writings of Fred Reed.  In this case, see rules 7 – 9 from “Fred: A True Son of Tzu“, Fred Reed, 23 January 2007 — The 12 maxims for military success.

(7)  Keep up to date with the latest nostrums and silver bullets. Organize your military as a lean, mean, high-tech force characterized by lightning mobility, enormous firepower, and extraordinary unsuitability for the kind of wars it will actually have to fight. … Recognize that an advanced fighter plane costing two hundred million dollars, invisible to radar, employing dazzling electronic countermeasures, and able to cruise at supersonic speed, is exactly the thing for fighting a rifleman in a basement in Baghdad. Such aircraft are crucial force multipliers in multi-dimensional warfare. Anyway, Al Quaeda might field an advanced air force at any moment. It pays to be ready.

(8)  It is a good idea to bracket your exposure. Be ready for wars past and future, but not present. The Pentagon does this well. Note that the current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.

(9)  View things in a large context. People who have little comprehension of the military tend to focus exclusively on winning wars, missing the greater importance of the Pentagon as an economic flywheel. Jobs are more important than wars fought in bush-world countries. An American military ought to think of Americans first. This is simple patriotism. It is essential to spend as much money as possible on advanced weapons that have no current use, and none in sight, but produce jobs in congressional districts. Good examples are the F-22 fighter, the F-35, the Airborne Laser, the V-22, and the ABM.

For those prefering to wallow in the sordid details,  Chalmers Johnson was written “The Looming Crisis at the Pentagon — How Taxpayers Finance Fantasy Wars“, posted at TomDispatch, 2 February 2009.  I strongly recommend reading it in full.  The recession (or worse) will force difficult choices, and there might be no better opportunity to force reform of our military.

Summary by Tom Engelhardt

Chalmers Johnson, author of the already-classic Blowback Trilogy, including most recently Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, makes vividly clear just how little the Pentagon is organized to consider the actual defense needs of the United States. In many ways, it remains a deadly organization of boys with toys that now poses a distinct economic danger to the rest of us. (Check out, as well, a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon’s economic death spiral by clicking here).


Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment — and that’s to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal constraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency. We face a double crisis at the Pentagon: we can no longer afford the pretense of being the Earth’s sole superpower, and we cannot afford to perpetuate a system in which the military-industrial complex makes its fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons.

Double Crisis at the Pentagon

This self-destructive system of bloated budgets and purchases of the wrong weapons has persisted for so long thanks to the aura of invincibility surrounding the Armed Forces and a mistaken belief that jobs in the arms industry are as valuable to the economy as jobs in the civilian sector.

… It is hard to imagine any sector of the American economy more driven by ideology, delusion, and propaganda than the armed services. Many people believe that our military is the largest, best equipped, and most invincible among the world’s armed forces. None of these things is true, but our military is, without a doubt, the most expensive to maintain. Each year, we Americans account for nearly half of all global military spending, an amount larger than the next 45 nations together spend on their militaries annually.

Equally striking, the military seems increasingly ill-adapted to the types of wars that Pentagon strategists agree the United States is most likely to fight in the future, and is, in fact, already fighting in Afghanistan — insurgencies led by non-state actors. While the Department of Defense produces weaponry meant for such wars, it is also squandering staggering levels of defense appropriations on aircraft, ships, and futuristic weapons systems that fascinate generals and admirals, and are beloved by military contractors mainly because their complexity runs up their cost to astronomical levels.

That most of these will actually prove irrelevant to the world in which we live matters not a whit to their makers or purchasers. Thought of another way, the stressed out American taxpayer, already supporting two disastrous wars and the weapons systems that go with them, is also paying good money for weapons that are meant for fantasy wars, for wars that will only be fought in the battlescapes and war-gaming imaginations of Defense Department “planners.”

The Air Force and the Army are still planning as if, in the reasonably near future, they were going to fight an old-fashioned war of attrition against the Soviet Union, which disappeared in 1991; while the Navy, with its eleven large aircraft-carrier battle groups, is, as William S. Lind has written, “still structured to fight the Imperial Japanese Navy.” Lind, a prominent theorist of so-called fourth-generation warfare (insurgencies carried out by groups such as al-Qaeda), argues that “the Navy’s aircraft-carrier battle groups have cruised on mindlessly for more than half a century, waiting for those Japanese carriers to turn up. They are still cruising today, into, if not beyond, irrelevance… Submarines are today’s and tomorrow’s capital ships; the ships that most directly determine control of blue waters.”

In December 2008, Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, a former high-ranking civilian in the Pentagon’s Office of Systems Analysis (set up in 1961 to make independent evaluations of Pentagon policy) and a charter member of the “Fighter Mafia” of the 1980s and 1990s, wrote, “As has been documented for at least twenty years, patterns of repetitive habitual behavior in the Pentagon have created a self-destructive decision-making process. This process has produced a death spiral.”

As a result, concluded Spinney, inadequate amounts of wildly overpriced equipment are purchased, “new weapons [that] do not replace old ones on a one for one basis.” There is also “continual pressure to reduce combat readiness,” a “corrupt accounting system” that “makes it impossible to sort out the priorities,” and a readiness to believe that old solutions will work for the current crisis.

