5 years ago
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates delivered a benchmark speech today and unveiled sweeping changes in both the weapons systems being pursued and the budgetary process. But the plans aren’t simply a numbers game according to Gates.
My decisions have been almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books or fit under the “top line” – as is normally the case with most budget exercises. Instead, these recommendations are the product of a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic direction. Let me be clear: I would have made virtually all of the decisions and recommendations announced today regardless of the department’s top line budget number.
There are so many commentaries on Gates’ decisions that I cannot possibly hope to cover and comment on all of his proposals. However, a few important observations follow.
First, while I don’t celebrate the demise of the defense industry like some commentators, even when they are shown to be inefficient, the Army Future Combat System (FCS) was doomed to failure and properly so. The whole notion of field robots, unmanned ground vehicles, connectivity and cyberwar from the soldier to the UAV, Soldier exoskeleton, and the like, is untenable in areas such as Afghanistan where there is rough terrain, limited electricity, dust, grunge and grime, and the continual risk of fouled and failed components or components which otherwise cannot function because of loss of battery power supply. The concept, while futuristic and exciting to some, doesn’t comport with the realities of the battle space.
It would be better to see the Army (and for that matter, the Marine Corps) invest in a new generation of rifles which can be fired from the open-bolt or closed-bolt position and which isn’t susceptible to carbon blowback and fouling. Also as regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know, the reduction in battle space weight (due mainly to heavy SAPI plates in body armor carriers) is a worthy investment. Add to this the necessary ground logistics and troop movement equipment such as a new generation of helicopters or at least an expansion in the size of the Cavalry, and this all amounts to quite a significant but certainly worthy undertaking for the Army and Marines. Turning our warriors into cyborgs doesn’t compare to simply giving them lighter battle space weight and assured logistics with helicopters.
There are disappointing aspects of the proposals, though. The Navy gets hammered, and focuses on littoral combat ships. We here at The Captain’s Journal are skeptical about the program, and have yet to see the strategic need for turning our focus off of the larger ships to smaller ones that, according to Marine Corps Commandant Conway, the Navy has said won’t be taken nearer than the horizon, or about 25 miles from shore. As for Aircraft carriers, it is as expected by Galrahn at Information Dissemination. It appears that the fleet is going to exist with 10 carriers for the foreseeable future.
In my estimation this is a mistake and we should expand the carrier fleet by at least two (for a total of twelve). Again, consider the example of China. The Aircraft carrier is the prize towards which it pushes. China knows that true sea power will not be had until it can field an aircraft carrier. Besides, no matter how many littoral combat ships are fielded and no matter how many MEUs (Marine Expeditionary Units) are active at any one time aboard the USS Iwo Jima or the newer USS San Antonio or other docks, when hell starts raining down from the skies because we don’t control the air space above the Amphibious Assault Docks, Battalions of Marines will be sitting ducks and it will be too late to be concerned about deploying enough air power to protect our troops. Debates on the budget by the Congress and Secretary of Defense will be a long gone exigency in issues of life and death.
And considering air power, we have already weighed in on the F-22. It is far superior to the F-35 and is simply needed in order to ensure air superiority into the future. Expensive, sure. But Gates is stopping at 187 F-22s, plus about four more. We probably need more.
Concerning the refueling tanker, it will go out for bids again this summer. There is no need according to our own analysis. It should be unconscionable that we would award a contract for the refueling tanker to a company that is majority owned by Vladimir Putin. We should sole source it.
One final note. As best as I can determine, the Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle has gotten out unscathed. We have been hard on the EFV. Due in part to an effort to show the recent success of the program, the EFV might be looking better. It is, after all, the only vehicle that even proposes to be capable of forcible entry as a sea-based force. But since it has been given a reprieve, it had better perform. No more cost overruns, no more maintenance failures, no more design flaws. But if the lack of a V-hull for IED protection comes back to haunt us, let it be known that The Captain’s Journal has issued the warning.
Overall, The Captain’s Journal rates the budget proposal as a mixed bag. Again, it’s simply too bad that trillions of dollars are being thrown away on things that won’t help our ailing economy, while the Soldiers’ and Marines’ salaries, weapons and gear have to suffer. One has to consider the possibility that it is immoral to ask our warriors to sacrifice even more when the executives are being bailed out and banks are being nationalized.