Monday, March 14, 2016

Make America Fearsome Again?

One thing that has struck me about this year's U.S. election campaign is what - to me, anyway - seems like a very odd political meme. That is the whole business of "Rebuild the U.S. military!" that seems to be a feature of every Republican candidate.

Let me preface this by saying that I think that many of the bog-standard GOP talking points are nonsense. No, the Islamic State is not sending frogmen up the Mississippi to free the Gitmo detainees if they are shipped to Joliet. No, the gummint isn't coming to grab your guns. No, lowering taxes on rich people doesn't raise revenues.

But I'll accept that these are all debatable points. That's just me. I don't agree with them, but I won't argue that nobody should agree with them.

But the pathetic, horrifying, debilitating, globe-spanning weakness of the U.S. armed forces?

...the fuc..?

Where the hell did THAT come from?

Back in February Mike Zenko wrote up a good piece in Foreign Policy that sums up this whole nonsense and who was saying it. The answer? Pretty much everybody with an (R) behind their name.

The frustrating thing about this is that I know that most American voters don't bother to really think or know anything about actual military capabilities. They wouldn't know an Abrams from a deck chair. They tend to run on what they hear on the television and read on the Internet, and when you have enough people telling you something it takes a very hard-headed person to go counter to that. I hear from "conservative" acquaintances how "Obama has trashed our military" and I can't figure out what the hell they're talking about.

Is it because we have fewer armored divisions than we did in 1945? Or fleet carriers? Or heavy bomb wings?

Because when you think of it...why would we want that?

If we've learned anything from the ridiculous waste of blood and treasure in the Middle East over the past fifteen years we should have learned two things:

First, that there's no power on Earth short of the two other Great Powers, China and Russia, that has a hope in hell of challenging the U.S. in a conventional stand up fight, and that there's no point in arming up to fight either of those polities to a conventional "victory". The U.S. has more than enough conventional power to manage a local or small regional shootout, and anything larger has far too high a chance of going nuclear to be worth risking.

Second, that there's no power on Earth too weak to tie the U.S. into knots if it gets sucked into a local rebellion, civil war, or regional low-intensity spat. A low-birthrate, high-income nation like the U.S. simply doesn't generate enough spare bodies to form the sort of infantry-heavy constabulary units needed to fight such a war and as a news-permeated, middle-class-sensibility polity lacks - hopefully - the sort of callous brutality needed to prosecute such a conflict to a "successful" conclusion.

In other words, the U.S. has military power and more to handle any military adventure it needs to get into, and doesn't need to get into any military adventures it would need more power than that to handle.

I realize that the reason that these Republicans are saying this stuff is to make people afraid and make them run to vote Republican.

But the GOP posits itself as the "grown-up" party, the party of responsibility.

It would seem to me that a grown-up, responsible citizen would be very, very skeptical of all this military scare-mongering.

So why aren't more people saying that? The public press has no reason to simply repeat GOP talking points. Why give them a pass on this?

I cannot think this bodes well for my country.


  1. Two things I'd like to comment:
    (1) It's very common in the U.S. and in the UK to look at military capability nationally as if dfence was natioal. It's not. The U.S. would be quite safe if it relied on European NATO power to defend it, having no military of its own other than the NG ground forces. Maybe Guam would be indefensible, and that's likely indefensible anyway. Europe - while perceived as weak and incapable fo defending itself without U.S. help - is actually vastly more powerful than the sum of all its neighbours, including Russia.

    (2) You're likely incorrect on the demographic thing. I had an exchange with someone a couple months ago who believed similar things - demographic change making us incapable of mobilising huge armies - and it's nonsense. The United States could mobilise about 20-30 million men depending on fitness requirements (peacetime fitness requirements need not apply). Add millions of women for the support services. You end up with more manpower than can be made good use of.
    The Chinese have even more on paper, but this doesn't mean they could make good use of them.

  2. Sven; as far as manpower, yes, in a "total war" mobilization. But I was thinking more of the sort of little war/cabinet war that has been the standard since 1975. No way the US ever reopens a draft for that sort of war. If they did there'd be a rebellion over it (with the Army chiefs leading it...). Short of full mobilization the costs of a foreign rebellion suppression would be too heavy for the segment of the US public that volunteers for infantry service to bear.

