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February 09, 2006

National Security: Rove's Achille's Heel
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Two weeks ago, Karl Rove addressed the conservative faithful here in Washington with a typical display of magic.  In front of  an audience with severe political indigestion, (caused by a diet rich in lobbyists minus principles) Rove previewed his 2006 electoral strategy.  The rabbit he pulled out of the hat was the Energizer Bunny-- wound up and clanking "liberals are weak on defense, soft on security, and won't keep you safe"  Specifically he said:

At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview - and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.

Then this week Rove's employer rolled out a defense strategy and a federal budget that hearkens back to approximately  1985.  But definately pre-9/11.  Why?  Because the Bush Administration--with its profoundly wrong worldview-- refuses to lay out a strong and effective defense strategy for post-9/11 threats.  One primary lesson from both Iraq and Afghanistan is that the way to keep our military strong is to share the responsibilities for national security across the government--made obvious by the gaps in our post-war reconstruction efforts.  Defense is just one part of a national security strategy, but the vast majority of security dollars go to the defense budget (over half a trillion dollars for 2007).  Re-balancing spending across the government is the work of decades, but today we're draining the coffers of defense to purchase billions of dollars worth of weapons designed to thwart the Soviet Union. This must stop.  These "pre 9/11" priorities are being foisted on us when our National Guard troops need basic items like trucks, ammo and language training.

Ever since Katrina, our Commander in Chief has lost credibility on the issue that he ran on: national security.  Many Americans have a nagging, uncomfortable feeling that these guys really don't know what they are talking about. Its time for liberals to hit back hard.  This will require renewed interest, updated language and a national security lead on every issue that comes into public conversation.  We must not let Rove be right.   First step: let go of the "guns versus butter" debate pronto.  What we need now is a guns versus guns debate.

One way to do this is to praise part of the strategy (called the QDR-quadrennial defense review) while criticizing its overall direction.  For example, buffing up the  Special Operations Command is a good move (these are the multi-tasking humanities geeks of the military, negotiating over tea one day and whacking baddies the next)  but indulging in missile defense, space weapons and Cold War-era fighter planes is not.   Center for American Progress published a terrific document with many such recommendations.  Liberals and cheap Hawks in both political parties should be able to come together and condemn these outrageous  "pre-9/11" expenditures that showed up both in the strategy and in the defense budget.   

Rove's governing method of placing politics above the nation's best interests is starting to close in on him.  The conversation is shifting. Author Ralph Peters penned an article in the conservative New York Post which pretty much agrees with liberal opinions .  Anyone wanting to make a compelling case for changing directions would be wise to read up on Peters--his Weekly Standard cover story last week may have read like a Harlequin romance for conservative defense wonks i.e. lots of heavy breathing over the American Left--but he is on mark when it comes to issues and priorities.

Other words for liberals to leave behind are generic condemnations like "Pentagon spending" (not all of it is bad) or spooky descriptions like "military-industrial-complex".  These are lazy and obsolete crutches a time when our military could sure use some help reigning in the industry not to mention the people with a complex (the neo-cons). 

The information support system for liberals who want to talk about national security is serious and it's growing.  Try the Foreign Policy Leadership Council , the Security Policy Working Group and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Read up! We need to get started on this while Rove is preoccupied with the Energizer Bunny (training it to do an interpretive dance when it runs into the constitution, no doubt).


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It's statements like this that exactly why so many will not trust the democrats on defense, period. The phrase "weapons designed to thwart the Soviet Union" sure good but it's so misleading it's laughable. In the first place out of roughly 500 billion on defense about 85 billion is for weapons. The budget is simply about personal costs.

As for the much smaller procurement budget I would dearly love a list of Cold War ear weapon systems that we are still buying. In fact I'd like to hear one. Not a single one of the services is getting what it needs in terms of procurement- especially given the fact many trucks, tanks, bradleys, helicoptors, and aircraft and being driven into the ground in Iraq.

The Cold War era programs (many of which we are using currently in combat to point out just because it was designed for the Fulda Gap doesn't mean it has no other utility) do not exist anymore. Frankly we should not have cut many of these programs as the less expensive follow on programs designed to save money almost never end up less expensive. Seawolf anyone?

Cancelling the A-12 might have made sense but not upgrading the A-6 has left the carrier wings with no long range strike aircraft. The F22 is not the F-15 replacement program from the Cold War- when it was also an F-14 replacement program and critics can say we do not need it to the cows come home but that still leaves a 35 year old design as our frontline fighter.

The real problem is our Cold War era weapons are being run into the ground with no replacement. Every single major weapon system in the US Army today was designed in the 1970's (M1, M2, M109- even older, AH-64, OH-58, etc.) and is wearing out without replacement. Crusader and RAH-66 were cancelled and there has never been a program to replace the M1 and M2 team.

The Air Force has not bought a new warplane that was not designed in the early 1970's (other than 20 B-2's). It needs to buy more C-17's and C-130's to support the other services but will not. There is no replacement for the A-10 which is far and away the most usefull aircraft the USAF operates besides the B-52.

