Wednesday, March 04, 2015

What America's Military Leviathan Desperately Needs - Mo Money.

It already consumes more money than the next dozen or so largest militaries on Earth but it's not enough, not nearly enough.

According to the rightwing Heritage Foundation, the Pentagon needs mo money, a lot more.

The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force are putting it under significant pressure. Essential maintenance is being deferred; fewer units (mostly the Navy’s platforms and the Special Operations Forces community) are being cycled through operational deployments more often and for longer periods; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are problematic. The cumulative effect of such factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.

It's an interesting enough, albeit predictable, report.  It's based on America's ability to fight two regional wars simultaneously and has a questionable "All the King's Horses and All the King's Men" approach.

When it comes to American military preparedness, however, I prefer the Maserati analogy offered by Janine Davidson, senior fellow at Defense in Depth.

Imagine a gorgeous, gleaming Maserati, the sort of car that belongs on a showroom floor. The car is elegant, but it’s also extraordinarily capable—the Maserati GranTurismo goes 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds and tops out at 186 miles per hour. What do you do with a machine like this? You certainly don’t use it for your commute on the pot-holed roads or your grocery runs or all the other mundanities of daily life. Instead, the Maserati is to be reserved for only the most special occasions. Otherwise, you keep it in an air conditioned garage, to be admired from a polite distance.

Too often, planners and policymakers apply this same sort of thinking to the U.S. military. They think that the primary—indeed, the only—mission of the United States’ armed forces is to “fight and win the nation’s wars.” These wars, so often assumed to be quick, high-tech and decisive conflicts waged against a peer competitor, demand the most expensive force possible, armed with the most “exquisite” platforms that the nation can produce. When not called on to fight these decisive conflicts, the military, like the Maserati, should be preserved and protected in its enclosed garage.

There are two problems here. The first is that the vast majority of contingencies the U.S. military is called on to perform are not quick, decisive, one-versus-one “football games” where one side wins, the other loses, and they both pack up and go home. Instead, the United States most typically deploys its forces for peacekeeping, stability operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, mass atrocity prevention, drug interdiction, and more. U.S. foreign policy demands a wide range of options and mission sets; it’s the military that makes these happen.

The second problem is that these expensive, “exquisite,” platforms are not the best-suited for what we do most. Even if an F-35 can outfly and outshoot everything in the sky, or a Zumwalt-class destroyer can dominate a huge ocean stretch, we will never be able to build very many of them. Trading this much capacity for capability may not make sense when, for most missions, a lot of the older stuff works pretty darn well. The American military need not be a shiny Maserati. Most of the time it can be a Ford F-150: worn, reliable, and more than able to get the job done.

Indeed the F-35 is a military Maserati.  It's designed to do a very narrow range of things better than others (although even that is in doubt today) but it sacrifices an incredible degree of capability for the sake of stealth cloaking.  The Maserati is great but not when you need to move a cord of firewood.

There's a price to be paid for this sort of extravagance.  In the graphic above you can see the size of China's military expenditure contrasted with America's.  What that graph won't show you is how much more bang China gets for its military buck - and it's a lot.  

Canada may desperately want to be admitted to America's entourage, its posse, but with that comes pressure to field Maseratis when we really need those Ford F-150 pickups.  America can, and will, squander hundreds of billions of dollars on its supercar military.  Canada, with our defence budget choked almost into unconsciousness by Stephen Harper, can't afford to go that route.  


Anonymous said...

The USA, like the British empire before it, will have its global dominance ended, once the rest of the world cuts them off from the resources they desparately need. When that time arrives, no military, whatever its size and power, will do, short of launching nuclear annihlation.

The Mound of Sound said...

Dark, Anon, very dark.

Purple library guy said...

Well come on, only 43%?! That means the whole world combined outspends them. How can you expect the United States to live with such a situation?

The Mound of Sound said...

It brings to mind the phrase about "figures don't lie but liars figure." Military expenditures, especially today, can be fudged, rolled, shrunk and shrink-wrapped until you can't make any sense of them. Then, just when you've got it sort of figured out, you have to apply the "bang for the buck" factor and you basically go back to square one.