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What are We Saving this Capability For?

[ 0 ] July 10, 2009 |

With due respect, I don’t really get this:

First, there’s the question of capacity. Once you phase out a military capacity, it becomes extremely difficult to restore it. That goes for manpower capacity (i.e., training), but also for industrial capacity. Clearly there will still be a need for, and training of, jet fighter pilots to man the already existing fleet. But if drones become the central element of air power moving forward, both manpower and industrial capacity for piloted fighters will suffer. And the cost of restoring them when needed will then become magnified.

Second, the idea that traditional air dominance is no longer relevant — that is, that we will never need to restore a piloted fighter plane capacity — might be doctrinally sound, as Ibn Muqawama suggests. But I have my doubts as to whether it will survive a dose of reality. If war were decided by doctrines, or prevented by deterrence, it’s unlikely there would ever be any shooting. But the truth is, wars happen, often in the face of overwhelming logic arguing against them. And when the shooting starts, it often reveals the limitations of doctrine (e.g., the Maginot Line), or the limitations of an adversary’s ability to implement it. To assume, a priori, that our air dominance will be ineffective because the Chinese intend to accurately target our forward air bases with missiles is to put quite a bit of faith in the Chinese army’s ability to accomplish its objectives.

The question isn’t really one of the relevance of air superiority, or the likelihood of war with China. Rather, we’re talking about the imminent reality that drones (with human controllers) will, in the foreseeable future, be better able to handle air superiority missions than aircraft with human pilots. The reasons for this are fairly clear; pilot-less aircraft aren’t restricted in terms of speed and maneuverability by the frailty of the human body, and drones don’t need to make space for a human life support system. We’re certainly not there yet, as the visual capability of the human head hasn’t yet been matched by drone sensors, but it’s not difficult to project to a period in which air superiority drones are controlled by remote pilots. Indeed, given that drones are cheap and don’t actually need to be as good as the best air superiority aircraft, I’d be curious as to whether anyone has wargamed out a conflict between conventional fighter aircraft and a swarm of AAM armed drones. Moreover, I think we’ve already demonstrated that drones can achieve similar levels of ground attack effectiveness as piloted aircraft.

One important caveat is command and control; if the link between the drone and the remote pilot is disrupted, then you have a real problem. Given, however, that modern piloted aircraft require tight network integration, I’m not sure that this differentiates drones from pilots as much as you would think. Finally, I’m singularly unconvinced by the notion that we need to maintain industrial and training capacity into the indefinite future for weapon systems that we’ve identified as obsolete. The need to keep open lines of production isn’t a silly concern; the Royal Navy has effectively demonstrated the difficulties presented by trying to restart major SSN and CV projects after a long-term lag. But sad as it may be, we don’t build heavy gun armed battleships anymore.

As Judah points out, the production lines for manned fighter aircraft will remain for some time, as will the training infrastructure for pilots. I think, however, that we’re finally at the vista from which we can see the end of the manned fighter/bomber aircraft.


Think of the Economic Windfall!!!!!

[ 0 ] July 10, 2009 |

The F-22 was supposed to free us from the costs of maintaining on aging, expensive fleet of F-15s. Turns out that this may have been a touch optimistic, and that F-22 maintenance may be an economic stimulus program unto itself:

While most aircraft fleets become easier and less costly to repair as they mature, key maintenance trends for the F-22 have been negative in recent years, and on average from October last year to this May, just 55 percent of the deployed F-22 fleet has been available to fulfill missions guarding U.S. airspace, the Defense Department acknowledged this week.

Sensitive information about troubles with the nation’s foremost air-defense fighter is emerging in the midst of a fight between the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress over whether the program should be halted next year at 187 planes, far short of what the Air Force and the F-22’s contractors around the country had anticipated.

“It is a disgrace that you can fly a plane [an average of] only 1.7 hours before it gets a critical failure” that jeopardizes success of the aircraft’s mission, said a Defense Department critic of the plane who is not authorized to speak on the record. Other skeptics inside the Pentagon note that the planes, designed 30 years ago to combat a Cold War adversary, have cost an average of $350 million apiece and say they are not a priority in the age of small wars and terrorist threats.

