Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "military procurement"

Return of the Rummy?

[ 39 ] January 9, 2012 |

Steve Clemons has an interesting notion:

Rumsfeld’s public ruminations about what might be possible in achieving efficiencies and dealing with a tough budgetary environment were leading the nation in my view to do some of the “rebalancing” back in early 2001 that would have been healthy for the country.  Robert Kagan,writing in July 2001, strongly disagreed with my perspective, but his piece gives a sense of the times before 9/11 that roughly feel like the budgetary and hard choice debates unfolding today.

A return to Rumsfeld’s efforts to strangle some parts of the Pentagon while conceptualizing new ways to achieve security would be a constructive discussion for the Obama team to consider.

Obama, Leon Panetta, Tom Donilon, Ashton Carter, David Petraeus, General Dempsey and others on the Obama national security team may find that such public discourse could very well help Americans see something that might be true — that greater security deliverables are possible with reform and change, even amidst budget cuts.

Maybe it’s time to invite Donald Rumsfeld to be invited to join the respective advisory boards tasked with thinking through new blueprints for a reformed and rewired military strategy.  Controversial, of course — but also a smart thing to do, even in an election year.

It’s possible that there are some lessons of value to be learned from Rumsfeld’s first eight months on the job; he did undertake a serious effort to re-think the US defense posture, and he wasn’t afraid to engage in brutal fights against entrenched Pentagon interests. As I’ve suggested at other times, in an entirely different universe Rumsfeld might have ended his career with the legacy of an important reformer, rather than as the Worst Secretary of Defense in History.

But in this universe, Donald Rumsfeld is a colossal failure who shouldn’t be admitted to polite society.  Normally, that would be no object to using him strategically in the coming defense budget wars.  However, Rumsfeld is almost unique in American political life in that virtually everyone recognizes him as a colossal failure.  The uniformed military hates him, the Pentagon civilians hate him, the neocons hate him, liberals hate him, and even centrists don’t particularly care for him.  You bring someone like Rummy on to your team in order to provide cover, but Rummy doesn’t provide cover; he attracts fire, almost all of it deserved. And while Rummy might have some private lessons to impart to Panetta, I very much doubt that he’d be interested in helping out a Democratic administration in any fashion that wouldn’t also be part of his own rehabilitation.


Whole Damn Brazilian Navy

[ 14 ] December 7, 2011 |

Brazil received some pretty bad economic news yesterday. In my latest (exceedingly well timed) WPR piece, I talk a bit about how Brazil’s apparent aspirations to influence don’t fit very well with the decaying Brazilian Navy:

The Brazilian navy is weak compared to the rest of the BRICs, and because of its age, the force is falling farther behind. There is nothing wrong with a nation choosing to maintain a relatively small navy. Money spent on weapons is often better spent on other priorities. The experience of 1910 is not something that Brazilians, much less Chileans and Argentinians, wish to repeat, and Brazil does not currently face any critical maritime security threat.

However, recent rhetoric from Brazil suggests an interest in playing a larger role on the global stage. And though Brazil benefits from the maritime security umbrella provided by the United States Navy, its complaints about the U.S. Fourth Fleet seem to indicate unhappiness with the U.S. Navy’s continued pre-eminence in the Western Hemisphere. The Brazilian government must choose between aligning its international expectations with the resources it is willing to dedicate to defense, or aligning its defense expenditures with its global ambitions. If Brazil does not desire to play a major maritime role, it should discard its aging carrier and forego plans for an expensive nuclear submarine, opting instead for a smaller, more compact, but more modern force. If Brazil wants to play in the same league with the other BRICs, then it needs to shift its procurement priorities soon before it gets left too far behind.

