Articles Defense Acquisition Military Culture

DoD’s Tail Is Wagging the Dog

“Why does a dog wag its tail? Because the dog is smarter than the tail. If the tail were smarter than the dog, the tail would wag the dog.” My impertinent challenge of the primacy of defense agencies over the military services, first published in June 2001.
This tease line from the movie Wag the Dog comes to mind nearly every day now. Over the past decade, I have been transferred from the operating forces to the Pentagon three times to work weapon development and acquisition issues. In that time, I have learned one important lesson: whenever a conflict emerges between career Pentagon bureaucrats and the uniformed military, the bureaucrats almost always win. They might not win quickly, and the win might not be pretty, but eventually they will prevail.
“…dog anatomy by Picasso.”

You see, inside the five-sided wind tunnel, the tail (supporting infrastructure) is smarter than the dog (the warfighting forces). This reality is driven by a single structural defect in Pentagon administration: defense agencies work more-or-less directly for the Secretary of Defense, while the warfighters are run by officials who are layers down. Using our Wag the Dog conceit, the tail is attached directly to the brain—dog anatomy by Picasso.

Worse, defense agencies are run to a large extent by career civil servants who possess great staying power. If they are engaged in a losing battle with an active-duty officer, they know it is only a matter of time before that officer transfers or retires. If you are a career civil servant and you wait long enough, you can beat anybody—even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Of course, this tail-first structure was not established out of malicious intent. Consolidating multiservice support functions into integrated defense agencies makes a great deal of sense from the point of view of efficiency. Historically, each military service was its own fiefdom. The Army, Navy, and Air Force each had its own logistics agency, its own accounting structure, its own overhead imagery capability, and its own land-based communications structure, run by the service chief.

This framework was enormously inefficient and made it hard for the services to work together. And since the services had to work together anytime we went to war, these discontinuities manifested themselves at the worst possible moments. Over time, our civilian masters in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in Congress decided that existing structures were not doing enough to increase efficiency and interoperability. Ultimately, and to a large extent over uniformed service objections, like efforts were combined into common DoD activities.

The notion of combat support agencies was written into law, giving birth to such organizations as the Defense Logistic Agency, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Defense Information Services Agency, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, and the defense health affairs community. DoD populated these organizations with the very best military and civilian professionals and had them report directly to the staff of the Secretary of Defense. Hence, the degree to which these agencies succeed or fail reflects directly on the highest political appointees of the department. As a result, our civilian leaders have tended to take whatever action necessary to ensure these activities are successful. In contrast, there are layers of insulation between the warfighting forces and these same decision makers. If these actions improve the effectiveness of our warfighting force, the nation benefits. But if the performance or product of an individual agency is treated as a higher priority than the performance of our Defense Department in general—and this increasingly has become the case—then the defense of the nation suffers.

What Are the Problems?
  • Bleeding the force. Defense agencies are drawing critical capital from the warfighting forces. Joint Staff analysis indicates Army contingency deployments are 15 times what they were in 1989; the number of Air Force personnel deployed is 39% higher than in Vietnam with a force only a fraction of the size; and the Navy responded to 2.4 times as many crises in the 1990s as in the 1980s with just 63% of the people and about half the ships. Yet, while the service budgets have shrunk considerably since 1985 in constant-year dollars, the defense agencies’ budgets have ballooned by 70%.1 If you add health care and other defense-wide expenses to the mix, defense infrastructure costs have increased by 264% for a force that is 40% smaller than it was in 1985.
  • Taxation without representation. Agencies work directly for the Secretary of Defense. All an agency has to do to get funding for the newest pet project is convince the appropriate under secretary or assistant secretary that someone in the operating forces “needs” the capability, and that the military services are not doing enough to meet this need. Look hard enough and you always can find somebody in the operating forces who “needs” whatever solution you’re trying to provide. The under secretary then submits a request for the DoD comptroller to find the funding—which usually comes in the form of a “tax” to the services. These solutions generally are implemented without considering their priority relative to other military requirements. The bill is simply passed on to the services, who get no vote on the matter, but who have to find the funding within their existing accounts.

This is a problem. At the beginning of every fiscal year, the Office of Management and Budget requires that every budget dollar be accounted for. Congress approves how you plan to spend every cent. This construct doesn’t allow the services to keep “rainy day” funds. Nor can they take out a loan to respond to short-notice funding requests. In addition, at the start of each fiscal year, most procurement and research accounts already are under contract. Those funds are obligated. Hence, when services must pay for things they didn’t plan on funding, they have to dip into the only unobligated money at their disposal—their current readiness accounts. This is one of the many factors that has resulted in our readiness crunch; services routinely are forced to cash in operations funds to pay for somebody else’s “good idea.”

This is not the way the services make tradeoffs when it comes to funding their own warfighting shortfalls. Like it or not, the services are assigned budgets, and they know they have to live within them. If a service wants to field a new superwhamodyne, it has to cancel something else to find the money. This forces the services to establish and defend their priorities, balancing current and future readiness in the process. But occasionally, even when the services try to make these tradeoffs in good faith, they are prevented from doing so. A recent example is the decision by Congress and the Pentagon to transfer funding of the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) from the Air Force to the Ballistic Missile Defense Office. The stated reason for this transfer is concern that the Air Force was not giving sufficient financial priority to SBIRS. Hence, SBIRS will now receive its funding off the top, a de facto declaration that it is more important than the systems whose funding it will take.

I can envision a future situation in which a parent of a downed pilot asks, “Why didn’t you fund that advanced jamming system that could have saved my daughter’s life?” Answer: “Because the money we intended to use on that system got diverted to pay for a satellite system that was actually a lower priority.” But the Defense official who made that decision won’t be standing in front of the cameras; instead, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force will be on point, just as it was the Chief of Naval Operations speaking to the nation defending decisions he did not make after the Cole (DDG-67) attack. In the end, the services work for the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who suffers or dies in conflict. To ensure this reality is driven home every day, the services populate their staffs with people like me who rotate between frontline forces and the Pentagon. Bringing in new people to take fresh looks at long- established structures also highlights other shortfalls, such as:

