Me v. Abu

BY Herschel Smith
16 years, 4 months ago

In a post entitled Well, well, well …, Abu Muqawama says:

The Air Force, in a stunning upset against the Boeing Company, awarded a $40 billion contract for aerial refueling tankers on Friday to a partnership between Northrop Grumman and the European parent of Airbus, putting a critical military contract partly into the hands of a foreign company.

Abu Muqawama knows next to nothing about the way the U.S. Air Force buys airplanes, but he knows enough from reading the Economist that this is huge. The KC-30, virtually everyone agreed, was the better aircraft. But did anyone honestly see Boeing not getting this contract? This gives us at Abu Muqawama hope in the ongoing war against ridiculous F-22 appropriations. If a large domestic lobby can be rejected in favor of common sense in one case…

The Captain’s Journal responds, “well, whatever.”  We aren’t impressed with Abu’s glee and giddiness over the demise of U.S. defense contractors, weapons systems, and new aircraft.  Sure, there is waste and we have spoken against it when we find it.  Sure, the USAF needs to support the COIN campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan to the extent capable, and then press for more support when they think they have maxed out.  Sure, we have praised the USAF on things such as COIN aircraft and the refurbishment of old aircraft to support the campaigns.  Regular readers know of our love for and even infatuation with the A-10, and the upgraded A-10C with its faster kill chain.  Just do a Google search, and you will find that no one can match our coverage on the A-10 or the V-22 Osprey (of which we are also big fans).

You will also find we are have been “good to go” on pushing for the growth of both the size of the military – all branches – and the spending for weapons systems.  But knowing that these things are contingent on things out of our control (but rather, subject to the evil Congress which is controlled by the devil), we knew that future weapons systems would likely suffer as a result of the COIN campaigns.  Want to know the first weapons system we would vote for here at TCJ?  We would like to see a replacement for the M-16A2 / M4 / SAW to a more reliable system less likely to jam.  Ain’t likely to happen, though, and it is more likely that the brass will decide that what we have is good enough.  They always do.

Additionally, SECDEF Gates knows that the F-22 program will suffer due to the COIN campaigns, and is ready to do what needs to be done.

The effect is often jarring, in Washington, when someone inside the Beltway utters an uncomfortable truth. That’s what Defense Secretary Robert Gates did at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, putting a damper on pressure from his own Air Force for Congress to buy more F-22 fighters. Gates believes the 183 F-22s currently planned are sufficient. “I know that the Air Force is up here and around talking about 350 or something on that order,” the Secretary said. But buying more of the costly F-22 will come at the expense of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is about half the price.

“The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater,” Gates said. That’s the kind of statement that sends generals up the wall – not only because it’s true, but because it’s the Secretary of Defense who’s saying it. And the generals know that the next time some eager-beaver congressional budget-cutters want to trim Pentagon spending, they’re going to roll out that quote.

Gates made clear he believes there is a need for the F-22. “It is principally for use against a near-peer in a conflict, and I think we all know who that is,” he said coyly. He’s referring to China, which today represents the only hope for both the U.S. Air Force and the Navy to justify spending billions of dollars on weapons initially designed to battle the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the phrase “near-peer” has increasingly crept into Pentagon documents meaning a potential foe that could almost match the U.S. on the battlefield.

Well, do we need more F-22 to battle Beijing? Once again, Gates depressed the generals with his unassuming tone and logic. “Looking at what I regard as the level of risk of conflict with one of those near-peers over the next four or five years until the Joint Strike Fighter comes along,” he said, “I think that something along the lines of 183 is a reasonable buy.”

Deep in the Pentagon, Air Force generals know that the Bush Administration’s decision to close down the F-22 assembly line won’t come into effect until 2010. That gives them time to convince a new Administration that additional F-22s are vital to U.S. security. That’s because what Gates finds reasonable, some Air Force generals will treat as treasonable.

So Gates has lowered the bar as it is.  But those who live for the demise of conventional war and the weapons with which it will be fought shouldn’t crow too much and should be careful what they ask for.  All it will take to regret the decision to emaciate the USAF will be for China to cross the Taiwan strait and enslave millions under communism while the Navy and Air Force sit without recourse.  Or, if that doesn’t jar you into reality, then consider that Russia is aiming past the F-22, and is trying to better the U.S. submarine fleet.  Remember, fancy aircraft and ships are in place not only to wage war, but to be a preventative for war.

The Captain’s Journal wants to win the COIN campaigns as much as anyone does.  In fact, we are willing to sacrifice Navy and Air Force money to do it.  But it causes us no joy, and in the end, there will be a price to pay for this course of action.  Finally, Abu should read the Economist more carefully.  We don’t get something for nothing.  We can delay or even outright cancel the F-22 program, but stress corrosion cracking and metal fatigue have caused rising expenses in repair of the existing fleet.  Taking a dollar from the USAF might mean getting 50 cents.

