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, April 08, 2009

Hurrah for Secretary Gates

Secretary Gates has proposed huge slashes to military weapons programs. For a full cataloguing of what he will slash and what he will add see Gates Starts Huge Acquisition Shift at

Suffice to say: it's about time! I think Gate's program is pragmatic. I know many on this blog were skeptical of Gates when he was allowed to stay on as Secretary of Defense. But he has proven himself capable and he has the respect of the military. He is frustrated with weapons programs that take on lives of their own (Anyone ever seen Kelsey Grammer, Cary Elwes, and Richard Schiff in the Pentagon Wars? I often feel like Richard Shiff's character), that are kept alive so that some general can get an extra star, and so that contractors can compete for the largest pool of the DoD budget.

The wars of the future will not be conventional. The last conventional war we fought was Gulf War I and before that, it was the Korean War. And even conventional militaries are using non-conventional fighting methods. It is time that we got real about what is necessary.

Now many of Gates' proposals may not be adopted. No congressman wants to loose jobs in his district, especially during a downturn. But many of those jobs, I suspect, will just shift to new programs rather than disappear completely. And some his proposals are limits rather than cuts. He is limiting controversial F-22 buy at 187 planes ($141 mil a piece), which is 4 more planes than the Air Force said it would need. This is the most expensive weapons program going at the moment.

There are some very good things in his proposal. He is increasing spending on medical research for wounded soldiers, increasing special forces, and he is taking 11,000 contractors currently supporting DoD acquisition and making them regular government employees. It's about time! Now if we can spread that across the rest of the DoD.

If Congress approves these changes, then at best, the proposal will be budget neutral. However, it is necessary. I am not a military hardware expert, but from what I read and what I do know, I think it's a good plan.


The Law Talking Guy said...

If these proposals were coming from a Democratic-appointed Defense Secretary, the GOP would be screaming about making America less safe. Gates helps in that respect.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I also applaud Secretary Gates! I am particularly impressed by some of the process reforms he has begun (e.g., replacing the contractors). I am happy to concede that USWest was right: Gates has done a better job than I thought he would, and has proven himself capable and respected. While I wish his program were more visionary than pragmatic, his approach is very much in keeping with the philosophy of the Obama Administration.

The limits on F-22 procurement are reasonable and were expected (so I am told by those in the know). While I would have dealt with the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program differently, I certainly agree that canceling the manned component and putting the rest out for rebid is preferable to maintaining the status quo or putting the whole program out to pasture. I also support Gates' increased emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also now called unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

As a side note, I will quibble with USWest's take on conventional warfare. The 2003 initial invasion of Iraq, the 1999 Kosovo bombardment, the 1989 invasion of Panama, and the 1983 invasion of Grenada are all examples conventional warfare. In those conflicts we greatly over-matched our adversaries, of course, but these were highly successful conventional military operations using standard doctrinal tactics and strategies. Preparation for conventional warfare also has strong deterrent value in places like Korea. Given her earlier posts on this subject, I believe USWest was just being provocative when she said the future of warfare would not be conventional--I think she knows full well that conventional warfare will remain relevant for the foreseeable future.

I think what USWest is saying here (and I completely agree) is that our military acquisition system has responded far too slowly to the changing needs of the current counter-insurgency fight, and the underlying reason for this failure is that our military acquisition system has been designed to foster massive programs that take many years to come to fruition. (NASA and the troubled American automobile industry have similar problems.) We need an acquisition system that is as agile, adaptive, and flexible as the soldiers it aims to support--especially during wartime. Afghanistan will require different equipment than was required in Iraq, and the next conflict will require even more changes. With this set of acquisition reforms, Gates is working a more responsive system.

USWest said...

Dr. S, I was not being provocative when I said that conventional warfare was not the future. I don't mean that conventional warfare will never happen, but or current definition of it will have to change.

