Monday, May 14, 2012

Why is it Dangerous to Play Politcs with the Military Budget?

This weekend I attended the 2012 Milblog Conference put on by, and one thing that one of the distinguished visitors, Representative Forbes (R-Va) left me with was: "don't talk about sequestration, no one knows what it is. . . even Representatives eyes glaze over when you talk about it."  That really stuck with me.  So. . . no Sequestration.  But how do I describe the looming Budget cuts?  The words "slash and let bleed out" come to mind, but really how can you make people understand just how bad cutting $1 Trillion out of the DOD budget for the next ten years really is?  I mean you can not educe panic in the average citizen unless you bring it home for them, and how do you bring home something that is about as alien to them as Spock playing 3D chess?

So here's some facts.  The Army and Marine Corps have been at war for 10 years.  To a lesser extent so have the Air Force and Navy, but those two services have already had their budgets heavily curtailed to the point that commands that weren't directly related to the battles in Iraq or Afghanistan were flat out ignored.  Air Mobility Command was vital, so it got all it wanted, but the Tactical Fighter Wings that weren't involved in direct CAS (Close Air Support) or the strategic Bombers, were lagging or ignored.  It got so bad that the AF had to ground its entire fleet of certain airframes (F-15 and A-10's) because planes were literally cracking up and falling out of the sky.  To get back in on the action they invested heavily in Drones which in itself presents a lot of problems from a doctrine point of view.

The Navy isn't doing much better.  The new Virginia class Subs aren't coming out fast enough to replace the old 688's (Los Angeles class) that are being decommissioned, this will lead to a point where the US might conceivably only have 15-20 Subs on patrol in the entire pacific.  I don't know if you've noticed but its a big ocean.  To keep up with demand they will need to stay out longer, which will increase stress on the equipment and men.  But more than that, we have no Cruisers to replace the Ticonderoga classes that are being decommissioned, and there are no new frigates to replace the Perry class.  It looks like for the time being our fleet may revolve around two ships, the Arleigh Burke Class destroyer and the Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier.  There's simply nothing in the pipeline, or in sufficient numbers to step up and fill the gap.  All this is without talking about the fact that the strike range of said carriers was reduced when they got rid of the A-6 and S-3 Viking and used the F-18 for mid air refueling.  Those Hornets suck up a lot of gas.  The Navy got so desperate for a piece of the pie that at one point they were sending Sailors to Ft Riley to train as MTT advisers, or even infantry roles.   One Admiral seriously floated the idea of "Naval Infantry".  You do realize that's what the Marine Corps is supposed to be, right?

And what of the Army and Marine Corps.  We've gotten huge boosts in our funds over the last ten years, even fielded some new vehicles.  We should be happy right. . . well actually no.  Believe it or not the Ground Combat components of the DoD have if anything fared worse than our more strategic brethren.  First off the Marine Corps is still using Helicopters from Vietnam, if that doesn't rattle you, think about the AAV, that big tank looking thing that they use to assault beaches.  Did you know that anything larger than 7.62 goes through that like tissue paper?  The one vehicle they had that looked like it could replace that, and do all the things a Bradley could do plus anphib assaults was. . . cancelled.  Indeed while the Marines are usually neck deep in some very bad situations, they are also usually having to Maguyver their way out of it. The one good thing that the Marines have gotten in the past decade, the Osprey, has its own problems.  For one thing, when operating with Rotary wing aircraft, the needs of Deconfliction (keeping the Aircraft separate so they don't collide) is a logistical nightmare.  The abilities of the Osprey are so vastly different from rotary wing aircraft that it is difficult to support them.  This is of course not talking about the long awaited arrival of the F-3-B which keeps getting pushed back.

The Army had to wait almost 4 years to get MRAPs, and even those aren't really a solution.  They actually present as many problems as they report to fix, because they simply can't go some places the HMMWV could.  The Stryker was supposed to be a bridge between what we have now and the FCS brigades we were supposed to start training on in 2010, then 2013 then 2015, now most of the systems are cancelled, even though some of the prototypes were actually built.

Quick quiz, how many Bradleys and Abrams are there in Afghanistan?  To my knowledge there is one tank company for the Marine Corps in southern Afghanistan.  No Brads are in country.  Even if there were, Insurgents have been ripping through them with IEDs so easily, that they're almost as bad as the old Sherman Tanks (the "purple heart boxes").  What stuff we do have, has been broken by the strain ten years of war has put on it.  This is, of course, saying nothing of the Airframes.  We have a new helicopter, the Lakota. . . which can't be deployed to combat.  Gee that really helps us.  I'm sure it seemed like a good idea in the wake of Katrina, but really what are you going to do about the Blackhawks and Apaches that have been flying around almost non-stop for the past 10 years?  

With all that in mind, and in mind the fact that we are still neck deep in a war against an Insurgent enemy that hasn't gone away, that is still trying to fly planes into buildings or use explosive briefs, one would think that it would be a good idea to keep a strong military.  If anything a resurgent China, that is looking for a way, anyway really to control its people, and prevent populist movements spells trouble.  Such repressive governments always use war as a means of controlling their people.  Have I forgotten to mention a possible regional Nuclear Arms Race in the Arabian Peninsula, and a Nuclear armed (and belligerent) N. Korea?  There is no "peace dividend" here.  This is America staring down a lot of really bad possibilities and trying to take an easy out.

There is an old saying: "You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want."  If these cuts do go through, you will essentially force the Army to cut back on training and personnel.  When we do go to war again, we won't be ready, and the support we will get from the Air Force and Navy will be questionable at best.  I would urge you to read about the initial phases of the War of 1812, the first Battle of Bull Run, or if you want more recent go read the Guadalcanal Diaries, or read up on Task Force Smith, or the Chosin Reservoir.  All are great examples of poorly trained and equipped American (and Union) troops being outgunned, outmaneuvered, and then torn to pieces.  The Army and Marine Corps need at least a decade of peace to recover, something I doubt they'll get, and the Navy and Air Force need a miracle of funding to get us ready for the next war.   

I want to leave you with this thought.  General George S. Patton Jr said "A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood."  With these cuts we are saving ourselves the sweat of trying to find a politically uncomfortable place to cut money to make up the massive deficits we've wracked up.  Our political leaders can claim a victory of sorts, and no one seems to really get hurt.  Sure over 1.5 million Defense sector jobs will vanish overnight and perhaps half a million Service Members will get the pink slip, but we don't have to think about cutting money from pet projects, pork spending, or all the programs we know will get votes.  The politicians will save this sweat for themselves.  The price tag will be buckets of blood left God alone knows where by young Americans, with hallow victories or bitter defeats to show for it.  Who exactly are you saving with these cuts?

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