  3. Chief -

    That "...very odd political meme..." as you call it is not rare and is not unique to this years election campaign. And it is not restricted to use by Republicans. Kennedy used it both in his '58 Senate campaign and in the '60 presidential election. It worked then, it worked for Ronny Raygun in the 80s. Hopefully we are smarter now.

    1. Years ago I wrote about how fearmongering appears to be especially prevalent in the U.S., much more so than for example in Germany. Sure, we had fears about the Warsaw Pact (excused by us being in the designated battlefield) and alarmism about several environmental topics, but hardly ever anything approaching the fear waves in the U.S..
      It appears that a country that doesn't feel safe when paying ~40-50% of global military expenses (with allies' spending adding to this up to 60+%) won't ever feel safe by having spent and done "enough" about national security.
      Objectively all feasible security has been achieved with a fraction of the expenses already, so the pursuit of subjective security through greater spending appears to be pointless. Maybe spending less and showing some degree of coolness about national security would yield better results.

      An issue of USD 400+ bn/a certainly justifies to get informed about the very basics and to overcome 'muh feelings' for once. We're talking about an expenditure of more than USD 1000/capita and year here, after all!

    2. Sven- You would not call AfD's anti refugee, xenophobic stance fear mongering?

      The difference in the US is the very form of government. Number one, anyone can call himself a Republican or a Democrat. Joe Stalin could rise from the grave and run as a "Republican" in a primary, and the party would be powerless to stop him.

      Second, there is really no mechanism for coalition government. Party A and Party B could "coalesce" to form a majority in either house of Congress, but not for the Presidency. And the congressional "coalitions" do not have the binding power of threatening to topple a government if the various political parties cannot meet consensus.

      Thus, the two major parties have to invite a variety of herds of camels into the tent. Whereas, Sunday's elections in Germany, the xenophobic AfD party drew 12 to 25% more votes then before, there is no such unique party for xenophobics in the US. Thus, the GOP has, unfortunately invited, at worst, or allowed, at best, the xenophobics to rally under their banner in the quest for a majority. Where the CDU in Germany decries xenophobia, conservative non-xenophobes in the US have only the GOP to champion. The same goes for other forms of fear mongering. each party has to rope in 51% or more of the population to rule, and there simply isn't a homogeneous enough 51% of the population to serve either the "left" or the "right". Thus, as has been so clearly demonstrated this year, both parties have serious candidates in the primaries that are at the extreme of their spectrum. There isn't and cannot be an AfD equivalent for Trump, for example, to draw sufficient votes to gain office. Rather, he has to force the ideology of his 34% support on the whole party. Should he gain the nomination, the non-xenophobic Republican will be torn between Trump's excesses, voting Democrat, entering a symbolic write-in or not voting at all. There is no choice of "center right", "right" or "far right" available.

    3. mike: Thing is, the drawdowns after Korea and then after Vietnam (and the morale problems that Vietnam left behind, especially in the Army...) and the very real possibility of some sort of second-world proxy war made both Kennedy's and Reagan's bloviating at least not-ridiculous.

      So while I agree that the meme ITSELF isn't either rare or unprecedented, the TIMING is. The U.S. is the 800-pound gorilla of armed force right now and will be for the foreseeable future.

      As I said, I disagree with a LOT of the GOP talking points, but don't insist that they are themselves ludicrous. Climate change, for example; I think the GOP denial is wrong and harmful, but I can see how if you look at the problem from a very specific light, using special filters and lenses you could see it their way. Wrong and harmful IMO, but not outright ridiculous.

      But the whole America-the-pathetically-weak? THAT's ridiculous, and I don't see how they can get away with it outside the complete abdication of the public press to insist on the truth.

    4. And comparing the Democrats of Kennedy's time to the D's of today? No like apples and oranges, more like apples and hand grenades. No Dixiecrats, no black or hispanics, Cold Warriors all.

      And Reagan would almost be too much of a RINO to get a seat at the Tea Party.

      I'd disagree completely; we're not "smarter now". If anything we seem to have gotten politically stupider and more belligerent, at least on the Right. I've never seen the GOP like this. The closest I can come is the Democratic Party in the 1850's, as the slaveholders ginned themselves up to seditious treason.

    5. The AfD represents the fringe, it's no major party, much less established. They're about as effective politically as the former communists are.