The Navy just keeps getting smaller and smaller because over the past 15 years we just keep buying less ships. The defense industrial base vis a vis shipping is now so small and non-competitive that even the few ships we think about buying have such a staggering unit cost that we keep cancelling those ships in favor of new less expensive programs which do end up less expensive.

Most people buy a new car when it's 5 to 10 years old. The US Military is operating tanks, artillery, helos, planes, and ships that are in many cases 30+ years old. It won't all be replaced. The notion that what is really wrong with the defense budget are Cold War era weapons programs is simply false and belies reality.

Lane Brody

Lane, I don't disagree with you about many of the weapons programs, I'm talking about the super high ticket (DDX, F22, Missile Defense) items that might be very sexy but that we can't afford. This is why we need the guns versus guns debate. Even if the whole 500 billion stays in the defense budget, it should be spent on different things--primarily human resources. Check out the "Korb Report" on this.


I too was surprised by how stale and generic Rove's comments were. To me, they represented a nostalgia for campaigns past, rather than a genuine strategy for 2006.

I take heart from this, but Democrats still have a lot to do. First, some of the 'security' critiques have merit. Second, many have internalized the security criticism and spend more time either bemoaning it or trying to change the subject to veterans benefits instead of maturing beyond post-Vietnam cliches.

Lane is missing a few facts with his rant. First of all (and most importantly), the $84.2B is just weapons PROCUREMENT. Check out the DOD FY07 budget here. There is an additional $73.2B in research and development. Personnel costs are about $110B. About $17B is milcon, and about $152B is operations and maintenance (except for operations and maintenance in the Middle East...), with the remainder ($6B) going to family housing and working capital funds. So it's really about 1/3 personnel, 1/3 weapons, and 1/3 operations, which is the usual spread.

Lane also ought to recognize that, yes, we do urgently need to replace current old equipment with modern systems. The problem is that the acquisition community consistently lowballs their very high requirement systems when they start, and then twist Congress's arms when the programs come in overbudget and behind schedule. If the services would commit to responsible acquisition reform and decide to procure systems that were both modern and cost-effective instead of aiming for revoluntionary and goldplated technologies, maybe we would have replacements for those airframes and tanks.

Last, what Lane doesn't want to recognize is that our current equipment and force structure is well-capable of competing with and defeating any country on the planet in combat. What we lack is the people to replace those fallen in battle and those required to stablize the post-conflict operations. Rumsfeld and company have ignored the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and instead want to prove that they can whoop China and Russia at the same time, if needed. Instead of relying on international coalitions and diplomacy while building a ready and competent force, this administration wants to sit back in Nebraska and send missiles, bombers, and spec op teams out on short-term search and destroy missions, while giving the Navy and Army their toys to play with and dream about Cold War battle scenarios in Europe.

Lorelei has hit the nail on the head here. The QDR isn't all bad, but the budget and reality don't match the flowery words and concepts within. We need a better budget proposal to reform and refit our forces.

Language training for National Guard? Depending on the state, maybe Spanish, or Creole. National Guard should not be deployed overseas, period.

As an Iraq war veteran I wholeheartedly agree with Lorelei's commentary.The war on terror is a legitimate cause,while the fall of Saddam's regime (once supported with no small amount of enthusiasm by some of the same Bush-League chickenhawk Republicans,e.g. Cheyney, during the Reagan era)has resulted in diverting enormous amounts of resources (personnel,blood, and money)from this necessary struggle-as well as an inevitable civil war in Iraq.This administration hypocritically scrambles to promote affirmative action and EO programs to protect the rights of the Sunni minority from being trampled by the triumphant,faith driven-and pro Iranian-Shiite majority.We shouldn't fight harder-but smarter,and using outdated Cold War tactics in combating this 21st century threat is couterproductive and self-defeating.Democrats should emphasize,and Republicans not try to deny,that the attack on 9/11 came from the right,not the left.

Lorelei one can question the merits of the F22, DDX, and missled defense but these are not Cold War era programs. The F-15 was designed 35 years ago and people can comment all day that it can still do the job but it's simply a fact that there are better aircraft flying today and this nation can not afford to even have parity in the air. The F-15 needs to be replaced, period. The F22 is 4-8+ times more effective and will ensure we control the airspace over our troops for decades to come. If not the F22 then how long do we rely on the F-15 and how expensive is this unknown future replacement program (the F-35, JSF, is not nor ever has been an air superiority fighter).

The DDX is 3 generations of ship post Cold War. It in fact is a replacement program for the previous design which was cancelled because it was too expensive. DDX is about 75% the size of this previous program, itself a post Cold War era program, and is now seen as too expensive. If the Navy needs around 100 destroyers and cruisers and they last around 25-30 years then we need to buy 3-4 every year, period. The USN right now has no replacement for the 31 Spruance class destroyers it is already retiring, nor any for the FFG's, and thus all we are left with are expensive Aegis DDG's and CG's that are too expensive to be risked inshore nor for picket duty. DDX is centered on land attack. It's too expensive because there is no competition because so few, if any, ships are built. Not building ships because they are seen as expensive makes the problem worse. Sewolf was cancelled because it was too expensive, the replacement (Virginia) is far less capable and costs significantly more and there is a lot of talk of cancelling it for another future and less expensive SSN.

