11 November 2010

Better Approaches To Cutting The Deficit: Part Two

This post looks at better way to cut the defense budget to reduce the deficit than those suggested by the leaders of a national deficit commission. A previous post looked at the interest on the national debt and tax policy. A third post will look at other cuts in domestic spending.

Defense Spending Cuts

A large share of the deficit is attributed to unfunded increases in defense spending. We have fought two regional wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) without raising taxes to pay for those wars (as we have in all past wars), or cutting non-war related defense spending. The United States non-war related defense spending has largely run on autopilot replicating priorities set by President Reagan at the height of the Cold War, and decreased more or less pro-rata by President Clinton, when the Cold War ended. The increased demands on U.S. troops during the administration of President George W. Bush were met mostly by activating reserve and national guard troops to fight in foreign wars that we initiated and didn't have to begin.

The panel focused on reducing defense spending by reducing compensation for active duty military personnel and their families, by freezing federal civilian employee compensation, and by cutting federal civilian employees who do things like process veteran's benefits and supervise large procurement contracts. This is the wrong approach if we value the sacrifices made by our soldiers and want to have quality personnel to fight the wars that we must fight.

For the wars we continue to fight, fielding a residual force of 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq for a limited time, and supporting the war in Afghanistan, winning and not the cost of the operations, should be our primary consideration. But, for our non-war related defense spending, business as usual cannot continue. The military needs to be overhauled to a budget that is within our means, and needs to reflect a changing international situation that calls for a different U.S. military role than it had in the Cold War.

We need to recognize that you never spend enough to be invincible. Instead, we need to look at where the U.S. military is extraordinarily strong, where it is stressed in its ability to carry out its missions, and adjust our spending priorities accordingly.

Excess Military Spending

The Blue Sea Navy

One area where the U.S. military is extraodinarily strong is our Blue Sea Navy. The U.S. Navy greatly overwhelms any potential opponent in this area, particularly when likely allies against a potential opponent in any potential conflict are considered.

The U.S. Navy has also failed to learn the lessons of the few instances of naval warfare that have taken place since World War II in the world, the results of training exercise, and the implication of threatening actions taking by potential military adversaries short of shots fired in anger. Again and again, there have been clear indications that our large surface combatants are highly vunerable to attacks from enemy submarines, advanced missiles and mass attacks of small missile boats.

We should stop buying new destroyers with 1980s designs at $1 billion each. We have enough and they are vulnerable to new threats.

We should shrink the size of our Blue Sea Navy overall. Some of our aircraft carriers, destroyers, crusiers and frigates need to be placed on reserve status, hedging against the possibility of future conflicts, but no longer actively operated.

Given the lack of navy enthusiasm for the F-35C, as opposed to merely upgrading the existing F-18 models for naval air, we should seriously consider cancelling the F-35C program and replacing it with a program to develop an unmanned stealth bomber for aircraft carriers a few years later than the planned operational capacity of the F-35C. The F-35 goal of creating common logistic support of F-35A, F-35B and F-35C aircraft never made much sense anyway. Some of the Navy's needs for new carrier based aircraft in the interim could be met with a small purchase of F-35B aircraft for the Marines that must be developed in any case and are capable of operating from aircraft carriers, because they are needed by our allies and joint program participants.

We should consider options for replacing some of our extremely expensive nuclear attack submarines in our Navy with advanced air independent propulsion diesel-electric submarines that are already in production that have far smaller crews, are far less expensive, and are still a potent military force, particularly for missions like sea control in the near our allies Taiwan, S. Korea, and Japan, and defense of our Pacific territories like Hawaii and Guam.

We should also consider the option of shifting more of the responsibility for controlling the Blue Sea from surface ships, which are slow to redeploy and put large numbers of sailors in harms way, to P-8 patrol aircraft, which can deploy similarly effective cruise missiles to those used by surface ships, are less expensive (because then don't have to carry long term living facilities for the crew with them), can much more rapidly be moved from one theater to another where an active conflict arises, and put far few military personnel in harms way (since most support crew stay back at air bases). At the margins, a squadron of P-8 patrol aircraft can provide more effective military control of the sea than a single Arleigh Burke class destroyer which costs about the same amount.

Amphibious Assault

We should greatly reduce our investment in ships, military vehicles and training in amphibious assault. Amphibious assaults like the D-Day invasion (which was mostly an Army operation, by the way) and the Ichon Invasion in the Korean War were a product of the technology of World War II. They happened before the widespread use of the commercial jet, reflected a situation where the Allies could not secure air superiority, predates the military use of the helicopter, and predates the development of highly accruate guided artillery and missiles. There are good practical military reasons that the world has not seen that kind of mission since the Korean War.