Long gone are the days of WWII type conflicts as I know we all agree. Conventional warfare to me is two armies that are more or less closely matched and following the given rules of war. By that standard, none of the conflicts you sited, Kosovo, the 2003 Iraqi invasion (Saddam was planning that as unconventional from the start. He had been allowing foreign trained guerrillas into the country for months), Panama or Grenada in 1983. The Serbs were an organized army that was controlled by an organized and acknowledged government, but the tactics were guerrilla. So perhaps my position might be better put to say that guerrilla tactics and the use of irregular forces will become a more prevalent part of conventional warfare.

Future conflicts, I believe, will look more like Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan will be counter-insurgency as will many African conflicts that we may find ourselves involved in. The scary part is that insurgents have proven skilled at countering conventional measures. That will continue to be the case. I think in the future, we will see more collaboration between and among conventional militaries as we see now with NATO or our work with the Pakistanis.

That slight difference aside, we are so far ahead of anyone else in the world in terms of conventional firepower that we can afford to refocus on counter-insurgency. Our current technologies make us a deterrent. I don't think deterrence is really a good justification for maintaining many of these weapons systems. That harkens back to the Cold War days. Many of these systems are really just deadly pet projects that little boys like to tinker with. No one wants to give up his weapons system.

And yes, USWest agrees that are acquisitions and planning process is too cumbersome, expensive, and overly influenced by special interests (i.e. weapons manufactures and military contractors) than by strategic planning.

My notion of conventional warfare my differ slightly from the mainstream. I don't see Kosovo or Bosnia as conventional in pure sense. Yes, Serbs were an organized army that was controled by an oranganized and acknowledged government, but the tatics were Gurrellia. So perhaps my position might be better put to say that gurreilla tatics will be more prevelant.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Come to think of it, probably everyone who discusses "conventional warfare" has a slightly different take on what exactly that is. So I'm not going to press my own personal definition. I think we all agree the relevant distinction here is what affects acquisition policy--in other words, the equipment we use to fight.

On the one hand, USWest is certainly correct that we have not needed to employ our fanciest weapons systems--those "deadly pet projects"--in any recent conflicts. There is no call for stealth fighter aircraft when the enemy lacks fighter aircraft altogether... And by extension we have not really needed to deploy our aircraft carriers either. (Sufficient numbers of non-fighter aircraft can fly in from distant bases.) It is also likely that the emphasis on small-scale conflicts will continue, and that our adversaries in these conflicts--being greatly over-matched--will resort to the guerrilla tactics and irregular forces that USWest refers to.

But on the other hand, I believe we should continue to prepare to fight a "near-peer" adversary--an enemy more or less closely matched to us in military capability--and the best way to prepare for that is to stay so far ahead of everyone else that we have no near-peer adversaries. I believe the US currently occupies the rare strategic position in which building certain new weapons systems can be stabilizing rather than destabilizing--where doing so will not cause a new arms race but will nip one in the bud. For example, even though to my knowledge none of our enemies yet possess stealth technologies, we should nevertheless prepare to counter stealth technology.

I think focusing solely on counter-insurgency is a mistake, which is why I object to the notion that conventional warfare is dead. But I agree that focusing more on counter-insurgency makes sense. As USWest suggests, many of these modern systems have little or no value--deterrent or otherwise--in the context of irregular warfare.

The Law Talking Guy said...

By "conventional warfare," I mean of course the standard warfare carried out by the US army for most of its history: close-order drills and cavalry charges. Okay, so tanks and planes are now conventional too. Conventional warfare is largely a verbal back-formation from the phrase guerrilla wafare -- the way we now say "acoustic guitar" when we used to just say "guitar" to distinguish it from the electric variety.

To me, conventional warfare is distinguished because it is about capturing, holding, controlling, and occupying territory. Guerilla warfare is not territorial, but directed at institutions and persons across the theater of operations. Similarly, turning guerrilla warfare into territorial warfare by isolating guerillas from the civilian population and 'sealing off' areas is a primary counter-insurgency tool.