Missle Defense includes things like Aegis enhancements for theater missle defense that Japan is so committed to we could not cancel the program nor should we wish to given Japan and our Aegis ships can destroy North Korean missles in the boost phase offshore. It's one thing to be against a defense system large enough to deter China that many would point out China would overcome with more missles and penaids but quite another to be against a system that might be able to deal with maybe half a dozen (North Korea, Iran, etc.) and it's another story entirely to be against theater missle defense. In any case to call missle defense a Cold War era program is silly- are nuclear weapons a WWII era program?

In any case I would be the first to agree that we need to get more out of our limited defense dollars and would propose getting rid of one of our services- at least to start with. I utterly fail to understand why it's not a progressive arguement that with 6 "air forces" perhaps we could cut one- today (USAF, USN, US Army, USMC, USCG, SOCOM).

Today the US Army is buying 100 or so Predator B's (hellfire) and 100 or so near C-130 class medium transports because the USAF who is supposed to support them chooses not to. So now every single one of the 6 "air forces" will have C-130's or an near equivilent. Hell the CIA has a secret air force and buys lots of Predator's too. Let the Air Force have space- it's where they want to go anyway.

Lane Brody

If we're going to think ahead 5 or more years, maybe we should consider the oil situation.

In 5 years we might have to get by with 40% of our current oil.

At that point, we have 12 nuclear carriers, 9 nuclear cruisers, and a bunch of submarines. everything else guzzles oil, as do the planes on the carriers. How many carriers can you defend with 9 cruisers and a bunch of subs?

How much of an air force can we afford to give pilots training time on?

How many tanks can we run at 0.5 mpg? I may be wrong, but doesn't an armored HMMV get 2 mpg?

For awhile there Halliburton was charging the army around $100/gallon for fuel. That was excessive but it reflected a real cost, we'd laid a quick pipeline from kuwait for some distance but it still took trucks 4 days through hostile places. But we solved that, now we're burning iraqi oil. People say we're putting the big bases near iraqi oil facilities because we want to keep control of those facilities. It looks to me more like we want to be close to the fuel we have to have. So, suppose next time we're fighting somewhere there isn't any oil, what will we do then about the expense? The easy solution is not to participate in wars anywhere there isn't oil....

Should we be looking at building a fuel-efficient mechanised military? Yes, definitely. But should we be looking at a minimal-fuel military? That would put strict limits on our ability to project force. I think we would be a regional power.

People talk like the USA is the only one that can enforce things in the world, because we're the only ones who can afford a military that can project sufficient force. But at this point there's no reason to think we can afford it either. Ten billion dollars a month in iraq, for....

What's the chance that in 5 years we'll be a bankrupt regional nuclear power? Should we give any thought to that possibility? There's no political advantage to discussing it, the idea sounds defeatist, it won't get any votes. But should *somebody* be planning along those lines, in case it turns out that way?

Fact Check: The last CGN was retired long ago. There are no nuclear powered escorts in the USN. The notion that the USA might not be able to operate it's military someday due to lack of oil is without foundation. If, for whatever unexplained rationale, the US had only 40% of the oil it currently uses then oil would be far above $100.00 a barrel making many things like ethanol and gas from coal (WWII technology) cheaper than oil and the preasure to dig for more oil in many currently restricted locations would be immense.

An arguement can be made that the real problem is oil is far too inexpensive. Al Gore proposed years ago a large gas tax increase to get the US ballpark within Europe's gas prices to foster conversation and alterative fuel and power sources. Oil is a worldwide commodity. We aren't going to deal with 60% less corn anytime soon either.

Lane Brody

No nuclear-powered cruisers? Ah. I tried to look for that sort of thing and found a list that included 9, it didn't mention they'd been retired. Sorry about that.

If the dollar turns into a soft currency, we might not get to import oil. We could forbid oil exports by fiat, so that we would have oil to use instead of oil companies selling it for hard currency.

We could try to make ethanol and gas from coal, but there would be an issue how much of it we got to use and how much would be exported for hard currency.

Even in less extreme cases, as the value of oil increases the benefit of using huge amounts of it in wars goes down. When aircraft get very very expensive to run, maybe we'll be better off to make sure we can deny air superiority to the enemy even if we don't get it ourselves.

Let me try this again -- if energy gets expensive for us, can we afford to wage foreign wars with our current technology? If not, doesn't that reduce us to a regional power?

The argument is not about weapons systems, per se, but the strategic framework under which such weapons systems are said to be needed for national security.

What threat is the F-22 designed to combat? What threat is the DDX system designed to combat? How real are those threats and where do such threats rank when compared to the treat of terrorism? What weapons systems will Lockheed Martin design to prevent a massive coordinated handgun attack on US elementary schools, hospitals, churches? It will not take much to paralyze us. And it takes much more WILL than CAPABILITY on the part of the enemy. What are our available weapons to combat and erode enemy willpower?

As far as China, even if they had the planes and platforms, China is not about to send 500 fighter bombers to take out our ships in Pearl Harbor (or San Diego, or Bremerton). China is far more likely to design some super virus, computer or genetic. But even that is far-fetched given China's dependence on trade and economic growth to maintain domestic social stability. No, China will more likely be content to beat us at our own game of capitalism.