  • Agencies are monopolies. In our form of government monopolies are bad. If monopolies are bad, government-run monopolies are worse, since government monopolies are not subjected to market forces. Worse yet, government monopolies sometimes possess regulatory authority to compel others to use their products, thereby reinforcing their monopolistic hold on the product. A structure that mandates the establishment of government monopolies with regulatory power that also have authority to tax others for services they don’t want, to fund infrastructure they don’t need, is beyond the pale. But that is exactly the situation in DoD today. We have created little communications fiefdoms, logistic fiefdoms, intelligence fiefdoms, each with their own agenda and with decision makers who outrank the war fighters, and each little fiefdom creates its own political constituency, its own congressional sponsors, its own cadre of cottage industries, and its own soon-to-be-obsolete structures.
  • Bureaucracies don’t easily give up their own. In a revealing statistic, when forced by a defense reform initiative to review its job codes to determine what percentage could be transferred to the private sector, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service declared that 85% of its accountant positions were “inherently governmental” and could not be outsourced. In contrast, the Department of the Navy said only 73% of its positions were similarly “inherently governmental,” and this included all the sailors and Marines that man our ships, submarines, and aircraft.2 This is not a new problem. Alfred Thayer Mahan defined a bureaucracy as “the organization which has been created for facilitating its own labors.”
The fundamental question is this: Why does DoD continue to perform services the private sector can do better? The Defense Logistic Agency manages $970 billion of contracts, more than any of the services. It has an annual budget $16.3 billion. Why do we need government accountants and auditors tracking our money using financial tools that don’t comply with modern accounting standards? We’ve all heard the stories regarding how much DoD funding has gone “unaccounted for.” Do we really need to pay such a premium for service of this quality?
What’s the Solution?

Our civilian masters are the ultimate decision makers within the department. They should establish policy and make acquisition decisions. They should not sponsor programs or advocate agency- defined solutions. Let the uniformed military determine the relative priority for capabilities to be funded. Agency-sponsored programs should begin and end with validated military requirements. This structure already is established by law in Title 10—we should use the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) in its prioritization role the way law intends.

The services and the JROC are in the best position to consider the relative priority of an agency’s proposed solution against the programs or readiness money that would have to be canceled to fund it. The default position whenever we have a problem should be to identify a service as capability sponsor, unless for reasons of economy of scale or integration an agency is the preferred solution. Defense agencies should be treated as what they are: combat support activities. They should be employed only when the following tests are met:

  • The task requires that a government organization execute
  • Economies of scale or integration issues dictate that a single organization provide similar services to each service
  • It is improper or impractical to have a military service provide the capability
All three tests must be met. The good of the agency should never be the issue. The focus always should be on support to the warfighting forces. In other words, we need to perform whatever tail extraction surgery is necessary so that the dog can again wag the tail.
Articles Defense Acquisition Military Culture

Confessions of a Reformed Revolutionary

A follow-up to my article titled, “Stop the Revolution, I Want to Get Off.” First published in US Naval Institute Proceedings, May 2001.
Last year I wrote a piece titled “Stop the revolution, I want to get off” where I tried to make the point that many of the goals espoused by advocates of the revolution in military affairs (RMA) and military transformation communities have great intellectual appeal, but were constructively vacuous because of the constraints of real-world military operations.
Design with Ease
The fact is if we continue to sacrifice sovereign power projection forces to pay for high-tech transformational advances, we could devastate our ability to prevail in many of the brutal, bloody conflicts we might find ourselves drawn into.
As a professional military officer, I completely anticipated the outcry that followed the publication of that article. I received responses spanning all extremes—my view was referred to as vitriolic, visionary, and everything in between.
What I didn’t anticipate was the recent resurgence of interest, albeit somewhat muted, following the transition to our new administration. The general theme of this second wind society goes something like this: revolutionaries win, Navy guy loses.
I could easily overlook this opinion if it weren’t for the fact that armchair warriors continue to publish more and more articles surmising that everyday military commodities like aircraft carriers are passé, to be replaced by “transformational” weapon systems like satellites and long-range bombers. So I’ve reached the point where it becomes necessary to inject some professional opinion into this largely amateurish debate, by highlighting some points of fact that should be obvious but apparently aren’t.
Let me start by saying I used to believe in the revolution. I’d like to think it was the romantic in me, but I suspect it was really due to the fact that my technical background led me to believe we could find salvation through better engineering. But I no longer believe we’re on the verge of the kind of a revolution in military affairs that will significantly assist with the kind of military operations we’re likely to face.
The fact is if we continue to sacrifice sovereign power projection forces to pay for high-tech transformational advances, we could devastate our ability to prevail in many of the brutal, bloody conflicts we might find ourselves drawn into. Think of trying to employ satellites and long-range bombers to bring peace to Rwanda. Or Macedonia. Or the Middle East.
Conventional wisdom proclaims that in the “transformed” military, smaller weapon platforms are the big winners, and the carrier Navy is the big loser. While the transformation community generally admits that there is no better intimidation force than a carrier battlegroup, they also suggest that carriers will become increasingly prone to missile attack, and are therefore vulnerable.
As a submariner who has never served on a carrier and has no ingrained affinity for them, I’m happy to go where the data takes me regarding their relevance. So let’s accept this hypothesis for the moment and carry this train of thought forward to its logical conclusion.
First, recall that ship-launched land attack cruise missiles have a range of over a thousand miles, and carriers can operate from a great distance offshore and still engage tactical aircraft. Let’s assume, then, that some future enemy will develop the missile technology necessary to find and attack ships at these great distances. In military parlance, this enemy would be employing an “anti-access” strategy, since he’s banking on being able to prevent the U.S. from gaining access to his combat zones.
In point of fact none of our potential enemies are anywhere near developing this capability, but for the sake of argument let’s just accept that it will happen.
Now consider this: if the enemy develops missiles that are effective against a carrier battlegroup that brings with it a robust missile defense capability, think of what these same missiles would do to the merchant ships that carry 90% of Army and Air Force weaponry to the fight. If our Navy can’t defend even itself, then how will we be able to defend the ships that transport the Army and Air Force? They’d be sitting ducks. Hence, if someone does develop such an anti-access capability, then that area would become an ever increasing naval theater of operations, since the other services would only be able to bring in what they fly in.
But would they even be able to fly in?
After all, if you intended to challenge the United States and had studied American tactics used in the Gulf War and the Balkans, would you invest your scarce resources in anti-ship technology, or would you invest in anti-air technology? If this theoretical enemy were able to develop the kind of anti-ship missile technology that so far has been able to evade development by the Russians, Chinese, and the most technologically advanced countries on earth, it’s likely that their anti-air defense force would be even better than their anti-ship capability.
And if their anti-air capability is better than their anti-ship capability, how will our Army bring in even the small percentage of its forces that move in by air? We might as well just build our missile shield, withdraw our claim to being the world’s only superpower, and stay home.
Another anti-carrier argument forwarded by the reform community has to do with their supposed vulnerability to submarine attack. I happen to be a submariner, and have run hundreds of simulated attacks against carriers in my time, and I can tell you that anyone who thinks carriers will become particularly vulnerable to conventional submarine attack over the next few decades doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Any student of military history knows that only one characteristic allows a submarine to get into a position of advantage over a ship: speed. Nuclear submarines have this characteristic. Non-nuclear submarines do not. Without the advantage of speed, it is almost impossible for a submarine to get into firing position against a modern, fast, defended carrier. Gone are the days of World War II when a submarine could reposition at high speed on the surface in order to get into firing position.
The amateur will then say that a conventional submarine doesn’t need speed if it can position itself in a chokepoint that the surface ship is force to proceed through. True enough. But name the choke point that would cause us to be vulnerable. Straits of Hormuz? A single American submarine could clear it of bad guys in a day. Bad guys wouldn’t have a chance. Taiwan Straits? We’d no more send a carrier through the Taiwan Straits in a war with China than we’d base an F-15 fighter wing in Shanghai.
The choke point issue is yet another red herring where used by anti-carrier zealots that simply don’t want to be confused by the facts. Truth is I’ve operated against real world enemy submarines. And with full knowledge of their capabilities, I would have no concern allowing my son or daughter to serve on an aircraft carrier any time in the foreseeable future.
More to the point, our carriers are defended better than any shore base or ground force in our arsenal, better than even our nation itself. If our carriers are vulnerable, then our nation is vulnerable.
So what solution does the transformation crowd suggest is the solution to the Navy’s problems? Small, fast ships— so-called “street fighters”— that present a smaller target, but also provide a ludicrously small punch. To do away with our carriers and instead relegate the United States Navy to the “street fighter” concept is to convert us to a corvette force— we’d be right up there with the navies of Italy, Greece, and Singapore. Belay that— we’d be outgunned by Italy. They have a carrier.
And what do the transformers point to as the model of reform? The Army’s initiatives to “lighten the force.” And what is the Army’s great technology advance? They’re quite literally reinventing the wheel. That is, they’re evolving from tracked vehicles to wheeled vehicles, migrating back to a device that was first invented over five thousand years ago. Perhaps if the Navy proposed going back to oared vessels, then we could get some respect.
Like it or not, with nations increasingly reluctant to allow the U.S. to establish anything but a defensive presence, I see no credible alternative to a carrier Navy in many scenarios we are likely to face. Long-range bombers are great, as long as you have thirty hours warning time and are willing to go to war only at night. But our revolutionary leaders, some of whom have been advancing the same ideas for the better part of a generation with little success, would lead us to believe the answer to our problems is a deeply clouded mystery.
I used to be a revolutionary, but I got better.
As a reformed revolutionary, I believe that military reform isn’t about technology. It’s about adapting the force to the future. And by networking our forces and extending the range of our weapons, initiatives that have been ongoing for the better part of a decade, while hanging on to those things that we know will work for the foreseeable future, I believe the Navy is well on the way to achieving that kind of reform.
Rodin once said that carving a sculpture was easy, all you had to do was take a block of stone and remove everything that wasn’t the statue.
Transforming our military will be just as easy. All we have to do is stop looking for Lenin and start looking for Rodin.
Articles Defense Acquisition Military Culture

