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November 10, 2005

Claiming the New Security Terrain
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

The past four days crossed the spectrum from grass-roots advocacy training in New Mexico to the venerable Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference, also fondly known as "Nukestock".   For a good overview of the conference topic, click into Joe Cirincione's 60 year retrospective.  Joe is a policy wonk with a lounge act in his soul.  He makes rocket science go down easy.  Check out the daily conference blogs here, here, and for a Russian perspective here.  In between the activists and the wonks, I caught a day of Irregular Warfare discussions put on by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy--one of the best civil-military dialogue projects going.

All these conferences prove how much great material is out there, just waiting for progressive politicians to grab hold of it.  Much of it is already user-friendly (the session I led in Santa Fe was called "de-wonked")  Why is the learning curve so steep for our elected leaders, then?   To re-cap one of the problems with Congress:  Much of the informal infrastructure for discussing new security issues was eliminated by the Contract with America in 1995, in particular the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus.  Gingrich then outsourced the conservatives' needs to the Heritage Foundation's Stepford wonks.  Moderate Republicans and all Democrats suffered as they had no equivalent manpower to massage information into talking points. This contributed to the decay of civility on the Hill, for the built-in infrastructure for collaborating outside the party leadership disappeared.  A good example of this loss, the Democratic Study Group, which produced rapid-response briefs on national security issues--had 40 Republican members. The Republican Study Group did not deliver comparable products. It did come back, however, as the Republican Study Committee (which now has 5 staff).  Sign up here for regular updates on its activities.  The Democrats on the House side still have nothing.

Before leaving last week, I wrote about the Cold War dinosaurs in the defense budget. Well, the next day, I read front page in  Defense News that both the weapons platforms that I had panned (The Navy's DDX destroyer and the Air Force's  F-22) got top billing in these services' budget priorities.  In every challenge that we're facing in the world today, human beings are the weapons platform that counts. (The "Army of One" finally makes sense!) One arabic speaker in an Army unit in Iraq is worth dozens of Flash Gordon anti-gravity sprocket watches. What's it going to take to de-corporatize our priorities?

Now, I don't believe in conspiracies, but I do believe in well-orchestrated collaborative intent.  To compete with the defense industry's surround-sound advertising and lobbying presence, academics, vets and citizens with a global cooperation bent have to really organize. The internet is still under-utilized by progressive security types.  Groups like Citizens for Global Solutions have a great report card site for Members of Congress.  But it pales in comparison to this  site.

This is a spoof  set up by National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch.  With it, he mimics  the effectiveness of the "Prosperity Project" organized by the Business Industry Political Action Committee.  Its Members pay thousands of dollars to join and then become part of a vast "grass roots" lobbying campaign.  Go to the "about your elected officials" link to see how Members of Congress are rated.  I checked the California links...funny how Republicans had many happy green check marks next to their votes and Democrats had alarming red "X's".  BIPAC, like the Chamber of Commerce, is pretty much a Republican shill. The Norquist/Luntz/Delay/Abramoff constellation might be the  self licking ice cream cone  of influence and politics--but groups like BIPAC own the whole soda fountain. Participatory democracy for regular citizens beware.  What would a progressive security website--based on this model--look like?  How can we get newly organized  "deliberative democracy" citizen groups like  this and this and this to include a consistent security angle in their work?

This weekend I will post a whole new list of military sites for progressives (I just got my Army War College conference CD in the mail)


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DDX was created Nov 01 to replace the DD21 program which hit milestone 1 in Jan 98. DD21 was a program to in part replace DD963 and FFG-7 ships to maintain the 116 surface combantants under the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review. I think DD21 replaced another program that might have begun during the Cold War. Calling DDX a Cold War dinosaur might sound nice but even were it actually true it misses the small matter of every single year more and more USN ships wear out and need to be replaced. DDX actually replaced DD21 because DD21 was too expensive- DDX is 75% as large.

The reason USN ships keep getting more expensive is because so few are being built that the defense industrial base in shipbuilding has been allowed to get so small there is no competition anymore. Everyone saw this coming the 1990's.

If DDX were to be cancelled or scaled back this would not in any was mitigate the need for new destroyers. Personally I would have given the DD963 a SLEP but that is just my opinion. The issue is old ships in need of replacement not the specific program.

The exact same issue reflects the F/A22 but only more compelling. The issue is not that today a USAF F-15 with the new radar can get the job done but rather that it's barely in the lead anymore and this lead will go soon. Not to mention that airplanes wear out and must be replaced eventually. The F-15 must be replaced and air surperiority is the pre-req for the US military.