Russia and China: Countries with Interests Beyond Messing with Texas

[ 7 ] October 19, 2011 |

My latest at WPR takes a look at the Russia-China arms trade:

By the middle of the last decade, however, the factors that made the relationship so strong had begun to subside. The sophistication and reliability of Chinese military equipment improved, while the quality of Russian industrial production declined. Some Russians also began to express concern about the growing military might of China, with which many border issues remain unsettled. By contrast, the military relationship between Russia and India appears to have remained relatively healthy, even in the face of recent disagreements over the price and delivery schedule of a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier.

The problem of intellectual property rights also looms large in the Sino-Russian arms trade. Russia remains concerned that China will not respect Russian intellectual property rights for arms transferred to China or licensed for Chinese production. Those concerns are well-founded. China’s lack of respect for intellectual property rights in civilian fieldsremains a sore spot with the United States. Moreover, China has clearly copied Russian weapon systems that were transferred in the past. While Russia and China have engaged in repeated discussions over intellectual property concerns in the past four years, China’s ability and interest in complying with Russian requirements remains suspect. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Russia now views China as a major competitor in the international arms market. If Russia believes that sales to China will actively undercut the position of its exports to the rest of the world, then the future of Russia-China arms trade seems grim.

The major problems afflicting the Russia-China arms relationship can, in large part, be traced to China’s growing power and influence. Russian desperation and Chinese weakness produced a great match in the 1990s, but as the situations in Moscow and especially Beijing have improved, tensions have inevitably developed. The problem lies not simply with Russian fears of Chinese power, but also with China’s “natural” desire to play a global role commensurate with its strength. For China, this means becoming a major player in the international arms market, not to mention ignoring demands from Moscow and Washington that it reform its intellectual property policies.

Will Sell Fighters for Food

[ 22 ] October 9, 2011 |

In this week’s WPR column, I shill for Lockheed Martin:

Given Congress’ unwillingness to pursue additional revenue, the current Defense Department budget cannot be sustained. Cuts will be necessary, but the F-35B is the wrong place to look. The F-35B provides a virtually unique capability for transforming amphibious assault ships into light strike/air superiority aircraft carriers. In export and international production, the F-35B can similarly transform warships such as the Japanese Hyuga-class Helicopter-Carrying Destroyer into light carriers capable of strike and air superiority missions. The F-35B is a force multiplier in the literal sense: It turns amphibious warships with limited strike capabilities into aircraft carriers roughly as capable as their most formidable foreign counterparts.

Now, why I am fielding arguments about fighter acquisition that make a Heritage Foundation intern blush? First, I really would like a job as a Lockheed Martin PR flack, or a Fox News “Democrat.” I think I could make that work. More importantly, however, I think that arguments about cutting the defense budget should be as detailed as possible, and should differentiate between systems that are militarily useful and systems that can be sacrificed. To my mind, the F-35B is one of the former; it is an aircraft that is very expensive in and of itself, but that is flexible enough in mission performance to make cuts in other areas possible. Specifically, the F-35B significantly enhances the capabilities of warships that we and our allies already have, and also of relatively modest future projects.

Intra-Lobby Politics

[ 2 ] August 3, 2011 |

There’s good reason to wonder if the debt ceiling deal will result in significant defense cuts, as the current arrangement is sufficiently ambiguous to still allow some slow growth.  Nevertheless, I think that even this will be sufficient to produce some interesting politics within the military spending constituency:

Ideally, cuts to defense will reflect a careful, rational approach to maintaining the military means for accomplishing America’s foreign policy ends. The major players would debate and evaluate the grand strategic rationale for American military power and develop a somewhat more modest political framework for the Department of Defense.

In the real world, actual defense cuts will result in bitter bureaucratic infighting and interest group mobilization in support of particular systems and programs. While service amity in the United States has managed to hold across several previous rounds of defense cuts, most notably during the post-Vietnam and post-Cold War drawdowns, there are some indications that this set of cuts may shatter the norm of collaboration that has developed between the military services.