      Furthermore, the current immigrant issue is imo much less about fearmongering (save for the usual 5-10% idiots that all countries have and should keep sidelined) than about political negligence.
      - neglect of enforcement of closed outer Schengen area borders
      - neglect of dealing with economic refugee problem preventively by addressing motivations
      - press did put lipstick on the pig, then woke up and made a u-turn, producing a predictable backlash. The medium term equilibrium is somewhere in the middle.
      - the events in Cologne and elsewhere were the breaking point for press behaviour, as the accusation that officials did try to cover the (actually small and not much Syrians-related) problems up was too credible to pass over

      It's also obvious that almost none of the migrants fled from war and almost all of them fled from the poverty in already safe war refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. They transit through perfectly safe Southeast European countries to us. Mainstream politicians keep calling them war refugees, ignoring the obvious economic motives.

      There's also the inherent lack of logic of us not being able to integrate several per cent of German-speaking citizens into the jobs market, but foreigner with no skills and no command of our language are supposedly going to find jobs.

      It really didn't need much xenophobia to bolster the election results of the AfD in such an environment. They were handed the votes by the established parties for free.
      Germany hasn't so much an infection with fearmongering or general xenophobia as it has a general problem with the perpetual ~10% idiots not fearing sunlight any more. They suddenly, in a concerted effort, crawled out of their holes about two years ago and raised their voices loudly.

      This goes far beyond xenophobes; even the chemtrail idiots and our version of 'sovereign citizen' anarchists ("Reichsbürger") dare to show themselves these days. Somewhere some barrier against idiots broke down, and I have no idea how to re-erect it since I don't know what held them back in the first place.

    6. Sven- the AfD captured some 20 - 25% of the vote. Point is, yes, they did not win enough seats to have a significant impact on governmental policy. They just reflect, as some German commentators have written, a formalizing of the 20 or so percent of the population that is xenophobic, by giving them a party to vote for.

      But in the US system, there is no way for such an ineffectual party to be a catharsis vote. Rather, they co-opt one of the two major parties. Trump is only getting about 35% of the vote in the GOP (or less than 20% of the voting population), but that can still deliver the GOP nomination to him. If he becomes the GOP candidate, then what do the 65% of GOP voters who did not support his candidacy do? What are the mainstream (in GOP terms)voices in the party and his primary opponents going to do? Abandon the party for one election cycle, or simply back his lies to preserve the party?

    7. 12.6-24.2%, in state-level elections. The 24.2% result is from East Germany (and voter turnout was the lowest, at 61.1%). There were no other significant parties for protest voters this season, so the AfD likely got the lion's share of the fleeting protest votes.

      Compare the American primary season imperfection with what Germany uses:
      Usually, it's behind closed doors power plays between top politicians who call in favours from lower tier partisans to get nominated as the party's top candidate of the campaign.
      That's not 20% of the population choosing a candidate, that's more like 3-50 people.

      So what was the SPD's left wing's choice after Schröder won?
      They followed him, and when he had done the damage with his neoliberal policies they deserted and eventually united with the former communists. Their results are now below the threshold in the West (= no representatives) and about 15-20% in the East of Germany. Back in the old SPD they could count on about 35-50%.

  4. Trump, as quoted in the Foreign Policy article, puts the misconception in capsule terms. "We don't win." Of course, none of the GOP pundits really offer a geopolitical end state our military is expected to achieve as the definition of "win". Rather, they bemoan that we are not killing and destroying at the level a super power can kill and destroy. After all, our 1.34 million service members still weren't strong enough to prevent two religious fanatics from shooting up San Bernardino.

    If we hadn't closed and sold all those military bases (Trump), then the San Bernardino shootings would never have happened. Nope, we sold off Norton AFB and San Bernardino was left defenseless. How do we protect Atlanta now that Forts Gillam and McPhearson have been sold off to developers?

    Thing is, there is a fair portion of the population that simply wants to be told this stuff, and will blindly believe it, regardless of how far into lala land these claims go. They need their values reinforced. That the last round of base closures was in 2005, on GWB's watch is unimportant. That the base closures had little or no impact on our military capability is also unimportant. Less is less. The claims are consistent with their belief that the Dems are the devil incarnate. When the terrorists come, there will be fewer military bases with which to fight them.

    mike- "Hopefully we are smarter now." Depends on your definition of "we".

  5. Chief.
    I don't exactly see the Democratic party offering a balanced alternate viewpoint.
    jim hruska

    1. jim- when fact is warped into fiction, what value does a "balanced alternateviewpoint" provide? Chief refutes the claim that defense has been weakened.

      chief said, "In other words, the U.S. has military power and more to handle any military adventure it needs to get into, and doesn't need to get into any military adventures it would need more power than that to handle."

