Thursday, March 23, 2017

Good question...

Back in February we talked about the possibility that the Department of Defense might get a massive infusion of taxpayer bucks under the GOP, although said Department had neither requested such largesse nor seemed to know exactly what to spend it on.

One day after our post went up here a U.S. Army major laid out the most important problem with this war-fattened budget:
"In fact, money is not the solution — it may actually be contributing to our problems. Enormous budgets and unclear strategy allow us to ignore hard choices. Since the advent of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF), America has skipped the “guns vs. butter” argument entirely. Instead of hard choices, America used debt to outsource its wars to a small cadre of competent, capable, but increasingly distant professionals. Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates once remarked that we spend more on military bands than diplomacy. Too much money has allowed the military to dominate what should be whole-of-government decision making."
Many of our bar staff here have hammered on this point - I'd give Ranger Jim the Employee of the Month award for constantly reminding us - that tactics aren't strategy and warfighting isn't policy.

It is abundantly clear that Trump hasn't a clue here; he says himself that he gets his military information mostly from television shows (largely Hogan's Heroes and F Troop, from the look of it...) so if there's going to be an actual strategy guiding all this spending it won't come from the Oval Office. And, as we discussed here a little while ago, it appears that the grown-ups like McMaster and Mattis aren't getting listened to; it's All-Bannon all the way down, whispering in Trump's orange ear like a dyspeptic-looking Grima Wormtongue.

At this point is there a chance that all this extra cash for things that blow up won't be used to keep pointlessly blowing things up? And, if so, how? What could possibly break the "Washington Rules" and end the seemingly unending search for monsters to destroy?
I don't see anything, but I'm a pessimistic old sergeant. Anyone out there see a glimmer of hope?


  1. And then there is stuff like this:

    I do think readiness remains a big problem. Throwing more money (if that's where it goes) for one year is a bandaid for that. Ultimately it can only be solved by reducing commitments or increasing the size of the force.

  2. I think our major's piece cuts closer to the heart of the problem, tho, Andy; if there's no actual plan, no sense of what is essential to the welfare of the nation to guide both the time, place, and effort of the commitments as well as the makeup and size of the force then the outcome is just as likely to be poor, just different in the quality of poor.

    I get that overtasking is an issue for you personally. But I don't have that axe to grind. While I understand that asking a small force to do too much is likely to be damaging to the people and equipment of that force I'm not really informed enough to make a call on that. And, to a large degree, that's still "tactics and warfighting" and, as such, a matter for the services and the Joint Chiefs.

    But as a citizen I DO, and should, have a say in the questions of "what should our national interests be?" and "what resources should we devote to pursuing them?".

    And, as the linked article as well as Jim and many other folks here routinely point out, those questions almost never get asked, and never in this "war on terror" kabuki we've been staging for over fifteen years...

  3. Yes, a good question. We have wrestled with similar questions under different administrations. Unfortunately our intrepid band of water-cooler strategic thinkers could never agree on solutions. Doubtful the country as a whole will solve the business either.

    But as you say FDChief, citizens should have some input.

    Good article cited by Andy. I think we do need to retain talent, especially in fields that require extensive training. Giving pilots desk jobs or making Farsi speakers into experts on Putin, as mentioned in that article, is a lavish misuse of taxpayer dollars. And although anecdotal, those are just the tip of the iceberg in my experience.

    1. Allow me to spitball here, Mike, and opine that I don't think it's a case of our "leaders" not agreeing on national interests so much as an effect of our current "republic-in-name-oligarchy-in-fact.

      The strategically-pointless cabinet wars in the Middle East are in the interests of the oligarchy. They are fought by the imperial legions and the material losses are a cash crop for the MICC so no risk of popular revolt while the sweet tax dollars roll in. They provide a seemingly scary but really quite harmless "enemy" to fear-up the proles should they get testy about inequity and oligarchy. They provide a convenience for imperial meddling.

      What they DON'T do is anything in the interests of the 99%, you, me, Andy, Jim...the Joe and Mary Lunchpail America.

      But our interests have few advocates in the corridors of federal power...

  4. I don't disagree, and I wish someone in authority would answer your questions on interests and resources. On one hand our "national security" establishment is a self-licking ice cream cone; on the other we know what the natsec beltway bandits want, it's one of the few bipartisan areas left in Washington.

    My point with respect to optempo is that it's a symptom of the larger problem, but I'm sure it will all be ok as long as we don't get into any big wars.... Also, the problems identified in the linked article are another symptom - reform is also something that never discussed even though it is desperately needed.

