Martin van Creveld looks at our military white elephants

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld looks at one of the most exceptional aspects of US defense policy, our weapons. A naïf would describe it as quite mad, unaware of the lavish salaries and great corporate fortunes created by tapping the almost limitless flow of taxes from the apathetic and credulous citizens of America.

“In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3-1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.
— One of Augustine’s Laws.

Augustine Law of aircraft costs

 

White Elephants

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 28 April 2016

Posted with his generous permission

 

At least since 9/11, and possibly since the First Gulf War back in 1991, it has been clear that the most immediate threat facing developed countries is not other developed countries. It is terrorism, guerrilla, insurgencies, asymmetric war, fourth generation war, war among the people, nontrinitarian war (my own favorite term), whatever. Follows a list — a very partial one, to be sure — of expensive new American weapons and weapon systems, now in various stages of development, all of which have this in common that they are not relevant to the threat in question.

The USAF’s new bomber

America’s last bomber, the B-2, was an absolute disaster. Originally the program, which went back to the late 1980s, was supposed to result in a fleet of 132 aircraft. That figure was later reduced to just 20, plus one used for all kinds of experimental purposes. The machines cost $500,000,000 each, which is far more than almost any conceivable target. Some sources, taking development costs into consideration, provide a much higher figure still. Yet so vulnerable are the machines that, when they are not in the air, they need to stay in air-conditioned hangars. That in turn means that they can only be operated from the Continental US and take hours and hours to reach their targets.

Nevertheless, fixated on bombers as the USAF has been for so many years, none of these problems have prevented it from going for an even more ambitious program. This is the so-called Next Generation Bomber of which 175 are planned. Suppose, which in view of past experience seems rather unlikely, that anything like this number is in fact produced at a cost of God knows how many dozens and dozens of billions. The contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.

Index of US military assets

The USAF’s new ICBM

America’s last ICBM, known as the Peacemaker, was deployed from 1986 on (as so often, cost overruns reduced their number from the original 100 to just 50). In 2005 the last of them was decommissioned. Why? The answer is by no means clear. The START II Treaty, which prohibited putting multiple warheads on a single launcher, was already dead. Killed by President G. W. Bush’s decision to go ahead with missile defense, another unbelievably expensive system which to-date has only yielded a handful of launchers totally unable to stop either a Russian or a Chinese attack. Or perhaps it died because running too different ICBM systems, one made up of Peacemakers and the other of the older Minutemans, was too expensive?

In any case, the warheads were put on the old Minuteman missiles and the launching crews retrained for operating them; a rare case of fortunes being spent so the old can take the place of the new. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.

F-35 in flight

The USAF’s latest fighter, the F-35

Originally it was supposed to be a cheap alternative to the F-22, itself an expensive failure (which is why, out of 750 originally envisaged, only 187 were built). By now, however, each F-35 is expected to cost as much as an F-22. The program has been marked by numerous delays and developmental uncertainties. Only to result in an aircraft that can carry less ordnance than some older ones could. In terms of the critically important thrust to weight ratio it is actually inferior to no fewer than ten different American, Russian, and European fighters.

One sometimes feels that the Air Force has forgotten all about the late John Boyd, his concept of energy maneuverability, and the F-16 whose mastermind he was. Instead it has returned to the days when Soviet-built Mig-17s, flown by North Vietnamese pilots, had little difficulty shooting heavier, less maneuverable, American F-105s out of the sky. And the contribution of all this to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.

Ford class carriers

Compared to its predecessors, the Nimitz class carriers, these huge warships (100,000 ton capacity when fully loaded) are said to have an improved nuclear power plant, electromagnetic catapults, and superior stealth characteristics. Originally they were also supposed to be able to generate a larger number of sorties per day, but there now seems to exist some doubt whether that objective will, in fact, be achieved. Early estimates put the cost of each carrier at $ 10.5 billion; now the estimate stands at $ 12.9 billion. And even this “outrageous” (John McCain) increase is most unlikely to be the last word. The carriers’ contribution to effectively fighting the kind of organization that has mounted 9/11? Zero. Zip.

Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte
Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte.

The army’s new ground combat vehicle

Originally there was a call for a relatively light vehicle. One capable of being rapidly airlifted to wherever it may be needed so that any trouble might be dealt with before it could spread. What emerged, instead, was an 84-ton monster heavier and more unwieldy than any tank now in existence. One reminiscent of Germany’s projected 100, 188, and 1,000 ton tanks during World War II (see image). Thank God this one was cancelled in mid stride — as, incidentally, Hitler’s tanks also were. Or else the black hole that is the national debt would have been blessed with another white elephant.

———————-———————-

About the Author

Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW— preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. He has written about the history of war, such as The Age of Airpower. He has written about the tools of war: Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present.

Some of his books discuss the methods of war: Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He has written three books about Israel: Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force, and a biography of Moshe Dayan.

Perhaps most important are his books examine the evolution of war, such as Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (IMO the best work to date about modern war), The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq, and (my favorite) The Culture of War.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?.

And perhaps most important for 21st century America, his magnum opus— the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State— describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.

For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

For More Information

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Here are two of the best books about the complexities of defense procurement.

Augustines Laws
Available at Amazon.
Technology and War
Available at Amazon.
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