      Now, as one who speaks on affairs military, is he correct or not. The hell with whether a "balanced alternate viewpoint" has been put forward by anyone. Answer chief's words on their merits.

    2. Because they don't have to, jim. They're not the ones advancing this ridiculous lie.

      My point is that it IS a ridiculous lie, and one that I don't understand other than as a way to frighten us, We the People. THAT, I get; it's an electoral tactic. A despicable and ultimately self-destructive one, but a tactic.

      I keep coming back to this over and over again. As Al points out, we have two parties. The first-past-the-post electoral system basically ensures that we will ALWAYS have two parties. Right now one of them is dominated by a fairly conservative, corporate-friendly group that generally buys into the classic Cold War themes of "peace through strength" militarily and international cooperation diplomatically.

      The other seems to have completely lost its collective mind over Agenda 21, guns, gays, abortion, Mexicans, proving that government is the problem by refusing to govern competently, and no-taxes-ever-never.

      If we're going to have only two parties, a "liberal" and a "conservative" party then they need to both have at least one foot in common sanity. The Democrats - as corporate and stodgy as they are - still appear to. But rhetoric such as this just hammers away on the very obvious point that the Republican Party has skipped merrily away into la-la land.

    3. The British have a similar election system and supposedly had their two-party system established rigidly. Recently, they turned into a five-party country with UKIP even having MPs as xenophobe representatives and the Scottish secessionists have begun to dominate labour and conservatives.

      The winner-takes all mode can apply to a race of more than two candidates if the two losers don't unite for the next round.

  6. "The same goes for other forms of fear mongering. each party has to rope in 51% or more of the population to rule, and there simply isn't a homogeneous enough 51% of the population to serve either the "left" or the "right". Thus, as has been so clearly demonstrated this year, both parties have serious candidates in the primaries that are at the extreme of their spectrum."

    And it's worth pointing out here that this, more than anything else, points out the vast mountain of bullshit in the "Both Sides Do It" meme. The Right has Trump and the "Left" has...Sanders, a little old man who has all of Trump's populism with 100% less racism, misogyny, belligerence, blatant lies, and podium-thumping Know-Nothingism. He doesn't repeat this "oh, oh, we're SO weak! We're SO losing!" horsepuckey.

    So there's aa perfectly good place for these supposedly "angry white voters" to go if they want to fight the TPP and offshoring and bloated capitalist fantasies without having to keep paying some 25-30% of their tax monies to "rebuild" the largest, most powerful armed force on the planet.

    You wanted a "balanced alternative viewpoint", jim? There it is.

  7. And my point still stands: the theme of American military weakness is bullshit. The people on both sides of the political aisle who have their thumb on the Pentagon budget know that. The press - those smart enough to know anything about military and geopolitical affairs know that.

    To insist that the American people believe the opposite is to insist that the American people believe a lie. Not JUST a lie but an obvious, easily-disprovable lie. It's to insist that the American people make their political decisions (and elect people to direct their country's military and geopolitical course) based not on their lyin' eyes but on the bullshit that these people tell them.

    How can that be good? To train We the People to act on nonsense, smoke and mirrors? To train the supposedly-sovereign Public the disbelieve facts and cling to fiction?

    Even if you win elections that is that good in the long term?

    As a soldier I had to obey the orders of my lawful superiors. I had to trust they that knew what they were doing. This is the exact opposite. How could that ever possibly be a good thing?

  8. Pausing for a moment here...let's elide the issue "America's toothless military is a lie and who benefits from that lie" for a moment and actually consider the possibility.

    OK. So let's assume that America's armed force really IS inadequate. The Kenyan Usurper has overseen the decline of American military power.

    What does the US need to rebuild? Where are our worst weaknesses? What is that that is the biggest threat to US military security?

    If the US armed forces really ARE in such bad shape surely we must be able to quickly identify the weak points, the biggest vulnerabilities?

    Which are they? And what would need to happen to "rebuild" them?