    1. I think my sense on this is that what I'd LIKE to see isn't "someone in authority...answer my questions" as it is I'd really like to see all those authorities actually THINK about those questions. Right now I don't get the idea that there's any real pushback against these cabinet wars, and there's not cost-benefit analysis there. I mentioned the Nicaraguan occupation in Sven's comment below, and that's a good comparison. The U.S. ruled the joint for damn near a decade to help United Fruit, among other things. But when that got too costly we grabbed a hat; jerking bananas out of Nicaragua wasn't worth spending real money on, any more than "ruling" Afghanistan is.

      Your link throws out some interesting personnel management ideas. I doubt it would get a hearing inside the Five-Sided Fool Farm simply because it would make the system much less "predictable" from above, which is what the service chiefs like. And some of the suggestions - like pulling in specialists from the civil side for "temporary" commissions - aren't really practical where relief is nearly impossible without serious cause. A bunch of those people will look good but fail under military conditions, and they will have to be identified as such quickly and pulled out. That will be almost more difficult than setting up a system to bring them in...

      And - given the current indiscriminate way we throw armed force at damn near any and every geopolitical "problem" - there's no way in hell I'd trust the DoD to administer the ASVAB to every swingin' high schooler...

  5. I disagree with the article.

    a) The USA used to employ professional soldiers to do its small wars for a long time, specifically in the Banana Wars. There's nothing new about it. The French are even more extreme with their Légion ètrangère, without the symptoms of the U.S. military.

    b) The U.S. military knows what to spend billions on, since training and maintenance budgets are known to be in need of increases (assuming the current force size). The USN has a sub that's in such a poor shape it is not allowed to submerge. Several destroyers are non-functional and waiting for long drydock repairs after 6-9 month-long deployments.

    The Navy has absolutely no difficulty to sink billions into overpriced and even gold-plated failure ship designs. The USAF has begun its utterly defence-irrelevant long range bomber project that can absorb gazillions with ease, particularly as long as so much about it remains secret. The Army has just begun to dream up its next Abrams/Bradley generation successor vehicles, after both FCS and GCS failed miserably.
    There's no difficulty in sinking billions into PGMs either - in any of the armed services.


    Interesting historical fact:
    The last time the U.S. military was really competent at getting things developed was in one and the same era of rather frugal pre-Reagan Pentagon budgets:
    AH-64, UH-60, Arleigh Burkes, Los Angeles SSN, M1 Abrams, M2/M3 Bradley, F-16, F-18.

    Ever since, hardly any progress in platforms was made. There were a few overpriced ones (Seawolf SSN, Virginia SSN, B-2), modifications (AESA radars for fighters, later aircraft versions and DDG versions, Abrams and Bradley upgrades, Apache upgrades, gradual replacement of every part of the original M109).

    1. I think we're talking past each other, Sven. The linked article was recommending that the U.S. national "security" process focus on the geopolitical forest. You're talking about the tactical and warfighting (and procurement) trees.

      In fact, you had a nice little summary of exactly the sort of broad-based assessment of capabilities versus requirements he's talking about over at your joint just a little while ago (this one: And his point wasn't that the U.S. "can't" do cabinet wars with a small military; it's that the U.S. doesn't HAVE a small military, but that it's using it poorly because it doesn't really know what it's goals and interests are. The Banana Wars were fought for clearly delineated goals (loathsome, IMO, but at least the endstates were well understood) and with force packages designed to get to that endstate. The Marine commander in Nicaragua knew better than to ask Congress for an additional 10,000 troops when Sandino got uppity (as his modern Afghanistan counterpart has recently). When the endstate got too costly, the U.S. cut and ran rather than keep throwing money down a rathole.

      Now...procurement? No argument there. The DoD has ALWAYS found gold-plated crap to throw money at. As you note, the lean Seventies was perhaps the best-focused period for procurement in recent history, tho I'm not sure how much of the success of those systems was due to frugality and how much was a combination of good luck and the focus on core capabilities rather than fun, expensive gadgets - a lot of the weapons designed were the "next-first-generation" AND the result of lessons-learned in the Sixties as the WW2/Korea generation reached the end of their service lives... I'm thinking 1) the lessions learned from the failure of the MBT-70 that helped lead to the M1 while the late-variant M60's were just as overpriced and minor "upgrades" as the late-stage M1 variants (M60A1E1..?)

      But that's a separate issue from the fundamental question of "what does our armed force do, and why?" At least in theory, once that central question is settled then the issue of procurement can be evaluated in context of whether the proposed system helps or hinders those overall strategic objectives. Right now there IS no real agreement, so the tendency to just throw money at cool gizmos is exacerbated.

  6. If you listen to his rhetoric, Trump's grand strategy seems to be to focused on defeating Daesh. However I do not see that reflected in his defense budget. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong place? I see that T-Rex has just hosted the 68 member Global Coalition against Daesh in Washington. But that was an Obama initiative. Good to see at least that Trump is not deep-sixing it. How does he expect to keep that going in addition to other diplomatic relations both normal and extreme by cutting DoS budget?