Failed Reform Efforts

There’s no great mystery about the causes of the deep dysfunction that has long characterized the Pentagon’s weapons procurement system. In 2006, Thomas Christie, former head of Operational Test and Evaluation, the most senior official at the Department of Defense for testing weapons and a Pentagon veteran of half a century, detailed more than 35 years of efforts to reform the weapons acquisition system. These included the 1971 Fitzhugh (or Blue Ribbon) Commission, the 1977 Steadman Review, the 1981 Carlucci Acquisition Initiatives, the 1986 Packard Commission, the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, the 1989 Defense Management Review, the 1990 “Streamlining Review” of the Defense Science Board, the 1993-1994 report of the Acquisition Streamlining Task Force and of the Defense Science Board, the late 1990s Total System Performance Responsibility initiative of the Air Force, and the Capabilities-Based Acquisition approach of the Missile Defense Agency of the first years of this century.

Christie concluded: “After all these years of repeated reform efforts, major defense programs are taking 20 to 30 years to deliver less capability than planned, very often at two to three times the costs and schedules planned.” He also added the following observations:

“Launching into major developments without understanding key technical issues is the root cause of major cost and schedule problems… Costs, schedules, and technical risks are often grossly understated at the outset… There are more acquisition programs being pursued than DoD [the Department of Defense] can possibly afford in the long term… 

“By the time these problems are acknowledged, the political penalties incurred in enforcing any major restructuring of a program, much less its cancellation, are too painful to bear. Unless someone is willing to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes, the U.S. military will continue to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars and critical years while acquiring equipment that falls short of meeting the needs of troops in the field.”

 The inevitable day of reckoning, long predicted by Pentagon critics, has, I believe, finally arrived. Our problems are those of a very rich country which has become accustomed over the years to defense budgets that are actually jobs programs and also a major source of pork for the use of politicians in their reelection campaigns.

… However, don’t wait for the Pentagon to sort out such matters. If it has proven one thing over the last decades, it’s that it is thoroughly incapable of reforming itself. According to Christie, “Over the past 20 or so years, the DoD and its components have deliberately and systematically decimated their in-house technical capabilities to the point where there is little, if any, competence or initiative left in the various organizations tasked with planning and executing its budget and acquisition programs.”

Gunning for the Air Force

… More than 20 years ago, Chuck Spinney wrote a classic account of the now-routine bureaucratic scams practiced within the Pentagon to ensure that Congress will appropriate funds for dishonestly advertised and promoted weapons systems and then prevent their cancellation when the fraud comes to light. In a paper he entitled “Defense Power Games,” of which his superiors deeply disapproved, Spinney outlined two crucial Pentagon gambits meant to lock in such weaponry: “front-loading” and “political engineering.”

It should be understood at the outset that all actors involved, including the military officers in charge of projects, the members of Congress who use defense appropriations to buy votes within their districts, and the contractors who live off the ensuing lucrative contracts, utilize these two scams. It is also important to understand that neither front-loading nor political engineering is an innocent or morally neutral maneuver. They both involve criminal intent to turn on the spigot of taxpayer money and then to jam it so that it cannot be turned off. They are de rigueur practices of our military-industrial complex.

Front-loading is the practice of appropriating funds for a new weapons project based solely on assurances by its official sponsors about what it can do. This happens long before a prototype has been built or tested, and invariably involves the quoting of unrealistically low unit costs for a sizeable order. Assurances are always given that the system’s technical requirements will be simple or have already been met. Low-balling future costs, an intrinsic aspect of front-loading, is an old Defense Department trick, a governmental version of bait-and-switch. (What is introduced as a great bargain regularly turns out to be a grossly expensive lemon.)

Political engineering is the strategy of awarding contracts in as many different Congressional districts as possible. By making voters and Congressional incumbents dependent on military money, the Pentagon’s political engineers put pressure on them to continue supporting front-loaded programs even after their true costs become apparent.

Front-loading and political engineering generate several typical features in the weapons that the Pentagon then buys for its arsenal. These continually prove unnecessarily expensive, are prone to break down easily, and are often unworkably complex. They tend to come with inadequate supplies of spare parts and ammunition, since there is not enough money to buy the numbers that are needed. They also force the services to repair older weapons and keep them in service much longer than is normal or wise. (For example, the B-52 bomber, which went into service in 1955, is still on active duty.)

… For example, Northrop-Grumman’s much touted B-2 stealth bomber has proven to be almost totally worthless. It is too delicate to deploy to harsh climates without special hangars first being built to protect it at ridiculous expense; it cannot fulfill any combat missions that older designs were not fully adequate to perform; and — at a total cost of $44.75 billion for only 21 bombers — it wastes resources needed for real combat situations.

Instead, in military terms, the most unexpectedly successful post-Vietnam aircraft has been the Fairchild A-10, unflatteringly nicknamed the “Warthog.” It is the only close-support aircraft ever developed by the U.S. Air Force. Its task is to loiter over battlefields and assist ground forces in disposing of obstinate or formidable targets, which is not something that fits comfortably with the Air Force’s hot-shot self-image.

