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Tag: "military procurement"

Prompt Global Strike Not Dead

[ 2 ] April 7, 2010 |

I’ll have an article about the NPR coming out tomorrow at TAP, but suffice to say that I’m not particularly impressed with the Obama NPR. Every policy document requires compromise, and this is particularly true of a document focusing on nuclear weapons. A multitude of different agencies and vested interests have fingers in the pie, and each demands to be part of the decision-making process. In this case, the administration has managed to achieve a caveated-to-death no first use pledge at the cost of two apparent compromises; missile defense, and prompt global strike. Josh Rogin takes a look at the missile defense bit here; I raised some questions about the presence of prompt-global strike language back in the QDR, and suffice it to say that the NPR does not assuage my concerns. Prompt global strike is mentioned a several points in the NPR as a replacement for first strike nuclear capabilities and a large nuclear stockpile. While prompt global strike doesn’t necessarily mean conventionally armed SLBMs and ICBMs, nothing in the language of the NPR excludes such options. Prompt global strike sounds, on the surface, like a good idea; an Ohio class submarine could deliver a conventional warhead in half and hour to almost any target in the world. The devil is in the details; intel is rarely good enough to require such speed, and the possibility of conventional SLBMs being regularly launched from submerged subs would freak the hell out of the Chinese and the Russians. In other words, not such a good idea. Perhaps the thinking is that rhetorical support of the program now won’t necessarily mean appropriation for it later. If that’s true, I’m not sure that the history of the missile defense program is terribly comforting.

Pre-Emptive Mea Culpa

[ 8 ] March 20, 2010 |

I’ll admit to getting pretty excited by the F-22 cancellation last year. It seemed to indicate that Robert Gates and the Obama administration were willing to get serious about costly and unnecessary weapons programs, and suggested a more clear focus on the wars that the United States was actually fighting. However, there was a lurking caveat; the F-22 cancellation only made sense if the F-35 was actually less expensive. I’ve argued before that the F-35 will be the last important manned fighter aircraft, but this doesn’t mean that manned fighter aircraft are already obsolete; there’s still a big gap between manned and unmanned system capabilities.

It is beginning now to look as if the F-35 will be competitive with the F-22, and not in a good way. To be sure, the F-35 can do things that the F-22 cannot; it’s VSTOL (vertical take off) and CATOBAR (carrier) variants would provide important capabilities even in the absence of the main CTOL buy. However, the Air Force still plans to buy over 1000 CTOL (conventional) F-35s, which is kind of a problem if it ends up costing exactly the same as the F-22, especially given that everyone believes the F-22 to be the more capable aircraft, and especially especially because the F-22 is already in service and has an actual price tag.

To be clear, it may be true that it would be a better world if the US purchased fewer than 1200 fifth generation fighter aircraft in the next 15 years. However, we don’t really live in that world; the choice appears to have been between the F-22 and the equally expensive but delayed and somewhat less capable F-35. In that narrow context (which excludes alternative options such as the purchase of upgraded F-15s and F-16s), the cancellation of the F-22 in favor of the F-35 may have been a mistake.

Greek Military Spending

[ 3 ] March 10, 2010 |

Earlier this week Henry Farrell posted a link to Charlemagne’s discussion of Greek social spending commitments.  Long story short, it’s not simply a question of the Greek people being lazy or the Greek state being profligate; the high degree of public sector spending was designed to paper over serious rifts in the Greek political community:

Real, live Germans are not heartless ants, and the Greeks are not broke because they are giddy crickets who sing their summers away. Greece is a grown-up country with grown-up problems: rough, tough politics, and a lot of recent history, not all of it very nice. And it is precisely that recent history, and rough politics, that are at the core of Greece’s fiscal woes today. Take the painful question of the huge public sector, and all those civil servants with jobs for life, and unusually generous retirement packages. The existence of those jobs for life is not a cultural quirk, in which Greek officials simply like coffee and backgammon too much to do any work. It is the end result of a brutal, multi-decade power struggle between the left and the right: a struggle that got people killed within living memory.

Read the whole thing, etc. Another cause with Greek deficits, however, appears to be Greece’s high level of defense spending:

Greece’s serious financial troubles are going to affect their military spending. Yhe highest in the European Union and second in NATO only to the United States, the Greeks spend 2.8% of their GDP on defense, compared to an average 1.7% in the other European NATO countries. Defense personnel account for 2.9% of the active population against an average 1.1% in other NATO member states.