Defense Force Charades

Originally published in the Washington Times on April 23, 2001, this article was a response to the growing discourse that seemed to believe that the age of the aircraft carrier had ended. Pushed largely by an Air Force hungry to divert resources away from the Navy, defeating this canard was like playing a game of whack-a-mole– as quickly as the arguments were diffused, the media’s short memory would allow them to emerge again.

There is an old saying that in war, truth is the first casualty. It appears that this saying has asserted itself into the current debate over defense transformation as well.


In the course of any political debate, its vital that both sides start out with a clear understanding of the facts upon which decisions will be based. Good people can disagree on conclusions that are dependent upon matters of opinion, but if you can’t agree on the facts, then the creditability of the entire decision tree that follows will be indicted.

As a military officer, I’m bothered by the fact that certain armchair warriors in the transformation debate have begun to describe military capabilities in ways that are misleading or factually incorrect. In doing so, it appears that some advocates within this debate have begun to transform the truth into something I no longer recognize, by proclaiming that in the “transformed” military, smaller weapon platforms are the big winners, and the carrier Navy is the big loser.

While most defense experts generally admit there is no better intimidation force than a carrier battle group sitting off an enemy’s coastline, other advocates press their own personal agendas by suggesting that, in the future, carriers will become increasingly prone to various forms of attack and are therefore so vulnerable that the time has come for our nation to terminate our ability to construct them .In doing so, money would be freed up to fund the pet programs fostered by these advocates, but this benefit would (of course) merely be serendipitous.

As a submariner who has never served on a carrier and has no ingrained affinity for them, I’m happy to go where the data take me regarding their future relevance. So, for the moment, let’s accept the hypothesis that carriers are vulnerable, and carry this train of thought forward to its logical conclusion.

First, recall that carriers can operate hundreds of miles offshore and still employ their tactical aircraft. Now let’s assume that some future enemy will develop the technology necessary to find, penetrate defenses, and then attack these ships at these great distances, In fact none of our potential enemies are anywhere near developing this capability, but for the sake of argument let’s just accept that it will happen. In military parlance, this enemy would be employing an “anti-access” strategy, since he’s banking on being able to prevent the U.S. from gaining access to his combat zones.

Now consider this: If the enemy develops technologies that are effective against a carrier battle group that brings with it a robust missile and submarine defense capability, these same technologies would be able to devastate the merchant ships that carry 90 percent of Army and Air Force weaponry to the fight. If our Navy can’t defend itself, then how will we be able to defend the ships that transport Army and Air Force equipment and weapons? The merchant ships would be sitting ducks, so the other services would only be able to bring in what they fly in.

Or how would an in-theater Air Force base fare in such an environment, like Kadena in Okinawa? Carriers may not move very fast, but they sure move faster than land bases do.

But would they even be able to fly in? Would an enemy who intended to challenge the United States and who studied American tactics used in the Gulf war and the Balkans invest his scarce resources in anti-ship technology, or would he invest in anti-air technology? If this theoretical enemy were able to develop long-range anti-ship technology, it’s probable that his air defense capability which would undoubtedly be a higher priority for any potential foe would be even better than his sea defenses. And if his anti-air capability is better than his anti-ship capability, how will our land force bring in even the small percentage of its weaponry that moves in by air?

In fact, if the enemy were to develop these new capabilities, its clear this theater of operations would become an increasingly naval theater, since the weaponry intended to defeat American. access into the region would always be much more effective at defeating land-based access than it will naval forces. Hence, any transformation initiative that weakens our naval posture is likely to be counterproductive in the face of an anti-access strategy.

Of course, this says nothing about the probability of anyone actually developing an anti-access capability, for which I find no compelling evidence. The problem with sinking a ship is first you have to find it no small matter when you have millions of square miles of ocean to search.

