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Tag: "military procurement"

Ooh, Lasers…

[ 0 ] January 5, 2010 |

I think there’s a limit to the utility of this kind of argument, regarding a new laser-based air defense system:

This all sort of leaves me wondering what problem this technology is a solution to. For the past twenty years every conflict the U.S. military has been involved with has involved overwhelming American air superiority. Finding better ways to shoot down enemy aircraft hasn’t been high on the priority list. But by the same token, the very dominance of American air power means that this would be very useful for America’s adversaries. Nobody we’re realistically going to fight could possibly build up a squadron of fighters to go toe-to-toe with the Air Force, but plane-killing lasers could be very useful. Obviously Boeing isn’t working on this technology in hopes of selling it to the Taliban, but my sense is that we should be hoping that we see relatively little progress on this sort of thing in years to come.

There are a few ways to think about this. There’s some space between “we need to buy a fleet of F-22s in order to counter future unforeseeable threats” and “advances in air defense technology are worth the investment.” For one, there’s a difference between construction of a specific platform and development of capabilities that may or may not be put into mass production. In ten years, I could see myself opposing a proposal to purchase a large number of air defense lasers; right now, I think it would be kind of nice to have the capability to think about the question in ten years. That the national security environment isn’t terribly predictable shouldn’t be an excuse to build every imaginable weapon, but it’s nevertheless nice to have some flexibility.

Second, while Yglesias makes an interesting point regarding the idea that improvement in anti-aircraft technology represents a net loss for the United States, I don’t think his (underspecified in any case) conclusion follows. For one, other countries understand the basic relationship between power projection and air defense technology as well as we do, and are already working on more capable systems. There’s no “air defense arms spiral,” because air defense system do not, after all, fight each other. US strike capabilities already give Russia, China, India and others a strong incentive to pursue advanced air defense technology, and I doubt very much that US air defense will matter very much. Moreover, there’s little reason to believe that eschewing air defense technological development will slow foreign innovation, as they already have plenty of reason to pursue advanced capabilities. If anything, the spiral is generated by improvements in US strike capacity.

Third, while it’s unlikely that the United States will, in the foreseeable future, have to defend a target from a swarm of fighter-bombers, it’s not so unlikely that we’ll have to defend against unmanned drones or cruise missiles. The development of cheap and effective drones is much more destabilizing, I think, than innovative development of air defense technology. Drones and cruise missiles give air strike capability to countries that can’t hope to win air superiority, as the relatively low cost of the platforms means that high losses become acceptable.

This is to say, then, that developing advanced air defense technology does not a) commit us to the purchase of any particular weapons system, b) provide cause for an arms race, c) provide a solution to a problem that is highly unlikely to arise.

Dinga Dinga Dee!

[ 0 ] December 24, 2009 |

This is indescribably awesome in every way:

Via Danger Room.


[ 0 ] August 17, 2009 |

If you read Defense News, you quickly become familiar with Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. He appears in an extraordinary number of stories, usually as voice recommending the purchase of some new weapon or the continued acquisition of an older weapon type. While I’m sure that you could find some examples of expensive weapons that he didn’t like, it’s pretty rare. This is not surprising, given that the Lexington Institute (not affiliated with Lexington, KY) is bankrolled by the defense industry. David Axe has more detail on Thompson’s career and affiliations.

All that is fine; the defense industry needs hacks just like everyone else. It’s kind of unfortunate that journalists take Thompson seriously, but not really surprising. It’s a touch more irritating that Thompson just launched his blogging career by essentially denouncing everyone associated with the defense blogosphere:

[Many military industry blogs are] tendentious nonsense. For every interesting, competent effort like DoD Buzz, there are dozens of ill-mannered rants masquerading as insight. To say that blogs have lowered the standards of public discourse on policy matters is an under-statement — there are no standards. Anybody can say anything.

Ahem. I would hazard to say that lobbing an insult at the community you’re hoping to become integrated into isn’t the most auspicious way to begin a blogging career. Indeed, given Thompson’s career as an industry stooge, I’m kind of surprised that he wants the kind of attention that this is going to produce; wouldn’t it be better to continue to act as the mouthpiece of industry without subjecting yourself to any serious scrutiny?

Military Boondoggles?