Deputy defense minister Panos Beglitis was asked earlier this week by my colleagues at Le Monde about the defense budget. “We have lived totally surealistically,” he conceded, adding that the 2010 defense budget would amount to €6 billion, a 6.6% cut on the 2009 one. “We are the ministry which is the most engaged in the joint effort to reduce our deficit,” he said. But he was careful to add that “we are rationalizing our spending but not at the expense of our military capacity.”

The historic reason behind Greece’s massive arms spending lies with neighbor Turkey with whom it entertains, shall we say, difficult relations. Beglitis noted “Turkish provocations” from the Turkish army’s occupation of the northern part of the island of Cyprus in 1974 to the “continued violations of Greek air space”.

Jean-Paul Hébert, a defense analyst, notes that “when one of the two countries buys 50 tanks the other orders 60.” The two nations ranked amongst the world’s top arms importers in 2008 with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and India.

The defense commitments will be easier to shed in the short term than the social commitments, as I’m guessing that competition with Turkey is all fine and well until it’s contrasted with jobs, benefits, etc.  Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that it’s extremely important to investigate the internal logic of apparently irrational behavior; both the defense and the social spending mean something different to Greeks than they do to outside observers.

Yay! The Foreigners Have Been Chased Away!

[ 0 ] March 9, 2010 |

The military procurement field has been made safe for Boeing:

European defense and aerospace consortium EADS and its U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman, have handed an apparent $35 billion dollar gift to rival Boeing — by packing up and going home.

In late February, the Air Force launched a contest to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135 aerial refueling tankers. The Air Force envisioned spending $11.7 billion on the new planes over the next five years; over the life of the program, the service plans to buy a total of 179 aircraft, orders worth a potential $35 billion.

But Northrop and EADS complained that the guidelines weighed the contest in Boeing’s favor, and threatened to pull out of the contest unless the service revised the request for bids. And that’s exactly what happened today.

God bless America. I, for one, can rest safer knowing that Boeing will face no competition in its ongoing effort to purchase the entire US Congress.

Tanker Stuff

[ 0 ] February 25, 2010 |

Let me recommend the excellent work of Amy Butler at Ares on the new Air Force tanker contract bid situation. Long story short, Northrup-Grumman/EADS/Airbus is claiming that the new requirements are tilted so heavily towards Boeing that the former may not submit a bid. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if this were true; Boeing has been trying to buy the process since before the first tanker announcement hit. Obviously, if Airbus withdraws its bid, the DoD loses a substantial amount of leverage over Boeing. Again, this is rather the point of buying the process.

I’d like to thank the good folks at Tanker USA for keeping me updated about all this through the unsolicited e-mails that they keep sending. I can’t seem to find the organization on the web (although they appear to have a twitter feed), but they’re pretty obviously a piece of Boeing astroturf. At least they get the rhetoric right; it’s all about not sending US jobs overseas, and democracy, and national security, and so forth. I think that this re-emphasizes the fact that fears about the influence of “foreign corporate money” rather miss the point; US corporations pose a far greater danger to US democracy than do foreign corporations.

For what it’s worth, I asked some tanker pilots yesterday at the Air Command and Staff College about the competition, and they said that they preferred the Airbus 330 hands down. Not a scientific survey, of course, but worth thinking about.

Microsoft and Army Can’t see Eye to Eye

[ 0 ] February 9, 2010 |

Now this is just fascinating:

So will the Army go out and buy the Xbox? Not quite. Roger Smith, chief technology officer for PEO STRI, the Army command responsible for purchasing training equipment, claims that Microsoft refused to sell him the consoles. Smith told me that he discussed acquiring the Xbox with Microsoft representatives at a trade show back in 2006. According to Smith, the Microsoft executives said they would neither sell the Xbox 360 nor license XNA game development tools to the Army for three reasons:
  • Microsoft was afraid that the military would buy up lots of Xbox 360s, but would buy only one game for each of them, so MS wouldn’t make much money off of the games.
  • that a big military purchase would create a shortage of Xbox 360s.
  • that if the Xbox became an Army training device, it would taint its reputation. Microsoft was concerned that “do we want the Xbox 360 to be seen as having the flavor of a weapon? Do we want Mom and Dad knowing that their kid is buying the same game console as the military trains the SEALs and Rangers on?” Smith told me during an interview for Training Camp; Simulation Journal.