Transformation gurus suggest that in the future an enemy will use satellites to search for our ships, but satellites suffer from two problems: first we know when they’re going to pass overhead so we can do things to mask our presence, and second they can easily be spoofed. Similarly, surveillance airplanes can be shot down, submarines tracked, and ships attacked. These inconvenient facts turn out to be logical dead ends for the anti-carrier crowd, who respond by simply waving them away by making leaps of faith-assumptions of future enemy capability. It turns out that one can justify any military goal by inventing the proper enemy.

What does the transformation crowd suggest is the solution to the Navy’s access problem? Small, fast ships socalled “street fighters” that may indeed present a smaller detection target but would also provide a ludicrously small punch. To do away with our carriers and instead relegate the U.S. Navy to the “street fighter” concept is tantamount to converting us into a corvette force we would be right up there with the navies of Italy, Greece and Singapore. Belay that we would

be outgunned by Italy. They have a carrier.

The truth is that our carriers are defended better than any shore base or ground force in our arsenal, better than even our nation itself. If our carriers are vulnerable, then our nation is vulnerable.

Students of history will recall that all these claims regarding carrier obsolescence were made once before, in the years following World War 11w, hen the atom bomb was supposed to relegate the carrier to the dustbin of history. That argument was advanced by a pro-Air Force cabal that had gained authority within the office of the defense secretary, leading to a famous standoff referred to as the “revolt of the admirals.” Happily, common sense prevailed in the end, and the “revolt of the admirals” rescued the nation from the fate of transforming its military into an unthinkable, all-atomic force that would have turned out to be useless in the low-tech battles we found ourselves engaged in over the decades that followed.

Like it or not, with our allies increasingly reluctant to allow the United States to establish anything but a defensive presence, I see no credible alternative to a carrier battlegroup in many scenarios we are likely to face. Long-range bombers are great, so long as you have 30 hours warning and are willing to go to war only at night.

The leaders of this modern military transformation cabal, some of whom have been advancing the same ideas for the better part of a generation with little success, would lead us to believe history is no longer relevant, that we should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, that we should press the “I believe” button and accept as fact that struggling nations will suddenly develop technologies that have so far eluded Russia, China and some of the most technologically advanced nations on Earth.

Rodin once said that carving a sculpture was easy, all you had to do was take a block of stone and remove everything that wasn’t the statue.

Transforming our military will be just as easy. All we have to do is stop looking for Lenin and start looking for Rodin.

Articles Defense Acquisition

Evolution Meets the Real World

The impact of Moore’s Law is commonly misunderstood by system developers.

In 1968, Gordon Moore, then chief executive officer of Intel, correctly predicted that computer hardware, specifically processing capability, would continue to advance at a pace of about one generation every 18 months.

This remarkable prediction, which has come to be known as “Moore s Law,” has proved incredibly accurate. The law also has fueled a number of disparate movements in seemingly unrelated disciplines, such as in the arena of defense acquisition reform.

As the current defense reform argument goes, if information technology (IT) hardware evolves one generation every 18 months, how can we possibly allow ourselves to take 10 years or more to develop and field a weapon system that is heavily dependent on that IT?

That point is fair enough.

Certainly, Pentagon planners could do a much better job of engineering IT systems, interoperability and networks up front into weapon systems. The establishment of a DoD chief information officer with statutory purview over the architecture and acquisition of all DoD IT systems probably would help a great deal in establishing standards and protocols for data transfer and networks.

And the notion of creating a DoD-wide Global Information Grid that enhance s the ability to share information of all types to relevant players from weapon and targeting data, to payroll and business process information – is probably long overdue.

Once appropriate grid policies and processes are implemented, this initiative will undoubtedly go a long way toward improving weapon system effectiveness, helping to make the Navy’s developing concept of network-centric warfare a reality for all of DoD.

But while Moore’s Law may indeed have been useful in predicting the evolution of computer processors, using this concept as justification for shortening the defense acquisition timeline across the board is misguided.

This is true because the current acquisition reform debate is founded on a false notion, a perception that the development of information technology hardware drives the train when it comes to acquisition timelines.

Said differently, IT is generally regarded as the Holy Grail when it comes to developing future military systems. This belief has saturated conventional wisdom in the virtual world, but in the real world is a notion that is patently false.

In the virtual world, IT’s hardware evolutionary cycle may indeed be on the order of one generation every 18 months. But the same cannot be said for airframe technology, chemical propellant technology, munitions, radar, armor, wheels, target characterization, structures, imagery, hull, navigation, propulsion, seeing-through-the-trees, moving without noise, tracking rapidly moving targets, and other technologies.

These technologies evolve over a period of years, if not decades. What sense, then, does it tailor the entire acquisition construct around one small component of a weapon’s overall effectiveness?

This means that as long as the defense of the United States has to be done in the real world instead of the virtual world, and as long as we properly continue to refuse to purchase yesterday s technology, then the evolutionary time line of computer hardware will only have an incidental effect on the overall defense procurement time line.

Further, the 18-month evolutionary cycle is only true for IT hardware. Software advances are nowhere near as rapid.

In the virtual world, we were promised advances in artificial intelligence technology a generation ago that still haven t appeared.

In the real world, you’re lucky if you can get high-quality, verified and validated code out of a software designer of a complex system in less than five years.

So why the rush to restructure the acquisition system? Its worth pointing out that the arcane, byzantine acquisition process we now enjoy is what produced the mightiest military in history, by an order of magnitude. Something must be working right.

The United States was able to do this because its· processes have traditionally been focused on real-world advances, not virtual advances. That is, the traditional U.S. acquisition system has been tailored to account for the tyranny of the real world.

The tyranny of the real world renders the tyranny of Moore’s Law an interesting but irrelevant factoid. Moore’s Law means that as you design your weapon system, you don’t decide what computer hardware to install into the package until after all the other hardware is designed, all the code is written, verified and validated, and other, more mundane features of the weapon systems are finalized. That is, insert computer hardware only in the final step.

At worst, trying to bend the acquisition process around one small piece of hardware the computer processor may result in breaking something that, all things considered, has worked rather well.

Moore’s Law is not without value. We should continue to teach it in college courses and speak of it in reverent tones in our Temple of Renewed Faith (Pentagon IT circles). We should evolve the use of technology so that we continue to advance toward that beckoning, ethereal goal of knowledge superiority.

But when it comes to the defense of the nation, we should restrain our zeal and limit ourselves to using only what works.