Some 715 A-10s were produced and they served with great effectiveness in the first Persian Gulf War. All 715 cumulatively cost less than three B-2 bombers. The A-10 is now out of production because the Air Force establishment favors extremely fast aircraft that fly in straight lines at high altitudes rather than aircraft that are useful in battle. In the Afghan war, the Air Force has regularly inflicted heavy casualties on innocent civilians at least in part because it tries to attack ground targets from the air with inappropriately high-performance equipment.

Using the F-22 to Fight the F-16

… By the time the prototype F-22 had its roll-out on May 11, 1997, the Cold War was nearly a decade in its grave, and it was perfectly apparent that the Soviet aircraft it was intended to match would never be built. Lockheed Martin, the F-22’s prime contractor, naturally argued that we needed it anyway and made plans to sell some 438 airplanes for a total tab of $70 billion. By mid-2008, only 183 F-22s were on order, 122 of which had been delivered. The numbers had been reduced due to cost overruns. The Air Force still wants to buy an additional 198 planes, but Secretary Gates and his leading assistants have balked. No wonder. According to arms experts Bill Hartung and Christopher Preble, at more than $350 million each, the F-22 is “the most expensive fighter plane ever built.”

The F-22 has several strikingly expensive characteristics which actually limit its usefulness. It is allegedly a stealth fighter — that is, an airplane with a shape that reduces its visibility on radar — but there is no such thing as an airplane completely invisible to all radar. In any case, once it turns on its own fire-control radar, which it must do in combat, it becomes fully visible to an enemy.

The F-22 is able to maneuver at very high altitudes, but this is of limited value since there are no other airplanes in service anywhere that can engage in combat at such heights. It can cruise at twice the speed of sound in level flight without the use of its afterburners (which consume fuel at an accelerated rate), but there are no potential adversaries for which these capabilities are relevant. The plane is obviously blindingly irrelevant to “fourth-generation wars” like that with the Taliban in Afghanistan — the sorts of conflicts for which American strategists inside the Pentagon and out believe the United States should be preparing.

… Thanks to political engineering, the F-22 has parts suppliers in 44 states, and some 25,000 people have well-paying jobs building it. Lockheed Martin and some in the Defense Department have therefore proposed that, if the F-22 is cancelled, it should be replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also built by Lockheed Martin.

Most serious observers believe that this would only make a bad situation worse. So far the F-35 shows every sign of being, in Chuck Spinney’s words, “a far more costly and more troubled turkey” than the F-22, “even though it has a distinction that even the F-22 cannot claim, namely it is tailored to meet the same threat that… ceased to exist at least three years before the F-35 R&D [research and development] program began in 1994.”

The F-35 is considerably more complex than the F-22, meaning that it will undoubtedly be even more expensive to repair and will break down even more easily. Its cost per plane is guaranteed to continue to spiral upwards. The design of the F-22 involves 4 million lines of computer code; the F-35, 19 million lines. The Pentagon sold the F-35 to Congress in 1998 with the promise of a unit cost of $184 million per aircraft. By 2008, that had risen to $355 million per aircraft and the plane was already two years behind schedule.

According to Pierre M. Sprey, one of the original sponsors of the F-16, and Winslow T. Wheeler, a 31-year veteran staff official on Senate defense committees, the F-35 is overweight, underpowered, and “less maneuverable than the appallingly vulnerable F-105 ‘lead sled’ that got wiped out over North Vietnam in the Indochina War.” Its makers claim that it will be a bomber as well as a fighter, but it will have a payload of only two 2,000-pound bombs, far less than American fighters of the Vietnam era. Although the Air Force praises its stealth features, it will lose these as soon as it mounts bombs under its wings, which will alter its shape most un-stealthily.

It is a non-starter for close-air-support missions because it is too fast for a pilot to be able to spot tactical targets. It is too delicate and potentially flammable to be able to withstand ground fire. If built, it will end up as the most expensive defense contract in history without offering a serious replacement for any of the fighters or fighter-bombers currently in service.

The Fighter Mafia

… Over a quarter-century ago, back in 1982, journalist James Fallows outlined the most serious structural obstacle to any genuine reform in his National Book Award-winning study, National Defense. The book was so influential that at least one commentator includes Fallows as a non-Pentagon member of Boyd’s “Fighter Mafia.”  As Fallows then observed (pp. 64-65):

“The culture of procurement teaches officers that there are two paths to personal survival. One is to bring home the bacon for the service as the manager of a program that gets its full funding. ‘Procurement management is more and more the surest path to advancement’ within the military, says John Morse, who retired as a Navy captain after twenty-eight years in the service…. 

“The other path that procurement opens leads outside the military, toward the contracting firms. To know even a handful of professional soldiers above the age of forty and the rank of major is to keep hearing, in the usual catalogue of life changes, that many have resigned from the service and gone to the contractors: to Martin Marietta, Northrop, Lockheed, to the scores of consulting firms and middlemen, whose offices fill the skyscrapers of Rosslyn, Virginia, across the river from the capital. In 1959, Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois reported that 768 retired senior officers (generals, admirals, colonels, and Navy captains) worked for defense contractors. Ten years later Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin said that the number had increased to 2,072.”