Read the rest; Microsoft’s recollection of the discussion seems to be different than that of the Army, but the two accounts aren’t entirely contradictory. Regarding the objections, I can sort of understand #1 and #2; if the console itself is a loss leader, then there would be legitimate concern about reducing potential stocks for the civilian market, at least in the short term. However, it is really a short term concern; in the medium term I expect that Microsoft could increase production to meet civilian demand. Moreover, rather than simply refuse to sell the consoles, Microsoft might legitimately demand a higher price per console from the government. As for the third, I’m no Don Draper, but I suspect that being able to say that SEALs and Rangers train on your gaming console would be a net boon for sales, rather than a drag.

I Really Wish Emptywheel Hadn’t Written This Post…

[ 0 ] February 5, 2010 |

Emptywheel notes that one element of Shelby’s decision to put a blanket hold on all nominees was to defend the Airbus bid for the new USAF tanker aircraft. This represents part of the long competition between Boeing and Airbus for the tanker contract. Unfortunately, Emptywheel decides that it’s necessary to engage in xenophobia in order to attack Shelby.

There has been a lot of discussion of how foreign companies will be able to influence elections and politics given the Citizens United deal. But foreign companies are already dominating our politics.

As we’ll see, Marcy is arguing that Airbus is “dominating” US politics by providing Richard Shelby with incentive to put holds on all of Obama’s nominees. The instrument of Airbus’ domination is a promise to assemble key components of its USAF tanker contract in Alabama, which would supply jobs, investment, facilities, etc.


The key issue is that Shelby wants the Air Force to tweak an RFP for refueling tankers so that Airbus (partnered with Northrup Grumman) would win the bid again over Boeing. The contract had been awarded in 2008, but the GAO found that the Air Force had erred in calculating the award. After the Air Force wrote a new RFP in preparation to rebid the contract, Airbus calculated that it would not win the new bid, and started complaining. Now, Airbus is threatening to withdraw from the competition unless the specs in the RFP are revised.

Essentially, then, Shelby’s threat is primarily about gaming this bidding process to make sure Airbus–and not Boeing–wins the contract (there’s a smaller program he’s complaining about, too, but this is the truly huge potential bounty for his state).

If Marcy had followed this discussion since the beginning, she’d appreciate that “gaming bidding process” has been fundamentally about giving Boeing a heavy advantage. Airbus, of course, won the original contract handily, to much consternation and hand-wringing in the substantial portion of the US military-industrial complex that depends on not having to compete with foreign suppliers. There are legitimate questions about the bidding process, and legitimate debate about what needs the Boeing and Airbus bids provide, but it’s fairly clear that the revision of the terms of the bid have “gamed the process” to the extent that Airbus has no chance whatsoever to win. Marcy is entering this movie halfway through; Boeing has already exerted its influence on the US democratic process to substantially change USAF requirements in favor of its own bid.


I understand why any Senator would fight for jobs in his or her state. And I understand that there was dirty corruption in this original contracting process.

This is a key point; understanding American politics, Airbus determined that promising to assemble key parts of the tanker in the United States would weigh heavily in favor of its bid. Boeing already plays this game, and plays it very well; it has a wide range of Senators and Representatives in its pocket through diversification of its production all over the United States. In this sense, it was somewhat surprising that the USAF believed it possible to give the bid to Airbus. There was no question that Boeing would mobilize its political support to overturn any deal, even if Airbus had submitted a clearly superior proposal.


But underlying the refueling contract is the question of whether the US military ought to spend what may amount to $100 billion over the life of the contract with a foreign company, Airbus. Particularly a company that the WTO found preliminarily to be illegally benefiting from subsidies from European governments.

I don’t recall reading Marcy’s robust defense of WTO intervention in domestic subsidy discussions, but it’s at least worth noting here that one reason Airbus receives subsidies is to allow it to compete with Boeing in the civilian jetliner market. Unlike Airbus, Boeing has significant DoD contracts that give it sufficient financial security to weather turbulence in the international civilian aircraft market. Airbus doesn’t have the kind of cozy relationship with a major defense buyer, and has to rely on subsidies. The story is a touch more complicated than that, of course, but it’s nevertheless fair to say that Boeing’s ability to sell to DoD is one reason why Airbus needs subsidies.


