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April 07, 2009

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My Congressman, Tom Cole, hates the proposed changes, which is surely an excellent sign.

One of the components of the Future Combat Systems is a program designed to facilitate communication between services, something which is not done well in the present day. My hope is that that particular program is not part of the programs being gutted.

Other than that, I think this is probably a more realistic approah.

This is the change in the sofa cushion tucked away for a rainy day. Cutting defense spending by a factor of two would free up a lot of money for other uses, while still giving the U.S. the dubious honor of spending more than any other country on it's military.

Another possibility for 'saving' money would be for members of the military to be used for domestic labor, everything from emptying bedpans to digging ditches and mixing cement. There is a terrible need for elder care right now that is only going to get worse for several decades more before it gets better. Let people sign up for a four-year hitch. If they're used abroad to further American interests, fine. If not, use them at home. At the end of that time, they are discharged with a full array of benefits, including a completely paid-for education in whatever trade they would care to be employed at. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Gold-plated weaponry for tangling with another superpower are out.

We've never had gold-plated weaponry. The "gold-plated" usage came from back in the SDI days, IIRC, when the revelation that we actually had gold-plated components in vehicles that had to live for years in Earth orbit caused some kind of outrage, without the cost of doing so (vs. the cost of not doing so) ever entering the picture.

It might have predated SDI; context may have been spy satellites.

kneecapping of America's ability to project power around the world.

Which would, of course, cause the sun to explode thus ending all life on earth, or something. I'm sure the generals and admirals will explain it to us.

People who support a given weapons system will claim that without it, our national security will be jeopardized, and/or our soldiers' lives put at risk....Because the stakes are so high, no one wants to be wrong; nor does any politician want to confront a phalanx of retired generals and industry experts swearing up and down that by cutting that weapons system, s/he's putting the country at risk,

Well, I think the proper response to such generals and experts is, at least in the current context of U.S. defense spending, "you're a fncking liar, get the fnck out of my office." One could be more polite, I suppose.

We've never had gold-plated weaponry. The "gold-plated" usage came from back in the SDI days, IIRC,

Nope. The term "gold-plated" predates StarWars. Boehm discusses "gold-plating" as a major risk to software design/development in the 1970s.

The term likely comes from gold-plating various weapons to be used as ceremonial artifacts or gifts. It's not uncommon to find gold-plating on commemorative firearms, swords, and the like.

[Checking my company stock price before I give good/bad verdict. Please stand by.]

This is bad, but the market had already priced the whole thing in.

F-22 decision was pretty much a given. FCS I don't know much about other than some recon-vehicle things my division is working on, as a subcontractor. That one thing is fairly poorly run by the prime, and the fact that the requirements are constantly changing is a bad sign; I think that's more or less what happened to Comanche.

Other than those things, we also lost the ability to move forward with Multiple Kill Vehicle, Airborne Laser and a few other things, including the next Marine One. MKV I'm not all that familiar with, but it appears that it might be tailored to the Soviet threat (multiple RVs per missile); ABL hasn't yet been tested (but there are, possibly, opportunities to do that without building more ABL platforms as planned).

The term "gold-plated" predates StarWars. Boehm discusses "gold-plating" as a major risk to software design/development in the 1970s.

Of course it predates Star Wars. Actual gold-plating has been around for a long time. Point taken on the software gold-plating reference, but there was some controversy over putting actual gold into space vehicles back around 1985-1990 (can't recall exactly) that I suspect is where the current usage stems from.

I certainly could be wrong on this. It's just a suspicion.

It's not uncommon to find gold-plating on commemorative firearms, swords, and the like.

Right. We do that before issuing them to soldiers, "for tangling with another superpower" or when they're being moved to a display case, "for tangling with another superpower"'s display case?

That's what I thought.

Slart, you don't really think that 'gold-plated pensions' are really gold-plated, do you?

Have they ever been?

SoV, I'm pretty sure that Slarti isn't talking about the phrase 'gold plated' in the abstract but specifically in the context of popular anger over pricey weapons systems (with vague implications of profiteering by manufacturers). I have no idea if Schectman's usage here is a reference to gold plated connectors in SDI or satellites; the phrasing put me more in the mind of cutting weapon systems most subject to asymmetric threats.