[ 0 ] August 7, 2009 |

This is an interesting list, but the concept doesn’t strike me as quite right. From Wikipedia:

It also refers to government or corporate project involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure; at some point, the key operators have realized that the project is never going to work, but are reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors. Generally there is an aspect of “going through the motions” – for example, continuing research and development – as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries. The situation can be allowed to continue for what seem like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long. In many cases, the actual device itself may eventually work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs.

A distinguishing aspect of a boondoggle, as opposed to a project that simply fails, is the eventual realization by its operators that it is never going to work, long before it is finally shut down.

The five projects are the Type 45 destroyer, the Bulava SLBM, the Chinese CV, the French CV, and the A400M cargo aircraft. I don’t think it would be correct to say “one of these is not like the others”; rather, I’m not sure that they have much in common at all. Of course, if you believe that, in general, modern major nation-states spend way more on defense than they should, then you could identify any major project as a boondoggle; that’s fair enough, but probably not useful in terms of thinking about the five biggest boondoggles.

Anyway, I’m not convinced that the Type 45 destroyer falls into this category. The Type 45 project is certainly troubled, and the fact that the ships won’t be able to fire missiles until 2011 is problematic, but I wouldn’t say that its been given up on; I don’t doubt that the Type 45 destroyers will eventually deploy and do their jobs capably. They may be the only ships in the Royal Navy to do so, but nevertheless. I’m also uncertain about the inclusion of the two CV projects. If it’s true that every CV should be considered a boondoggle, given technological advances in the field of carrier-killing, then the British CVF and the US Gerald Ford class should have honor of placement ahead of a pair of projects that haven’t yet resulted in a single ship being laid down. If CVs aren’t of necessity a boondoggle, then I don’t know that it makes sense to call out the French and the Chinese for what might otherwise be considered justifiable caution regarding technical and strategic issues.

The criticism of the Bulava and the A400 is fair, I think. The Bulava is simply a disaster, and I’m not sure why the Russians want to waste additional money on it given that they already have perfectly serviceable SLBMs. It is kind of surprising that the missile development has gone so poorly; the Topol-M (the ICBM model for the Bulava) seems to work just fine, and the Russians have a history of good outcomes with missile technology. The A400 is kind of a disaster, in particular because I’ve never quite understood the necessity to build radically capable and modern cargo aircraft; they have one job to do, and they don’t fight each other.

Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  1. Bulava Missile
  2. Admiral Gorshkov CV conversion
  3. US land-based missile defense
  4. A400
  5. North Korean ballistic missile/nuclear weapon program

World Defense Spending

[ 0 ] August 3, 2009 |

I like the combination of percentage of GDP with percentage of world spending. Via.

The Triad

[ 0 ] July 24, 2009 |

Via Ezra, this is an interesting post from Gordon Adams:

For a major program to emerge, thrive, and survive, it takes basically three players: the service that wants and will advocate for the program, a contractor for whom the program is major business, and members of Congress who either sit on the key committees that decide on the program or represent the district or state where the program, or parts of it, are made. In a word: the Iron Triangle for the program….

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates withdrew support from the F-22, he clearly persuaded the Air Force to withdraw the military leg under the F-22 stool. When the Air Force went public about its official view, the stool started to wobble.

Even a second leg became less sturdy. Lockheed-Martin, the contractor, announced it would not lobby (hard) for the program, perhaps because it has many other equities in other programs at DOD. This reduced the pressure on the third leg, the Congress. Key members – some from key states and districts, some from key committees – fought hard for the program. But a two-legged stool is weak, and a one-and-a-half legged stool even weaker.

What’s interesting to me is that many within the Air Force very clearly wanted to continue procurement of the F-22; support for the project among both the brass and the rank and file seemed pretty strong, in spite of the official position dictated by Gates. Indeed, it seems to me that the institutional part of the stool has two distinct parts. The first is the service itself, which has a variety of ways to fight for a project despite the official position of the Pentagon. The second part of that stool is the SecDef and the White House. Even if the SecDef wants to kill a project, he may not be able to override service opposition, especially if the service is willing to mobilize support in Congress and in industry.

In this case, Gates has enough cred (relative success in Iraq, bipartisan credentials) that he was able to crush service opposition. I have serious questions, however, about whether a weaker SecDef could have successfully imposed his preferences.