Articles Defense Acquisition Military Culture

Stop the Revolution I Want to Get Off

First published in US Naval Institute Proceedings in July 2000, this is the article that caused me to be seen as a Revolution in Military Affairs skeptic.
My favorite joke is one I learned from my grandfather. It goes like this:
A man walks into a market and inquires about the price of tomatoes. (Italian allegory usually has something to do with tomatoes.) The proprietor responds, “They’re seventy cents a pound.” The man scratches his chin and says, “But Joe’s price down the street is fifty cents a pound.” “Then why don’t you buy them from Joe?” asks the proprietor. “Because Joe is out of tomatoes.” “Well,” says the owner, “when I’m out of tomatoes, my price is twenty cents a pound.”

I found myself thinking of this joke as I read Admiral Bill Owens’s April 2000 Proceedings article, “It’s Time for the Revolution.” In this excerpt from his new book, Lifting the Fog of War (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) Admiral Owens insists that the U.S. military is in serious trouble. He says that because we live in an era when the computer and new information and communications technologies have the potential to “liberate us from the past,” we must take immediate action to forestall disaster and enact “courageous” defense reform. His article is a call to action in evoking a revolution in military affairs. He insists that there is no time to waste, wants us to declare the military situation a “true national emergency,” and urges us to launch the debate on military reform. So, let the debate begin.

Because I am a mid-grade officer with no personal capital invested in today’s state of affairs, who while in command suffered the agony of watching my perfectly good ship get cut into razor blades during what should have been the middle of her life, you might expect me to agree with the admiral that we need to follow his advice to correct the deterioration of our force. And since my training in electrical engineering gives me a fairly good understanding of the potential of the technological advances on which the admiral pins his hopes, one might also expect me to agree with him that technology will set us free.

I don’t.

Let’s take Admiral Owens’s major points one at a time, starting with his initial premise: that because the United States spends more on defense than all our allies combined, we must be spending too much. I tried to dispense with this tired old argument in 1995, but it appears I was not very effective.

The Cost of the Oceans
As I wrote five years ago, any comparison of what we spend relative to what any other nation or collection of nations spends is immaterial for the following reasons:
  • To maintain our status as a superpower, the United States must pay the “cost of the oceans.” Unless we want to conduct our fights in our own backyard, we have to bear the burden of carrying the fight to the enemy across two vast oceans. Included in this cost is a power-projection and sea-control Navy, the entire U.S. Marine Corps, expeditionary elements of the Air Force, long-range bomber and tanker assets, and the sealift and airlift required to get our heavy forces to the fight.
  • We have to pay the cost of winning. Sun Tzu said more than 2,000 years ago that to ensure success you have to be able to overwhelm the enemy five-to-one, and little has changed since then to alter this truth. Because this level of superiority is not free, it follows that fielding five times the force will cost you at least five times as much as your adversary spends.
  • We have to pay the cost of protecting our force to the extent that we are able to engage our enemies while minimizing our own casualties. We rely on technology to provide this protection—mainly in the form of long-range targeting and standoff weapons.
  • We have to pay the cost of recruiting, providing medical coverage for, and retiring a high-quality force. This is a huge cost. Medical alone—which includes coverage for active duty, dependents, and retirees—will run more than $100 billion in the current six-year defense program, more than most nations pay for their entire defense. Because none of our potential adversaries include these costs in the equation of what they pay for their militaries, our costs look disproportionately high.
  • All these factors affect the price we must pay in a nonlinear fashion. Hence, acquiring 5 times as much protected power as your enemy has fielded may cost you 20 times as much.
  • Although we are paying more than all our allies combined, it is no small point that we do more than all our allies combined are called on to do.
It makes no sense to compare what we pay to what any other nation or group of nations on earth pays for military might. We should pay only what we need to pay to get the job done, no more and no less. It is particularly disheartening to learn that this argument has been advanced by a retired senior military officer. Let’s hope we never hear it again.
RMA: Revolution or Religion?
To the admiral’s next point: the need to initiate a revolution in military affairs (RMA). RMA is like the story of the three blind men and the elephant—your opinion of this concept is based on the position from which you view it. There are at least two common views regarding the value of an RMA. To the budgeteer, it is a device that finally will enable us to live within perceived fiscal constraints. To others, RMA is the entity that finally will provide us the degree of dominant battlefield knowledge that will allow us to distinguish friend from enemy, so that we can more quickly identify, target, and strike. There is no doubt that we absolutely need to continue to improve the use of technology in support of the war fighter. But of the two specific views of RMA described above, it is equally clear that:
  • We will never be able to balance the checkbook through RMA. Technology is incredibly expensive, and unless we drastically reduce our force structure and our ability to respond to crises, invoking RMA will require us to increase investment in defense. Most service and secretariat planners agree that the first phase of implementing an RMA—to improve our ability to task, process, exploit, and distribute imagery products—is likely to cost at least $7 billion more than we already are budgeting. And if we go beyond that, to field a real sensor-to-shooter capability, the required cost goes up further. If anyone has the notion that RMA will save us money, think again. And if we decide to cut force structure to pay for RMA, we will find ourselves doing nothing more than improving visibility into areas that we have less capability to reach.
  • Dominant battlefield knowledge did not begin with RMA, nor will pursuit of it end with an implementation of our current vision of RMA. Attaining dominant battlefield knowledge in Normandy and Midway was critical to our success in those battles, even though its attainment was tenuous and transitory. Our adversaries in Vietnam and Serbia learned how to defeat our high-tech approach to attaining dominant battlefield knowledge, contributing to our failures in those conflicts. In fact, recent history indicates that unless you are fighting an idiot in open terrain (both factors must be present), an enemy always will be able to deny advantage to the specific manifestation of technology that we refer to as RMA. In fact, the RMA vision we seek is useful only if the enemy is willing to fight our kind of war rather than the brutal, dirty wars on which they have insisted thus far. Technology certainly can provide sensor-fuzed weapons that seek and destroy certain kinds of machines, but until it can provide intent-fuzed weapons that kill only people with bad intentions, RMA will have little impact on the kind of wars we see today.
For example, RMA would have done nothing to help us prevent the slaughter of 800,000 people in 100 days in Rwanda. It would have done nothing to prevent a few thousand boys with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades from overwhelming our best troops—Rangers and Deltas—in Mogadishu. Nor would it have improved our capability to fight the kind of battle we saw in 1995 in Bosnia, where 7,000 men were killed in 48 hours. All our improved sensors would have allowed us to do there would have been to locate the gravesites more quickly. In fact, I can find no compelling evidence that an RMA as Admiral Owens envisions it is achievable, let alone affordable. That is why I believe the revolution in military affairs is better referred to as a religion in military affairs. You have to take much of what RMA promises to achieve on faith.
Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Admiral Owens seems to believe that we can achieve through legislation what we cannot achieve through management and leadership—and he insists that a “Goldwater-Nichols II” is urgently needed. He blames interservice rivalry for causing the capability shortfalls that exist today, and he says that by relegating the service chiefs to the role of manpower administrators and establishing a supreme soviet-style civil-military committee, this structure somehow would be able to get blood out of a rock.