Almost 30 years after those words were written, the situation has grown far worse. Until we decide (or are forced) to dismantle our empire, sell off most of our 761 military bases (according to official statistics for fiscal year 2008) in other people’s countries, and bring our military expenditures into line with those of the rest of the world, we are destined to go bankrupt in the name of national defense. As of this moment, we are well on our way, which is why the Obama administration will face such critical — and difficult — decisions when it comes to the Pentagon budget.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of three linked books on the crises of American imperialism and militarism. They are Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006). All are available in paperback from Metropolitan Books. To listen to a TomDispatch audio interview with Johnson on the Pentagon’s potential economic death spiral, click here.


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

Other posts about America’s military machinery:

  1. Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
  2. One telling similarity between the the Wehrmacht and the US Military, 10 March 2008
  3. A neverending story: DoD’s attempts to stop cooking the books, 2 May 2008
  4. “America’s Greatest Weapon”, 25 May 2008 — About our people in uniform.
  5. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders, 27 May 2008
  6. One of the best geopolitical posts of the year, IMO, 12 August 2008 — “War is the great auditor of institutions”
  7. Stratfor: “The U.S. Air Force and the Next War”, 13 June 2008
  8. Nagl gives a profoundly wrong vision for the US military, 22 June 2008
  9. The moral courage of our senior generals, or their lack of it, 3 July 2008
  10. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”, 8 July 2008
  11. The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world, 8 September 2008
  12. No coins, no COIN, 6 October 2008
  13. America’s Defense Meltdown, now avilable for free download, 20 November 2008

22 thoughts on “The economic Death Spiral of the Pentagon”

  1. His prior books have so convinced me of the iron grip of the Pentagon on American government that I’m surprised he here seems to believe that our current economic crisis will be some kind of “challenge” for the Pentagon, and force previously unthinkable cuts and reforms.
    Let’s hope so!
    Fabius Maximus replies: Optimism is easy to acquite and feels good!

  2. If the F-22 were ever seriously considered for cancellation, they can always make the case that it can made an EF-22. If AIM-120s can be made into HARMs, the Air Force can now fill a role needed for either fighting a strong or weak nation: Remove SAM-guiding radars, allowing A-10s, F-16s, & F-15s to perform their missions. Then, the numbers doesn’t matter as much and the premium could be explained as trade-off for making any IADS of our choice useless, if only for the first weeks of a war.

    But they don’t and there are a lot of ifs, therefore it is an expensive replacement for F-15s.

  3. It is obvious that the Pentagon lives in its own bubble world and creates weapons that is only relevant for inside this bubble world. Weapons that continues to become more and more expensive, complex and irrelevant produced in smaller and smaller quantities. It begins to looks a lot like the Third Reich, that had a mania with creating sophisticated weapons like the V2 rocket(expensive and ineffective) and the Tiger-tank (effective, but only available in small quantities). It will increasingly rely on a knock out-power, while its power for a sustained fight will diminish simply because there are too few weapons and they will cost too much to loose. If I remember correct the United States intends to employ less than 200 F-22 fighters. How effective will they be if the United States has to operate around the world? Perhaps in a crisis with China we will see the President prevent the use of US military because it will be too expensive just to loose a single plane or ship. Remember the fate of the German High See Fleet – aka the “luxury fleet” in Churchill’s words – in WW1? The German naval program consumed staggering sums that grew from 20% (in 1898) to 55% (in 1911) of army levels. Studies shows how this vast sum fell between 2 stools. Insufficient to wrest control of the North Sea from the British, it spent most of the war in harbor, while the mighty German Army fought the whole world and was defeated by the narrowest of margins.

    How to reform? It has been tried to reform the Pentagon from inside. It has failed. It is also instructive to watch what happened in Russia after the Soviet collapse in 1991: The urge for a great power military didn’t disappear with the collapse, but simple went into deep sleep. As soon as the money from Petro-dollars came trickling back the Russian general staff returned with age old plans for new aircraft carriers, nuclear subs and a lot of other irrelevant stuff that would only make sense if Russia wanted to fight the Cold War all over again.

    Perhaps the only sort of reform is to create parallel structures. Hitler created the Waffen SS as a counterweight to the Wehrmacht, Khomeini created the Revolutionary Guard as a counterweight to the regular Iranian army. Parallel structures already exist in the United States in the form of private military companies like Dyncorp or Blackwater. Instead of wasting money on futile reforms of the Pentagon divert the money to some of these promising companies.

    Don’t tell it is a stupid idea. I realize that. But everything else has been tried and failed for sixty years.
    Fabius Maximus replies: It is not a stupid idea, and has been suggested before my many top experts. It is a desperate measure, and one we can no longer afford. It would increase the cost of our military forces, and we can no longer afford what we have.

  4. To achieve reform, if force won’t work, try bribery.

    Take every general and admiral in the military and every CEO of relevant corporations. Give – say – $100 million to each. Retire all of them to the Riviera. Install new leadership. Proceed.

    So far as parallel development goes, you pretty much would need to establish a whole new capitol. E.g. Constantine replaced Rome with Constantinople. The Arabs replaced Damascus with Baghdad. Louis XIV left Paris for Versailles. There’s a long list. Ibn Khaldun, if I recall correctly, citing such instances, advocated creating new capitols.

