Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Cluster Around Clusters

If there is a bill sponsored by Senators Feinstein and Leahy, and it involves the military, you pretty much know what direction it is going in;
In April of this year (2017), Feinstein and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act to bind the Defense Department to the 1 percent maximum failure rate for cluster bomb detonation. It is also intended to put the U.S. on the path toward compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
No, it is designed to remove a capability the US needs to win in future conflicts without funding a replacement capability.

The push against cluster munitions has a long history, and the concerns are valid.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty, prohibits the use or stockpiling of this weapon. Significantly, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have not ratified the treaty.

The George W. Bush administration, recognizing the continuing importance of cluster munitions to U.S. defense needs, also refused to sign the treaty, but set a deadline of 2018 for the U.S. to move to cluster munitions with a very high degree of reliability.

This policy sought to eliminate cluster bombs whose sub-munitions detonate less than 99 percent of the time. This reduces the risk that unexploded ordnance poses to noncombatants.
There is another need out there that is of more importance than feeling good among the well-healed at Davos; in time of war, we will need cluster munitions. That capability is essential to how we fight wars agains numerically superior ground forces. Until we have enough war reserve to cover the capability clusters bring - especially in a GPS contested environment - we need to keep them.
The Pentagon has cluster munitions that meet this degree of reliability, the Sensor Fuzed Weapon, for example, but its large stockpiles of legacy cluster munitions would be useless at the 2018 deadline as legacy munitions do not meet that standard.

Though the 2018 deadline was set 10 years ago, the Obama administration showed no urgency in developing adequate replacements.
Today, those replacements are still under development. The military therefore took the only viable course of action by delaying the ban and keeping this weapon, while continuing to work toward developing new munitions that pose no risk of leaving any unexploded ordnance.
If the West is going to lean on the USA to provide the bulk of its combat power in case of significant conflict - which it does - then serious nations abroad, and serious leaders here, need to give our nation the room it needs to be ready.

If Feinstein and Leahy are really that concerned, then they should have sponsored a bill back when their party was in power in both the legislative and executive branches of government to fully fund a replacement. Of course, they didn't because that would not signal their brand of virtue.

Given the resources it has been provided, as Thomas Wilson and James Di Pane outline, the military has done the best as could be expected;
...most critiques of the Pentagon’s compromise policy ignore the fact that it now requires new purchases of cluster munitions to either have a less than 1 percent failure rate, or have self-destruct mechanisms that will be triggered after firing.

The Pentagon’s new policy has not, therefore, departed from the original goal of designing safer and more reliable cluster munitions. The policy rightly allows the U.S. military to maintain the capabilities necessary to counter masses of conventional forces should a future wartime scenario require it.

This is a prudent and defensible approach. The United States has used cluster munitions sparingly in recent decades, but they could be vital in a military situation involving large concentrations of conventional forces.

It would be reckless to destroy a valuable and well-established asset before its replacement is deployed.
Serious people will come up with serious alternatives - but that takes money and an understanding that war is a nasty and destructive business. If you want more scoped nastiness and destructiveness, then provide resources. If all you do is take away capabilities, all you really do is signal your willingness to sacrifice the lives of your countrymen tomorrow for you to be able to feel good about your self-righteousness today.

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