Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Michèle Flournoy's Neo-Rumsfeldism

For most of the last decade, I have heard nothing but good things about Michèle Flournoy. Indeed, she's been making appearances on this blog since 2008. 

The fact she's been soaking in national security issues for decades and is highly respected is a given - but this article by Aarn Mehta gives me great pause

As I read this, I was reminded that it was twenty years ago that the greatest advocate for Transformationalism came in to power and drove it through the Navy and other services; Donald Rumsfeld. He meant well (and for the record I am a fan of a man as imperfect as I am), but the ideas he proposed - well known to readers here - threw away decades of evolutionary progress in weapons development, assumed risk away, and acted that just by saying it - things would happen. Transformationalism is attractive; an almost religious belief in the power of technology; an amost mystical attraction to the syren song of the well briefed "cusp of being operational" PPT brief; an impatience with the plodding, slow, and tedious work of building billion dollar systems in an effective manner.  

Let's review why I'm concerned; we've seen this movie before:
The next U.S. defense secretary must be prepared to invest heavily in game-changing technology, even if it comes at the cost of existing capabilities
Why are we not a learning institution?
“I think there’s, sort of, two parallel efforts that have to happen. One is investments that may take a decade to be fully realized and integrated into the force. Another is the question of, what can we do in the next five years with what we have, but use it differently,” she explained.
This is true, but has always been true. If Flournoy just stayed here ... she'd be a world winner ... but no:
“Defense budgets are probably going to flatten in the coming years, no matter who wins the election,” Flournoy said. “That means you have to make trade-offs and you have to make hard decisions, which means you probably need to buy fewer legacy forces in order to invest in the technologies that will actually make the force that you keep more relevant, more survivable, more combat effective, and better able to underwrite deterrence.”
What a cancerous idea to keep injecting in to our veins. This is exactly what had us sinking SPRUANCE Class destroyers and PERRY Class frigates with years to a decade of usable service ahead of them for the promise of LCS that still has not been fulfilled. It is what had us clunkingly restart DDG-51 production when we no longer could lie our way out of DDG-1000's failure anymore. What has our TICONDEROGA CG limping in to their dotage without effective replacement.
...there is a “whole laundry list” of future technologies on which to make big bets, Flournoy highlighted two she considers particularly important. The first is a “network of networks” for secure communications as well as command and control that can survive an attack from any domain — space, air, naval, land and cyberspace — that China could seek to use.
If we hedge everything to "Network Centric Warfare" we will first be made blind and mute. Then we will find ourselves lost and impotent. Then we will be killed.

In a peer war, we will not have unobstructed access to the electromagnetic spectrum and satellite vox/data. If everything rides on the assumption we do, we will lose. 
“We need a command-and-control system that is powered by artificial intelligence to enable that kind of resilience in a much more contested environment,” Flournoy explained.
Oh, hell no!

Who briefed her on this?  Does she have a handle on the very real problem with AI as it stands right now? How about the intersection of the ethical and legal issues with "AI" making C2 decisions? 

Next ... well ... I can't be the only one who sees this?
“China has created a set of threat rings that are very, very lethal places for U.S. forces to go,”
Yes, yes China has ... and how has she done this? With a steady building in number and quality an evolutionary force based on proven "legacy" systems that - while we were dreaming of Tomorrowland - made the American Lake that was WESTPAC in to a prickly and poisonous place. 

With the fruits of the previous Age of Transformationalism fading in to the mist to nothing - we are stuck with under-resourced and maintained Cold War systems and units that check a number box but are combat ineffective in almost peer conflict scenario.

Yes, we need make trade offs, but for at least the next half decade they need to be made in favor of repairing and reconditioning that which we neglected for the last two decades, starting with maintenance, manpower, and training. 
 “Sometimes when the department is trying to make those trade-offs to move money from one program to another, if they don’t do a good job explaining that to Congress they sort of get the hand from Congress,” Flournoy said.
If I were in Congress and someone brought that patronizing shinola to my committee room, it would be a nasty, brutish, and short hearing. 

No, when you over-promise, under-deliver and tell clear falsehoods year after year, an institution loses its institutional credibility and had no institutional capital left to demand anything from Congress but its guidance. 

Here is the baseline;

We are still suffering from the (to some) expected backwash from the Age of Transformationalism; the lost opportunity cost for things we can use now spent on futuristic promises that never came in to being; a denuded depot level maintenance infrastructure; a force equipped with sub-optimal equipment no one can use, upgrade, or can ergonomically work in the operational environment; a manning CONOP that looks at people as a problem, not an asset - something that can be burned out in perfect synchronicity with an exquisitely crafted schedule from the banks of the Potomac. You know the drill. 

We do not need a Rumsfeld II: Electric Boogaloo. We need a humble, hard working, clear eyed leader with an eye on the future, but ensuring they have the forces they need to fight 1QFY21, not just FY35. We need someone who is brutally honest with The Pentagon and the larger Military Industrial Complex about how they have fooled, hoodwinked, and bamboozled other appointees - but not this one. 

We need a SECDEF Lombardi, a Secretary No, someone who will not have us waste another generation's billions of dollars on things that fluff up balance sheets, but fail to make a shadow on the ramp, displace water, or give the infantry an extra hour of fight. 

Whoever wins in November, whoever is the next SECDEF ... may none of them take us back to the 00s. No more failed wars; no more failed transformations.

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