There are aircraft in production today that are as good or better than the F-15. The F/A22 will ensure nobody has a better fighter plane than the US for many years to come. What it does is obviously not understood by the most of the public but tests show one F/A22 can engage 8 F-15's and shoot them all down before the F-15 knows it's there.

There is no such thing as good enough in air to air combat. The only problem with the F/A22 is that the carrier version for the USN was cancelled long ago. Aircraft programs are now taking 10-20 years to go from development to first deployment now. We simply can not afford to cancell F/A22 in favor of some new future program. The entire history of the Pentagon proves the new program will be even more expensive and by the time it gets deployed we might have actually had to go to combat in old F-15's and get our guys killed because they were fighting aircraft a generation ahead. The F-15 is over 40 years old.

Lane Brody

Hey Lane,

At some point there always has to be good enough, if anything is ever built. That is a part of participating in physical reality. My understanding of defense procurement is that huge amounts of spending go into that last 1% of performance, and sane people will have a point at which they will see it as wasteful.

Old platforms need to be replaced and there will be serious costs to that. I totally agree. But I'm not the absolute expert here - can somebody point out to me when and where our guys are matched against aircraft that are a generation ahead -- specifically, naming countries? Who, specifically, do we need to lead against? What threat are we building systems to fight against? Are we still hung up on Cold War high-tech arms-race obsessions?

Right now, the money has to be on making the soldier on the ground the most effective. The current fight, for the time being, is middle eastern counterinsurgency. Tell me where we're going to fight jet-plane dogfights. Maybe a helicopter that does better against RPGs is a greater need right now.

I absolutely see a high-tech cold war-style rivalry over the horizon with China. China is the long-term challenge that we have to address, and the super-advanced systems you talk about will address that. But realistically, we have to focus on both current threats and future threats -- strictly focusing on the future means we are ineffective and wasteful right now.

Andy I don't disagree with you but I'm not sure how your comments come out against the specific systems in question. DDX and DD21 before it are too expensive because there is zero competition in the military shipbuilding industry, period. Far from not adding the last 1% DDX was reduced to 12,000 tons from DD21's 16,000.

The F/A22 keeps getting more expensive, per plane, because we keep cutting how many we say we are going to build and when we are going to build them. It's not about putting in that last 1%. Indeed there are many air to ground capabilities that have been kept off to attempt to lower costs.

There should have been a naval version to replace the F-14. We would have bought many more and the cost would have dropped very significantly. We should have put a lot more thinking into exporting it to some NATO countries, Australia, Japan, and Israel to further lower costs.

In any case China is buying and attempting to build on it's own advanced versions of the SU27 that in many aspects are better than our F-15. We still have a huge advantage in pilot training and AEW. Both of these advantages could be closed within 10 years. Russia is going to come out with a next generation fighter within 5-10 years and it will obviously wish to sell it to China.

At one point in the late 1980's and into the 1990's the USN dropped the F/A18 from some wings and went to an all F-14 and A-6 wing. Now the entire wing is F/A18's and eventually a single sqdn of JSF (F-35). The entire program to replace the F-16 for the USAF is flawed. We don't need F-16 style aircraft. The entire high/low mix of aircraft is itself a cold war era rationale.

We should be building far more F/A22's, combat coding more bombers (taking them from long term storage into active service), and drastically reducing the number of F-16 and F-35's now being built to replace them. In order to save a lot of money we should simply get rid of the Air Force. It's totally redundant. The US Military right now has 6 seperate "air forces" (USAF, Army, Navy, Marines, SOCOM, and USCG) all of which have seperate budget authority (technically the USN buys for the USMC).

Procurement as a percentage of the budget went way down in the 1990's and is still far too low. The vast majority of the budget is spent on personel costs. Current operations is wearing out the old equipment we do have at a much higher rate. When we keep cutting new weapons programs we force our troops to spend more money and more importantly maintence time on old equipment. While it sure sounded great to cut Crusader the M109 is 40 years old.

Lastly, there is no way a helo is going to be RPG proof. At some point something like the present laser system used against shoulder fired SAMs, as used on commercial aircraft today, will be put on helo's. It will still easily be satured. You can't put enough armor on a helo either. The real answer is tactics. Flying over the enemy is simply not often wise. Flying over the enemy without adequate intell can be fatal.

The attack helo was invented by the US Army in the 1960's because the USAF was simply not interested in close air support. It never has been. Part of the reason they get shot down by RPG's is because they are flying missions that should be done by dedicated close air support aircraft that of course do not get fired upon by RPG's.

Lane Brody

WaPo has an article about the Defense Industry on the cover of the business section today.

In other news... check out the new web-exclusive content at Air Force magazine online.

I um, cough.. know someone who's been working on it., then click on the link at the end of the first sentence of the kickoff news item (should say "...more..." or something).

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