I'm pretty sure that Slarti isn't talking about the phrase 'gold plated' in the abstract but specifically in the context of popular anger over pricey weapons systems

Correct. Sorry if that was unclear.

I don't really see the distinction that Slarti and Turb are concurring in recognizing ... I've heard of gold-plated weapons programs for a long time, and it never occurred to me that anyone was referring to an actual layer of metallic gold on anything; as SoV suggests, I thought it was just another application of the metaphorical cliche.

Besides, it's been possible for a very long time (as long as I can remember, for whatever that's worth) to get slightly fancier stereo cables with gold-plated connectors at any local Radio Shack; even if some attention was paid to gold-plated connectors in military hardware, I find it hard to imagine that many people would find the actual gold plating (as opposed to the metaphorical gold plating) to be an obvious extravagance.

I didn't know how else to take this:

Gold-plated weaponry for tangling with another superpower are out.

We've never had gold-plated weaponry. The "gold-plated" usage came from back in the SDI days

Unless Slart believed that Noah thought there was such a thing as literally 'gold-plated weaponry'. Seems like unnecessary caviling if that's not the case.

The problem here is that we don't know which war we will have to fight ten, twenty, thirty years out. Like Slarti, I don't know enough about FCS to say whether some, none or all of it has merit. But I do know that surprise has been a major feature of half our major wars beginning with WWII (Pearl Harbor, Korea and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait were all off the radar until they actually happened--and our force structure was just fine for Gulf War I and the initial phase of Gulf War II, it was the occupation for which our troops were not configured and equipped--maybe the lesson here is avoid occupation rather than building a force structure for that very purpose.) Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority. The money is only wasted if you don't have to use your army. Some might say that is a sufficient benefit in and of itself.

The army has, for some time, debated internally the merits of a tank-heavy vs a light mix of forces. In war games, the light mix takes huge casualties against armor, but is easier to put in place, cheaper to arm, logistically more supple and can hold ground at less cost, albeit with higher casualties. A mix will likely be necessary for decades to come. Planning for just one kind of war leaves us open to every other kind of war.

Time will tell if Gates is on the right track. His position that we presently have a more than sufficient heavy capability sounds right. I am less impressed with slowing down on shipbuilding, particularly carriers and destroyers. Littoral attack ships don't have, and can't have, adequate integral air cover or anti-submarine capacity--that is what carriers and destroyers do, protect the other ships and troops being sent into combat. Carriers are also an essential leg in force projection and establishing air superiority. A true nightmare would be putting 10,000 troops on a hostile shore and losing the air battle for lack of planes and pilots. Our troops would be annihilated. This part of Gates' program looks like a bad call. As Hilzoy, it's important to get it right.

Unless Slart believed that Noah thought there was such a thing as literally 'gold-plated weaponry'. Seems like unnecessary caviling if that's not the case.

I believe I explained what I was thinking in my initial comment. Was it unclear, somehow?

Littoral attack ships don't have, and can't have, adequate integral air cover or anti-submarine capacity--that is what carriers and destroyers do, protect the other ships and troops being sent into combat.

Huh? ASW is one of the central mission capabilities of LCS. Plus, you really, really don't want your CVNs doing ASW.

"Another possibility for 'saving' money would be for members of the military to be used for domestic labor"

If you actually want to use them to fight anywhere, they need to train constantly. If you want them to all get killed if actually put in a dangerous situation anywhere, you'll limit their training severely and let them spend most of their time on other tasks.

So this is a "win-win" only if you think soldiers will never fight, or if you want to maximize their deaths and injuries.

"Carriers are also an essential leg in force projection and establishing air superiority."

Carriers against huge floating targets for this,">https://www.usni.org/forthemedia/ChineseKillWeapon.asp">this, and other forms of attack by a truly serious enemy. Even Hezbollah was able to fire a cruise missile at an Israeli ship during the last Lebananon war.

Carriers of today are the battleships of WWII: the pride of the navy, and entirely suited to fighting the last war.

The FCS had multiple components, most particularly a lot of sensors and information nodes and communications, plus sixteen different vehicles (originally eighteen different systems), all coordinated to fight and communicate together.

What the Army did here was to try to avoid fights over development and procurement of individual vehicles -- which has always been the method of procurement up to now -- and to stick all sixteen new vehicles that they wanted under one umbrella, take it or leave it.