  5. I always thought the Joint Chiefs, etc., should have been executed after 9.11. They could not intercept aircraft over our own country? What were all those National Guard bases for? Oh, that’s right, keeping GERMANY safe. String ’em up! The Russians are way ahead of us in this regard.

    It seems nothing has changed. Anyways, fire them all. Every single one. I would rather President Obama run the military for awhile, over these guys.

    Al-Qaeda was wrong to strike the Pentagon, far more damage could have been done to America just leaving it alone.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Why would we maintain the ability to intercept aircraft over the US (vs. those crossing our borders)? In case Detroit attacks Pittsburg? The cost would be fantastic.

  6. (FM)” Why would we maintain the ability to intercept aircraft over the US (vs. those crossing our borders)?”

    I dont believe the mission of our air defense agencies (I’ve happily forgotten the acronyms of all the ones that failed to stop the 9-11 hijackers) is only to stop planes from crossing our borders. Hi-jacking planes is a crime, and usually associated with terrorist agendas, and I would think it was among the major concerns of those agencies.

    The so-called Apollo Project — a contemporary version of the original national space project, this time directed toward the development of alternate energy sources and transportation — lists as one of its advantages the possibility of weaning major defense contractors away from purely military projects to those focussed on civilian infrastructure. Instead of fifty $2 billion dollar supersonic fighter-bombers, give us one hi-speed transcontinental bullet train.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t believe the following is correct.

    “Hi-jacking planes is a crime, and usually associated with terrorist agendas, and I would think it was among the major concerns of those agencies.’

    How do F-15’s stop conventional hijackings? Also, do you have any evidence the 9-11 scenario (terrorists using airlines as weapons) was taken seriously before 9-11, sufficiently so to warrant the vast expense to station fighter aircraft or SAM’s for internal coverage of the US? For that matter, has DoD done so following 9-11?

    For information about “The New Apollo Program” see the site of the Apollo Alliance. Their motto: “Clean Energy, Good Jobs.” Go here to see their report.

  7. OK, I’m missing something. Here is FM railing against Pentagon waste, and rightly so, and yet in other posts we all need to be Keynesians now, and government spending must be big and fast, which by definition is waste. If you look at the bill, that confirms it — almost a $ trillion of huge waste (wow, 12 zeros!) and not only is it huge waste, but it is huge waste that will do little to position us for the future, or keep high tech manufacturing jobs, which defense spending, despite all its faults, does.

    Sure, let’s throw a bunch of money at the banks and construction projects that won’t start for three years and at ACORN instead. That’ll help.

    Not defending the policies of the past — they are indefensible. But WTF?
    Fabius Maximus replies: As I have explained several times, Keynes said that burying money and paying people to dig it up would provide a stimulus — but that was a metaphor, not a recommendation to deliberately waste the money. This seems clear, but obviously is not so. After all, Japan could have just burned much of its stimulus spending and gotten equal results.

    I have said this several times. At some length on 7 October in “Dr. Bush, stabilize the economy – stat!” Perhaps most clearly in this comment to “Everything you need to know about government stimulus programs (read this – it’s about your money)” (30 January 2009).

    Just because digging holes and filling them in is stimulus — helping people keep food on the table — does not mean that we cannot do better with the money. Why build bridges to nowhere when we need real repairs to our infrastructure?

    It is of the utmost importance to remember that we are borrowing this money! The twin goals should be IMO:
    (1) Spending it on things that generate a future economic return, or
    (2) Spending it on things that mimimize pain and suffering today.

  8. “Fabius Maximus replies: Why would we maintain the ability to intercept aircraft over the US (vs. those crossing our borders)? In case Detroit attacks Pittsburg? The cost would be fantastic.”

    Would it? Would it really? Two F16’s per major city, and some middling ones, on 60 second scramble at a civillian airport? I really don’t think it would cost much at all. Besides, isn’t the cost of the military already,”fantastic”?

    Now, the cost of hiring someone to work in the military, who actually has the brains to forsee…things, like, for instance, the probability that an enemy would not attack, say, a heavily armed military base on a nuclear tripwire in Germany, say, and attack, instead, some civillian target right in the US, based on some weird notion, that I read once, that it’s a good idea to attack your enemy where he is not. Go figure! That’s where the five hundred million would come in.

    Your right, no one in the military took the 9.11 scenario seriously. That’s why I would have made heads roll.

    Sleep well tonight! GERMANY is safe!
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do we have any readers here familar with Air Force logistics? How many aircraft would be required to have 2 ready for “60 second scramble” at a civilian airport? How many required for crew and maintanence? Cost estimate for the people and facilities? Multiply by 20 or more, depending on how many cities are “major” and “middling”.

    “Besides, isn’t the cost of the military already “fantastic”?”
    Does overspending mean that we can easily spend more? Does that work for your family’s budget?

    This brings us back, as so often the case, to “We are so vulnerable to so many things. What is the best response?” So many Americans believe that every threat scenario they can imagine should be met with a “expense is no object” response. Bankruptcy is a threat few Americans seem to fear, hence highly likely to occur.

