Thursday, July 07, 2022

Pluperfect's Programmatic Imperfection on the Future Perfect's Presentism

Today let's look not at tactical, operational, or even strategic challenges. No, let's instead look at the political, bureaucratic, and industrial structures that exist to enable everything else.

There is a lot of money floating around the USA's defense budget and yet in the post-Cold War period no one feels we are making progress. On the naval surface side of the house, the promised future seems to underperform (LCS), be stillborn (DDG-1000), never arrive (CG(X)), or become limping testimony of institutional arrogance (FORD).

On the land side, any attempt to move beyond Cold War era platforms fail to transition past prototype from self-propelled howitzers to amphibious assault craft. 

In the air, we cancelled F-22, overestimated F-35, and are to the point we are restarting the F-15 line in an echo of Navy's restarting DDG-51 last decade.


We did this to ourselves. In 1986 Goldwater-Nichols was signed along with the cult-of-the-Joint that followed and the now accretion-hobbled post-Cold War acquisition system that is more interested in process - and itself - than actually producing things that displace water, make shadows, and can engage an enemy.

Our natsec nomenklatura on balance is motivated by something - incentivized by something - but providing usable kit serving to support national security needs of our nation is not it.

Desert Storm in 1991 was won by the pre-Goldwater-Nichols military. Since then, we were defeated by a pre-modern culture in Afghanistan, Iraq is still a wreck in progress, and our enemies seem comfortable in calling our bluffs - some successfully, some not.

We are not hopeless or completely unable - mass has use and we are in most areas still the big kid - but we are underperforming and allowing our comparative advantage to fade year after year in to parity - when we should be moving from strength to strength.

It doesn't have to be like this - but we seem happy to allow it to be.

The same institutions and mindsets that failed to see the obvious collapse in Kabul not even a year ago, failed to see Russia's advance in to Ukraine this winter. No one is accountable. Everyone thinks they did a good job.

...and yet, the national security apparatus at the dawn of the second half of 2022 wants you to believe that this time, in the face of China's rise, they will get it right.

They use "pacing" to describe a threat that is gaining, passing, or lapping our own. They come up with their buzzwords and promises each POM cycle as if they have always gotten things right before - and as they had in the 30+-yrs they have owned our system - that they have all the time in the world to get their contracts, generate their white papers, pad their resumes, and prepare for their just reward.

We should defer to them. We should acknowledge their authority. We should be thankful they are in power.

Since the "do more with less" of the Perry years of the 1990s, through the Age of Transformation of the Rumsfeld era, to the distractions of petty domestic political games and reputation-covering of the last decade and a half, we find ourselves losing our status of the primary power in the Pacific to a nation all the Smartest People in the Room™told us was a peaceful rise, a way to get rich, ... a fair partner in the international system ... you know the drill.

We accepted the promise of a future that was never delivered, are less secure than we were, and then the same people, processes, and organizations who got us here demand that we should quietly accept their continued leadership.


The future is here, we were lied to, the nation's security is weaker than at any point since the 1980s, and the worst people have gotten rich in the process.

In an ideal world, Congress would already have Goldwater-Nichols replaced with something more aligned with this century and not the last; our moribund, corrupt, and incompetent acquisitions system pulled up root and branch and replaced; the institutional ball-gag and intellectual lobotomy of Joint would be gone - but alas - we don't live in Salamanderland.

We have what we have, and smart people are doing their best to bring attention to the crisis at our feet from a lack of Congressional action and Executive Branch imagination.

The future is here and time is short.

One of the best natsec minds out there, Mackenzie Eaglen, put out over the weekend a must read. If I could make her Empress I would, but instead all I can do is help spread the world. Head on over and read her article in Real Clear Defense in full. Here are the bits I hope people learn by heart;

The U.S. military’s conventional deterrence and global leadership will also extinguish if time is continually wasted on uncertain wishes for an equally uncertain tomorrow. Unlike the financial state or strategic posturing of American military forces, there is one variable of which neither Congress nor the Executive has control—one that burns away irrespective of perception: time.