    Much of his increases seem to be in missile defense. Hope he does not plan any ronnie raygun nonsense.

    He tried to cut the Coast Guard budget. Good for the Navy for speaking up loudly against that. And the ad-hoc coastal caucus in the House and Senate seem to have got that kiboshed also. Did the man think that his magical wall extended indefinitely into the ocean. The ancient Athenians had a similar dilemma. Their walls were useless against Xerxes who torched their city. But their ships proved better than walls, leading to a Persian defeat and the Peace 0f Callias.

    Apparently the new budget also plans cuts in the Air National Guard. IMHO that is another program that should see increases, not cuts.

  7. mike,
    i have a plan for a mexico wall.
    let's build it,then once sealed the border can have exchange posts where we can DX 2 non working US types and get 1 working mexican in trade.
    i've vetted this with some mexicans and they thot it a great idea.
    ps-has anyone considered the coasts of the US to be avenues of approach?

    1. Jim -

      Re your Q on whether "anyone considered the coasts to be avenues of approach" question:

      Yes, the Coasties. And God bless 'em, I say.Why he would ever want to cut their funding is beyond me.

  8. Chief,
    the problem with isis,as i see it is that we have no option but going roman,or at least papal on them.
    in the US Irq war we didn't have enuf Corps MP EPW units. this led to the scandals. those that we do have were not trained up reserve types. the MP vital function of EPW has been swept under the rug.
    of course we can bomb the shit out of them,per trump not lemay,but what if we don't kill them all.? who will epw them? we know that they will be put up against the wall,or more likely knelt in a ditch.
    we want war on the cheap, but cheap wars leave an after taste in the mouth.
    i find it incredible that absolutely no one wants to associate themselves with the invasion of iraq or the consequences playing out in region. that's not the leadership we teach in service schools.
    the nightly news is filled with sorrowful stories of refugees and untold suffering, but nobody will say that this is a direct result of US actions.
    HRC sure doesn't brag much about killing Khadafy.sure she came,saw and he died,BUT wheres the freedom that we're spreading like goat cheese?
    this entire war is a national disgrace, but so was the philipines in 1899. IOW we'll sweep it under the pback pages of history.

    1. Jim -

      We are not taking prisoners. That is being done by the Iraqi military or Pesh in Iraq; and by the YPG/SDF in Syria. If by any remote chance a Daeshi surrenders to an American, they will surely be turned over to partner forces that have jurisdiction.

      Most of the Daeshi foreigners in Iraq and Syria are being hardcore like the Japanese in WW2 and are fighting to the death. There are some Iraqi/Syrian locals surrendering who had been press-ganged into being Daeshis. They are being screened. Some of those may well end up against a wall or kneeling in a ditch. Some others may get jail time. Just recently the YPG courts released several of those types after seven months in a Manbij monkey house (stockade to you Army types).

      PS - "We came, we saw" was the quote, not "I came, I saw". In any case she never said she would "take out terrorists families" like our current war-criminal-in-chief.

  9. mike,
    the bill clinton whitehouse unleashed atf/fbi/delta on families here in conus.
    remember ruby ridge and waco?
    you cut her too much slack.

    in war fare/ GC's IF we capture a enemy fighter we are still responsible for his/her well being. we can't hand over to sure death or torture.
    my point is that EPW has been ignored from square 1, and this deficiency is little noticed or commented upon.
    ok.i misquoted's because i frequently confuse her with julius caesar.


  10. I do not know of any Daeshi captured by US troops with CJTF-OIR. Do you? And if we did, what would the options be in your opinion?

    I do remember Ruby Ridge and Waco. FBI Director Louis Freeh, the whacko right-wing tool was responsible for both of those. Freeh is the one who fled from the USA and became a citizen of Italy when Berlusconi, the Italian Trumpita, was PM there. But my neighbor the cat lady is convinced that H was at Ruby Ridge and whispering in the ear of the FBI sniper: "shoot the bitch" and "shoot the brat". You are the one cutting H too much slack. The cat lady would tell you not to forget Vince Foster's murder and the pizza pedophilia personally directed by H. You need to get up to speed on things Jim.

    I understand your confusion regarding H and Julius Caesar, they were both stabbed in the back, weren't they?

  11. Mike,
    you are turning into a poet.

  12. Jim -

    Although I would love to be a poet and sling sugar coated bullets, but alas do not have the talent. Our own topkick, FDChief, could be another Kipling or a Swift. Or even a Donne if he gave up all things scatalogical.

    But you never answered my questions. Have we captured any Daeshi? I myself do not think so, but may be mistaken.