Unfortunately, the result of this intra-constituency battle will likely be messy. Programs that lack a rationale will survive, while weapons that lack an interest group will die. The connection between means and ends will be lost, because no specific constituency has a vested interest in a rational consideration of foreign policy values or the capacity to consider value trade-offs. Little consideration will likely be given to the notion of a meaningful drawdown of U.S. military commitments, resulting in a force even more badly overstretched.

What Does it Mean to Waste Money?

[ 49 ] July 7, 2011 |

A couple of weeks ago, the WaPo had an interesting enough article on cancelled military programs:

The Army’s Comanche helicopter was envisioned as “the quarterback of the digital battlefield,” a technologically superior aircraft that could hide from enemies, operate at night and in bad weather, and travel farther than any other helicopter.

Gen. Richard Cody, a former vice chief of staff of the Army, called it the “most flexible, most agile” aircraft the country had ever produced.

In 2000, it ranked as the most important planned buy for the Army. Four years later, the program — which had consumed close to 20 years of work and nearly $6 billion — was abruptly shuttered.

It is one of 22 major Army weapons programs canceled since 1995, ringing up a price tag of more than $32 billion for equipment that was never built. A new study, commissioned by the Army and obtained by The Washington Post, condemns the service’s efforts as “unacceptable.”

The study is the latest indication that the Pentagon — and the defense industry, in turn — is undergoing a seismic shift in its approach to new programs. As pressures mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military retreated from its ambitions for multibillion-dollar, technologically superior systems. Instead, it was forced to make better use of tried-and-true equipment.

I think that the article’s implication (that money spent on abandoned systems has been wasted) is a touch misleading.  In general terms, it’s not at all surprising that the military has spent billions of dollars on cancelled weapons programs.  Some systems never pan out, others reach a certain degree of maturity before we determine that they’re impractical, some plans are rendered obsolete by technology, others by shifts in doctrine and interest.  Any healthy system of procurement designed to support a modern, capable military is going to have a lot of cancelled systems.  Indeed, while I understand the political necessity of denouncing the $32 billion in cancelled systems, I’m not at all convinced that the report uncovers actual problems in Army procurement, or at least I’m not convinced that the problems are correctly identified.

Most of the system identified in the article are associated with the end of the Cold War, the shift to Future Combat Systems, and the Counter-Insurgency turn.  The end of the Cold War (which saw substantial real reductions in US defense spending) ensured that billions of dollars would be wasted through the abandonment of programs that were no longer strategically sound.  Indeed, I suspect that most readers of this blog would believe that more dollars should have been so wasted.  Regarding Future Combat Systems, it’s certainly fair to critique the operational and tactical logic behind the development of a new concept of ground operations, but the cancellation of many FCS systems is primarily a result of the COIN turn; if we had never invaded Iraq or Afghanistan, we’d probably have something very similar to FCS as originally envisioned (a system of systems designed to conduct highly efficient, networked warfare across the combat spectrum).  Indeed, one of the primary arguments against FCS is that it wouldn’t improve the COIN capabilities of the Army.  This is probably true, but if you don’t think that the Army should have turned to COIN in the first place, then criticism of FCS needs to be modified accordingly.

See also this nifty CAP chart about historical defense budgeting. It’s a little misleading to suggest that deficits forced Eisenhower and Bush to cut defense; in both cases post-war demobilization accounts for a big part of the cut.  I do think it’s interesting, however, that elements of the right seem to be trying very hard to prevent any future Republican presidents from doing even the modest cutting that we saw from Bush, Eisenhower et al.




Prompt Global Strike and Executive Power

[ 6 ] June 29, 2011 |

My column this week is on the technological implications of the Obama administration’s excuse for avoiding the WPR:

In the future, however, presidents may resort to airpower in order to avoid congressional limitations on their executive power. A longer-range concern is that as the United States continues to develop technologies that increase the distance between “shooter” and target, such as advanced drones and Prompt Global Strike, power over decisions of military and security policy would shift even more radically away from Congress and toward the executive… In the short term, members of Congress concerned about executive control over war-making powers might be best advised to pay closer attention to procurement decisions. If the president continues to claim the right to use certain weapons of war without Congressional oversight, then Congress is clearly within its powers to deny those weapons to the president, or at least to demand accountability.



