The US military is a unique force with unique capabilities. It can fight and win wars, and it has a massive, highly efficient combat capacity. The same can’t be said of the long financial, logistic and administrative tail which is attached to it. Contract management is appalling, as is cost management. The habit of costing without limitations has been a hideous affair. American defense projects have an unholy habit of blowing out costs, particularly over time.
That’s contributed a lot to the huge expenses and hits on Federal budgets. Ironically, a major component of this problem really isn’t the contractors’ fault. For all the high quality of US military forces and designers, the oranges in this otherwise quite respectable crate of apples are basically middlemen with access to areas and military issues where they have no legitimate right to be.
This remodeling could solve a lot of problems for the US military-
If you put a fighter pilot or tank commander in a room with a designer, you’ll get a productive, and probably very interesting, discussion of real needs and ideas. The uniform guys and designers will get on the same page, and quickly. They’ll make progress in practical terms and put together workable systems.
If you put a virtual Yankee Stadium full of committees in the same room for years and let them ferment for a while, you get a lot of zeroes added to the bottom line. You also get the progressive natural creation of a whole range of points of obstruction. What is actually a military issue becomes a bureaucratic atrocity which can drag on for decades.
This was fine in the heyday of the much simpler military organizations of the past. It kept bureaucrats and politicians off the streets. Now, it’s a major liability to the military and it also creates a vast range of nitpicking opportunities which themselves cost money, as well as interfering with core military issues.
The Pentagon is not a useless organization- It’s a misused organization which has accumulated unnecessary issues. Those issues also need to be dealt with in any useful reworking of the US military. Anyone in any public sector job anywhere on Earth will tell you unequivocally that their work becomes more meaningful and far more productive with an emphasis on objectivity, not procedures. Ask an expert to find better ways of doing things, not just find different ways of watching the memos flutter by, and you’ll get results.
The New York Times
explains the dollar values:
Next year’s Pentagon budget is to be $525 billion, down from $531 billion in this fiscal year. As the Pentagon is called on to find $259 billion in cuts over the next five years — and $487 billion over the decade — the department’s base budget (not counting the costs of Afghanistan or other wars) will nonetheless rise to $567 billion by 2017. For comparison, the current Defense Department base budget is $531 billion.
(Note- The New York Times article also has a very interesting interactive media element which shows how NYT readers would redesign the US military budget and where they’d make cuts. Maybe the US public isn’t so uninformed, after all?)
Proposals for savings include base closures, which are hot ticket items for Congress in an election year and local issues for Reps and Senators at any time. Cutting forces in Europe seems to be the one issue where general agreement is likely to be reached. The US Army is to reduce its forces in Europe by two brigades “in the next decade”. (Not much of a surprise, given the US/NATO issues and the fact that projected deployment requirements are everywhere but Europe.) The big strategic nukes and other global systems will remain in place.
The future- A very different military and a different financial ball game
As usual, the short term problems are obscuring the long. The US military has a far bigger issue to deal with than its budget- Its future combat operations. For a long time now the US has been developing new combat systems for future deployment. These systems include some truly innovative, thoughtful, and cost effective options for highly agile combat capabilities. Most of these systems are all punch, and they’re quite different from the existing heavy load systems.
Things already in operation or prototyping, like drones, cyber warfare, exoskeletons, robots, new standoff attack capabilities, coastal combat systems and platforms, fly-by-wire fighters and a host of other weapons and combat logistic systems like the Marines’ MULES are the true face of future warfare. These systems also aren’t necessarily human based operating platforms. The grunt of the future will be at least partly a specialist with remote combat capabilities and multiple tiers of resources, both in and out of the combat zones.
There’s another issue which isn’t so obvious- The new systems are comparatively very low logistic burdens. They pack virtually the same (or better, in some cases) combat capability into much easier to manage forms. The US military will be able to shift a lot of capacity much more efficiently, far more quickly and much more cheaply. Nor do they require the incredibly complex and expensive administrative “dance of the spreadsheets” the current military model is saddled with. Just managing components can cause DIY baldness under the existing model- These new things are plug and play systems.
The new systems will also find a lot of support, ironically, from those in Congress currently bitching about purely contemporary issues when they become viable for deployment. The systems will reduce the body count, as well as the cost. Their technologies have to be made in the US for obvious reasons. They’re cheap kill weapons. They’re also upgradable systems, a drastic improvement on the shelf life approach of the current big dollar combat systems.
So the issues for Congress and future administrations are-
1. How to reinvent the US military model while saving money and taking advantage of the cost benefits of the new systems and new capabilities.
2. How to ensure a fully functional combat capability and make best use of existing trained personnel. (There’s absolutely nothing to be said in favor of losing trained people. It’s expensive, frustrating and time consuming, as well as costing a fortune.)
3. How to structure a reliable, idiot-proof military budget for the 2020s and beyond that makes also sense in terms of fiscal management and doesn’t require a range of appropriations to trudge through Washington if an emergency blows up.
It’s doable. It doesn’t even have to be a compromise deal. It just has to work. This whole subject needs to be a “No Soapboxes” zone for Washington. Congress, if it’s paying attention, will find that its local issues match pretty well with existing technical capacities in the US. Jobs and contracts will be there for the states, business will be there for US tech and engineering firms.
The moral of the story- Vote for someone who can read and understand sentences, and you'll probably get a good, redesigned US military.