The so-called modern capabilities of systems cited by Lane Brody above may be post-cold war in technological design and capability, but they are still very much products of cold-war strategic thinking.

Dems need to redefine the strategic framework and language of national security. Any honest and realistic assessment of the current international strategic environment must consider the value/utility of international norms, global governance mechanisms, including courts, police and paramilitary forces, and the cost-benefit of alliances and coalitions---as well as the military capabilities of individual countries.

One can argue against the utility of international norms alone when it comes to international security, but one should also be honest that the real opposition to international norms is based on ideology and not a strategic assessment of the real world.

Yes, it's time the Dems get serious and take the lead on the national security debate. Americans aren't stupid and Dems should stop treating us like we are.

Huh, you made a point I haven't thought about for awhile.

I was visiting near DC when the sniper killed about a dozen people. Millions of people were terrorised. They were afraid to go out. Less than 2 dozen were actually shot.

I was staying in a motel in Manassas, and I went out to get milk for my baby. I walked to the store and back. Two hours later I walked out to get pizza, and they had the area all taped off. The TV crews were taking lots and lots of footage they wouldn't use, and the police told me I couldn't go get pizza -- they looked at me like I was crazy to want to. Somebody had stood right where I had to walk and shot a random person at a gas station down the street. I knew it was perfectly safe, the police were swarming, the sniper wasn't coming back, but they told me to go home.

If there were 50 snipers all acting independently, people would really freak out. You'd never know how many of them you'd caught until the number of victims went down. We'd have a lot of idiots traveling armed ready to shoot somebody who got out a weapon, and they'd likely shoot each other occasionally. Mass panic. And yet, the snipers probably would kill fewer than a thousand people before we got them shut down. Insignificant except for the panic.

I think a lot of the problem with the weapon systems is that the development cycle is too long. Before the thing is ready the requirements change, so the design gets modified which is expensive -- and then the requirements change again with more expensive changes - and the result is something real expensive that doesn't work particularly well for the needs when it's ready. I have no experience with military design, but from other contexts I think it would be good if the designs could be made more modular. Say for an aircraft -- start with a collection of engine requirements, a range of performances. Get a collection of engines that meet a variety of needs, and note their sizes etc. For each engine you can build airframes that use those engines. Design weapon systems that might fit in a variety of airframes, and electronics packages, etc. Keep the same basic designs until you find something better to fit one of the niches. It doesn't matter if the basic design is 50 years old, if you can replace each component as you get improvements. Then you can put a firm deadline on component contracts, finish in 3 years or fail. But there might be good reasons that wouldn't work outside the areas where it's already being done.

The pre-req of the US Military operating anywhere is air superiority. It's the first requirement and thus the one area we can least afford to take risks upon. We've already taken very large risks in this area by retiring the F-14 without replacement (the F/A18E/F is a strike fighter not a long range interceptor), by not spending very much upgrading our F-15's, cutting pilot training, and delaying and cutting the replacement program for the only air superiority fighter the nation operates so much the program is in danger.

The F22 does not need defending. It is so much better than any other fighter plane it will ensure air superiority over our troops for decades to come. To argue the need for a current threat that can really challenge the F22 one on one is to fundmentally misunderstand the nature of modern warfare.

The F-15 was designed in 1970. If the F22 is cut there must still be a future replacement program for what may be the single most important mission in the world- air superiority fighter. Not for nothing but I'm personally in favor of getting rid of the US Air Force and cutting every single USAF F-35 out of the budget pay for the F22. There is zero evidence that cutting the F22 will result in saving money; moreover, history shows that the future affordable Pentagon program is normally more expensive than the original program.

The DDX, like the F22, is not designed to fight a "threat" but rather to fullfill a mission. The job of the DDX is land attack with both missles and 100+ mile range 6inch guns. Currently the only ships in the US Navy capable of gunfire support can not be risked inshore. DDX is a replacement program for another ship that did the same thing but was significantly larger.

The first article I read in Proceedings (around 1972) called for a new gunfire support ship. That requirement was met by reactivating the BB's in the 1980s'. The mission remains- if not DDX than something around that size with 2 6inch guns and VLS needs to be designed and purchased.

I recall very clearly in the 1990's that year after year the Dept of the Navy kept telling Congress that if they will not buy ships then eventually there will be no more shipyards to build them in the future- the US basically stopped building ocean-going commercial shipping 30 years ago. That day has arrived. DDX is expensive for the same reason any new ship is going to be expensive- there is no competition. Congress makes it worse by basically requiring the USN to only buy from the 2 remaining shipyards.

"Cold War strategic thinking" is a nice phrase but modern warfare, including hyperwar, includes little things like air superiority and attacking the land from the sea. Not having air superiority from a US perspective means there will be no war. If you want to send your child up in an F-15 in 10 to 15 years in air combat to fight outnumbered vs a more capable enemy aircraft that's your business but I do not want any of our children dying up there and more importantly not being able to protect the many more on the ground.