Richard Shelby is preparing to shut down the Senate to try to force the government to award a key military function to a foreign company.

And this is really the key line. If we’re to take this seriously, Marcy is arguing that Airbus should not have been allowed to bid for the tanker contract. Allowing Airbus to to bid meant that there was at least the possibility that they would win, resulting in the “award of a key military function to a foreign company.” Now, I suppose it’s a defensible position to suggest that only American companies should be allowed to bid for American defense contracts. In this case, since there are precisely three companies worldwide capable of building long range military tankers (including one Russian), this would have the practical effect of awarding the contract to Boeing. The implications of giving a contract to a European company are, to me, a good deal less scary than the suggestion that Boeing should be insulated from defense competition when providing to the DoD. I would further argue that if you’re going to award key military functions to any foreign company, it might as well be Airbus; the US and Europe have maintained a tight defense relationship for sixty years, and the US defense industry supplies a very substantial proportion of European defense needs.

And so here are my key problems:

  1. Marcy is demagoguing the Shelby question, when she really doesn’t need to. Shelby’s behavior is despicable enough without making insinuations about the dread domination of foreign corporations.
  2. By highlighting the “foreign” aspect, Marcy is playing with the worst kind of xenophobic prejudice. Progressives really, really shouldn’t truck in the kind of anti-foreign stereotyping that conservatives love to employ. It’s also incidental to the argument; would Marcy have been cool with Shelby’s hold if it had been in defense of a Lockheed Martin or Boeing contract?
  3. Marcy appears to be suggesting that foreign companies ought not be allowed to bid for major US military contracts. That’s all fine and well, but it rather substitutes the domination of US defense corporations for foreign defense corporations. For my part, I’m pretty happy about the idea of letting Airbus into the competition, and of giving them a fighting chance to win.

…And I’m sorry that I have to include this, but when Marcy notes that the first bidding process (which Airbus won) was characterized by “dirty corruption,” she links here, which is a letter from a Boeing whistleblower about fraud and corruption at Boeing, rather than at Airbus. In other words, she identifies Boeing as the corrupt party, then argues that Shelby is trying to “game the process” by making sure that Airbus has a fair shot to win a contract that Airbus has, in fact, already won.

QDR Blogging: Acquisition Reform and the Civilian Workforce

[ 0 ] February 1, 2010 |

While the 2006 QDR talked a bit about problems in acquisition and the need for acquisition reform, and a bit about the need to hire and retain the right skills in the DoD civilian workforce, but didn’t really draw any connections between the two. The 2010 QDR (p.76):

The Pentagon’s acquisition workforce has been allowed to atrophy, exacerbating a decline in the critical skills necessary for effective oversight. For example, over the past ten years, the Department’s contractual obligations have nearly tripled while our acquisition workforce fell by more than 10 percent. The Department also has great difficulty hiring qualified senior acquisition officials. Over the past eight years the Department has operated with vacancies in key acquisition positions averaging from 13 percent in the Army to 43 percent in the Air Force. There remains an urgent need for technically trained personnel-cost estimators, systems engineers, and acquisition managers-to conduct effective oversight.

On the next page, the QDR calls for the hiring of 20000 additional acquisitions personnel to make up for this shortfall. I suspect that the major reason that we see this in the 2010 QDR and not in the 2006 is that the Obama administration has rejected the idea that essential DoD responsibilities can be privatized and out-sourced. The downsizing and outsourcing of the acquisitions workforce isn’t entirely the responsibility of the Bush administration, as it was also pursued under Clinton. Lead Systems Integrators, in which civilian contractors managed major programs such the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program and the Army’s Future Combat Systems, were part of this project. LSIs were also one of the very, very few “privatization” initiatives that failed so abjectly that pretty much no one wants to try them again.

See also Spencer on this point.

Why the QDR Matters

[ 1 ] January 31, 2010 |

By and large, progressives don’t care so much about the QDR. This shouldn’t be taken as an absolute statement; every progressive think tank has specialists on defense, there are many progressive journalists who take an interest in defense and security issues, and there are plenty of ordinary progressives who do think regularly about things like the QDR. I’m nevertheless confident, however, in the contention that defense wonkish types are found more often in conservative circles than progressive, that conservative organizations spend more time on defense issues than progressive organizations, and that typical, everyday Joe/Jill Conservative is more knowledgeable on defense and military issues than typical, everyday Joe/Jill Progressive. The central reason for this is not difficult to articulate; conservatives (at least in the current American construction of the term) are more likely to favor the use of force, are more likely to favor high defense budgets, are more likely to focus on military capability as a central component of American identity, and (statistically) are more likely to have served or know someone who has served in the military than are progressives.