The resources in ships, military vehicles and training that go into supporting that mission are an immense burden on the procurement and operational costs of the non-war related part of the U.S. military, which are better spend on more urgent needs.

The Value of Conventional Warfare Treaties

A small number of potential military adversaries (China, North Korea, Iran and Russia) drive a very large share of our spending requirements for the U.S. Navy. A small number of treaties on mutual conventional naval force reductions may be a cost effective way to reduce naval capabilities needs of the U.S. that would otherwise require large amounts of very expensive military procurement and require us to have a much larger navy than all other reasonably likely military contigencies.

Also, in some instances, it may be more cost effective to better arm the allies that we are deploying forces to defend (e.g. Taiwan, South Korea and Japan) than to deploy our own forces for those purposes.

The Air Force

The Air Force has an immense number of top of the line fighter aircraft. The experience of the last fifty years has taught us a number of lessons.

1. Missions requiring very large numbers of aircraft to secure air superiority tend to be quite limited in duration (a few months), after which the need for aircraft dramatically decline.

2. Missions requiring very large numbers of aircraft to secure air superiority against a significant military adversary are almost always fought in the context of an international alliance in which we are not the sole provider of air power.

3. The dramatically increased accuracy of "smart bombs" has dramatically reduced the number of aircraft needed to destroy the same number of targets in air to ground combat.

4. Top of the line high tech multipurpose fighter aircraft and advanced stealth bomber aircraft are extremely expensive.

5. A large share of Air Force missions do not in practice benefit from the capabilities of top of the line high tech aircraft that make them so expensive. For example, radar stealth is a very expensive feature of an aircraft that provides little benefit against military adversaries who don't have radar, and stealth is likewise unimportant in providing air security over domestic U.S. cities.

6. Unmanned aircraft are technologically feasible, less expensive and put fewer U.S. airmen in harms way than manned aircraft in a variety of missions.

7. Relatively low tech combatant aircraft with upgraded avionics and weapons systems that lack the steal and speed of the most advanced fighter aircraft, such as the A-10, AC-130 and B-52 continue to be of great utility in the military missions that the Air Force encounters.

8. Simple short takeoff and landing transport aircraft such as the C-27 and C-130 continue to be in high demand and can do their jobs as well as helicopters or more advanced aircraft as a modeat cost.

9. Air tankers allow the Air Force to rapidly redeploy aircraft from one theater to another when necessary.

Given these facts, the current mix of Air Force procurement efforts is not in line with the new realities. Among the implications of these facts are that:

1. The Air Force should base the number of aircraft it needs in missions to initially secure air superiority on the assumption that it will fight only a single regional war at a time as a leading, but not exclusive part of an internatinal coalition.

2. The Air Force should greatly reduce its requirements for air to ground combat from those based on its experience prior to the development of smart bombs. Further, the Air Force needs to increase its resources for ground target acquisition relative to its resources for destroying targets, a task that given today's technology is mostly a task for unmanned aircraft and satellites, rather than manned war planes.

3. The Air Force should devote a significant share of its aircraft acquisitions to relatively inexpensive aircraft specialized for close air support, to relatively inexpensive air to ground bombing aircraft in areas where air superiority has been secured and the opposition force has minimal anti-aircraft weapontry, and also for relatively inexpensive aircraft specialized for maintaining security in domestic airspace.

The implication of points (1), (2) and (3) here is that the Air Force should reduce significantly its projected purchase of F-35A aircraft and reduce the size of its overall fighter fleet, but should consider purchases of a moderate number of new COIN/CAS aircraft using off the shelf technology, a moderate number of new homeland defense interceptor (possibly for use by the Air National Guard rather than the Air Force), and a small run, next generation, low cost, low speed, non-stealth, low threat situation bomber to replace the B-52.

4. The Air Force should devote more resources to logistics missions including transport and air tanker operations where the current fleet has been strained in current operations.

5. The Air Force should develop a high end unmanned warplane prior to developing a next generation manned fighter or bomber aircraft. It may be desirable to develop separate models for air to ground warfare (i.e. bombers) and air to air warfare (i.e. unmanned fighter aircraft).

6. The Air Force should consider which, if any, missions it can serve more cost effectively or with more military results or less military risk than the Navy.

The total size of the Air Force should be reduced.