Its troubles have been detailed in dozens of Government Accountability Office reports and Pentagon audits. But Pierre Sprey, a key designer in the 1970s and 1980s of the F-16 and A-10 warplanes, said that from the beginning, the Air Force designed it to be “too big to fail, that is, to be cancellation-proof.” Lockheed farmed out more than 1,000 subcontracts to vendors in more than 40 states, and Sprey — now a prominent critic of the plane — said that by the time skeptics “could point out the failed tests, the combat flaws, and the exploding costs, most congressmen were already defending their subcontractors’ ” revenues.

“We knew that the F-22 was going to cost more than the Air Force thought it was going to cost and we budgeted the lower number, and I was there,” [Former Pentagon Comptroller John] Hamre told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April. “I’m not proud of it,” Hamre added in a recent interview.

Skin problems — often requiring re-gluing small surfaces that can take more than a day to dry — helped force more frequent and time-consuming repairs, according to the confidential data drawn from tests conducted by the Pentagon’s independent Office of Operational Test and Evaluation between 2004 and 2008.

Over the four-year period, the F-22’s average maintenance time per hour of flight grew from 20 hours to 34, with skin repairs accounting for more than half of that time — and more than half the hourly flying costs — last year, according to the test and evaluation office. The Air Force says the F-22 cost $44,259 per flying hour in 2008; the Office of the Secretary of Defense said the figure was $49,808. The F-15, the F-22’s predecessor, has a fleet average cost of $30,818.

Long excerpt, but read the rest. The fact that we can read it at all means that Gates and Obama are serious about killing the F-22, and are instructing people to leak on its shortcomings. I suspect that we’ll get more stories like this as decision time gets closer. I also think that this demonstrates that administration veto threats aren’t hollow; they really seem serious about killing this plane.


[ 0 ] July 10, 2009 |


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Is there anything she isn’t wrong about?

And I didn’t even mention that, having claimed that it’s totalitarian to make any inquiry into the motivation behind a homicide, she then asserts that “the aimless hooligans who beat Shepard and tied him to a fence perhaps didn’t necessarily mean to kill him.” Needless to say, the basis for this inference is left unspecified. And, hey, about some victim-blaming: “Only a week before, Shepard had expressed fears about being killed. Given that apprehension, it is still inexplicable — if the case is examined only through a political lens — why Shepard would leave a public place in the company of such blatant thugs.” Um…well, I trust you don’t need me to deal with this (and it looks even worse following her discussion of History’s Greatest Martyr, Sarah Palin.)

President Obama Also Determined that Tuesday Would be Taco Day in the Cafeteria

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Yglesias has talked about the first part of this, so let’s concentrate on the second bit:

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama’s senior aides: as “self-hating Jews.”

“He thought that his speech at Bar-Ilan would become mandatory reading at schools in the United States, and when he realized that Obama gave no such order, he went back to being frustrated,” one of his associates said.

Okay… so, Bibi has lived in the United States before. He went to high school, college, and graduate school in the US. Is there any plausible reason to believe that these experiences may have led him to believe that the President of the United States regularly orders schools to enforce the reading of speeches by foreign heads of state? Or that the President even has the authority to do so? Moreover, the speech was delivered on June 14, at which point almost all schools in the United States are out. Is this a joke, or is Bibi just going crazy?

H/t Law Prof.

Laptop Advice

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

After three and a half years, my Dell appears to be dying. Given that I have no interest whatsoever in shifting to a Mac, what do you folks recommend in terms of a new PC laptop? I’ve been told good things about Lenovo Thinkpads; any good or bad experiences?

F-35: The Last Manned Fighter Aircraft?

[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Mike Mullen thinks so. Boeing and the Russians disagree. I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft. And in any case, it appears that the A-10 will remain the platform of choice for fighting the giant robots that undoubtedly will afflict us in the future…

See Axe for additional links and discussion.