  9. By now it is clear to everyone that we have not made the world safe for Democracy and we are not protecting the Republic. We should rightly fear terror attacks because we are not prepared to defend vs them or even understand what they may be. Why? Because we are in the grip of the corrupt Congress-Pentagon cabal that has perverted American patriotism.

    We need a real national defense strategy, military forces and equipment to sustain it and a foreign policy that advances it. The first measure is to close the Pentagon, not reform it. Close it. Send all of the military bureaucrats into retirement or back to active service. Cancel all procurement and establish a Commission to review everything. We cannot even make a decent rifle.

    Eisenhower was much too polite in his warning. The 50th anniversary of his warning is approaching. Google his speech and read it. Urge the President to act. We need effective military forces, agile and powerful. We needs lots of really cool submarines, not carriers. Give ours to the Chinese, they love the 1950s. Abolish the air force, give its functions back to the Army and create a Space Command and Internet Command from some fraction of the former air force. Expand the Marine Corps one or two divisions, add several divisions of real Military Police, essentially light infantry — original Special Forces — and civil affairs. All Special Forces augmented and associated under a joint command — Marine and Army. Close most overseas bases, scrap NATO, invite joint exercises with friendly nations. Get out of Korea and Japan. Speed completion of Guam, rebuild the Navy on principles we cherish: freedom of the seas! Freedom. Kill the Dinosaur. Close the Pentagon. Tomorrow.
    Fabius Maximus replies: For a more detailed and expert view of this, see Chet Richards’ latest book “If We Can Keep It.” See the FM review here.

    Unfortunately, I believe Rubinstein’s advice is operationally backwards. Massive political changes are required in order to make military reform possible, therefore reforming the military is far down the list of “to do” items.

    Also, against what threat do the “really cool submarines” defend us? Carriers allow us to project power into areas where we have no bases, esp combined with expeditionary strike groups (for more on the latter see “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”, 2 September 2008).

  10. From the NYT article about Afghanistan: “As soon as the money from Petro-dollars came trickling back the Russian general staff returned with age old plans for new aircraft carriers, nuclear subs and a lot of other irrelevant stuff that would only make sense if Russia wanted to fight the Cold War all over again.”

    If you pay attention to where the money has been actually allocated, as opposite to the more bombastic but not funded statements about six aircraft carriers and such, the expenditure has been rather wise. For example new nuclear subs were necessary to mantain strategic deterrence, as the older SSBNs are nearing the end of their life.
    You could of course argue that such mission is “useless” but given the american propensity to casually bomb defenceless countries “Because it’s doable” they can be forgiven a bit of paranoia me thinks.
    The same as above goes for the new fighter program or the SAMs developments, which can also earn revenue as exports.

  11. Correct, a case needs to be made to reform the Pentagon which is the potential value of McCain to Obama. If he is serious about changing the way we govern, he will start on Monday. In the meantime a moratorium on all weapons system and resisting the stimulus arguments for keeping the F-22 etc. Egregious but must be answered.
    Project power with carriers? They are only used vs. countries that do not have silkworms or advanced Russian missiles or subs. Good for attacking Iran for a while longer. We have been projecting power for a long time and it has not served us well, projecting arrogance without thinking. Amphibious capacity may be the wave of the present, but it is subs that will protect them along with satellites and drones. Submarines are the future, will keep the sea lanes open, keep all on their toes. Yes, they are not sexy, they just work. Carriers are for the buffoonery of Bush, “Mission Accomplished.” Yes, it was, in 1945.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I disagree that “a case needs to be made to reform the Pentagon.” The political forces maintaining the current system have lasted for over a half century despite dozens of well-documented blue-ribbon reports showing the need for reform. The political balance must be changed, and neither McCain nor Obama (i.e., neither party) shows any interest in this project.

    “Project power with carriers? They are only used vs. countries that do not have silkworms or advanced Russian missiles or subs.”

    All conventional military power is effective only against minor military powers.

    “Submarines are the future, will keep the sea lanes open, keep all on their toes…”

    What does “keep all on their toes” mean? Also, you still have not described the threat against which subs defend. Attacking US carriers as part of “closing the sea lanes” would be suicidal for a non-nuke power, and risking atomic war if done by a nation with nukes. Neither seems likely, nor part of any likely national strategy in the 21st century.

  12. Projecting power with carriers makes sense – but how many carriers do we need to do that?

    Historical note: Due to the primitive design of carrier aircraft, the aircraft carrier really was a second rate warship compared to the battleship until almost 1940. In the interwar period it was more of a hypothetical construct that navies fiddled around with because the Washington Naval Treaty restricted battleship development.

    Analogy: Presently cyberwar remains a hypothetical construct that militaries fiddle around with. At a certain point, however, cyberwar will become a potent force. And it will then become very feasible to project power via cyber attack.

    At that time, the aircraft carrier will follow the battleship to the graveyard.
    Fabius Maximus replies: We might need more carriers than we will have. Current plans suggest that their numbers will steadily decrease as they age out of services faster than replaced, due to their fantastic expense. This is also true of the navy as a whole, and the air force as well — part of the defense death spiral.

