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December 15, 2005

The QDR:Dreaming of the USSR
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Big looks like any forward thinking hopes for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) are unwarranted.  This is the every-four-years defense document that supposedly re-orients the US military to think creatively in the face of new threats.  From early press reports, it appears the inspiration for this document is circa 1985--when we just counted the Soviet's toys and then made more for ourselves. The USSR remains-- like a phantom limb that we chase until we collapse-- in the QDR.  All the Cold War platforms were spared--and will supposedly be paid for by cutting personnel.  This, despite the manpower crunch in the military and the need for human intelligence, civil affairs, policy, public health, foreign force training and languages.

I would carp on about the defense industry (who are unaccountable slackers these days in contrast to their role in developing strategy post WWII) but most of the blame for these priorities still lays squarely with Congress. The members, after all, control ALL the money. And when they aren't busy protecting the symbols and traditions of Christmas--they talk a good deal  about China in order to justify the hardware heavy defense priorities that provide the whistle stop for the gravy train in their districts.  Yet the US spends as much on its research and development every year as China does on its entire defense budget. Tom Barnett writing in Esquire nicely demolishes the "China is coming" hype.  Yet --as he points out--there sure are lots of Members of the Armed Services Committee on the new congressional "China Caucus"  hmmmmmm....

"Why the Strong Lose" is a current Parameters article by Army author Jeff Record.  His premise in the article is that all major failed US uses of force since 1945—in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia—have been against materially weaker enemies and also that "the US military’s historical aversion to counterinsurgency is a function of 60 years of preoccupation with high-technology conventional warfare against other states and accelerated substitution of machines for combat manpower, most notably aerial standoff precision firepower for large ground forces. "  Here's the long version for a good overview.

The QDR looks like it will fly in the face of other positive developments--like the recent White House  directive that gives the State Department lead-agency responsibility in post conflict peace building (what they call "transformational" diplomacy)  This directive dovetails nicely with the Defense Department's new directive on Stability Operations--which makes post conflict skills a core military mission.  But none of these ideas will get any traction if Congress does not start leading the charge.

Speaking of defense manpower, here are two hopeful items from West Point: a new project called "Beyond War" and news that the West Point Model United Nations team has finished its most successful year in team history--taking first place at every conference in 2005.

Like Clausewitz said, it's people, stupid.


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One can be a fan of Thomas Barnett but still question if he goes too far vis a vis China. Even he points out in his article that to some degree we have to be ready to confront China over Taiwan. What we can not as a nation afford to do is ignore a possible future threat from China. What we need to do is keep it in perspective. Barnett in the Esquire piece comes to close to hyperbole regarding China.

The intentions of the leadership are at best less than certain. At some point China will have to either politically liberalize or retreat back from the freedoms inherent in a market economy. In between the leadership might use an external threat, Taiwan, to hold on to power. It's a formula as old as history and well practiced today.

On a broader level to some degree the ability of this nation to engage in high intensity warfare is needed insurance. Even if one were to measure the objective need for this at less than 10% over the long term this does not equate to ignoring this threat nor to devoting just 10% of our budget to this.

Much of those high end forces are extremely usefull in the lower spectrum level conflicts we will be engaging in. Afganistan would not have been possible without aircraft carriers and heavy bombers. The doctrine of small wars that the USMC pioneered so well in the Banana Wars also included close air support which has been used ever since.

Certainly we need more spent on boots, rifles, field rations, etc., and less on big ticket weapon systems but some of those systems we need too. The main issue is nobody is willing to deal with the issues of basic force structure and the implications on how many big ticket new weapons we need.

Consider the F-35. For the USAF it is there to replace the F-16 which was invented in the 1970's because the Air Force could simply not afford to have thousands of fighter pilots flying F-15's. It was part of the high low mix of forces that came out of the Cold War. We don't need, nor should we want an F-16 style aircraft anymore.

We need some high end world class fighters in case we have to fight somebody like China, like the F-22, but after the enemy loses his air force or if he didn't have one (Afganistan) than all you need are long range bomb trucks. F-16's just mean you need air bases close to the area and lots and lots of tankers. Half the USAF needs to go and other half would be better off transferred to the Army and Navy. It's the structure stupid.

