Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Military-Industrial Complex

This post is inspired by USWest's table. It's a profile of U.S. military spending and personnel over the past 50 years. The dark/light gray are the financial plots, following the left axis; the red is the active duty plot on the right axis. (Click on the graph to enlarge.)

One can clearly see the Vietnam war, and one can also make out the Reagan era. But broadly speaking, the trend appears to be that spending slowly grows while the number of troops slowly dwindles. That capital should be replacing labor ought to surprise no one in the industrial age. Defense acquisition programs are becoming increasingly expensive as the systems acquired become increasingly elaborate.

Under Rumsfeld, we officially have moved from a "threat-based" acquistion system to a "capabilities-based" acquisition system. In other words, we used to justify a military purchase by naming the national security threat it was designed to counteract; now, we merely name the military capability we wish to have and explain why that would be nifty. We are no longer building systems to defend us against threats... we are the threat. We are building the military force that others will have to defend against.

With the $100+ Billion Future Combat System (FCS) plus allied programs, the U.S. is designing an information-age military without equal. We are intent of taking advantage of our remarkable sole-superpower status to make breathtaking military acquisitions that would under any other circumstances ignite an arms race. But we are not in a race with anyone. Our goal instead is to get so far ahead that nobody will be able to catch us. (Facing the so-called "asymmetric" threats, like terrorism, is another matter entirely, however. Some suspect the increasing prevalence of asymmetric warfare at a time when we are masters of "symmetric" warfare is not coincidental.)

The FCS will continue the trend of extending a soldier's "productivity" to include the first direct replacements of soldiers with robotics equipment. First surveillance, then reconnaissance, then weaponry, then decisionmaking. Under appropriate rules of engagement, the new systems will not require a human to give a kill order; he will only be able to override one.

[Note: checking today, I see my original post somehow got severely truncated. I've just added back in one paragraph... the rest (which I can't remember exactly) will have to wait for another post, I suppose!]


Anonymous said...

I think it is understandable that the US would wish to maintain and extend its military advantages.

I also think it is understandable that in doing that the US would emphasize capital intensive warfare over labor intensive warfare. Spending dollars to save American casualties is a good thing.

I believe our problem is not so much the military per se but rather the political leaders that wield that military.

We should not make the mistake Bush made in Iraq. We should not confuse a political problem with a material problem that can be solved with a budget fix or a few well placed explosions. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Thanks Strangelove fot that post. That clarifies a lot for me, especially that move toward capabilities-based warfare.

As I have said in other posts, we are usling less activty duty service memebers and relying more on National Guard and contractors.

I would have to do more study, but I suspect that part of the increase in the budget outlay for the military is that we are spending more on highly paid contractors. I am not convinced that there is any financial savings using contrators. A contractor gets 2 to 3 times the salary of a regular government worker and 4 to 5 times the average solider.

On the other hand, the use of contractors further militarizes and already hevaily militarized economy, even in peacetime and is a rich "subsidity" for targeted industries.

In addition, selling these programs overseas, selling not only the hardware but the know how is big business. And that has serious ramifications for the "world order" and a new type of arms race- one where the rest of the world lines up trying to buy the "nifty" hardware we create.

In light of the recent NSA scandle, when you create the capabilities to target people, be it with arms or surveillence, absent proper controls, it can and will be turned on your own citizens one day.

I understand that in the real world, this is how it is,and perhaps how it must be. However, I find it unfortunate and deeply disturbing. 

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

I would LOVE to see this chart extended back to, at least, 1900. I believe that the longer historical view is always more enlightening, and I am particularly concerned about analyses that overly emphasize cold war years.

Bush must be impeached. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

I don't have easy access to figures now, but a question:

Can we plot against these figures also: (1) growth in GDP; (2) growth in population; (3) unemployment rate? 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

RxR, your points are well taken... but what I was trying to say was that the usual impulse to "maintain and extend" one's advantages does not begin to describe the scope of U.S. military ambition. There has been a sea-change in philosophy: what was a defensive posture is becoming and offensive one.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, one key goal of FCS is to have the astonishing capability to deploy a battle-ready, brigade combat team anywhere in the world in 96 hours--and to deploy a full division anywhere in 120 hours! (Compare that to the six months or so it took to set up both Gulf wars.) FCS vehicles will also be fully networked together to allow automated detection and coordinated firepower, including a bevy of stationary robotic sensors, several classes of unmanned aerial vehicles, armed robotic ground vehicles, intelligent munitions, and automatic "active" defenses (firing bullets at bullets).

We're not going to be selling these capabilities to anyone.

LTG: I was unable to find good data for pre-WWII years. USWest seems to have a source, though. Maybe she can fix you up :-)

Dr. Strangelove said...

USWest: I will look into the contractor data and see if I can find anything.

US West said...

USWest's source is the U.S. Census Bureau and Google.

Most reports like the one I linked in the post come out yearly and are archived on-line. I am not sure if you can go back to 1900 on-line. That might require a trip to my local military library, or an information request to the Census Bureau or Library of Congress archivist.

Anonymous said...

The last part that you put back in frightens me a great deal! It is Space Odyssey all over. Hal will take over!

Do we really think robots can be better decision makers than humans? Can they really be better than their creators? Aren't we over-estimating the capabilities of the technology? Brave New World, here we come. 

// posted by USWest

Dr. Strangelove said...

USWest... in some cases, yes, machines are "better" decisionmakers than humans, when the rules of engagement are clear, (e.g, shoot anything over there that moves) and "better" really just means "quicker."

I jokingly (OK, half-jokingly...) refer to FCS as "SKYNET on the ground" (Terminator reference.) Fortunately, I think those who are designing these systems are sufficiently aware of the dangers that they are (so far) doing a superb job of avoiding what we fear.

But we are now using computer simulations more and more to decide whether our computerized decisionmaking algorithms are good enough. As soon as we start using computer simulation as near-exclusive evidence for future computer systems, we may well start to spiral away into neverland.

Anonymous said...

Well, consdiering that NASA blew the $125 million Mars orbiter by confusing the metric system with English measurments, I am not really that confident. But then again, anything we make will have its flaws, right? 

// posted by USWest