    1. Actually, there are several weaknesses.

      - infantry strength
      - partially obsolete field artillery (L/39 field howitzers and SPGs with low RoF)
      - few high-end fighters
      - USN using plenty quite obsolete munition concepts
      - questionable anti-tank defences (overreliance on Javelin)
      - inability of services to design and introduce all-new combat aircraft, battlefield helicopter, armoured combat vehicle or even only all-new assault rifle since the mid-1980's (F-22 being the little-produced exception and F-18E/F if you consider it as all-new)
      - lack of truly silent submarines (SSI instead of SSNs)
      - poor mine countermeasures at sea
      - naval AEW&C is painfully slow and hardly survivable
      - sluggishness and incredible hunger for supplies of the U.S.Army
      - lots of support aircraft (Boeing 707/ XX-135 series) are about to fall apart due to old age

      There are lots of problems, so asking for evidence for weak spots is not a wise tactic in such a discussion. Weak spots are the consequence of budget and (in)efficiency of its use, not exclusively symptoms of budget and force size.

    2. Actually, I'd argue that it's quite valuable, because:

      1. The US hasn't had anything like sufficient infantry strength to fight an extended conventional war for decades now. That, in turn, suggests to me that the US Army has neither the plans nor the intentions to fight an extended conventional infantry war. As I said; the problem with that is that the only real need for mass infantry would be in 1) a major land war with a peer foe. That would be the major powers, Russia, or China, and the probability of someone panicking and going nuclear makes such plans effectively suicide, or 2) a LIC/rebellion-suppression-type action. If we haven't learned from Iraq/A-stan that those are a mug's game for Great Powers, well...

      2. Even when I was in the FA branch a decade ago the US was moving away from high-volume fires outside of the MLRS batteries to lower round-count FFEs based on first-round FFE. The need for putting a shit-ton of rounds downrange was already on the way out, and that was the LAST generation of fire direction software.

      3. Consider what the likelihood of naval gunfire in a modern engagement would be. How slick a projo do they need?

      4. Again; a peer conflict would be no more thinkable than it would have been in 1985, and everyone else's AFVs are a generation behind. Frankly, our ATGMs have sucked since we lugged around the M47 Dragon back in the 1980's. Total effect on US ground operations? Zero.

      After that you get to what I would consider real problems. But not real problems that are the result of some sort of deliberate neglect of the US armed forces as opposed to the ridiculously awful procurement process. That IS a problem - but not some sort of "the (Blank Administration) has gutted our military" problem. That's something that observers have noted since the Fifties that has gotten exponentially worse, and largely due to the Congressional need to get a piece of the action and defense contractors' needs to ensure unkillable programs.

      (Except for the logistical issue; that DOES have something to do with contracting but more to do with the US Army's insatiable need to drag every goddamn thing along behind it...)

      All this is largely, as you say, not an issue of pure budget SIZE but, rather, the increasing lack of the political process to make critical decisions about budget priorities. And the whole shrieking "OMFG we're defenseless and IS is going to kill us all!" nonsense doesn't help...

    3. 2. Indirect fires appears to account for 80-95% of casualties in the Ukraine (admittedly, air strikes are absent) once again. This isn't the work of precision fires as they have become important during occupation wars. It's the work of classic MRLs, field howitzers, mortars 82 and 120 mm and SPGs. Munitions used appear to be more often HE than ICM. There's little reasont o beliieve that conventional warfare is more about PGMs than about HE and ICMs in regard to the artillery.

      3. I didn't think of naval gunfire. harpoon is outdated. SM-2 is outdated. VL ASROC is outdated and in fact, ASROC was never particularly good. RAM has a serious flaw and is unfit for being the sole CIWS (a problem even worse for the German navy). Navy Tomahawks simply aren't stealthy.

      SM-3, SM-6 and ESSM Blk 2 (not there yet) are the only really good USN missile types (at a huge cost each).

      You're very wrong if you think everyone else's AFVs are a generation behind. That's not even true of the thermal gunsights any more. For example, the M1 Abrams tank in its respectively newest version never had the ability to reliably penetrate the newest Soviet/Russian MBTs frontally. Even STAFF is unreliable in face of active APS.

      And to be fair; the low F-22 numbers are the product of Gates cancelling further production while serving in the Obama administration. I think he was right - the navy's Super Bugs would actually suffice as sole combat aircraft of the entire nation regarding actual defence only -, but the buck stops with Obama on this.

      About Daesh is killing us all:

      "Claim: Toddlers killed more Americans than terrorists in 2015.
      Fact checkers: True."

  9. chief: "To insist that the American people believe the opposite is to insist that the American people believe a lie. Not JUST a lie but an obvious, easily-disprovable lie.