    Cyberwar can “project power” only in a narrow sense, causing destruction but not allowing territory to be occupied. Somewhat like nukes, unlike the combination of Carriers and expeditionary strike groups. Of course, as I note below, conventional military power is only useful against minor powers — but useful to keep small “bad boys” from excessively disrupting world peace or trade flows.

  13. Re: #9 Fabius Maximus replies: Do we have any readers here familar with Air Force logistics? How many aircraft would be required to have 2 ready for “60 second scramble” at a civilian airport? How many required for crew and maintanence? Cost estimate for the people and facilities? Multiply by 20 or more, depending on how many cities are “major” and “middling”.|

    I think the U.S. is doing it now, The Air National Guard currently provides almost all of the fighters and personnel to NORAD on a daily basis for the nation’s air sovereignty and air defense missions (the Army provides ground-based air defense, i.e., surface-to-air missiles). According to the ANG 2007 Posture Statement, the Air Guard fulfills 34% of the Air Force’s missions on 7% of the Air Force’s budget, which in 2007 was $105.9 billion, making that $7.4 billion. Of course, these operational costs omit all of the equipment development costs and support structure (e.g., training infrastructure, logistics pipeline, etc.) paid out of the budget of the active Air Force and the Pentagon bureaucracy. But much of that ANG budget was augmenting the active Air Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, so 2/3 of that $7.4 would be a reasonable number for the operations costs.

    The number of air defense patrols varies daily based on the alert posture. For example, last Sunday ANG fighters were over Tampa.

    A large portion of the effort is devoted to identifying, tracking, and if necessary intercepting unknown aircraft both in and entering U.S. airspace. Since 9/11 a different overall scheme was implemented to counter more likely threats and revamp the radar coverage from the cold war posture of only feeding from military radars looking outward at the borders to integrating all the FAA radars looking at internal airspace.

    This doesn’t exactly answer the question, but other countries who also fly F-16s (the Dutch, the Norwegians) seem to be able to fly daily air defense patrols with fighters and operate a radar warning network at a reasonable cost.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t see any of this as relevant to the question. There are, of course, USAF bases on the coasts — able to respond to internal threats. In Florida, adjacent to Cuba. But nothing like that necessary to respond on short notice to internal events like 9-11.

    “other countries who also fly F-16s (the Dutch, the Norwegians) seem to be able to fly daily air defense patrols with fighters and operate a radar warning network at a reasonable cost.”

    These are geographically small nations, with far smaller air forces. The USAF has 1,319 F-16’s (including the ANG) and 490 F-15s. Holland bought 213; Norway 74 (I don’t have numbers in service, probably much fewer). (source)

    “Since 9/11 a different overall scheme was implemented to counter more likely threats”

    Perhaps, but nothing on the scale you propose. Also, base closings might have the opposite effect. Note that the F-15’s that first responded to 9-11 were from the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Per here: “the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process removed the wing’s F-15C Eagles beginning in 2007, leaving the 102nd with an intelligence gathering mission”.

  14. Reform the politics first is crucial.
    I’m glad that, after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, he was pushed back. Bush’s Op. Iraqi Freedom was the final act in the Saddam-started play.

    China attacking Taiwan (Formosa?) is one of the key reasons a big navy is needed; fear of, deterrence against. It’s easy to say that the deterrence is not needed, while it works at stopping the bad stuff. But when it fails, politicians will be blamed for not having better deterrence. (Obama won’t be closing Guantanomo in 2009…)

    I’d like to see big reform of the Pentagon — so would Donald Rumsfeld! Which is why so many generals (& admirals) won’t so thrilled with him.

    The ‘Stimulus’ bill should be watched for defense. It looks like Reps will be bribed by more defense-stimulus pork to vote for the super-pork stimulus. If so, reform will have to wait at least one more election cycle.

    Both the Navy and the Marines provide some aircraft competition to the Air Force — and the ‘duplication’ with slightly different mission requirements almost certainly reduces the huge cost overruns & waste.

    Plus, there are many of high tech research results from looking how to kill more effectively. Probably not as many, nor as useful to most folks, as bio-research for medicine. But perhaps more useful than Pringles or some new form of Doritos or other popular junk food.

  15. Absolutely agree that the U.S. should minimize its overseas military presence. We are subsidizing the defense of other nations, many of whom have large and capable militaries of their own. South Korea comes to mind. Japan is also fully capable of arming and defending itself, albeit not w/o a rewrite of its constitution.

    We also ought to review all of our existing defense expenditures, and missions, including Afghanistan. We should have used a punitive expedition to hammer them after 9-11 and then left. What we are doing there is anyone’s guess. The sole reason one can see for staying in that region is perhaps as a rapid reaction force to Pakistani unrest, and the risk of their nukes falling into the wrong hands. That cat’s probably out of the bag anyway…

    One boondoggle you failed to mention, one worthy of being cut, is the FCS – Future Combat System. That’s about the last thing our ground troops need. Scuttlebutt is that it may already be dead, but five will get you ten some army bigwig is scheming to resurrect it.

    Regarding the F-22, and whether it is needed or not, haven’t advanced designs like the Su-30 fighter waxed our F-15s pretty badly in mock combat ‘red flag’ exercises? Are our best air superiority fighters still top of the heap? Agree here that stealth is a waste of time and money; computer controlled radar arrays are going to make that advantage a thing of the past soon, anyway.

