Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Defense Budget for the Long Haul

It is ironic that the nation with the world's largest defense budget, more than all the world combined, can be suffering with antiquated equipment such as warplanes literally falling from the skies. It is true that the budget it stretched thin with many fingers in the pie, as this from the Weekly Standard reveals:

First, we now have an all-volunteer force that costs a lot more
when it comes to personnel, insurance, housing, and retirement benefits than our
previous draft-heavy force. Unless Americans and their representatives in
Washington want to return to conscription, which no one except Rep. Charles
Rangel seems ready to do, fielding a force is just going to be a lot more
costly. Second, the weapons and platforms we buy are fewer in number, and partly
as a result we ask them to do more. That in turn drives costs up. Third, one
reason we spend more than others is that with the major exception of China
virtually everyone else cut spending at the end of the Cold War and has kept
cutting. Fourth, unless we want a whole different global security order, the
burden of keeping the peace in the world remains largely in America's hands, as
manifest in the fact that we have gone to war multiple times since the fall of
the Berlin Wall. And, finally, yes, we do spend a lot, but we are also fighting
two wars.

Lets focus on the second problem, which I think is something we can do fix now, specifically the high cost of modern weaponry. With our current method of procurement, the present expenditure on the military of about $500 million, or 3.5% of the GDP would have to grow to $1 trillion, or 7% of our economy and maybe more to rebuild our forces. This is taking into account that we continue to purchase $200 million jet fighters, $8 billion aircraft carriers, and $10 million battle tanks.

Over at Information Dissemination they may have inadvertently stumbled on a more economical way without draining our national treasure dry: common hulls. Here's Galrahn:

As shipbuilding costs have continued to rise, several suggestions
have been made to help bring down the costs in shipbuilding. Among the many
suggestions, one that continues to rise to the top is for the Navy to use common
hull strategies for ships, similar to how the Spruance class destroyer hull and
Ticonderoga class cruiser used the same hull.

This works for me, except I would go a further step and require the entire military to to place in production a common weapons program, to bring some sanity and affordability to procurement. Back in 2006, I described what such a 21st Century US military would be like:

  • Army: Consisting of mainly Stryker type armored vehicles and up armored Humvees for rapid air transport. Increase use of troop-carrying helicopters as an “anti-IED” vehicle. Manpower increased to produce a “Million Man” Active Army, lessening dependence on the Reserves and National Guard.
  • Navy: 200 Common Naval Platforms, built to mercantile specifications, with removable mission modules for use as a vertol aircraft carrier, missile launcher, troop transport, or cargo/replenishment ships. 100 conventional fueled littoral submarines, or new unmanned submersibles as they are available. 400 littoral combat ships and patrol craft forward deployed against terrorist pirates and enemy diesel subs.
  • Air Force: 2000 Common Air Platforms based on a commercial derivative (Airbus or Boeing), for use as bomber, maritime patrol, transport, or tanker. 2000 light fighters based on late model production aircraft such as the F-16 or British Hawk trainer.
  • Marine Corps: Converted back to its traditional naval infantry and light interventionist role, for service on Navy’s littoral ships. Retire expensive and vulnerable amphibious fleet.

These ideas aren't set in stone; the point being is to provide a continuous manufacturing supply of weapons available at all times for the military, whenever a plane, warship, or armored vehicle reaches the end of its usefulness due to age. The new Digital Age technology would be the key to make such a strategy work, as the type of platform is no longer as important as the weapon it carries. This is why you have 7th Century-minded Al Qaeda terrorists running around in pajamas, brandishing cell phones as IED detonators, computers as recruiting tools, and ordinary airliners as weapons of mass destruction. They make our hi-tech and expensive fleets of stealth bombers and supercarriers appear ridiculously nonessential in such a lo-tech conflict.

The key is still our technology, especially robot planes, cruise missiles, smart bombs, and communications equipment. The JDAMS, UAVs and Tomahawks, are the real revolution in warfare, not the stealth bombers, or Abrams Battle Tanks, or super stealth destroyers, which can only be afforded in small numbers, with decades-long construction cycles, often making the platform obsolete before they are deployed. Concerning the JDAM, Strategypage reveals the revolution such arms have brought to warfare:

JDAM (GPS satellite guided bombs) were developed in the 1990s,
shortly after the GPS network went live. These weapons entered service in time
for the 1999 Kosovo campaign, and have been so successful, that their use has
actually sharply reduced the number of bombs dropped, and the number of sorties
required by bombers. The air force generals are still trying to figure out where
this is all going.

I'm thinking this new technology is bringing down the cost of the warfare, though the Admirals, Generals, and Politicians have yet to realise this fact.

For further thoughts, read my earlier post titled Not More, But Smarter Defense Spending.