I see no evidence that this is the case. How would this central committee get beyond the challenges we face? What would it cut? The fact that the military is developing three separate tactical aircraft programs seems to generate the most heat these days, but it is worth noting that even during the cataclysmic Carter years we had four tactical air programs under development, then we ignored it for a generation. Is it unreasonable to think that we now have to catch up? But how can we catch up when we have allowed defense procurement funding to fall to about 17% of the total DoD budget—a condition that arose during Admiral Owens’s tenure as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and one from which we are only now beginning to recover?

This is not to say that as vice chairman Admiral Owens was in any way to blame for this condition, but neither were his subordinate chiefs. His cause cElEebre—interservice rivalry—is a satisfying enemy because it can’t fight back. But it is not the real culprit. Perhaps better management could do something about the ever-increasing migration of defense dollars from the “tooth” to the “tail,” to the extent that defense agencies, cottage-industry analytical shops, and other bureaucracies who both insist their stovepipe issue is the most important in the department and have prima notte privileges with our budget, continue to expand with no end in sight.

But even these modifications would be on the margins. Defense already consumes a lower percentage of the gross domestic product than at any time since the days of the feeble pre-World War II military. Considering the difference in capability our current force provides, it seems the nation is getting a pretty good bang for the buck.

The Emperor’s Clothes

So what is the culprit? Policy.

The fact is, today’s defense leaders have been put in a situation where they are required to maintain the military’s readiness to react at a moment’s notice to an ever-increasing number of hotspots around the world while at the same time recapitalizing an ever-aging force, fielding a capability to defend every inch of U.S. soil from missile attack, keeping key defense industries from failure by investing in selected technologies, protecting congressional interests by restricting the divestiture of capital-absorbing facilities and infrastructure, maintaining our manpower structure during a time of recruiting shortfalls and increasing housing and medical costs, and—oh—maintaining sufficient land forces to prevail in two simultaneous major wars with essentially zero casualties in an environment where expanding arms-control regimes virtually ensure that all wars fought against nonstate actors will be fought asymmetrically—and they have to do all this within a declining budget.

Or, in Italian allegory, we are being forced to wire every room in our house with internet-ready computers, satellite dishes, and wide-screen TVs and to keep two Mercedes in the garage on the off chance that the entire family might come to town at the same time, so we will be able to drive them around in the safest cars in the world—all while our walls are crumbling. We need a new house, but maintaining those cars and computers absorbs the capital we need to fix the roof, patch the walls, and rebuild the structure we use every day. The fact that people blame interservice rivalry for our inability to balance the checkbook under these conditions is simply Kafkaesque.

Our marketing has become so effective that we have placed more faith in glossy sales brochures than we have in our own military judgment. It is time for somebody to tell the emperor he has no clothes. The revolution in military affairs has become a panacea—more than that—a deus ex machina promising us salvation. But it ain’t gonna balance the checkbook, and it ain’t gonna save the world. Some may call this RMA talk harmless banter, but to the extent that we continue to be beguiled by the RMA siren song, we will delay dealing with the real problems that confront us. Worse, we will begin to lose those mid-grade officers we are counting on to lead us into tomorrow—officers who realize that as we try to do ever more with ever less, watching precious resources get poured down a dry well, they will be the ones left behind to pick up the pieces. The real problem we face cannot be managed or legislated away. It is an artifact of the current state of affairs: too much mission for the money.

Or as my grandfather would have said, when you’ve used up all your tomatoes, it’s too late to worry about what they cost.

Defense Acquisition Military Culture

Who Needs the Space Force?