What Gates has done is drop the concept of sixteen new vehicles in one package, and is keeping the communications and sensors and information network aspect.

Lots of pretty pictures and designations here.

"Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority."

Depends on your phrasing: if it's rephrased to "no country has ever lost a war by having misplaced military spending priorities," there are all sorts of examples of wars lost in such ways.

The Maginot Line would have worked wonderfully if it also gone across the Belgian frontier, but since it didn't, it was an endless waste of money.

"The army has, for some time, debated internally the merits of a tank-heavy vs a light mix of forces."

The light mix proved lethal when going into counter-insurgency, low-intensity warfare, where one thing needed were vastly more vehicles that were much more heavily armored.

This lesson learned is one of the reasons for reconsidering the mix of so many light vehicles in FCS.

The question of how to prioritize your mix of forces is extremely important and valid. The 2006 Lebanon war is rightfully also reportedly being given a lot of thought.

Possibly we should start dedicating units to different tasks: some units to conventional combat, some units to low-intensity/COIN/nation-building.

Or maybe we should just get out of the latter, as some say, and focus on true defense, rather than empire and being the world's police officer.

"Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority."

To piggyback off what Gary just said, it also depends on what you exactly consider to be "war" or, for that matter, whether you factor in the cost of maintaining that excess combat superiority in a long-term sense. One could argue, for instance, that Rome fell precisely because it maintained such vast quantities of "excess combat superiority".

I know, I switch off from lurker to troll, depending on if I think Publius might actually be taken seriously by someone, but as usual hilzoy has initiated a serious discussion. Are Gate's words another example of this administration's love of the sound of their own voices or will he take this assignment seriously? Do we really want or can we afford to be the world's police force? The best way to retreat is to minimize the ability to implement. It seems lately that shipbuilding and aircraft construction is more a matter of jobs for elected official's home districts; and not so much DOD necessity. Same with base closings and the like. I like Gary's conundrum, debating the light and heavy vehicle transition. It was the horribly bureaucratic procurement system that bogged that down. Will Gate's efforts cut out the fraud and streamline the response? That would be good. You know, sooner or later, the Obama administration is going to have rely on a Congress that has to get re-elected again (redundancy intended). Boy does that mess up good intentions. And where will the press land? Populist coverage for their own survival? Ever since the media went totally tabloid, accuracy and rightness vs. wrongness went out the window. I'm willing to assume this untested and inexperienced administration is merely showing its idealism, but eventually we'll have to face the reality of sausage being made. When Obama has to step away from the gold plated teleprompter, he's going to look goofier than Bush. Let the games begin.

Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority.

What about the Russians in Afghanistan, or the US (or French for that matter) in Vietnam? A strong local insurgancy can often beat back a force with lots more combat superiority (not always, though, as with the case of the Native Americans).

Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority.

I'm going to go further and state that this sure looks to me like a formal tautology. How do you even measure "combat superiority" except by reference to the outcomes of actual wars, either wars past or anticipated conflicts in the future?

It also seems to me that this is a case of benefit analysis. What about the costs? Both capabilities and costs may dictate the outcome of political conflicts, not necessarily to the advantage of the more heavily armed party. With benefit of hindsight, how wise was the investment made by the Soviet Union in its armed forces, in anticipation of a possible Cold War era clash in Central Europe? Did that investment serve to help or hinder the pursuit of their political objectives? What about Habsburg Spain, or late 18th Cen. France? The history of failed and collapsing empires is rife with examples of states which lavished too much of their limited resources on military power while neglecting their productive base. Not that we bear any resemblance, mind you!

Saying that nobody ever lost a war by over-preparing and over-arming only makes sense if you very selectively ignore the opportunity costs felt in all other areas of political economy and throw out the Clauswitzian dictum that war is politics continued by other means.

When Obama has to step away from the gold plated teleprompter, he's going to look goofier than Bush.

Obama has given several speeches sans teleprompter, as well as had truluy open town halls and press briefings, neither of which were allowed by Bush. You might want to rethink your comment.

When Obama has to step away from the gold plated teleprompter, he's going to look goofier than Bush.

Not paying attention. Ergo, not serious. Ergo, you're not worthy of OUR attention.

