Wednesday, January 05, 2005


(A Lot) More On The Reported Pentagon Budget Cuts.

Ace linked to a story about military applications for blinding lasers, written at the website Ace made a comment about how the author of DefenseTech, while interesting, was a bit too left-leaning for his tastes.

Perusing the site for myself, I can't complain that he's left-leaning (so is Mike O'Hanlon, and I like a lot of his stuff), but I can complain that he's wrong.

Turns out the website is run by freelancer journo Noah Shachtman. The name sounded familiar, and lo and behold, it is: I criticized his Wired piece on weapons in space back in October.

So, what are my complaints concerning Mr. Shachtman's latest writing?

His blog entries this week entitled "Pentagon Cuts: Bogus?" and "Pushback Begins On Pentagon Cuts" are incomplete and inaccurate.

Again, since I actually know what's going on-- and unlike journalists, I'm ethically obligated from discussing the specifics-- I won't cherry-pick at all of his comments; just the ones I can use my basic experience to refute.

First, the "Bogus" piece:

Don't be fooled by the dollar signs. Pentagon poobahs may say they're trimming $30 billion dollars from their budget over the next six years. But, chances are, those program cuts will be grown back, once Congress has its say and bureaucratic inertia creeps in.

Late last week, while most of us were preparing our hangover remedies, Inside Defense did some damn fine reporting, digging up deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz's order to start paring back new weapons projects.

That's true: a lot of the program cuts are likely to grow back, and Congress is rightly to blame. So, why the cynicism here about the Pentagon's bona fides? Does he believe the Pentagon cuts aren't in good faith? Or is he somehow arguing that the Pentagon should only cut programs that Congress *doesn't* like?

As for that "damn fine reporting"? Big whoop, the budget decisions's leak like rain every year. Illegally, I will add, but alas, only government employees and defense contractors ever get prosecuted; journalists can sleep soundly.

One of the programs hardest hit: the C-130J cargo plane -- a faster, higher-flying, longer-lasting version of the aircraft currently shuttling supplies to Iraq. $5 billion is supposed to be taken out of the program, as the Air Force's purchase of the plane is terminated, and the Marine Corps' buys are ended early. But, in the end, that reduction will "likely [be] reversed on Capitol Hill," according to one Congressional source

He makes the C-130J sound so great, I may want to buy one.

Of course, as the author hopefully knows, a number of high-profile folks on the Hill think the C-130J is a slab of pork for Lockheed Martin. (FYI, the single best John McCain quote of all time: "We're going to have a C-130 in every schoolyard in America.")

The C-130 is primarily an intra-theater transport, shuttling supplies *around* Iraq and the Arabian Gulf, and not *to* theaters from the United States. The C-130J may be a wonderful plane, but if folks in the Pentagon think it's not what America needs to fight our future conflicts-- conflicts that, incidentally, may be far from airfields the C-130 can use or reach-- I'll tend to agree with the Pentagon over LockMart's lobbyists and their Hill supporters.

"This is a favorite cut that Congress always fixes," adds director John Pike.
So, again, don't bother cutting it, right?

I'm no rube, I understand the Washington game quite well, thank you. The Pentagon often cuts the programs popular on the Hill in order to fund their pet projects, safe in the knowledge that Congress won't let their pork suffer in the long run.

The trouble is, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Can't the Pentagon ever cut the pork with the legitimate intent to, you know actually cut the programs? Shachtman's damning the Pentagon if they do, damning them if they don't.

The difference today is that this Pentagon isn't the Clinton/Cohen Defense Department, with its endless Unfunded Priority Lists to Congress and wink-winks to the pork lobby. It's the Bush/Rumsfeld Pentagon, with a significantly stronger record of canceling unnecessary programs, irrespective of political interests. Pork is still a problem, of course, but "Beltway Baseball" considerations have a lot less influence on this Pentagon than any I've seen.

Oh, and nice way to slip a John Pike quote in there. Can we quote the tooth fairy next?

At the end of the "Bogus" piece Shachtman quotes with approval a Phil Carter post advising caution about unnecessarily enlarging the military, and the Army in particular. Shachtman says that "Generals, politicians, and pundits across the political spectrum have been calling for a bigger Army, with more troops."

True, but those Generals, politicians, and pundits all have one thing in common: none of them work in the Pentagon, 2005, and none of them are directly responsible for the welfare of the soldiers fighting this war.