First published in April 1995, twenty-five years before creation of the Space Force, this article pointed towards the absurdity of the way the US military was dealing with space. The silliness of the US military’s approach to space can be reflected by a real statement made in my presence by a “space officer,” that things would be different if theStar Trek character James T. Kirk had been called a “Colonel Kirk” instead of a “Captain Kirk.”
The Commission on Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces, commonly referred to as the White Commission, has been charged with identifying areas where the United States can afford to eliminate unnecessary aspects of its military organizational structure. As a member of the so-called military space community who has been dealing with U.S. Space Command for about ten years, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the U.S. Space Command should be subjected to considerable scrutiny by the White Commission.
U.S. Space Command was created in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan to manage the impressive arsenal of space systems, including space combat forces and national missile defenses, that the United States was planning to field. This new unified command was intended to tie a host of disparate elements together—one-stop shopping for anything that flew through space. At a time when the defense budget was on a steep upward slope and when Battlestar Galactica-type systems were being envisioned as a real, if distant, possibility, it made sense to launch a command that could develop a cohesive doctrine for systems and forces that historically had little to do with each other. But even though the goal to seek a unified command for space forces was right for its time, the concept may have outlived its usefulness.
The bottom line is that unified commands exist to command forces, not to control systems. Even a supporting commander, such as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Transportation Command, has forces under his control that he uses to support other commanders-in-chief. To explore this issue fully, it may be helpful to consider the events leading to the establishment of U.S. Space Command. Since the beginning of the space age, the Air Force considered itself to be the nation’s aerospace power. In fact, the term “aerospace” was created by the Air Force primarily to enhance the notion that space was its rightful domain. They were not hindered by the fact that “aerospace” doesn’t exist—any more than “aerosea” does.
Unfortunately, much of what the Air Force did to reinforce its image as the primary military space power involved pursuing arcane technologies. During the 1960s, for example, its space effort consisted mostly of a series of experimental programs yielding little practical value. The Air Force worked diligently to find better ways to get pilots into space, under the notion that simply sending pilots into space would one day have intrinsic military value. Most of this work led to technological dead ends.
Meanwhile, the Navy concentrated on the practical application of space power, in pursuit of military utility. The Navy’s history in space began when it built Vanguard, the country’s first satellite. It later dominated the military use of space by building the most successful military satellites ever flown: TRANSIT navigation satellites and FLEETSAT communications satellites. The Air Force did not neglect similar programs out of oversight; it simply did not have the Navy’s need for global access to accurate navigation and communications. The Air Force did later take on other successful satellite programs like NAVSTAR GPS, but often over its own objections, since these systems would use Air Force resources in support of other-service requirements.1
The problem was that during this time, Air Force was perceived as displaying a “Buck Rogers’ attitude toward space missions in general, while the other services saw themselves as looking toward space to find practical military utility.
Sometimes, the Air Force enhanced this perception, to its own discredit. I once had an Air Force colonel involved in their space program tell me that the biggest mistake the Air Force ever made was letting Gene Roddenbury call the Star Trek character Captain Kirk instead of “Colonel” Kirk. As a result, despite its space-age focus, the Air Force was still struggling internally for an identity in space.
With these events as backdrop, the Air Force decided in the early 1980s to establish a series of programs that would serve to resolve their identity crisis, including the following core programs:
  • They planned to procure their own space shuttle, so they could become the undisputed space warrior force.
  • They began training their own astronaut corps—space flight engineers—separate from NASA s shuttle astronauts. These space flight engineers would be the Air Force’s special forces for space missions.
  • They built their own shuttle-launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base. However, when it became obvious that the shuttle would not be cost-effective, they canceled their plans for their own shuttle. Hence, the construction of the shuttle-launch complex at Vandenberg actually wasted billions of dollars.
If the Air Force’s plans had ever been completed, this would have been a true space combat force. Since these combat forces would not be geographically constrained, no single existing unified commander would be able to lay claim to them. It made sense, therefore, to create a new unified structure to provide combatant command of these forces: Enter U.S. Space Command.
The Myth of Space Warfare
If space combat or space transport ever become a real military mission, U.S. Space Command would be needed to command forces, but space combat is not likely to become a reality any time soon, and there is no need for space transport to be a military mission. This leaves U.S. Space Command with a role in which it largely manages systems, not forces. Any technocrat can manage systems; do we really need a four-star commander for such a task? The United States seems to have neither the inclination nor the budget to field true space forces. Therefore, we no longer need U.S. Space Command.
Even if the genesis for U.S. Space Command is no longer valid, it can be argued that if the command provides some benefit to the military community, it should be retained. Unfortunately, U.S. Space Command may actually hurt the military’s use of space, because it perpetuates some outdated and incorrect notions. For example, U.S. Space Command reinforces the Air Force’s claim that satellite launch should be a military mission. The Air Force employs tens of thousands of uniformed and civilian personnel for this task, but launching a satellite is identical in concept and function to launching a ship. All the launching does is place the militarily useful system into the medium in which it must operate. We do not use uniformed personnel to launch ships, and we should not use the Air Force to launch satellites.
Further, it has become vogue to refer to “space” as often as possible when describing modern combat. For example, Desert Storm is often referred to as the first “space war,” apparently because we used satellite during the conflict. The Navy has created a concept called Space and Electronic Warfare, and U.S. Space Command is establishing a Joint Space Warfare Center. With all these titles, one would think we had a good handle on exactly what constituted space warfare.
So what exactly is space warfare? Shooting weapons from or at things in space may constitute space warfare, but we don’t do any of that. We do surveillance from space using systems like DSP—is that space warfare? I think not. We do surveillance from hills, but we don’t call it “hill warfare”; we call it surveillance. We also communicate via satellite, and if that is space warfare then we should call UHF line-of-sight communications “tropospheric warfare.”
Here is the deal: We are spending a lot of money on this thing called “space warfare.” We should at least be able to figure out what it is. But we can’t—and for good reason. The fact is that we have a lot of force-enhancing systems in space, but none of this constitutes warfare. Unlike the other catch phrase, “information warfare,” there is no such thing as space warfare. Information warfare exists, because it constitutes a definable set of missions. Space warfare does not exist, because space is a place—not a mission.
Managing Space Systems
The creation of U.S. Space Command has had the unfortunate outcome of tying together all military satellites into a single organizational structure. Hence, communication satellites and surveillance satellites are owned by the same command—just because they both operate in space. To the layman, this makes sense, since most people think of all satellites as being essentially the same. In fact, they are not. The only thing communications satellites have in common with surveillance satellites or navigation satellites is that they all operate in space. Otherwise, their functions are different: their payloads are different; their satellite busses are different; their orbits are different; their users are different; and their concepts of operations are different.
It is important to keep in mind that a communications satellite is simply the space component of our overall military communications architecture. If communications satellites are to be attached to any single command, they should be attached to the command that controls the overarching communications architecture. Instead, we assign them to an organization that is supposed to control something that doesn’t exist: our space architecture. Having a “space architecture” makes no more sense than having an “air architecture.” We don’t have architectures for environments, we have architectures for functions. The same can be said with respect to surveillance and navigation satellites. Accordingly, the recent division by the Deputy Secretary of Defense to create a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Space constitute a giant step backward in normalizing the way we procure space systems.
Military professionals must transcend the layman’s understanding of military systems and methods. We see no dichotomy in separating transport and strike aircraft into different commands, and neither should we have a problem with distributing space systems in a logical manner.
Military Requirements and Space Acquisition
If we continue to view space components as stand-alone systems, we inevitably will waste precious resources. For example, when a new military communications requirement arises, it is frequently viewed as a space issue. So instead of having a nondenominational communications engineer look at the problem in terms of optimizing the overall communications architecture, “space weenies” wind up looking exclusively to space systems to satisfy the new requirement. The problem is that space solutions are very expensive. They should be considered only when continuous global access is required and when other methods are not cost effective. If the dissolution of U.S. Space Command assists in defeating the notion that stovepipe space systems can satisfy all needs, then it would be a good thing.
There are also cases where U.S. Space Command has unintentionally worked in conflict with its own stated goals. Consider the example of the Follow-on Early Warning System (FEWS)—intended to be a replacement for the highly successful Defense Support Program (DSP) ballistic missile detection satellites. In 1991, FEWS was approaching a much-delayed milestone decision before the Defense Acquisition Board. At the time, the system was receiving lukewarm support from the Army and Navy, since U.S. Space Command and the Air Force had been slow to modify FEWS operational requirements to reflect the fact that the ballistic-missile threat had become more regional. But with U.S. Space Command’s position aligned so closely with the Air Force’s, the two primary space “managers” carried the day, and the FEWS requirements were left unchanged as the program proceeded toward its milestone decision meeting.
Then in December 1991, the Air Force’s Space Systems Division unexpectedly provided evidence that the cost estimates provided previously by the Air Force were too low—by several billion dollars. Both the Air Force Staff and U.S. Space Command disputed these higher numbers, but since the information had originated with the Air Force’s own experts on FEWS, it could not be ignored.2However, the revised system would break the bank, hence, the milestone decision was in jeopardy.
Hearing this, CinCSpace flew immediately to Washington to argue in favor on milestone approval. He was articulate and precise in his defense of the requirement for a better missile-warning system, but the immediate problem was not with the requirement but rather with the system intended to satisfy that requirement. Because the space commander-in-chief was arguing for that particular system—one he said he absolutely needed—the milestone was approved, and the Air Force was directed to fund the program at the updated level—something they could not afford to do. The program became anemic and was finally canceled after languishing for two more years, and a more affordable follow-on system was then initiated.
Normalizing Space
It is interesting to note that strategic offensive systems like intercontinental ballistic missiles belong to the commander-in-chief of Strategic Command, while the systems that would warn us of a nuclear attack—the strategic-warning systems such as DSP—belong to CinCSpace. Does this make military sense? Why would we create such an arrangement? It is because strategic warning is viewed as a space issue since it uses satellites. In the previous example, the fact that FEWS was considered to be a space system instead of an attack-warning system drove the decision makers to rely on CinCSpace instead of any other CinCs for advice on systems such as FEWS. If the theater CinCs had been consulted instead, the final outcome may have been different, because by design, CinCSpace focuses on the stovepipe—space—while the other theater CinCs must focus on the strategic objective—defense of the United States and its interests. Until space becomes a theater of operations in any real sense, space will remain just a stove pipe, and there is no compelling reason to have a CinC to command this region.
Finally, there is the cost issue. U.S. Space Command employs about 900 people, representing another overhead layer over and above the Air Force Space Command, which employs another 28,000 military and civilian people (compared to 494 for Navy Space Command). Considering that the Air Force operates only four major satellite systems—none of which are manned—there must be a cheaper way.
This is not to say that U.S. Space Command provides no value. But increasingly, it is becoming nothing more than a joint imprimatur to a space community dominated by the Air Force. We should break up space systems into the functional areas they support, and then give the communications and navigation mission responsibilities to the service that depends on them the most: the Navy. The Air Force can have tactical warning and attack assessment, and theater missile defense can go to the service that can field the most capable system.
Combatant command issues are also easily solved. The NORAD mission of defending the United States could be given to CinCUSA; this fits his mission of commanding continental U.S. forces. In addition, strategic-warning missions can be given to U.S. Strategic Command. These solutions make sense not only in terms of military requirements but also in fiscal terms—because breaking up the space mafia will enable us to resist the inclination to field space systems where cost-effective alternatives will do.
We need to begin to view space in proper terms—as a place that provides significant force enhancement but where no military operations are conducted (as we define it now). Breaking up Space Command would be the first step in the process of shifting the focus from the stovepipe to the warfighter.
1 Great debates still rage in the Air Force between the space enthusiasts, who think the Air Force’s primacy in space is worth investing Air Force resources to support other-service requirements, and the fighter mafia, who stifles at the thought of spending money that could otherwise be spent on airplanes.
2 At the time, I was the Joint Staff action officer in the middle of all this, collecting the data and advising the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Defense Acquisition Military Strategy