Democrats and Defense

[ 22 ] February 28, 2011 |


It seems to me that one of the biggest differences between the current budget battle and the budget wars of the past (specifically the 1980s through Bill Clinton’s first term) is the extent to which that Democrats have accepted current levels of military spending. Yet my impression is that the underlying public opinion hasn’t changed much: Democratic voters would support deep cuts in defense spending, while overall defense spending cuts are relatively a lot more popular than cuts to most domestic spending.

Why do you think Democrats are not demanding lower military spending?

A few thoughts, two material, one strategic, one ideational none tested:

  1. Defense contractor consolidation in the 1990s gave all of the big firms a much wider geographic base, making it easier for them to farm out work to a broad group of states and congressional districts, giving more Democrats a taste of defense money.
  2. General decline of manufacturing makes those defense jobs all the more precious to Congressional Democrats and organized labor.
  3. Democratic party as we know it remains (although this may be fading) in the grip of the idea that Reagan clobbered them on defense spending. I say the idea, because I’m not convinced there’s any empirical evidence that arguing for high defense spending is generally a political winner.
  4. The moderate, northeastern wing of the Republican Party, which once could be occasionally relied upon to act as a coalition partner with defense cut-minded Democrats, has effectively vanished. Thus, there’s less policy payoff for pursuing defense cuts. The emergence of the Tea Party changes this a bit (I do think that there are Tea Partiers who are interested in cutting defense), but it’s likely that anti-Democrat hostility will prove a more important impetus to action.

Boeing vs. EADS II: No Mas

[ 13 ] February 24, 2011 |

In a little over an hour, we’ll find out whether our next generation of in-flight tanker will be a decent plane built by decent, hard-working Americans, or a somewhat better plane built on the backs of exploited, unionized Europeans (along with a few decent, hard-working Alabamans thrown in for show).  Intrade says Boeing, and that’s what my head thinks; my heart, though, says EADS.

UPDATE: Boeing wins!  Yay for the USA!!!!! USA! USA! USA!

Can We Cut?

[ 2 ] January 31, 2011 |

Andrew Bacevich:

Like concentric security barriers arrayed around the Pentagon, these four factors — institutional self-interest, strategic inertia, cultural dissonance, and misremembered history — insulate the military budget from serious scrutiny. For advocates of a militarized approach to policy, they provide invaluable assets, to be defended at all costs.

Unsurprisingly, I’m sympathetic to Bacevich’s general argument, which is that the defense budget is too high, too difficult to cut, and bears too little relation to the actual foreign policy interests of the United States. That said, I’m a touch more optimistic than Bacevich regarding the possibility of defense cuts.

Defense spending in the United States in the post-World War II era has varied more than Bacevich suggests, with two major dips following the end of the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the percentage of defense spending as part of GDP has declined steadily (although this simply means that defense spending hasn’t kept up with economic growth) and the percentage of defense spending from total government outlays has also declined (although the decline hasn’t been as steady). This tells me that we can identify situations in the past (indeed, the fairly recent past) in which at least one of Bacevich’s four conditions hasn’t held. More importantly, it means that there’s at least a possibility that defense spending can be cut in the future, even given the problems that Bacevich identifies. Bacevich doesn’t give sufficient account of what has changed since the last major dip in defense spending (the early 1990s) to convince me that another such dip is impossible.  Since “institutional self-interest” is pretty much a given, I guessing that the difference has to be in strategic inertia, cultural dissonance, or misremembered history.