    It isn't as simple as that, unfortunately. The other day, a HS classmate of mine clearly refuted a lie that a friend of his had posted on Facebook in support of his political stance. The fellow who posted it defended himself by saying, "OK, I admit it is wrong, but is it not important to put all sides of the argument out for people to make their own decisions? How else can we have an informed public?"

    In short, the guy's premise is that he is not bound to try to verify the truth of what he puts out in the public square. If it's a lie that he authoritatively posts, it's everyone else's responsibility to accept or reject it.

    1. The amazing thing is that he understood his argument got debunked at all. Psychologists showed back in the late 60's for the first time that often times people who had their belief refuted by evidence often reacted by rejecting the contradiction as a lie and believed even more in their error. Basically the business model of Fox News; get to coin opinions as first contact, and claim that all other sources aren't trustworthy.

    2. Good point, Sven. When people so identify with a belief, their reaction to something that refutes their overall beliefs is typically follows one of three behaviors:

      1. Simply reject the contradiction, as you describe, or defend factual error by claiming that it rightful opinion.
      2. Break the refuting element into little pieces until at least one piece supports their overall beliefs. Thus all their beliefs are valid.
      3. Question their beliefs and perhaps change them.

      The third behavior is the least likely.

      I would say that the behavior exhibited by the fellow mentioned falls closest to number 2. Doesn't matter how false a given statement is, as he's convinced other statements will support his beliefs.

  10. Hello everyone, hope you are all doing well. A good Milpub topic as always.

    I'll just give my little perspective here as I'm getting ready to retire later this year after 24 years of service in the active USN and Air Force Reserve. Two plus decades brought a lot of change, but I think the sum of it for the US military is "doing more with less." While Chief is completely correct about America's dominant position in the terms of military capabilities, and we shouldn't forget the natural protection afforded by our geography, the simple fact is that the US military has missions and obligations it is required to perform and it's currently under-resourced to do them adequately. There is also a need to recapitalize a lot of equipment, training and reconstitution after 15 years of land wars in Asia.

    To be frank, "both parties do it" in terms of military commitments. There is a lot of lip-service paid to satisfy core constituencies, but neither party has shown much collective interest in either building and sustaining a force to meet the dreams of the neocons and R2P factions, or else reduce our commitments to match what we can afford - much less rationalize our national security interests altogether. The GoP may talk about building up the military, but that is all a lie - they are only willing to do it by cutting spending that's important to Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, love to talk about all the things they could with money cut from the defense budget, but are unable to articulate a vision or strategy to balance commitments with a reduced force. That's probably because they aren't remotely serious as their voting records show. So it is all game about partisan political advantage and little more.

    Back in reality, the fact is that, over my career, military commitments have grown despite force reductions. There is clearly a mismatch between operational commitments, deployment requirements, and the number of trained & ready personnel necessary to sustain those commitments. Just as one example, the Navy keeps about the same number of ships deployed today as in the mid 1990's but the fleet and end strength are both about 20% smaller.

    The reserve forces, particularly in the Army and Air Force, are no longer strategic reserves but operational reserves. Given the constant fights over the budget, the leadership of the Air Force reserve is "selling" the reserve force as a less expensive alternative to the active force. Essentially they're telling Big Air Force, Congress and the President that they can continue to maintain the same level of commitment but spend less by "leveraging" the reserve force. In my current unit what this means is that we are partially mobilized every 18 months. It hasn't help that DoD procurement is a multi-decade story of graft and incompetence. Recapitalizing equipment is impossible when it takes 20 years to field a new weapon system that costs 10 times original projections.

    So yes, America is secure but our people and politicians show little interest in reducing military commitments to a sustainable level, much less reducing commitments enough to allow serious reductions in the force structure.


    1. I contend that "under-resourced".
      My claim is that it's simply not efficient at using what resources (funds) it gets, and being inherently inefficient it cannot make do with what it has without being dissatisfied/unsatisfactory.

      Let's face it; the U.S. military's favourite solution to problems (and the U.S.' in general) is to throw more resources at it. It thinks big. A decade of real austerity and mandatory personnel cuts wouldn't suffice to make it fitter; we know by now that the armed bureaucracies respond to such stress by intentionally failing at their job in order to be able to claim that they need mroe resources. They provoke a "hollow force", then complain about it. They would not becme much more efficient. It would need a gargantuan political effort or a terrible war to make them fitter.

