Thursday, December 09, 2004


Uparmored Humvees, And How They Didn't Happen.

Given the SECDEF's recent comments on the issue at that Kuwait Q&A session, I figured I'd alert you to an older but good analysis of the "up-armored Humvee" situation over at Phil Carter's blog, cited today by National Review editor Rich Lowry.

Go read the whole thing, then come back here.

Done? Good.

I think the Intel Dump pos captured a lot of truth, and is a useful primer. However, I think Carter misses some useful angles.

For one, criticizing the Army-- or any military service, anywhere, in history-- for emphasizing the procurement of expensive glamorous weaponry over the procurement of inexpensive but useful weaponry is an easy yet unproductive shot. There are a lot of factors at work in the Pentagon purchasing chain, factors I don't have the time to get into right now. But those factors undeniably influence the procurement decisions made in this building.

And I don't want to criticize big and expensive weapons systems just because they're big and expensive. Such criticism may work for former presidential candidates, but it ignores the reality that our defense requires a lot of big and expensive weapon systems.

There's a methodological tool national security folks use called a threat quadrant. There are four quadrants, with the X axis is probability of the threat, the Y axis is severity of the threat. Here's what you get:

1st Quadrant, Upper right: very high probability, very severe threat
2nd Quadrant, Upper left: very low possibility, very severe threat
3rd Quadrant, Lower left: very low possibility, not a severe threat
4th Quadrant, Lower right: very high probability, not a severe threat
Click here to see a graph that looks similar.

Anyways, the model allows military planners to make assumptions about potential threats, and plan accordingly. For example, one possible analysis by the Pentagon might show a threat quadrant like this:

1st Quadrant: Rogue state use of weapons of mass destruction, major theater wars
2nd Quadrant: Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction, superpower nuclear exchange, attacks against space assets
3rd Quadrant: Conventional superpower conflict
4th Quadrant: Car bombings, peacekeeping operations, low-intensity conflict

Why am I covering all of this? Well, just to show that, if we can discount any political and financial corruption of the process (we can't dismiss it all, but we can dismiss more than you think), you're left with a Pentagon process that must prioritize weapons and strategies according to both the probability of the threat, and the severity of the threat's impact.

Until the occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon threat models simply could not deal with the low-intensity conflict we're fighting. For one, the probability was deemed low, regardless of what Phil Carter thinks. Somalia and Bosnia and Haiti are all fine and good, but no one in the Pentagon envisioned deploying 150,000 troops in a low-intensity shooting war for years on end. Having a few up-armored Humvees in the arsenal was deemed to be sufficient, because quite simply resources are not infinite. Not when the Pentagon looked at the risk analysis and saw the threats emerging from a major theater war in Iraq or North Korea.

That's not to indict the Pentagon for failing to plan for lower-intensity conflicts. It just states that the planning-- and resources, and weapons purchased--- go to the biggest high probability, high-severity threats.

And-- here's a shocker-- the kinds of weapons needed to counter high-probability, high-threat scenarios usually end up being the most expensive and technologically complex. In the old days, that meant tanks and battleships; these days it means intelligence systems and precision bombers.

An uparmored Humvee may be individually inexpensive, but if you buy them in bulk, they start to get very expensive. If the threat model didn't call for it, the Pentagon simply can't buy everything "just to be on the safe side."

Now, all of this above is not said to excuse the Pentagon from warranted criticism. There's a very real argument about whether its threat models should have included a long-term low-intensity conflict. The problem here is that everything has an opportunity cost attached to it. The Pentagon ideal was that "either the low-intensity war won't happen, or if it does, the force we field for the higher-intensity warfare will be able to handle it as a subordinate mission."

The good news is that attitude was actually pretty accurate. We *have* been able to fight this war with a force designed to fight a different kind of fight. However, we've discovered that there are a number of rough edges-- and that discovery has cost us in blood.

But let's take a moment to think about a counterfactual.

Suppose before April 2003 we uparmored every Humvee, provided every soldier with Interceptor armor, trained every soldier in uniform how to be an expert door-kicker, gave supply units integral heavy-weapons, and tripled the number of MPs. We'd be the best trained an equipped force to ever fight a low-intensity conflict.

If we had done all this, I can all but guarantee you that the "major combat operations phase" against Saddam in March 2003 would have last muched longer, involved more American casualties, and rendered the subsequent occupation of Iraq potentially more hazardous than it is today.

We built our force to take down a nation-state in short-order. The skills, equipment, and doctrine to do such a thing are obviously in many cases different than the skills, equipment, and doctrine required to conduct a long-term low-intensity conflict-- especially one that no one accurately predicted we would have to fight in Iraq for two years after the "takedown" phase of the war.

More to come on the issue, as I'm sure it's not going away anytime soon.

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