Today there are 6 seperate air forces in the US military: The Air Force, Army, Navy, USMC, Coast Guard, and SOCOM. That is far more of the problem that worrying too much about China.

Lane Brody

points well taken. I worry that our elected leaders will not have the incentive nor the creativity to engage the guns vs. guns tradeoffs ...esp with all the different air forces... I worry that China will just become an easy path of least resistance, fitting neatly into Cold War code...where real threats, ones that require subtlety and sober consideration...will just get lumped in with the bigger is better rationalization so that nothing much changes.

You should certainly be concerned; however, you might also consider the views of Barnett in the July issue of Esquire where he profiles Rumsfeld. In that article it is Sec Def and his inner circle pulling the establishment back from China as threat in the QDR. Moreover, it is Barnett pointing out that if we were creating DOD today there would be one unified military service.

To a large degree the USAF can be called Ode to the Fighter Pilot. In contrast to the other services they still require all pilots to be officers and thus even those piloting UAV's must be officers- the other services do well with 18 and 19 year old enlisted computer game users or warrant officers who dispense with non-warfighting duties.

Fundamentally the Air Force is structured around fighter units of which it maintains far too many, at the expense of more critical units (bomber, transport, recon, EW, AEW, etc.) that culturally results in too many general officers with a fighter jock background.

The entire structure of the Air Force needs a QDR. The nation would be better served with more F-22's, some more combat coded bombers (removed from storage), more transports, perhaps a real A-10 replacement, and zero Air Force F-35's, not a single one, period.

What we are going to get are 1,500+ USAF F-35's in search of a mission (if facing a real enemy air force the F-22 is far more effective and if not a 40 year old B-52 is a far more effective and cost effective bomb truck) and an Air Force unwilling to provide enough medium transport sorties (C-130) to the Army forcing them to buy a fleet of tranports to help themselves. The USAF has never worked and played well with others. It was mostly created to win wars on it's own through nuclear weapons (SAC).

It still resists enlisted trigger pullers calling for air support and still wants a fighter pilot with every close air support team in the field. The Air Force is way more part of the problem than part of the solution not to mention having an inherently wastefull structure. No logical review of DOD can resist the view that we need less AF and more Army divisions.

Lane Brody


USAF may not need F35s. But USMC, USN, and the RN do.

So I'm unsure using that program as a pinata is useful.

Fun, but not useful.

John the issue is the structure of the USAF. Fundamentally it should avoid short range aircraft for a whole host of reasons. But to be exact the version of the F-35 the USAF is buying is not the same as the Navy or USMC. In any case getting rid of the USAF or at least not giving them any F-35's should not be construed as being against the program.

For the USN and USMC there really isn't a lot of choice since they've totally committed to the F-35. In the USMC case where aircraft are often based close to the troops it makes sense to replace the Harrier.

In the case of the USN carrier wings I was a fan of the all F-14 and A-6 wing. Killing the A-12 might have been a good idea in 1990 but then killing the update for the A-6 and leaving the carriers with no long range bombers or attack aircraft was just too short-sighted for words. The F/A18E/F might be far cheaper to operate than an F-14 but it does not compare in some critical areas the only I'd care to mention is range.

On a practical level the F/A18 and F-35 team are simply an air wing in search of a tanker sqdn. Of course the KA-6 was retired long ago and the S-3 is gone too so the USN doesn't have any more tankers so everyone now depends on the USAF (USMC KC-130's aside). Oh that's right you can use the F/A18 as a tanker- just a short range one with little ability to transfer gas.

Once upon a time there was a naval version of the F-22, before it was called the F-22 and was just an F-15 replacement program. That and the A-12 or similar ranged aircraft are what the nation should have been served by.

Of course the entire rationale for the F-35 is a bit silly. When it's operating stealthy everything is carried internally. Problem here is it carries a grand total of 2 bombs internally. Start hanging external bombs on it and the whole stealth thing goes away. As a fighter it is not in the same class as the F-22, not even close. As an stealthy attack aircraft it's bombload is much too small. If stealth is not needed nothing is more cost effective than a B-52. They can orbit for hours.

Lane Brody

The West Point Model United Nations team does so well because they always send a "small" as opposed to "large" delegation to the conferences, which means that they are not compared to the teams from Harvard, Yale, and University of Chicago. Very often, they are ranked against small liberal arts colleges.

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