      Remember that the Abrams tank, the Bradley IFV, the Apache attack helicopter, the AEGIS combat system, the Blackhawk helicopter, the F-16 strike fighter, the F/A-18 strike fighter were all developed during a phase of rather tight budgeting. Budgets have been lavish for a decade by comparison, and the armed services have not been able to produce a single comparable success in platform development after the Clinton administration (which had few successes, mostly the mixed bag F-22).
      Look at the FCS and GCS fiascos, the F-35 racket, the CVN-21 disaster, DD(X), LPD-17, LCS...

      The root cause of the inefficiency is in my opinion an unjustified reverence towards the armed services post-1991 including a cult about "veterans". A bureaucracy that doesn't face critical examination and effective oversight can get away with being wasteful. Look at (R) politicians; tehy all (as of nwo even Paul) wanted to spend even more on the military, without having a clue about how a military works.

    2. Andy- Sadly, as far as end strength is concerned, the AVF has just about priced the military out of existence. The solution to low acquisition and retention rates has been money, both competitive pay and bonuses. Billions in money. In the days of conscription, people competed to get flying jobs, rather than possibly serve as a PVT in the Infantry.

      I have posted in the past that then COL John Vessey predicted, over a couple of beers, that when Nixon pushed through the end of the draft, that ultimately, the cost of the payroll would become a massive burden seriously limiting end strength.

    3. Economically cspeaking the cost is higher with conscription. Only the monetary costs are lower. The cost of convincing people to work in the military is inevitably lower if you attract the most willing than if you make a near-random selection.
      The costs are almsot entirely monetary in the former case, whereas with conscripts there are huge hidden costs; the price of lost freedom.

      Besides, the military wasn't priced out of existence at all. It's still about 1.3 million active and about 0.8 million reserve personnel.
      For comparison: The active Russian armed forces (not sure if counting paramilitary) count less than 0.8 million and sure have a much more formidable defence mission.

      The PRC, while having 5x the population, has about 2.3 million active personnel, and IIRC they still use lots of conscripts as cheap labour in the government-owned arms industry and other rather non-military occupations. They also don't tend to have their bases guarded by host nation forces or by civilian contractors either, so much military personnel is occupied this way while their Western counterparts are not counted.

      So you essentially made the same mistkae as the (R) by implying numerical weakness where there's no numerical weakness.

    4. Sven- The basic pay and allowances for the troops have increased 90% in constant dollars between 1971 and 2016. In 1971, a majority of uniformed personnel were being paid below the national median wage. Today, only enlisted personnel in their first year of service are below the median wage.

      In 1971, there was no economic incentive for enlisted service members with less than four years time in uniform to be married. In fact, there was quite the disincentive. Today there is a marriage incentive, and the cumulative cost of dependent benefits in 2016 is nearly triple what it was in 1971, due to a significantly higher percentage of the junior force being married.

      Since the advent of the AVF, the only valid predictor of what you call the "most willing" is the state of the economy. High unemployment = lower recruiting costs. From a recent issue of Army Times concerning the offering of $40,000 enlistment bonuses to non-prior service people:

      "During the past year, the recruitment of quality young people has become increasingly difficult because of the national economic recovery, which has spurred civilian employment opportunities, and a corresponding decline in the propensity of young people to look to the military when planning for their future.

      “There has been a decrease in the proportion of youth who think the military can help them earn money for college and provide for an attractive lifestyle,” Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commander of Army Recruiting Command, recently told Army Times."

      Now, assuming that only 50% of the desired number of new enlistees (60,000 goal) in 2016 qualify for a $40,000 signing bonus, that's over $1 billion in additional personnel costs that did not exist prior to the AVF.

      To get back to the point I was making, I am not debating whether conscription is better than the AVF or visa versa. I was stating a simple fact. The budgetary burden of relying solely on volunteers is significantly higher than conscripts. Nearly double in constant dollars. We do not have more people in uniform, whether necessary by your models or not, because the money isn't there to pay them, provide benefits to them and their dependents and fund their pensions.

      Debating "loss of freedom" is a totally different issue.

    5. Sven,

      Resources aren't just about money, the bigger issue, as I said in my comment, is OPTEMPO. If forward presence requirements stay the same but manpower and equipment are reduced by 20%, then that has certain effects.

      And, as I said in my comment, I agree completely about procurement. It's a disaster but the sad reality is no one wants to change it.