    Heard that some genius wanted to destroy the jigs, blueprints, code, etc. for the A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft. Any truth to this rumor? That would criminally stupid…

    FM, perhaps you’ve mentioned this before, but I missed it. Care to recommend specific book titles on defense reform, any specific visions of how our military should be reconfirgured?
    I’ve seen the D&NI articles.

    Thanks in advance.

  16. This is a multifaceted problem (understatement).

    First, as military officers progress in rank, their duties change from “one who does something” to “one who facilitates others to do something.” In other words, the officer becomes a politician. Politics being what they are, if one is interested in remaining employed, one has to “toe the line” and maintain politically correct behaviors. This is the essence of Boyd’s “be something” or “do something” speech.

    Second, my observation from active duty was that “shooting wars” often clear the ranks of ineffective leaders. As time has marched on, this is less and less the case, particularly with senior officers performing their duties from safe areas rather than “leading from the front.”

    These two issues, IMO form the fundamental structural flaw of the military. It is then compounded by the other issues explained in the articles … hiring of retired military by defense contractors, political engineering, etc.

    How to solve the flaw? Good question. I don’t think our politicians have enough spine to fire the incompetents (they never have in the past), nor are our leaders willing to ignore politics (it is likely that many Generals *have* been fired for not toeing the line with the JCS, the President, etc.). I suspect that great empires have fallen for this reason, to be reabsorbed by the next “great society” that rebuilds from the ruins.

  17. Regarding air defense, as far as I know the USAF has a “formula” to determine how many planes and people are needed to support a particular mission.

    So if we take the mission to be 2 F-16s on alert 24/7, a fighter Squadron of about 12 to 15 aircraft will be required. Which will require perhaps 100 fighter jocks to sustain proficiency training, mission planning, etc. Would need several hundred maintenance personnel to support round-the-clock on- and off-equipment maintenance. And don’t forget the munitions … one would need a munitions storage facility with associated personnel. Then add in the security police, and personnel functions.

    Bottom line is that 2 alert birds at bases across the country would require a large force. BTW, it was done during the Cold War, and was taken apart in the late 1980s.

    I should also add this question … were an F-16 to intercept a passenger jet with hundreds of innocents on board, what to do? I can’t think of any fighter pilot wanting to splash a commercial jet.

    It should also be pointed out that until 9-11, the scenario for most hijackings was to comply with the hijacker, land the jet, and negotiate. 9-11 was the first large-scale attack using this mode of operations.

    The people who should be blamed are the FBI … they had ample warning and evidence, yet did nothing.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the information about the logistics. One quibble: I don’t believe the USAF had coverage to intercept aircraft within the US during the cold war. On the borders, yes (which of course provided some internal coverage).

  18. Knowing that you will revisit this issue many times, let me step back and suggest: 1. we have not matched our national security needs, our military assets and our foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Reagan and Co. knew the SU was a dead horse and unwisely armed our enemies to humiliate the Russians. The Pentagon and Congress duo has been out of control since Eisenhower. Is it possible that the destruction of the fiscal system we established at Bretton Woods, will provide us the opportunity of giving up the Superpower fantasia and address ourselves as a nation state among several, with needs, requirements, aspirations, interests and dangers? Do we agree that the threat of nuclear events are again on the agenda and need to be addressed? How do we prepare America for further attacks? What is the best way to defend ourselves? What is the proper role of the military forces in this? Do we have the appropriate forces? What is the appropriate level of expenditure to protect our nation, to project our interests, to pursue our policy? First we need to have an assessment, then a national security policy, a force level to support and sustain it. I am counting on you F.M. to focus the debate on the small and the large. When we get into it, at some point, I will explain why the invisible submarine is a better and more effective projector of power than aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft, as much as I enjoy watching them.

  19. There are a couple of rather simple methods which could be used to force reform on an unwilling Pentagon.

    1) Break the DOD back into a Department of War and Department of Navy and fold the Air Force back under the Army to refocus its mission. The DOD is simply too large to be effectively managed and controlled by one civilian Secretary and his staff.

    2) Return to the traditional Republican method of controlling the military after a war (as practiced circa 1919-21 and 1946-1948) by taking a meat-cleaver approach to reducing its budget. No pussyfooting around the margins trying to directly cancel a procurement program here or there – chop the budget in half and let the military sort out the results through darwinian internal competition.

    3) Reduce overseas bases to a bare minimum in number. The US has enough direct possessions with places like Hawaii, Samoa, Guam and Guantanmo to project power over much of the globe if desired. Combined with a handful of British possessions used by the US such as Diego Garcia and Ascension Island, and a base here and there like Ramstein or Qatar, and you have “coverage”. The other 750+ bases can be closed and our occupying miliatry evacuated from entire countries like South Korea and Poland with little harm to our true interests.

  20. Anti stimulus?

    Well, maybe shift some of the cut spending for a year or two into improved infrastructure we’ve never been able to “afford” for highways, rail, air traffic control modernization, port expansions, etc.

    Then again, there is the view that the cause of many of our financial problems is the chronic deficit which high defense spending is driving ever upwards.

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