Thursday, October 11, 2007

Replacing Tired Equipment

One issue I have with many of our hi-tech wonders, is they are so expensive they are not easily replaced, and when replacements are procured, it is hardly on a one-on-one basis. This was an inconvenient truth I brought up in an email recently with Senator Lindsey Graham, also an Air Force reservist, over the $200 million F-22 Raptor. I pointed out that the Raptor took 2 decades to procure, and will likely remain in front line service for 30 years, and why couldn't we just continue buying new build F-16s, which have been doing all our fighting anyway while we wait for the new stealth fighter? He replied in typical Pentagonese that we need to make sure our troops have the very best equipment that Americans can build and the service really needed the Raptor. Well, if they support the troops as they say, why do they continually send them to war with so many ancient and worn out fighting equipment?

Victor Davis Hanson has just returned from Iraq, and has some observations on the subject:

The number of vehicles, arms, bases, and American infrastructure in Iraq is staggering. And the wear and tear on it all is evident everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of our equipment is worn out to the degree that it wouldn’t make sense hauling it back, and would be better off left to help transition the Iraqis. Humvees have sprung doors, broken glass, missing pieces, well in addition to the wear from sand and heat. I think the American people should accept that after Iraq we have an enormous tab to pay to reequip the air force, marines, and army. When you ride in a Ch-46 Frog marine helicopter, or a chugging Humvee or see banged up looking semis, you get some idea of the huge refitting job awaiting us after this is over, I’d say $30-40 billion at least.

If I were to brake a hoe or shovel while working in the garden, I wouldn't just patch it up and wait 20 years for industry to fashion a new and improved design. Of course, I would head to my nearest hardware store and buy a new one OFF THE SHELF. So should it be with our ancient and worn out military hardware. If an F-16 is worn out and maybe over 5 years old, the pilot should be able to requisition a brand new one from the factory. In the civilian world, most consumers buy a new car every 5 years, but we expect our brave warriors who constantly put their lives on the line to fly or drive the same planes and tanks their fathers or grandfathers did.

The Navy has been constructing the same Arleigh Burke destroyers for about 17 years, which is a good thing because these are an excellent design, if a might too large and pricey. I see no reason why the same hull couldn't be continued into the next decade instead of the insanely huge and costly DDG-1000's, which have yet to hit the water. The Burkes would provide the same jobs that Congress is so concerned over, and carry the same cruise missiles that are the future of warfare.

Also a good deal was refashioning the F-18 Hornet into the Super Hornet as an interim naval fighter in the 1990's. Though it would have been preferable for a stealth aircraft, the Navy rightly judged the old F-14 Tomcats and with their uncertain engines and Vietnam era A-6s would be worn out long before a replacement for the needlessly canceled A-12 Avenger arrived. The main concern anyway was for something to ferry the new smart bombs to their target, and how they got there was a secondary issue. In this new age, it is more about the weapon than it is about the legacy platform.

But Senator Graham and most of the Pentagon procurement officers just don't get it. So our men and women in uniform soldier on with the same antiquated hardware, alot of it from the Vietnam era and before. Meanwhile, brand new fighters, tanks, and warships are produced yearly and sent off to our allies, including F-16s which likely took part in the recent Syrian raid by Israel.

Also read Why Weapons Are So Expensive by Edward Luttwak.