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Joe was in the field…


[ 0 ] July 9, 2009 |

Put Rock on the Rock! (Or At Least In Cooperstown.)

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

I was happy to find this site, which is nobly trying to remedy what is currently an egregious injustice. I also like the excerpt of bad arguments, which will provide a fix for those who miss Fire Joe Morgan! (I especially like the one about how Raines was just too effective a base stealer — he should have hurt his team by running more or something.)

[Via Jonah Keri.]

Why Should I Care About Roger Taney’s Reputation?

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

I think John’s response to the question of in what sense Dred Scott made the underlying political situation worse (i.e. what bad consequences it had aside from its restatement of orthodox Jacksonian immorality with respect to slavery and white supremacy) is worth discussing because it gets at some larger issues:

Obviously Dred Scott didn’t close the issue, as Taney had hoped. I don’t think anything would have changed in terms of American history. It would have helped preserve Taney’s and the court’s future reputation, though, and certainly would have inflamed passions the least of the available options.

To deal with a couple details first, it is of course true that Taney’s pretensions about the Court’s ability to end the political salience of the slavery issue were badly misplaced, although it also has to be remembered that he acted at the behest of leaders in the other two branches, as opposed to usurping a functional compromise. I suppose it may be true that the Court saying silent would have “inflamed passions” a little less than ducking the issue, although in context — i.e. a context in which everyone knew the Court was intentionally ducking the issue — this isn’t obvious. But even if true, this is (as John essentially concedes) a trivial truth. Nothing important would have changed — the Jacksonian party system depended slavery not dominating national politics. Throwing the issue to the courts didn’t (and shouldn’t have been expected to) solve this problem, but there’s also no chance whatsoever that a political solution was going to magically materialize had the Court ruled narrowly. The Democrats were doomed in the North after Bleeding Kansas no matter what.

The point about reputation, however is really the heart of the issue, and also tends to be central to defenses of minimalism. The problem, though, is that I don’t really buy it, empirically or normatively. In terms of the reputation of the Court as an institution, given that the Court was far more powerful in the decades following the Civil War than in the decades preceding it, it’s hard to claim that Dred Scott had much lasting impact on the Court’s reputation. (And given most of what the Court was doing in this period, it’s far from self-evident that this is a good thing.) It’s true that the decision destroyed Roger Taney‘s historical reputation, but so what? I’m not sure what’s at stake in ensuring that any particular Chief Justice is held in high esteem. (I do regret that Taney has received undue blame for pathologies that were deeply embedded in American constitutionalism and politics, but I see no reason to compound this historical whitewash by grossly exaggerating the role of the Supreme Court in producing the Civil War.)

And this brings to the normative issue, and the bigger problem: I completely reject the idea that the Supreme Court is entitled to some fixed reputation or level of power, regardless of how it acts. It serves democracy much better for the Court to be explicit about the constitutional values it is advancing, and have its reputation be affected accordingly. There’s no inherent value to a Court that believes in discredited values maintaining its power to affect policy outcomes. Taney’s reputation should have fallen when the country repudiated the Jacksonian Faustian bargain on slavery.

The fastest pitcher who ever lived

[ 0 ] July 8, 2009 |

Before reading this story I’d heard of Steve Dalkowski, but I didn’t realize his stats were so unique, or that his life story was so grim. Here are his career stats per nine innings (EP = estimated pitches).

1957 3.2 18.7 17.6 229
1958 4.0 18.7 17.7 232
1959 4.4 20.4 15.2 238
1960 5.6 13.9 13.9 205
1961 6.6 17.1 13.1 225
1962 6.6 6.4 10.8 162
1963 5.9 8.8 7.9 169
1964 8.2 6.1 11.1 166
1965 8.8 6.3 7.0 163
Career 6.2 12.2 12.6 222

Apparently he didn’t hit many batters, which I suppose is a tribute to the speed of human reflexes when survival is at stake.