Less knee jerking, less ideology, more analysis. PLEASE.

As Jeff said, Obama does not use teleprompters more than past presidents (for which the technology was available)

As Jeff said, Obama does not use teleprompters more than past presidents (for which the technology was available)

Who are you going to believe? Talking points or your lyin' eyes?

Can't believe anybody would even try to pass that off as even a quip. It's so ill informed and divorced from reality.

Obama has just been through two years of national campaigning, and a foreign tour. I think we have a sense by now of how he comes across.

Slart, I saw your original qualification, but it wasn't clear to me. Sorry, probably my fault.

Historically, no country has ever lost a war by having excess combat superiority. The money is only wasted if you don't have to use your army. Some might say that is a sufficient benefit in and of itself.

As other people have pointed out already, this seems unclear. I was taught that Washington's troops, for example, were consistently overmatched, yet we won there. How about Viet Nam? We had all sorts of high-priced superiority, yet somehow we lost. To name but two highly-popularized examples. Or how about Napoleon's excursions into Russia? What did Vizzini say? Something about the classic blunders, like 'never get involved in a land war in Asia'?

So this does indeed have the taste of the 'no true Scottsman' type of argument.

Sorry, probably my fault.

Or mine. I am all too frequently lacking in clarity.

More on why the vehicles of FCS were killed.

[...] Today, the Army uses 6-ton Humvees, designed to bring a few soldiers through uneven terrain; 18-ton Stryker troop carriers, to haul infantrymen around an urban battlefield; and 72-ton tanks, optimized for destroying another big army. Under Future Combat Systems, all of these would've been replaced with one family of vehicles, each 27 tons big.

"Trying to build that range of capabilities into a single vehicle — really we hadn't gotten there yet. And the question is whether you even can do that," Gates says.

The vehicles originally featured a flat bottom that made them perfect targets for roadside bombs, added Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright. "They were adding on armor that was starting to weigh it down and make it questionable whether the axles, the transmissions, all of those things, would be able to function for extended periods of time during a heavy configuration. All of these started to bring into question whether one class of vehicle could in fact cover the range of operations that we envision are going to be the reality of the future."

The Army theorized that if it picked a midpoint between the heavy tank and the light Humvee, between all-out conventional wars and insurgencies, its all-in-one vehicle would work in any situation. Not so, Cartwright says. Other big forces would tear through that relatively light armor, and so would the metal-shredding bombs wielded by today's militants. Those explosives "are very lethal, and they're very able to be employed by non-nation states in counterinsurgencies. And just bringing that fat reality into the equation makes it very difficult to come with a single class of vehicle."

Gates says he still believes it's "critical" for the Army to get a new ground fleet to replace its trucks and tanks and cannon. But it's going to take time — "15 years or more to implement," he says.

Shorter Gates: trying to make all the major military vehicles one-size-fits-all was a dumb idea.

Let me refine the statement: No country has lost a military engagement, i.e. a battle, or even a series of battles, by having an excess of combat superiority--'superiority' is used here in both the qualitative and quantitative senses--except possibly during the US Civil War, but even then the outcome proves my point. We 'lost' Viet Nam in the sense that we retired from the field. By any military metric, Viet Nam was not a military loss, it was a disengagement. You may think it's semantics, but for a picture of what losing looks like, look at the battleship Missouri or Appomattox.

Rome was not defeated by having more and superior combat capacity. Just the opposite. Rome was defeated by larger, better led armies and by its own internal weaknesses. Rome remained dominant for four and half centuries precisely by having, if not 'excess', more than adequate combat superiority.

The Maginot Line was not combat superiority, it was combat inferiority, which allowed it and the French army to be overcome by numerically inferior but otherwise much superior combat forces.

The Russians lost in Afghanistan by trying to do too much with too little for too long. It wasn't a military defeat, it was a disengagement.

The words 'win' and 'lose' are used all too often for pedantic and/or partisan reasons. Neither side in Viet Nam had lost in 1973 when US troops withdrew. Both South and North Vietnam had armies in the field. South Viet Nam successfully repulsed the first major North Vietnamese invasion. We withdrew logistical support from South Vietnam and North Vietnam's then excess combat superiority overcame the south in 1975.