Moreover, I suspect that there’s broad agreement among people who self-identify as progressive that the current defense budget of the United States is wildly oversized relative to the threats that the United States faces. In this context, arcane discussions about preference for this weapon over that, or this capability rather than the other, or the elimination of this platform in favor of that platform, seem like debates either over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, or the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For the former, the QDR and the precise makeup of the defense budget are part of an unfortunate reality of American politics, the details of which aren’t particularly relevant. For the latter, the imperial proclivities of the outsized defense establishment and the negative effects of the military-industrial complex on American life make micro-discussion of defense issues essentially beside the point. In both cases, valuable time required for digestion of detail is better spent on other, more important and perhaps more contingent issues.

Both of these perspectives get much more right than they do wrong. Nevertheless, let me suggest two reasons why progressives should pay much closer attention to statements of strategy such as the QDR than they do. The first reason is that debates about the makeup of the defense budget and the construction of the QDR happen whether progressives are involved in them or not. There is something to the idea of granting too much legitimacy to the abjectly idiotic idea that the United States needs to militarily outspend the rest of the world, but check it out; the US outspends (or very nearly outspends) the rest of the world anyway. Progressive engagement with the finer aspects of the defense debate can hardly make things worse. The second reason is that the details really do matter. The 2010 QDR is quite a bit different than the 2006, which was quite a bit different than the 2000. The precepts set forth in the QDR are often honored in the breach, but they nevertheless help structure what the military will look like, and consequently what the military will be good and bad at for decades to come. You could argue that the 2010 QDR pays only lip service to climate change and to the humanitarian potential of military capability, but this lip service will be replicated in policy in ways that will affect how the US military is structured, behaves, and interacts with the real world. The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people.

Again, there is a touch of caricature to the picture I’m drawing here. Ideally, however, I’d like to have a community of people who could speak intelligently and passionately about a) whether militarized-humanitarian intervention in Haiti raised the spectre of US imperialism in Latin America, b) what US military platforms and capabilities were best suited to having a positive effect on the situation in Haiti, and most importantly c) how a and b matter to each other.

In any case, over the next few days I’ll be going over the QDR in detail, on this blog and elsewhere. I heartily recommend that people give the document a read, keep up with the commentary, and perhaps even read the 2006 version.

Hot Sexy QDR Action!!!

[ 0 ] January 30, 2010 |

The 2010 Quadriennial Defense Review is now available.

New Zealand: 31% Less Crazy than the US, in Spite of the Sheep and the Hobbits

[ 0 ] January 21, 2010 |

Kiwis hate Jeebus:

Biblical citations inscribed on U.S.-manufactured weapon sights used by New Zealand’s troops in Afghanistan will be removed because they are inappropriate and could stoke religious tensions, New Zealand said Thursday.

The inscriptions on products from defense contractor Trijicon of Wixom, Michigan, came to light this week in the U.S. where Army officials said Tuesday they would investigate whether the gun sights — also used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq — violate U.S. procurement laws.

Australia also said Thursday its military used the sights and was now assessing what to do.

Trijicon said it has had such inscriptions on its products for three decades and has never received complaints about them before. The inscriptions, which don’t include actual text from the Bible, refer numerically to passages from the book.

New Zealand defense force spokesman Maj. Kristian Dunne said Trijicon would be instructed to remove the inscriptions from further orders of the gun sights for New Zealand and the letters would be removed from gun sights already in use by troops.

Now, if the fact that Trijicon Super-Jeebus aiming sights were exported to Australia and New Zealand makes you wonder whether they were exported to countries like Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, you’re a smart cookie. I don’t know the answer, and a quick google search hasn’t revealed any results. Probably worth investigating, though.

H/t to joejoejoe.

Because Jeebus Has Always Been About the Shooting…

[ 0 ] January 19, 2010 |

This is irritating:

Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found…

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as “the light of the world.” John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions “have always been there” and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them.

The company claims that the inscriptions are about American values and the defense of individual freedom, which would be more plausible if the inscriptions referred to, say, constitutional amendments.

What kind of person wants to think of Jesus while he’s shooting someone?

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