Today in exercises with the Indian Air Force their advanced versions of the SU27 are defeating our USAF F-15's. Today in exercises the new Eurofighter is defeating our F-15's. Europe will pretty much sell to anyone and Saudi Arabia just ordered a bunch, frex. China has hundreds of new SU27 on hand and hundreds more on order from Russia as well as it's own assembly line. The point is not to match the threat but to accomplish the mission of shooting down every enemy aircraft in sight. The F22 does that exceedingly well. We should buy 500+ and pay for them by simply getting rid of the US Air Force and around half the total number of aircraft it currently flies.

A wastefull program is the F-35 JSF for the USAF. The entire rationale for the high low mix of systems from the 1970's ended. Here is a great example of Cold War thinking when we could not afford an all F-15 force and built the F-16 too. We don't need "low" anymore. There is nothing the F-16 does that is not done better by another aircraft. We'd be better off with a few more F-15's, B-52's, and A-10's and not a single F-16.

Lane Brody

Lane, first, thank you for your informative arguments above.

That said, missions do not (or should not) exist for their own sake. Missions are designed to achieve a particular outcome. And the particular outcome needs to be part of and needs to support a particular strategic framework, unless we really are the drunk 800-pound gorilla in the bar. We have immense power; to what ends will we apply that power? (Insert Spiderman cliche here.)

Now, if the reason we're raiding the national piggy bank is to fight and win a future air war with India, that's one thing. But we should be having that debate. Sure, India might become a belligerent power. And sure, in 50 years, India may want to take on the US, so we had better be prepared because it takes 20 years to develop truly kick-ass systems. (At least that's what we're told by the same folks who want to sell us the kick-ass systems. I think accellerated programs could reasonably bring new systems from concept to field production in 3 years, if truly necessary, but that's neither here nor there and more a comment on our military procurement system.) Back to the scenario, would a belligerent India, really be about our national security? Do we think that India would try to invade the US? Or are we more concerned about the ability of a hypothetically belligerent India to interrupt our current way of life: we are vulnerable to terrorism, open to hand-held nuke, dependent on oil, dependent on trade, dependent on international financial stability, et al. And if that's the case, is the real threat a belligerent state, or the fragile nature of the new world and global system that we are creating? Should we be more concerened about individual states or international order?

Second scenario: we want to be able to act effectively in a new chaotic or lazy or indifferent world. So we need the fire support and total theater superiority for special ops to get the bad guy or deliver the humanitarian aid. Fine. But are we planning to violate the sovereignty of a middle power (India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia--again, just examples) in order to achieve a particular goal? Or are we more likely to go after small or weakened countries (Panama, Iraq, Iran, N. Korea)? Is it better for us to act alone or act with friends and allies? Is it better to use diplomacy or jump the gun, literally? And if we do need to act, then and only then, what do we need for the mission? Do I need a Ferrari to go grocery shopping? What if I can get my friend to drive me to the grocery store? What if I can get the grocery store to deliver to my home? What if I learn to grow my own vegetables in my back yard, reducing the number of items I need to buy? What if I arrange for my neighbor to buy groceries for me when he goes to the store?

I don't mean to belabor the point, but we should be taking a broader view of what constitutes national security and threat to our particular security in the 21st Century. Sure, we should be prepared for a shootout and prepared to win every shootout. But there are many more dangers in the world (including to our precious way of life) than other organized groups of human beings who mean to do us harm. More settlers in the mythical American West died from malnutrition, natural disaster, farming accident and animal attack than from bandits or "injuns."

A complex system that works is almost always found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.

Big systems built from scratch almost never work. You have to start from scratch with a working simple system and grow it carefully. This might not work, either, but it's your only hope.
based on Systemantics by John Gall.

Major weapons systems are complex systems. The longer they run the more likely the need they were intended to meet will change before they are complete. The longer they run the more likely that new requirements will be added, requiring redesign. The longer they run, the more likely that a budget crunch will require they be abandoned.

The more complex the system the bigger the chance it will not work. The more the chance it will break down easily and be hard to maintain. The harder it is to tell whether it's broken. Harder to make in large numbers. And of course complex systems are more expensive.

A palliative solution is to divide things up into modules. Build simpler subsystems with their own specs and defined interfaces. The simpler systems are easier to build and test. Then the second stage is to fit the subsystems together. This is the stage where you find out that the various subsystems that appear to fit defined interfaces actually don't fit. So you have to change the interfaces, which results in delays. If you can do the subsystems in 3 years and the integration in 3 years then you have a complete project in 6 years. And you can re-use the subsystems wherever they work.

You lose in performance. But you gain by getting it in only 6 years, cheaper, easier to maintain, etc. If the project fails it fails *quicker* and you learn more from it.

We're already doing a lot of this and we should be doing a lot more -- unless there are good reasons to leave it at the current level, reasons I don't know about yet.

ITO,S! It's the Oil, stupid! All planning, prognostication, stategerizing (for W) must take into account a desperately different world only 5 years hence. The US mission now is to hoard and protect the last remaining ponds of oil/nat. gas and the pipelines/shipping lanes they traverse.

It's the one and only 21st C strategery. Lane, sorry but magical thinking cannot bring on line enough ethanol or gasified coal to make up more than a fraction of the missing oil as supplies and quality continue to decline (better google "peak oil" if you're not hip to the uncoolest new reality).