      I see what you're saying but I think about the problem a bit differently - our end strength wouldn't be a problem if we had more realistic commitments. The AVF is self-limiting in that respect. A nation constantly in dubious conflicts, with high OPTEMPO, means recruitment and retention will difficult - ie. expensive. Right now the Air Force can't retain pilots despite large bonuses. Pilots are tired of constant deployments and all the Air Force bullshit. Considering the airlines pay almost as much or more for a job where you work 15 days a month and don't have to deal with admin queep, it's no wonder they are running for the exits.

      I don't really see conscription as a viable solution as it comes with its own downsides. I think we need to quit thinking we have to have our military fingers in every pie around the globe and constraint our operations to a more realistic level.


    6. No argument about OPTEMPO, Andy. The cost/capability issue is one that gets far too little rational thought. Vessey was spot on in that an AVF will have to compete with the general labor market, it wouldn't come cheap, and would easily put a cap on force structure.

      The AVF was a profound political decision that is, as you say, virtually irreversible, and yes, it means that we are now very constrained in the operations we can conduct.

      I sympathize with your OPTEMPO issue. Thing is, the manpower side of force structure is far more complex that simply throwing out end strength or budget figures. As Chief posts below, Cruz makes very ill informed comments about how Regan "strengthened" the military. As far as end strength was concerned, it increased a whopping 2% in the 8 years Regan was in office, while total spending hit a nearly 45% increase. Considerably more spending, yet hardly any increase in addressing potential OPTEMPO. Nothing has changed, Andy. It's just that currently, the OPTEMPO isn't potential, it's real.

      Little anecdotal example. At the 1990 Worldwide Aviation Brigade Commanders Conference, we addressed the serious need for additional aircraft armorers (E3/E4) in our Attack Battalions. Not one dissenting voice. 18 more armorers were needed to meet the operational standards set for these units. The existing staffing just was insufficient to handle the workload. Now, to have 18 more armorers, we had to have 18 less something else. So, which MTOEs could be raided to result in exactly 18 fewer positions when the reduction was applied to all units under that MTOE? Or could we find some Avn MOS E3/E4 troops in non-MTOE (installation staff, for example) that could be the "billpayer"? Or would we have to go outside the Aviation Branch to find "billpayers"? And so on and so forth. 18 fuckin troops in an Army of 700,000+, and it was no simple task. And, of course, we had the impact on Guard and Reserve Attack units to deal with, as well. Now that was in 1990, when the personnel costs were proportionally lower than in 2016.

      Not saying what is right or wrong. Just stating the facts. I have no earthly idea if we can raise the financial rewards enough to attract and retain personnel in the numbers necessary to support our current OPTEMPO. If the economy keeps improving, it would be a hell of a task.

  11. Ted Cruz, last night:

    "Over seven years, President Obama has weakened and undermined the military. We've seen this before with another weak Democrat president, Jimmy Carter, who did the same thing. And in January 1981, Ronald Reagan came into office. What did Reagan do? He cut taxes, he lifted regulations, he pulled government off the backs of the necks of small businesses. We saw millions of high paying jobs and it created trillions of government revenue, and he used that money to rebuild the military to bankrupt the Soviet Union and end the Cold War. We are going to repeal Obamacare, pass a flat tax, and stop amnesty. And we will see trillions of government revenue, and we will use that revenue to rebuild this military so it remains the mightiest fighting force on the face of the planet."

    OR, translated out of its original GOP gibberish: "I will pursue a flat tax, abolish the IRS, and use the flood of new revenue that inevitably will ensue from massive tax cuts to buy a shitload of new aircraft carriers and I am in no way insane."

    Reality has taken a holiday.

  12. Congrats Andy on your nearing retirement. Hope you get to post more then.

    1. Andy, May I add my congrats and welcome to the ranks of the retirees. Bravo Zulu!

    2. Thanks guys! I'm ready. I'd be retired this summer, but the Air Force reserve implemented a "force management" (stop loss) program where most retirements and transfers to the IRR can't take place until next fiscal year. The intent, obviously, is to cook the books so the reserve can meet it's end strength on paper.

    3. Offering human sacrifices at the Altar of the End Strength Gods is nothing new. Not always rational, but it does make the numbers come out in the most favorable light.

    4. Congratulations as well, Andy. Hope you're already planning your big ol' bushy beard. Retirement, First Day of the Last Shave!