To be sure, there may be some reasons why cutting defense spending will be more difficult now than in the past. I’d cite the growth of the institutional Right (Heritage, AEI) as one of the biggest changes in the political landscape. That said, there are a lot of conservatives, including some who matter (Grover Norquist), who are getting a bit twitchy about high defense spending. Other parts of the right are fighting to maintain high spending, but the fact that there’s even a conversation is interesting.

See a couple of defense spending graphs at Truth and Politics.

Military Procurement and IP

[ 4 ] January 26, 2011 |

My latest at WPR is on military procurement and IP:

The IP dynamics of military equipment are complicated, and two alternative systems of managing IP issues in military procurement have emerged. The first, adopted by the United States and its allies, relies on robust IP protection for producers at every step of the ladder… The other system, more traditional in some ways, disregards the value of protecting intellectual property in military acquisition. In this system, which can be thought of as the “anything goes” system of IP management, states beg, borrow, and steal whatever technology they can, often attempting to copy or reverse-engineer systems developed in other countries.

More on Progressive Security Policy

[ 10 ] January 18, 2011 |

A variety of people have contributed thoughts on progressive security policy.  Without getting too much into the weeds on each one, they all provide a certain amount of grist, from Yglesias’ proposal for a new service to Finel’s consideration of terms to Anderson’s detailed look at force requirements.  A taste:


The beginning of the framework is that we should reduce the scale of our economic commitment to the military, which over time means not just fiddling with procurement but actually doing less and having a smaller force structure. Less what? In particular, I think we should actually move away from the COIN/MOOTW paradigm and focus on the idea of deterring and defeating military attacks on the United States and sundry allies. It should be possible to do that without representing 50 percent of global defense expenditures, especially when the allies in question are generally the richest countries on earth….

What we need, I think, is some form of American gendarmerie—a quasi-military federal organization specialized in police/security functions rather than finding and killing bad guys per se. Such a force would, unlike today’s military, have a valuable peacetime domestic role to play as a flexible auxiliary police force that could assist high-crime jurisdictions with the kind of temporary infusion of extra personnel that can help push crime rates down to a lower equilibrium.** A “surge” if you will. But it would also be prepared to deploy abroad in the case of contingencies. The regular military would be big enough to beat an adversary (i.e., a lot smaller than the regular one) but it would need to call on the gendarmes (who naturally would need a less French name) to conduct an occupation. This means we wouldn’t be caught lacking capacity in a real emergency, but since the gendarmes would be performing a useful peacetime domestic service politicians would (appropriately) feel that initiating situations that require their mobilization is high cost situation that ought to be avoided if possible.


Now, I think progressives can there for different reasons.  Skepticism of the military can be rooted in political opposition to militarism, which, traditionally was often allied to reactionary political forces.  Indeed, much of late-19th century and early-20th century European debates on defense policy were drive by these sorts of cleavages, notably in France and Germany, less so in Britain or Italy. In Germany, the “liberal” classes embraced imperialism precisely because it was linked to the industrial-bourgeois-dominated Navy which was politically opposed to the conservative-Junker-Prussian-dominated army. Using Farley’s definition, the progressive defense analyst in Wilhelmine Germany would be an avid imperialist. So, not sure that makes sense. But skepticism about the utility of military force can also, I think come from a realist appraisal of the empirical record.  Personally, I’m am more firmly in the latter school, even if the military’s reflexive support for conservative politicians riles me sometimes. But my point is that how people becomes “progressives” at any give time may vary, but a progressive foreign/defense policy ought to remain a consistent concept.