Of course, the ever-declining oil production impacts national security in the very broadest sense. How will we ration this scarce all-important resource? Do we impoverish the nation so that the military can use the oil to fight or maneuver against Russia, China, India which will each be vying for the same dwindling pot in the Middle East?

And I don't care how fancy or plain your weapon system is--it's gotta run on lots and lots of oil--magical thinking and futuristic semiconductors notwithstanding. Flash Gordon weapons limited by 19th C fuel!

Now's when I get all liberal wimpy and say the only way to truly secure our nation is to come to an international understanding on the consequences of peak oil. This would likely mean an international protocol (a formula) to ration fossil fuels worldwide while each nation undertakes a WWII type effort to revamp our entire economies. A big starter would be weaning ourselves off the personal car and building of the most efficient mass transportation, as well as a gung ho Marshall Plan to develop solar/wind/tidal/etc. alternatives. We will also have to emulate Cuban agriculture (since the 80's when Soviet oil dried up overnight) and establish local organic farm/gardens because--National Security Alert!--we can't feed ourselves right now without fossil fuels. Even if we don't use up another drop on the military, such a plan would still like entail great deprivation. Again, all the alternatives pooled together don't add up to the looming shortfall in oil and natural gas. It's a fact. You're going to live with it.

I could go on but instead I urge you all to read the excellent piece on oil and geopolitics by Michael Klare at For that matter, google all Klare's writings on this and read his book, "Blood and Oil."

Today in exercises with the Indian Air Force their advanced versions of the SU27 are defeating our USAF F-15's.

These exercises don't mean much. It's hard to get good info, the USAF naturally tries to make their equipment look bad before Congress does appropriations, and then tries to make the newest stuff look good right after it's paid for.

It looks to me like the electronics and missiles trump everything else, unless the other side has overwhelming numbers. If your electronics and missiles are good enough then you can destroy enemy aircraft until it's time to land and re-arm. It's only when neither side can win that way that closer attacks matter.

So, whose electronics and missiles are better? Nobody wants to reveal their best stuff because they don't want it to become known. We assume we have air superiority because nobody else claims it. If we ever face a sophisticated enemy we might get a real bad surprise or we might not. If we do get a real bad surprise we might lose a lot of our extremely expensive planes and then start losing aircraft carriers, neither of which is replaceable.

That tells me that we must not depend on aircraft to establish air superiority. We need a backup method, preferably something that uses units that are individually cheap, that we can replace quickly and adapt quickly.

Geo, yes. It isn't only that we want to protect the oil. It's only where we get oil/refinery close enough that we can fight at anything like a reasonable cost. "When your only tool is a hammer, you have to look for places you can pound nails."

We couldn't fight in Darfur even if we wanted to, it would cost even more than fighting in iraq.

As oil becomes scarcer, we must either change our goals or change our methods. Like, we *could* build shipyards and then build a whole lot of steam-powered troopships. Nuclear if we can build reactors fast enough, mostly coal. Establish coaling stations in hawaii and the philippines etc, and then if necessary we can send a lot of troops to invade china or wherever.

The example of Indian exercises was not to highlight any chance of US and Indian conflict, which is extremely remote, but simply to point out our best plane (F-15) can be defeated by other modern and more modern aircraft (advanced versions of the SU27).

Rarely can one predict the next war nor should we really want to try that hard. Odds are we will be wrong and not prepared for the actual conflict. The whole Cold War was spent preparing for first nuclear war and then high intensity warfare in Europe. What we actually fought was rather different and we were often unprepared for the actual conditions.

Nobody thought we needed a brand new world class fighter plane for Korea but we did and throughout that conflict our best plane was the equal of the enemies but not significantly better (Mig15 vs Sabre). Forgetting what air combat is all about we designed a "joint" fighter that was loaded with electronics and missles (but no gun) and saw them shot down in unfavorable loss ratios to smaller and more nimble aircraft.

We can not with any certainty predict the next war. Nor can we know how well that future enemy will be trained and equipped nor who are allies will be and to what degree we have access to forward bases. Having access doesn't help if the enemy can attack those bases with aircraft or missles.

If takes at least a decade to design and develp a new aircraft and about another decade to get it in the field in significant numbers. Choices on aircraft today directly bear on what we will have in 20 years. Nobody can argue that in 20 years the most important mission will not be air superiority. It's possible we won't have a serious enemy air force to contend with but we can't be certain and must be prepared for other scenario's.

This is one mission that we can not afford to take chances as being wrong means all the other money, resources, and weapons are staying home. Aerial combat is certainly about electronics (avionics) and missles as well as training, AEW, but it's also about the aircraft.

To argue that the F22 has no competition and thus is not needed is to misunderstand the nature of war. The reason to buy it is exactly because it is so much better than any other fighter plane. For those who do not know the details it's not as if the F22 is much faster than other aircraft, frex, but that it can cruise at about twice the speed of any other aircraft, which is an order of magnitude increase in effectiveness in this one area. Other people may have equal electronics and even better missles but it doesn't matter when they don't see the F22 coming nor have any chance to avoid interception.