Two generations of leadership consumed two generations of possible, incremental gains in capability and achieved nothing but broken promises and IOU's. Heck, "we" even had to trick the system and fool ourselves to get the Super Hornet in production by acting like this new airframe was just an update to an existing one.  That was the exception. 

Never forget, there is a lot of money to be made on extending development times, prototyping things that can never be brought in to production, or allowing the good idea fairy to go on a drunken requirements rampage without adult supervision. There is also a lot of money in killing potential advances - like the X-47B - from going in to production to keep the high-margin developments in place without endangering paranoid communities until certain year-group leader's retirement dates arrive.

Cynical? Sure. Based on fact? Yes.

As the military enjoys the luxury of manufactured peace until 2027 based on optimistic assumptions, Pentagon leaders are simultaneously giving away permanent combat power and capability today as troops wait for the vaunted tomorrow to bear fruit.  

Defense planners are moving far too fast in giving away what cannot be clawed back and far too slow in estimating when Beijing might move forcibly against Taiwan. This is both an invitation for aggression and a recipe for failure.

Why is our primary warship class in 2022 derived from a platform designed before Goldwater-Nichols/JCIDS/Joint grew deep roots? Did we learn nothing from the premature decommissioning off the OHP FFG and SPRUANCE DD for the promise of LCS and DDG-1000?

Accepting a unilateral drawdown of trained manpower, capacity, training, and posture throughout the next decade will result in a self-inflicted stasis, in which our weapons and warfighters become more like antiques than armed forces—expensive yet impractical.

The Pentagon and Congress have for three decades delayed modernization critical to the sustainment of credible U.S. combat power. Backs against the wall now, policymakers must not cede American military supremacy to a “dusty death,” but rather revise the pace of productivity by accepting that the armed force cannot survive on “buying time” to gain capability, but rather buying capability to gain time.

No more Charlie-Brown and Lucy with the football. There is no time to "divest to invest" and we should have enough self-respect to stop deferring to people, institutions, and processes that have failed us for generations.

As Jerry Hendrix mentions in his recent article over at National Review; the Chinese are serious in their plans while we are ... doing what exactly?

China is willing to suffer pain to surpass the West and revenge its “century of humiliation.” We can expect that China’s new supercarrier will go to sea often to test its new capabilities and then begin putting its new aircraft and pilots to their paces. China already has two more Type 003 supercarriers under construction and is on pace to produce one every 18 months for the foreseeable future. We struggle to build a new carrier every four years. With its construction capacity, China will soon have the upper hand in sea control and power projection in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In addition to the changes outlined above and in previous posts, let me remind you of other acts I have been asking for the last few years when "The Long Game" became the next away game; 

1. No weapon system presently under production will be allowed to stop production until its replacement is under production itself.

2. Acknowledge we have lied to ourselves for decades actual magazine requirements in war (use "new" lessons from the Russo-Ukraine War for the tender to save face - whatever works) - and accelerate/restart production of everything from ASW weapons to strike weapons of all types.

3. Acknowledge that we do not have enough weapons - specifically anti-air and land attack - on our warships. Every war proves this and recent experience tells us this.

4. If I take away your access to satellite VOX & DATA and you cannot navigate and fight, you are not a wartime asset and your funding sent somewhere useful.

5. Accelerate capacity for repair away from fleet concentration areas, preferably afloat. Maximize production of sealift and begin the process to replace the C-5M.

6. If your combat unit does not have organic, robust unmanned ISR under the command of your unit's commander, you are worthless in the war to come and you will have such a capability by FY25 or you will be disestablished.

7. Pass the Salamander Bill: no General of Flag Officer shall, for a period no less than 5-yrs from retirement date, receive compensation of any kind or anything of value from any publicly or privately held company that does business with the federal government, nor shall they serve in any non-paid positions with same.

Yes, #7 is important. If you have not realized why in 2022, you are part of the problem.

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