In a similar fashion, the US/UN did not 'win' the Korean War. N. Korea and China retired to north of the 38th parallel. That is not military victory, that is a negotiated end to hostilities.

Put differently, excess combat superiority is what keeps American troops from being killed in much greater numbers than would be the case if we sent our people in with either inadequate amounts of superior capability or with inferior combat capability.

GF--carriers will remain critical to force projection and dominance at sea unless and until missile technology becomes both widespread and markedly more capable than anti-missile technology. No ship, nor anything else, is immune from attack--if the test for building a weapons system is that it has to be invulnerable, then we won't build anything. That being said, any reasonably foreseeable force projection candidate, i.e. the Mid-East, Africa, lacks the kind of navy needed to seriously threaten a carrier. And you just can't beat a carrier for immediately available lethality or for controlling combat airspace. More to the point, there is no alternative even on the distant horizon for delivering combat air superiority to foreign shores.

Winning engagements is all very well. But isn't 'winning' the war what it's all about? Isn't war supposed to be one of the tools of statecraft?

Shorter Gates: trying to make all the major military vehicles one-size-fits-all was a dumb idea.

Posted by: Gary Farber

Kelsey Grammar(I'd really like to know more about his version of Republicanism) did this in the HBO movie "The Pentagon Wars", ostensibly about the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle(an interesting name, given it's history of being all things to all people.) An entertaining look at the perverse incentives that fuel this nonsense which, not surprisingly, seems to be very close to the model of perverse incentives used in finance and general industry.

If you watch it through to the very end, a postscript comes up that notes in the aftermath the bad guys went on to receive those promotions which were the real justification for the Bradley, then rotated out to lucrative jobs in the private sector while the good guy was forced to retire.

Mr. Obama, less knee jerking, less ideology, more analysis. PLEASE.

"We 'lost' Viet Nam in the sense that we retired from the field. By any military metric, Viet Nam was not a military loss, it was a disengagement."

You're confusing losing and surrendering. By any metric that matters, we lost in Vietnam. There's a saying about winning battles and losing wars. Losing the war is what matters. When a war becomes unsustainable politically, and by will of its people, it's lost.

"You may think it's semantics, but for a picture of what losing looks like, look at the battleship Missouri or Appomattox."

That's surrender. Plenty of wars don't end with formal surrenders. War isn't just a series of battles.

"It wasn't a military defeat, it was a disengagement."

See above.

"We withdrew logistical support from South Vietnam and North Vietnam's then excess combat superiority overcame the south in 1975."

Logistical support had nothing to do with the collapse of South Vietnam. South Vietnam collapsed, and always would collapse, because it never possessed political legitimacy with its people. It was a corrupt, incompetent, regime that was seen as a puppet of foreigners. Whereas its opponent, for all its faults, was rightfully seen as a nationalist government of Vietnam.

Kissinger and Nixon were entirely conscious of this, and their entire strategy was fixed around the point that South Vietnam would collapse when America stopped fighting for it, and all that was important was that there be a decent political interval between Nixon's pull-out, and said collapse. See here, for their own words, for example.

"That being said, any reasonably foreseeable force projection candidate, i.e. the Mid-East, Africa, lacks the kind of navy needed to seriously threaten a carrier."

You don't need a navy at all to threaten a navy any more. All you need are land-based missiles. Iran, as people frequently point out, can menace the U.S. Navy quite well, without any significant navy.

"More to the point, there is no alternative even on the distant horizon for delivering combat air superiority to foreign shores."

Sure, and for decades nothing beat balloons as observation posts. That didn't make them less vulnerable or more useless, much more quickly than their quality in the abstract ran out.

Carriers are incredibly useful. If they're not in major danger of being sunk.

Spot on:

Colonel Harry Summers: "You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.“

Colonel Tu: "That may be so. But it is also irrelevant."

Carriers are incredibly useful. If they're not in major danger of being sunk.

Posted by: Gary Farber

Read: projecting America's national interests onto some third-world country that can't fight back and has no powerful allies to counter this sort of diplomacy. For that, a carrier group works just fine.

The dirty little secret is that carriers are fossils in the game of Mars.

Against stateless actors, they're useless.

Against small third-world nations, they're overkill.

Rickover once testified that in a war with the Soviets, the carrier fleet would last about two days.

Obama so needs his teleprompter.

Not.

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