The only thing wrong with the F22 is that it can't land on a carrier and will be operated by the US Air Force. There is simply no evidence that cutting the F22 will save the nation any money. Another program will start the next day to replace the currently 35 year old F-15 and in 5-10 years when this program comes along it will almost certainly be more expensive in current dollars.

It was one thing to cut Commanche and Crusader and ask our soldiers to get by with the very old M109 and OH-58 as there are other systems that do similar missions but there is no other system that does air superiority, period. From WWII, through the Arab Israeli war, to the present day it is crystal clear that air superiority is the foundation of modern warfare. If your child has to go to war you want the F22 over his head and just as body armor and uparmored trucks are the talk of this war the bogeyman from Korea was the Mig15 or if you were an Arab in 1967 it was the Mirage. The last area one wants to take calculated risks in is air superiority. Fighter planes are not another weapons system but rather the weapon system that allows all the others to operate or even survive.

Since 1915 and the dawn of aerial warfare there have constantly been smart people telling the world that the day of the fighter has come and gone. In the 1930's "the bomber will always get through" and in the 1960's surface to air missles contributed to Great Britain's famous white paper describing the end of aircraft. Even in thirty years when the fighter plane is probably a UCAV it will probably still be the same crucial mission; moreover, that future air superiority UCAV will be extremely expensive too.

Lane Brody

Lane, it's understandable that you didn't follow my links. I didn't stress them.

The claim is that the F15s we used in the indian exercise were F15C which are not at all our best -- but which the pakistanis use. The indians didn't use their best either. And the rules were that neither used their long-range weapons. In a real fight we'd attack them long before we saw them (and they'd try the same) and only if both attacks failed would we get a chance for the close-in dogfights that the SU27 is so good at. The purpose of the exercise wasn't to see whose planes were best, but to see what we could learn together. I'm not an expert and I can't say that these claims are correct, but they look very very plausible.

If they are true, then surely the experts who told you your talking-points knew it. They lied to you. Probably they had a noble goal, they wanted to make sure that funding didn't get cut. But still it bothers me. They knew you wouldn't know any better, and they lied to you so you'd repeat the lies. What else are they lying about?

That aside, we have a great big chronic problem that's turning into a crisis. You pointed it out: It takes us 20 years to go from specs for a new plane to the new plane deployed. And we can't begin to predict 20 years ahead what we'll need. Every time we start a project to develop a new fighter plane we're taking a giant gamble. There's a strong chance that by the time it's deployed it won't meet our needs at all. A 20-year multi-billion-dollar gamble.

The reason we went 35 years without a replacement for the F15 is that over 35 years we have repeatedly lost that gamble. Each time we try and fail the next attempt is more expensive. We desperately need a way out of this cycle of failure.

The F22 might very well be worth continued development. But we have to get out of the trap. We can no longer afford this kind of development cycle.

We desperately need a faster development cycle, with more interoperability. Incremental improvements are far cheaper and quicker to design and build.

There's the question what kind of planes we need 20 years from now. I think we can't possibly know. It's predictable that we'll be facing severe shortages of aviation fuel, though. If that turns out to be a limiting factor, what then? The F22 is claimed to have some fuel efficiency. (Instead of hanging stuff off the plane, increasing drag, everything gets stuff inside and bays open to release missiles etc. But then of course they put things outside too. And the engine is improved in ways that F15 engines could be redesigned for.) But the F22 weighs 16 tons empty and 31 tons full, half as much as an M1 tank. And it flies. Two F22s are like a flying main battle tank. At Mach 2.3?

My quick web search didn't show how much fuel the thing holds or its claimed fuel efficiency, but they can choose to hang 4 extra fuel tanks off it to give it an extra 2400 gallons. At a guess, it doesn't hold more than 2400 gallons internally or those little fuel tanks wouldn't be worth having, and not less than 1200 gallons or they'd be smaller. Figuring 2400 gallons ... you can get a little UAV that can fly 24 hours on a gallon of fuel. The Laima crossed the atlantic in 26 hours on a gallon and a half. It cost $10,000 to build as a single, with no economy of scale. If you were on a battlefield, which would you rather have? 2400 small UAVs for 24 hours or one F22 mission? Maybe some of both, but there won't be enough F22s to get in a whole lot of missions in one day.

Apart from whether we need it, there's a strong chance the F22 will get cut when we have the big budget crisis. This is part of the problem. When it takes 10 years to get the design and 10 years to build them, what's the chance we won't have a budget crisis during that time?

Again, entirely apart from whether the F22 is worth having given the costs, the system is broken. Whatever it takes to handle a 20-year project to get a new fighter plane design, we don't have it.

J Thomas I didn't have to follow your links because I'd read them before and along with many other "links" have formed a perspective based on many and othen divergent information sources. I understand your point and within many contexts it's relative. The new versions of the SU27 and SU30 are at least as good as the F-15 and in many areas simply better. In terms of BVR everyone has longer ranged missles than the the US now and everyone in the world has better short range missles and have for years. The US has relied on training and AEW. I'm not sure it's important to get into active electronic scanning radar and different kinds of datalinks but there are other systems on aircraft today (Eurofighter, even Rafale and Grippen, besides the SU27/30) that are far superior to equipment on the F-15. One can add new systems to the F-15 but the airframe has many specific limitations- including RCS.