F-22 Still Clings Tenaciously to Life?

[ 0 ] July 23, 2009 |

The F-22 has a faint heartbeat in the House of Representatives, but appears to be slipping away:

The committee voted July 22 to spend $369 million to buy another dozen F-22s, but Rep. David Obey, the committee chairman, said that has to change.

In light of the Senate vote and a threat from the White House to veto any bill that contains money for new F-22s, Obey said House appropriators must “recognize that conditions have changed” on the F-22.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said he tried to draft an amendment “to adjust for the F-22,” but he “couldn’t get it together fast enough” for the Appropriations Committee’s 9 a.m. markup and vote.

An aide said Murtha now plans to offer an amendment that would spend the $369 million on spare parts and engines for existing F-22s rather than on new ones, an aide said. The amendment would be proposed when the full House takes up the defense spending bill, probably July 30.

Two thoughts:

  1. If Murtha is moving to the acceptance stage of grief, then the F-22 is pretty much done.
  2. Given the fact that we actually do operate 187 F-22s, and that they apparently have ridiculously high maintenance costs, I’m curious about the spare part and engine proposal; does it simply accelerate already planned purchases? Or could it be a back door to further acquisition of new aircraft?

F-22 Round Up

[ 0 ] July 22, 2009 |


But I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure. That’s why I’ve taken steps to greatly reduce no-bid defense contracts. That’s why I’ve signed overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation to limit cost overruns on weapons systems before they spiral out of control. And that’s why I’m grateful that the Senate just voted against an additional $1.75 billion to buy F-22 fighter jets that military experts and members of both parties say we do not need.

Gates (via spokesman):

“Secretary Gates appreciates the careful consideration Senators have given to this matter of national security and he applauds their bipartisan support to complete the F-22 program at 187 planes. He understands that for many members this was a very difficult vote, but he believes that the Pentagon cannot continue with business as usual when it comes to the F-22 or any other program in excess to our needs. Today’s vote is an important step in that direction and the Secretary looks forward to working closely with lawmakers as President Obama’s budget is debated in the coming months.”

Fred Kaplan:

Not only is this a major victory for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who lobbied strenuously (something he rarely does) to kill this program, and for President Barack Obama, who pledged to veto the defense bill if it contained a nickel for more F-22s. The vote might also mark the beginning of a new phase in defense politics, a scaling-back of the influence that defense contractors have over budgets and policies.

David Axe (good to see him back at DR, if only for temporarily):

At the moment, the only air forces fielding so-called “4.5-generation” fighters that even approach Raptor-level capability are all strong U.S. allies: the U.K., Germany, Italy and Spain with their small fleets of Typhoons, France with its three squadrons of Rafales, and Australia with a single squadron of F/A-18F Super Hornets. Lockheed estimates it might eventually sell more than 3,000 stealthy, “fifth-generation” F-35s to U.S. allies. Among perceived rivals, China just began producing J-10 fighters that are in the same class as the USAF’s 20-year-old F-16Cs. Russia is still building, and exporting, a few variants of the 1980s’ Su-27. Despite lots of promises, neither China nor Russia has ever demonstrated it can build anything more advanced than its current models. Russia’s aviation industry has eroded so badly that it cannot even produce drones for the Russian military: Moscow must buy them from Israel, instead.

Peter Howard:

It offers some hope to procurement reform at DoD. Much of the modern military–both operationally and administratively–is organized around the purchase of major weapons systems. This works if you have a great weapons system, but is incredibly inefficient, wasteful, and leaves you with the Army you’ve got– pace Rumsfeld, not the one you wish you had. One of the reasons we don’t have the military we wish we had is all of the support, doctrinally, institutionally, culturally, and financially for these weapons systems. The fighter jocks of the Air Force really want the F-22. They have resisted UAVs like Predator and Reaper and ugly Close Air Support planes like the A-10. And yet, these have been among the most useful and most in demand throughout the wars we’re actually fighting. The F-22? Not so much.