Carter gets it right when he questions whether we should add more troops before we know what we're going to do with them, i.e., a question of strategy. However, it's not only a question of strategy, it's also a question of technology: given technological advances today and coming soon, how many troops do we need to perform the missions our strategy requires?

Anyways, good points are made, but I don't get the link. What does this have to do with Pentagon budget cuts?

If you want to make a comparison on manpower versus acquisition costs, of course manpower is more expensive. However, the costs of military acquisitions don't just involve the development and procurement costs (i.e., the non-recurring costs). You also need to operate and support that new equipment in the field, often for decades.

It may be easy to criticize the Pentagon for saving only a mere $30 billion dollars over the FYDP, but that criticism doesn't acknowledge the substantial outyear costs those systems would have entailed. And, again, such criticism doesn't take into account whether or not those systems are actually necessary to execute the military strategy of the United States.

As one prominent Hill staffer I know likes to say, he can more easily write a military requirement for horse cavalry than for nuclear weapons. That doesn't mean we should field a horse cavalry division, or junk our nuclear weapons.

Shachtman's next piece, "Pushback Begins On Pentagon Cuts," highlights that some in Congress are raising questions regarding the reported cuts.

Well, duhhh. Although, it's interesting, if entirely obvious, to see which members are making the biggest stink:

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., is expected to scrutinize any Navy proposal to reduce its aircraft carrier force to 11 and decommission the USS John F. Kennedy, according to a spokesman.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Senator Warner, but it's not as if he's an unbiased judge of the Navy.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., last week said the Pentagon's proposal is "short-sighted, short-term thinking, and long on wrong-headedness." Crenshaw said removing a carrier from commission "is not like flipping a switch. She can't come back on in a moment's notice should we need her desperately."
I too would hate it if a carrier based in my home district went away. That's a lot of tax dollars leaving my district. The trouble is, jobs in Florida don't fight terrorists.

One last bit, before we go:

Also, it's interesting to note that Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman stand to take the biggest hits in the proposed Pentagon rollbacks. Boeing, which has been drifting from scandal to scandal in recent years, would remain relatively untouched, with a $5 billion shave off of its missile defense program.
Why, yes, it is interesting to note. You know what else is interesting to note? Robbers rob banks. Why? Because that's where the money is.

In 2003, Lockheed Martin (#1 defense contractor at $23B worth of business) and Northrop Grumman (#3, at $12B worth of business) combined did more than 1 1/2 times the business Boeing did ($22B). Out of the reported $30 billion cut-- which, it must be noted, also would include money out of programs run companies other than the top three-- Boeing probably got their fair share. Their fair share, that is, if Pentagon programming had anything to do with ensuring that every contractor got a proportional share, which is most definitely not a consideration at the level of the $400+ billion annual budget.

In conclusion, I'm still looking for a good reason to bookmark DefenseTech.Org, but I'm not finding one. Maybe I should just relax, and read about robot war-dogs.

This posting was made on my personal computer.

You know what? I bet robot war dogs would be highly effective against apes.
You know what? I bet you're right.

Nice to have you around, El Miguel. . . missed ya. Hope the holidays were good.
Since the Brits are currently in the market for a couple of aircraft carriers, couldn't we sell them the JFK at half price and maybe turn a bit of a profit?

Sure, it's a bit old, but it probably equals two or three or four of their baby carriers. Plus, you know you aren't running the risk of getting a Charles de Gaulle sort of floating catastrophe.
While a possibility, that's unlikely. The U.S. likes to put its ex-carriers in ready reserve until they rust out. Once she's paid off, the JFK will be lovingly wrapped in sheet plastic until she's needed again (it's also possible she could be converted to serve as a training carrier, which the Navy hasn't had since the Forrestal paid off in 1993).

As for going overseas, the history of that isn't too bright. Not a lot of nations have had success in using other nation's carriers in the past few decades-- no one could ever get the Russian carriers to work for them. Even before that, the Indians, Brazilians and Argentines had bad luck with their ex-US & British WWII carriers.

Of course, the Brits are one of the preminent maritime nations in the world, but given the operating costs-- not to mention training and infrastructure support requirements-- necessary to keep even a conventional American carrier afloat, the cost-benefit analysis swings heavily against it. At best, the JFK's got another decade or so of service in her, and that's a lot of work (and $$$) on the part of any nation to only get a few years of service out of a hull.

Nope, my guess is she'll get mothballed for a while, eventually get sunk in an exercise, and make a nice artificial reef somewhere.
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