Everyone has a domain he wants to protect.  The real question is why we have forces deployed in Germany and Korea, costing money in a tip of the hat to 50 year old cold war thinking, when they could be stateside or contributing to the global war on terror?  We must be efficient in finding ways to save money and fund the systems we need, both short term and long term.

Prior: Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers?


  1. On March 3, 2008 at 5:17 am, Dominique R. Poirier said:

    I spared some time on this news I missed to notice until today morning, when you wrote something about, Herschel. But I found something of an explanation that seems rational to me, and I tell you a bit about.

    First of all, there is a need for trade balance between the United States and Europe. For if not the United States would put itself into an economic ivory tower, which is no good and against the principles of the U.S. foreign policy; and unwise in general for any other country (North Korea, only, does that…). We need to export, and it just happens that we export quite well and import quite little, today.


    Because the shrinking Dollar just crossed the threshold of $1.5 for one Euro, this week!

    Europeans are worried with that, quite a bit; and not since this week only. For everything is imported on the U.S. soil from the E.U. is getting increasingly costly. At a smaller, but more easily visible scale, take a look one minute at what is happening in New York City, now. Tourists are crowding in New York stores to buy as much U.S. good of consumption as they can, as if it was their last day to live on earth! That’s foreign money that comes on our cases, sure; and it’s good. But things are not as easy as they seem.

    A few years ago, we complained that our steel was hard to sell abroad, owing to the high wages of U.S. steel workers sheltered by labor unions. Massive layoffs were to be expected in our steel industry. It was so concerning that President George Bush was urged by U.S. steel companies and their workers to do something quickly. Massive expected layoff in the U.S. steel industry was at stake. The same problem happened with our automobile industry. Many automotive plants closed around Detroit during the last three years, and GM is still experiencing sore losses.

    Well, all right! Our economy doesn’t rely anymore largely on manufacturing “things that fall on the toe.” This aspect of our economy represents much less than 15% of the whole today, but we need this industry, anyway; because we cannot afford, strategically speaking, to rely for that exclusively on foreign countries that might possibly become our foes tomorrow. You get it?

    Alexander Hamilton thought seriously about this problem and he wrote something about it on the Federalist Papers; something that happened to relate more especially to defense industry, by sheer coincidence. And what said Hamilton became a cornerstone of our defense for the ensuing centuries. Some abroad call that the “Military Industrial Consortium,” which prevent our defense from dangerously slipping into foreign hands.

    But we had to do something to repair the growing U.S. – E.U. trade imbalance.

    And, the expected miracle happened.

    The green buck went down, and it got increasingly interesting for foreigners to buy U.S. steel. But Europeans began to complain and repeatedly asked to the U.S. Government to do something to stop that. We had ourselves the same problem with the Yen and with Chinese low wages; and a quick look at whence come goods in any Wal-Mart store may understand what I mean (Wal-Mart, alone, represents by and large 1% of everything China exports abroad worldwide!).
    Unfortunately, the shrinking Dollar was not entirely a pure creation of Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan, his mythic mentor. For, the “subprime” crisis and the subsequent housing prices downfall everyone knows about today added to the phenomenon, which made the fall of the Dollar uncontrollable. The recent significant cuts on interest rates testify eloquently about this.

    So, our problem, now, is that we must buy abroad as much as we did before (or a bit less, Ha, ha, ha), in order to compensate for the weakening Dollar. But, U.S. private companies and consumers don’t care about trade balance, and they do not intend to buy their stuff for 1.5 times the price they can buy it at home for the sake of helping the Europeans! So they buy U.S. products more than before (I’m glad with it, personally! It’s good for employment and for certain branches of our industry that are in bad need of it).

    So, if U.S. consumers don’t want to buy European goods anymore, then Europeans might take prophylactic measures against U.S. imports too, because their money are getting away in China, and now in U.S. too…
    That is the problem for them, and so it might be a problem for us too, soon. Last but not the least, we are consistently giving them a trash in selling Boeing airplanes nearly everywhere they try to sale their Airbus (He, he, he. Yeah, that’s funny, somehow.)
    So, the only one who can do something to prevent us from experiencing that problem is the U.S. Government, which is in power to take the initiative, in buying anything costly enough to tip the trade balance between us and the Europeans.

    It fell on refueling tankers, seemingly…

    You see the picture?

    I guess Abu missed to see that, seemingly; and he is rejoicing himself on what suggest appearances, only. Yes, Abu, poor shmuck, they happen to be deceptive sometimes, isn’t it?

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This article is filed under the category(s) Air Force and was published March 2nd, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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