The Cost of the Oceans

This article was first published by the Washington Times on March 15, 1995, under the unfortunate title “What does Brookings know about defense?” While that title greatly increased readership, it changed the meaning of the article and therefore became an unnecessary distraction. The real issue discussed in this article remains germane today.
The Johnson administration considered it a home for right-wing zealots. The Nixon administration thought it was a Communist haven, worthy of fire-bombing. Whichever side of the political spectrum you think it leans towards, the Brookings Institution is arguably Washington’s preeminent think-tank.
All the more reason for me to be disturbed by what I have seen since my fellowship began at this institution.
Let me first say that I was trained in science, and although my degrees have little to do with the arcane nature of international relations, I am convinced that certain truths apply to all disciplines. One of those truths is as follows: As an honest analyst, you must first collect your data, and then base your conclusions on the data you have collected. This principle seems to be curiously absent from the analysis I have seen here.
Consider the following: several defense analysts, led by Brookings’ Larry Korb, have recently been engaged in a defense-reduction argument that goes like this: in 1996 the United States will spend three times as much on defense as any other country on earth, and more than all prospective enemies and neutral nations combined. Therefore, we are wasting money on overstuffed defense programs. Case closed.
The argument is given additional weight when Mr. Korb is introduced as a former assistant defense secretary for the Reagan administration. If a Reagan defense official feels defense is bloated, it must be so! Doesn’t it?
The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes that all things are equal, and that a comparison between how much the United States spends vis-à-vis other nations is a legitimate metric of who should prevail in a conflict.
But because of geography, all things aren’t equal. Here’s why:
· We are separated from our potential enemies by two great oceans.
· Rather than fighting wars in our own back yard, Americans prefer to fight “over there.”
· It will quite naturally cost us much more than it costs our enemies to field the same force, since we have to move, sustain, and fight our force in a place where his already is.
· Each of these activities—moving, sustaining, and fighting far afield—increases the cost of our military without significantly changing the friendly-to-enemy force ratio. This cost can be referred to as the “cost of the oceans.”
· The increase in cost is, as we engineers like to say, nonlinear. That is, taking into account the cost of the oceans, doubling our capability may cost us four times as much.
· The oceans that surround America are what require us to field a globally dominant, sea control Navy that is unrestricted by host-nation land-base sovereignty issues that might otherwise limit our ability to act. The oceans are what drive the need for our expeditionary Air Force. Without the oceans, we might have little need for the entire United States Marine Corps.
· This higher cost is raised still more if we want to field a force that is not just equivalent to his, but one that can in fact defeat his force. This can be referred to as the “cost of winning.” More than 2000 years ago Sun Tzu said you should have five times the strength of an enemy to assure success—that calculus has changed little over time. This does not, however, imply that you need five times the number of troops, because force enhancements such as sea and air power are part of the equation. In any case, if you want to fight over there and win, you can expect to pay many times what the enemy pays for his military.
The question is therefore not whether we will be paying more for our armed forces than our enemy does, but rather how much more we must pay. Is the right number three times as much (as with Russia), or is it five times as much? There is no way to definitively and quantitatively determine what the right ratio is, because the cost is too scenario-dependent and we can never be sure under which scenario we will find ourselves fighting.
But more to the point, the cost of the oceans make any comparisons between what we pay and what our enemies pay irrelevant. And we haven’t even begun to consider other intangibles, such as the fact that what we consider defense spending may not be what our adversaries consider defense spending; the cost of recruiting, paying, providing medical care for and retiring a high quality volunteer military (the costs of which are actually the largest part of our defense budget and are not included in our adversaries’ price tags); our world-wide surveillance network; our nuclear deterrence; and so on.
The purveyors of these arguments are smart people. They know this. But hey choose to ignore it. Why? I have to conclude that despite the specious nature of this argument, they use it because it supports their view of defense. By ignoring inconvenient evidence, they impeach their claim of conducting unbiased, cogent analysis.
Rather than pointing to interesting but irrelevant factoids that compare our costs to theirs, legitimate analysis should be limited to issues of capability. Whatever your opinion of how much we ought to spend on the military, rational people would agree that we should first decide what we intend to do with the military, and then spend no more than is necessary to get the job done. That is, we should field what we need, but no more.
Reasonable people can disagree on what it takes to field a given capability, but let’s drop the pseudo-analytic comparisons that only serve to obfuscate the real issues, and restore intellectual honesty to the debate.