Heavy Tracked Ground Vehicles

The military has shown a marked decline in its demand for heavy tanks, mostly due to logistics considers and the adequacy of other military resources like aircraft and lighter armored vehicels to dispatch enemy tanks and deal with high threat ground combat envinroments. There are large numbers of heavy tanks in reserve supplies. We do not need to build or design more of them.

Preplacement of Resources

Experience has taught us that delivering heavy military equipment to conflict locations is a limitation of our current force. Sea transport and ground transport is slow and limits our military effectiveness as a result. Heavy air transportation capabilities are limited in number and very expensive to increase.

One way to reduce the effect of this limitation is to preplace more heavy equipment. Heavy military equipment is often not terribly expensive, compared to more mobile military equipment and obtaining permission to established caches of military supplies on land near potential military hot spots, or putting heavy military equipment on ships predeployed near potential military hot spots, can mitigate this limitation at a low cost.

Military Aid

We can reduce the amount of money we give to other countries (in the Middle East, often fueling both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict).

New Military Needs

We should not simply cut the U.S. military across the board. We have inadequate military resources for some military contigencies and should grow our capability to deal with those while shrinking our excess military spending described above.


The U.S. military was able to fight two small regional wars in Afghanistan and Iraq only by deploying almost all U.S. Army combat troops and Marines in short rotations, and expending all available Army Reserve and National Guard resources, as well as some active duty military personnel repurposed from the Air Force and Navy. Yet, these were not large conflicts compared to past wars like World War I, World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. The conflict in Afghanistan may continue for several more years.

Afghanistan and Iraq are not isolated incidents. They arose within the context of increased U.S. awareness of the threats posed by anti-Western paramilitary forces in Third World countries that local civilian governments cannot adequately confront, so the likelihood that future similar conflicts may arise is real. Past U.S. involvement in the wars in the former Yugoslavia also require a similar ground troop heavy mix of personnel. The mix of troops needed in all of these conflicts also parallels the needs of the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, and the troop needs of our allies in conflicts in the Phillipines and elsewhere.

The impliciation is that we need to significantly increase the size of the active duty Army forces suitable for fighting small wars of the types presented by conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, such as infantry, probably at the expense of artillery and armor which are necessarily less intensely in these kinds of conflicts.

Nation Building

Foreign language capabilities, civil affairs expertise and resources to handle foreign detainees abroad in a humane and intelligent way, have proven to be essential elements of all recent military conflicts that the U.S. military has been less the ideally prepared to meet. The U.S. government needs to devote more resources to establishing units within the military, in the State Department, and in modern versions of the British Colonial Offices to improve its ability to interface with local populations in high threat areas to engage local populations in organizing democratic government, functional civilian regimes, effective local police forces, and rebuilding local economies in the wake of military conflicts.

These resources need to include "in house" personnel to provide security services that have been provided by expensive and ill supervised private security conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Missile Defense

Developments in North Korea, China, Iran and military assaults on Israel have highlighted the importance of a missile defense system that can address moderate numbers of missiles, including a handful of nuclear missiles, to U.S. security.

The location of the most likely threats, and the fact that many navy tests of experimental missile defense systems have been successful, while tests of the other military services of their own missile defense systems have had a high record of failure, suggest that this mission should be assigned to the Navy, and that funding for a small number of missile defense oriented ships should go forward.

Brown Water Naval Operations

The Blue Sea Naval capabilities of the U.S. Navy are unmatched, but the U.S. Navy's capabilities in the littorals (i.e. coastal waters) is inadequate. The U.S. Navy has resources that can deal with threats like piracy, interdiction of shipping, anti-submarine warfare in the littorals, sea based support of coastal troops, defeat of enemy small craft, and anti-mine warfare. But, its resources for addressing these threats are so expensive and limited in number that they may win every battle, and yet allow a military adversary to prevail in a prolonged asymmetric war of attrition.

The short term solution for the U.S. Navy is to choose from one of two competing designs for a littoral combat ships and solve technical challenges that have been arising with the development of mission modules for those ships.

The U.S. Navy also needs to continue to buy more ships in the class of its highly successful high speed sealift platform that provides a middle ground between airlift and traditional sealift for heavy military equipment, and also provides a middle ground between D-Day style amphibious assaults that are unlikely to be needed in the future, and entry into military theaters from the sea at temporarily secure beachheads that are not well developed seaports.

There are also indications from the early experience and critical assessment of the Littoral Combat Ship that the Navy should be developing even smaller, more specialized ships to meet its Brownwater Navy needs, and that the Navy needs to develop better solutions to dealing with massed small craft attacks than it has developed so far.

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