One can be certain in 20 years that the first mission of any US military operation will be to secure the airspace in and around the operating area. This can only be done with a system able to move throughout the airspace to engage the enemy at any point and by operating in an offensive manner to defeat him in the air thus securing air superiority. This is done by fighter planes. In 20 years we will certainly require them. Maybe in 30+ years they'll be a UCAV but it'll still be a fighter plane.

As for F22 fuel capacity I'm not certain there are offical figures but it's been widely reported that the internal fuel capacity is 2,300 to perhaps as high as 3,250 gallons. Your question of F22's or many small UAV's is a tad irrational. The small UAV or aircraft can not function as a fighter. The size of the large UAV's is not much smaller than similar aircraft and while it might be likely that in 30+ years that a UCAV can replace manned fighters you can be certain they'll be almost as large (at least 75%).

Your point about a faster development cycle is logical but fails to consider why it takes so long. Much of the length stems from the political process. Sometimes the delay is created simply to push the program back to save current dollars. Othertimes oversight requires the program be restructured or modified. Many times these political choices are important and needed and sometimes they just increase costs. Sometimes a program gets stretched out so long by the political process it becomes so expensive it's killed and then a new program starts up to replace the old one.

Nobody has ever said if, for example, we need 2,000 planes and they last around 25 years that we need to buy 80 planes every year, or 3,000 trucks, etc. We do not have a rational budget process driven by maintaining an accepted force structure but rather a dynamic political arguement every single year. Thus we end up arguing about specific programs in isolation. The issue is not the F22 but the importance of air superiority.

Figher planes are not going away nor remaining static in capability. The mission becomes more important year fter year as the central importance of airpower increases every year. Given the accuracy and lethality of current weapons we can't afford even a few "leakers". The problem is that many of the air power advocates still want to believe that air power alone can win a campaign. Warfare is not nor ever has been one dimensional.

Lane Brody

Lane, thank you. So it sounds like you were pointing to the india thing as just a sort of shorthand. It didn't show much about how good their planes are versus ours, but other evidence does.

Their missiles are better than ours, short range and long range. Their detectors are better. Whew! No wonder we only fight third-world nations with ancient air forces! And the limits of the airframe too....

One solution would be to buy a better plane from some other nation. We might negotiate to second-source it; their own sales might go up with a reliable second source. Then we could avoid a lot of the problems of our own development process.

Given the political hazards, I suggest that we never attempt a development project that takes longer than three years. If it isn't complete in three years, it has failed. That way the politicians only get two shots at it. And there is much less opportunity for cost overruns. Instead of changing the specs a year or two into a three-year project, the debate will be whether to start a new project to meet the new specs.

With the specs set, it gets much easier to put performance bonuses into the contract. Like, if the project succeeds they get the last 15%, otherwise they don't. You can't penalise contractors for failure when you keep changing the goals. But when you don't, it leads to a corporate culture of cost-overruns.

If you have a big project that can't be done in 3 years, either find a way to break it up into re-usable pieces that each take 3 years, or don't do it.

I think I didn't explain well enough about my UAVs. Imagine that you could have many thousands of small UAVs. They each weigh around 5 pounds and carry one gallon of fuel, a camera and a few other sensors, not all the same, and a small-caliber automatic weapon or small bomb, maybe with ten or twelve little bomblets.

They are of course subsonic. They should cost a few thousand dollars each plus weapons. They should be very good at harrassing infantry and unarmored vehicles. In a pinch they can crash into things, carrying on average more than half a gallon of fuel. They cost less than any weapon that might counter them, except for small-arms fire. Some of them might have bombs that can damage a track on a tracked vehicle. Maybe we could get little tiny multiple weapons that would set off reactive armor. And on today's battlefield an armored vehicle whose precise location is known tends not to last long.

Cheaper than any existing device intended to stop them, except small-arms fire. Individually use minimal fuel.

What does air superiority get you when you face that? You can send big expensive fuel-guzzling bombers over the other side and bomb them. You can't stop them from bombing you -- with little bombs, but still....

If cost doesn't matter, we can put our conventional bombs in orbit and precision-drop them on tiny battlefield targets. Even if we don't have air superiority they can't keep us from bombing them. But cost matters. Within 20 years we might likely find that traditional tactical aircraft are too expensive. What they cost you to build and fly is more than what they cost the enemy.

I don't claim that small cheap UAVs *will* become decisive. I argue that we don't begin to know enough to predict 20 years ahead, when oil production has already plateaued now. After WWII we increased GDP by increasing oil consumption. Whatever you're doing, do more of it and GDP goes up. After the oil shocks we looked at conserving energy somewhat in the civilian sphere, but not for the military. There's no substitute for victory, you either pay what it costs or you lose, losing a war with the USSR would have been more expensive than the most expensive victory.

But how much longer can we afford fighter planes that use 2400 gallons a flight? A plane you don't have fuel for is useless until the fuel arrives.

Since we can't tell what we'll need 20 years from now, we desperately need to shorten our development cycle. The nature of warfare has gotten inside our OODA loop.

Typo, I meant UAVs that weigh about 50 pounds. Whew!

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