Free Markets, Free People
Reading through a NY Times story about defense cuts led me to one of the most, oh I don’t know, stupid statements it has been my misfortune to read in a while (one of the joys of being a blogger is I don’t have to dress up my comments – stupid is stupid).
And apparently it passes for penetrating analysis. The thrust of the story, or at least the claim made in the story, is that the Pentagon has made no plans for the sequestration cuts mandated by the failure of the Supercommittee.
To be clear, DoD is working on the first $450 billion in cuts mandated by the Obama Administration. Those will already cut deeply into its capabilities over the next few decades.
This new round of cuts will go beyond “fat” and cut into muscle and bone. An idea of where cuts will have to be made is provided by some defense analysts:
They laid out the possibility of cutbacks to most weapons programs, a further reduction in the size of the Army, large layoffs among the Defense Department’s 700,000 civilian employees and reduced military training time — such as on aircraft like the F-22 advanced jet fighter, which flies at Mach 2 and costs $18,000 an hour to operate, mostly because of the price of fuel.
Other possibilities include cutting the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11 — the United States still has more than any other country — as well as increased fees for the military’s generous health care system, changes in military retirement, base closings around the country and delayed maintenance on ships and buildings.
And that brings us to a statement I find difficulty characterizing as anything but stupid. Perhaps to be less provocative, I ought to characterize it as woefully uninformed. I’ll emphasize it for you:
Right now, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program in history, is the top target for cuts. (The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $400 billion buying 2,500 of the stealth jets through 2035.) Other potential targets include the Army’s planned ground combat vehicle and a “next-generation” long-range bomber under development by the Air Force.
As a result, the military industry is already in full alarm. “The Pentagon has been cutting weapons programs by hundreds of billions of dollars for three years now,” said Loren B. Thompson, a consultant to military contractors. “There’s not much left to kill that won’t affect the military’s safety or success.”
Other analysts argued that the United States had such overwhelming military superiority globally that it could easily withstand the cuts, even to the point of eliminating the Joint Strike Fighter. “We have airplanes coming out of our ears,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House. “We’re in a technological race with ourselves.” Nonetheless, he said, the automatic cuts make life difficult for Pentagon budget planners and are “a terrible way to manage defense.”
No … we’re not in a “technological race with ourselves”. And yes, we have lots of airplanes. Worn out airplanes two or three decades old that have been to war for a decade.
Right now the Russians are developing a very good 5th generation fighter, the T-50 (also known as the PAK FA). The Chinese 5th generation aircraft is the J-20. We, on the other hand stopped a planned buy of F-22s at 180 out of 2,000. And now we’re talking about cutting the F-35 (a buy of 2400 and supposedly the fighter to fill the gap left by the curtailment of the F-22 buy) as well? That’s national defense suicide.
If we cut the JSF, in 10 years we’ll have the same 4th generation aircraft we have now as our front line of defense against the newest generation of fighters that you can bet both Russia and China will export. Ours will be technologically inferior.
Yes, we enjoy a technological edge now. But that is because we’ve always made its maintenance a national security priority. What Gordon Adams is trying to do is wave away the need to maintain that edge with an absurdly simplistic and utterly incorrect “we’re in a technological race with ourselves”.
What we do now will effect our national security for decades to come. These fighters are planned to be the front line of defense for about 40 years. And while an F/A 18 is a hot jet in 2011, it will not be a hot jet in 2031 when refined and technologically superior T-50 and J-20 aircraft will command any airspace in which they fly.
For those who don’t understand what that means, it means no close air support for troops on the ground. It means an enemy having air superiority over a battlefield (or at least air parity) and making our ground troops vulnerable to air attack for the first time since the Korean War.
It means we’ll have lost the technological race that is required to maintain air dominance and will be hard pressed to catch up anytime soon.
The old term “penny wise and pound foolish” comes to mind. We’re about to validate that saying. And the lack of leadership from this administration in outlining priorities concerning national defense and our future is terrifying. Instead of making national defense a priority, this administration would spend elsewhere.
The technological edge we’ve maintained over the decades is a perishable thing. There are other countries out there actively trying to steal it from us.
And we have so-called defense analysts like Gordon Adams making stupid – yes there’s that word again – statements like “we’re in a technological race with ourselves”.
We make further cuts, such as those demanded by sequestration, at our peril. One of the primary functions of government, as outlined in our Constitution, is to provide for the national defense. It should be one of, if not the primary focus of any national government. To say we’re playing with fire with deeper cuts than those already contemplated is an understatement. If you’re comfortable with your grandson or granddaughter flying 40 year old jets in the near future against technologically superior enemies who we are getting ready to abandon the field too in 2011, then you’ll be happy to support cutting defense to the bone now.
Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seems to think that may be the case.
So, what the aviation side of this is, I think, is very much focused on this change. And I think we’re at the beginning of this change. I mean, there are those that see JSF as the last manned fighter — or fighter-bomber, or jet. And I’m one of — you know, I’m one that’s inclined to believe that. I don’t know if that’s exactly right. But, this all speaks to the change that goes out, you know, many — obviously, decades, including how much unmanned we’re going to have and how it’s going to be resourced.
I’m not one inclined to believe that necessarily (at least not with the technology today). Although I did read that the Air Force will, this year for the first time, train more UAV pilots than fighter pilots, I think there will always be a role for fighter pilots in combat. Why? Because of the air superiority role. UAVs – drones if you prefer – can fulfill the close air support role, and even a tactical and strategic bombing role. But, at least with the technology we have today, I simply can’t see an unmanned “fighter” having the advantage over a manned fighter in the air superiority role.
And without air superiority, you don’t fly UAVs.
Here’s someone who agrees with Mullen:
I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft.
Addressing b) above, things like this don’t help the manned fighter side. But then “cheap” doesn’t always translate into “most effective” either.