The short answer is the Army gets significantly smaller and lighter, the Marines probably expand by several infantry regiments as well as embark on more amphibious assault ships in dispersed operations, the Air Force shrinks, and the Navy dramatically increases the number of non-carrier/non-submarine hulls. The National Guard would also expand dramatically…

The active duty army would see its combat arms forces shrink from forty five ground combat maneuver brigades to twenty-seven brigades (6 heavy, 6 intermediate, 5 airborne, 4 air assault, 6 infantry) along with concurrent reductions in aviation and artillery units. Special Forces (Green Berets) would be maintained at current strength or expanded as they are a comparatively cheap and highly effective force multiplier to support US secondary interests by being able to train and mentor foreign forces for their own foreign internal defense…

The Air Force would continue to become more of an expeditionary force. The Air Force is not a war winner, and it can not be. The point of an air force is to support naval and ground forces in achieving national political objectives. It can do so by strike, recon, surveillance, command and control capabilities while denying an enemy the ability to do the same against US forces in a selected region.  Air superiority is sufficient, not air dominance as this is a reasonable risk to run…

The Navy would be the large winner in this re-organization. They are the off-shore balancer and the heavy enforcer in core American interest areas. Naval forces have the luxury of operating with low foreign footprints outside of those footprints already in significant allied ports. They are also with-drawable so they do not create sunk-cost escalation incentives to the American political system. The Navy’s job is to keep the sea lanes open (in conjunction with the Marines), and then support operations ashore.

One point bears emphasis; there is not a single progressive security policy.  Rather, there is security policy thought that takes seriously progressive political goals and affiliations.  This means that there is wide space for disagreement between progressives on security policy, just as there is wide space for disagreements between conservatives (and yes, these disagreements do exist).  A lot of people have mentioned Rachel Kleinfeld when talking about the dangers of self-consciously progressive security policy thinking, and while it’s fair to say that I don’t fully agree with her lionization of population-centric COIN, it’s nevertheless true that she argues from an identifiably progressive starting point.  This doesn’t make her right, but it does mean that she’s approaching the question in the right way.
I should also note that I continue to disagree pretty strongly with Gulliver’s characterization of this discussion:

This is where you get into human security, the “three Ds” (with emphasis on diplomacy and development), an intelligence- and policing-based paradigm for counterterrorism, and the many other elements that could make up whatever it is we want to call a “progressive approach to national security.” But for God’s sake, don’t use that term! Call it a modern approach. Call it a nontraditional approach. Call it an updated approach! But whatever you do, don’t use the language of domestic politics – it cedes the moral high ground, turns off the audience, and implies all the very worst things conservatives want people to believe about the way progressives/liberals/Democrats/non-neocons look at defense.

This is an attempt to redefine the discussion as being about branding, and as such misses the basic point of what I’m calling for. First off, I’m not even convinced that Gulliver is correct on the merits of the brand; people already dismiss anything that smells of a progressive approach to security (witness the reaction that John Noonan and the Abe Vigoda of Right Blogistan gave Yglesias’ post), and it’s reasonably clear to me that “nontraditional” ain’t gonna cut it. Moreover, a genuine progressive imprint on security policy might actually interest and motivate progressives to think productively about security affairs. More importantly, the argument I made was not that we should attempt to rebrand specific ideas as “progressive” but rather that we should think forward from a progressive starting point about what security policy should deliver. In these terms, questions about branding don’t amount to very much.  I think that Steve Waldman’s recent post on the complementarity of ideology and technocratic policymaking is more useful for thinking about this:

Rather than treating ideology as fixed and given, we should treat it as dynamic, as a consequence rather than a constraint of policy choices. Choosing the apparent best available policy in 2008, given prevailing views of mainstream technocrats, helped generate an ideological environment much more challenging to those who support activist government than might otherwise have ensued, because the “least-bad” policies involved deploying taxpayer resources in a manner widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. At the margin, people (like me) who had previously accepted that the beneficial actions of government more than justify the costs and coercion of taxation shifted towards viewing taxation as theft on behalf of well-connected insiders. (Ironically, that shift may be helpful to many of those same insiders, who, having already “got theirs”, now have more to lose than to gain from government activism.) Going forward, we oughtn’t confine ourselves to making the best of a terrible ideological environment. We should be considering how we might alter that environment to be more conducive of good policy.

Page 1 of 612345...Last »