We’ll see. For right now, I’m just pleased that a mission-limited platform has been capped at a number that’s not too outrageous, and that the Senate has displayed a mild amount of fortitude in the face of intense lobbying. This isn’t the first time that a major weapons program has been cut short; the US originally intended to buy 29 Seawolf SSNs, later reduced to twelve, then to three. Similarly, the B-2 was cut from an initial order of 132 aircraft to just 21. Thus, I’m not convinced that this represents a major transformation in the way that the military-industrial-congressional complex works. The F-22 was, like the Seawolf and the B-2, an artifact of an era with different defense priorities. That’s it’s been capped doesn’t necessarily mean that the defense procurement institution has been successfully challenged, although it admittedly bodes well that Gates and Obama have been so forthright about using the F-22 as symbol of such a challenge.

I would like to have a better sense of the internal discussions around DADT before asserting that this fully vindicates the decision to keep Gates on as SecDef. I certainly think that it’s still a defensible position; the major decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan are fundamentally Obama’s rather than Gates’, and so he’s not really to blame for the general thrust of the policies. If Gates is the major roadblock to getting rid of DADT (and in fairness I haven’t seen many good arguments that he is), then it’s a major sacrifice. That said, cutting the F-22 and some other programs has been and will be much easier with Gates than with anyone else that Obama might have selected.

And in credit where due, kudos to John McCain. Managing defense spending has always been one of his strengths, and he really came through on this issue.

And Now We Dance!

[ 0 ] July 21, 2009 |

Senate rejects extra funding for the F-22!!!!

More UK Defence Procurement Woes

[ 0 ] July 19, 2009 |

It appears that the UK MoD rejected several opportunities to shore up its helicopter fleet:

Defence ministers spurned three separate deals to buy American Black Hawk helicopters which would have helped to plug the dangerous shortage facing British troops in Afghanistan. The most recent rejection came only days ago, the Observer can reveal.

A letter sent last week by the defence equipment minister, Quentin Davies, to Sikorsky, the US manufacturer of the Black Hawk, appears to admit that snubbing its latest offer could delay the introduction of desperately needed helicopters into Afghanistan.

Davies admits that rather than opt for the “earlier acquisition of another helicopter”, the government chose to pursue the heavily criticised refit of Britain’s ageing Puma fleet.

The minister’s letter is dated 7 July, the day trooper Christopher Whiteside, 20, died on foot patrol in Helmand after being hit by a hidden explosive device. Military figures say that lives are being lost in Afghanistan because troops have to travel by land, making them vulnerable to roadside bombs.

Defence industry sources have also revealed that under the initial offer from Connecticut-based Sikorsky in 2007, 60 Black Hawks would already have been available for British forces in Helmand province, where they have sustained heavy casualties from roadside bombs in their renewed offensive against the Taliban.

Of course, you never know quite what you’ll need, but it appears that the MoD pursued an option that will take longer to put capabilities in the field and that will cost more. The Puma refit project will be followed up by purchase of the “Future Lynx” which is apparently scheduled to enter service in 2014. The impetus for the decision appears to be straightforward; UK firms are given precedence over any alternatives. It’s the same in the US, of course, but the US defense-industrial complex is much larger.

H/t Jon.

The GDP Defense Defense

[ 0 ] July 16, 2009 |

Although he resists saying so directly, I think that the upshot of Travis Sharp’s Parameters article on GDP and the defense budget would run something like this: People who want to lock in the defense budget as a percentage of GDP are liars, morons, or both. Read the whole thing, but focus in particular on the suggestion that the United States won the Cold War because, rather than in spite of, the fact that it devoted far less of its economy to defense than the Soviet Union.

But then Parameters is just a left wing rag, so no need to pay attention to it anyway…

F-22 Death Agony (Hopefully…)

[ 0 ] July 16, 2009 |

Spencer has been following the F-22 debate closer than I; it appears that Carl Levin lacks the votes to outright kill the F-22, and thus that the potential for a confrontation between Congress and the administration over the survival of the plane remains high. Spencer points to some skepticism within the Air Force over the utility of the plane, although it’s telling that the essay is written by a Captain rather than someone with any significant influence. Matt Duss makes the point, however, that the real issue here isn’t the utility of the F-22 against some Russian fighter that has yet to move off the drawing board, or even the 95000 [sic] poor souls who’ll be thrown on the street if the plane is canceled. Rather, the question is about how effective the massive industry lobbying effort will be, and how effective the production strategy (48 states producing some component) will be in winning the political fight.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Air Force is now flying Mi-35s. History, odd sense of humor, etc.

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