In 2002, the U.S. military had just two kinds of camouflage uniforms. One was green, for the woods. The other was brown, for the desert.
Then things got strange….In just 11 years, two kinds of camouflage have turned into 10. And a simple aspect of the U.S. government has emerged as a complicated and expensive case study in federal duplication.
Duplication is one of Washington’s most expensive traditions: Multiple agencies do the same job at the same time, and taxpayers pay billions for the government to repeat itself.
The habit remains stubbornly hard to break, even in an era of austerity. There are, for instance, at least 209 federal programs to improve science and math skills. There are 16 programs that teach personal finance.
At the Pentagon, the story of the multiplying uniforms has provided a step-by-step illustration of how duplication blooms in government — and why it’s usually not good….
[My favorite part:] The Navy spent more than $435,000 on three new designs. One was a blue-and-gray pattern, to be worn aboard ships. Pattern No. 8.
Sailors worried that it would hide them at the one time they would want to be found.
“You fall in the damn water and you’re wearing water-colored camouflage. What the hell is that?” said one active-duty petty officer. He asked that his name be withheld because he was criticizing a decision by the brass. “It’s not logical. It’s not logical at all to have water-colored uniforms.”
The U.S. Navy’s Science and Technology community is deploying prototypes of electromagnetic rail guns, solid-state laser weapons and underwater unmanned vehicles in operational units with sailors and Marines….
A ship-mounted electromagnetic rail gun is one such prototype being tested on Navy vessels, Klunder said.
The rail gun, which can hit ranges of 100 miles or more, uses electricity stored on the ship to generate a high-speed electromagnetic pulse sufficient to propel a kinetic energy warhead. The result, is an inexpensive, high-impact and long-range offensive weapon, Klunder said.
“Electromagnetics have been around for a long time. How do you harness them and build the rails? We’re big fans of learning how to prototype these technologies for military applications,” he added. “We’ve fired this numerous times through testing. This is showing incredible results, so much so that we are very committed to this for the future.”
The case for American retrenchment has gained new traction in Washington. Much as in the past, economic problems and public war-weariness have spurred calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for neo-isolationist policies — demands for retreat from the world clothed in the language of fiscal prudence and disinterested realism. Although there may be short-term political benefits in calling for a diminished U.S. role in the world, history shows that retreat comes with substantial long-term costs for our country….
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, some argued that the United States had fulfilled its obligation to lead the world and had defeated all plausible opponents; defense funding was slashed. Ten years later, the attacks of Sept. 11 reminded us of the risks of assuming that peace will always prevail.
Today, we are in danger of again repeating this cycle. Progress in the fight against al-Qaeda and the perceived costs of global leadership have led some to question whether the United States should retain — or is even capable of retaining — a robust international economic and political presence. Yet missing from the debate are analyses of both the benefits of this role, rather than just the costs, and whether the strategic ends to which the country aspires have somehow changed.
History has shown that, once the United States chooses to lead, we and the world benefit…. Rather than cutting first and then asking how we can manage with what’s left, we must define our priorities and interests — and only then determine how to allocate resources. If the United States is still committed to fostering a freer and more democratic world, supporting free trade, maintaining international stability and meeting threats abroad, then there must be a reasoned discussion of the ways in which diplomatic retrenchment and military budget cuts may limit our capacity to achieve those critical national goals.
Trends in nuclear proliferation and doctrine could render U.S. guarantees to allied countries “not very credible”, according to strategic-weapons analyst Barry Watts of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Affairs. In a new CSBA report, Watts notes that U.S. actions – reductions in nuclear forces and a steady drawdown in the ability to build new warheads – are at odds with activities in Russia, emerging nuclear nations and, possibly, with China.
Presenting his report today in Washington, Watts argued that many countries are no longer pursuing nuclear weapons as a direct counter to U.S. nuclear power, but to compensate for relatively weak conventional forces….
[W]hat happens … if adversaries threaten U.S. allies with that kind of an attack? How credible is a U.S. policy of extended deterrence based on full-size strategic weapons? “Not very,” Watts answered. My view: it’s like a police department whose only force option is to blow up the entire block where the perpetrator lives.
Indeed, U.S. extended deterrence is something that not enough people think about when they advocate further cuts in U.S. nuclear forces. The American “umbrella” covers nations such as South Korea, Japan and Turkey, which have the industrial and technological capability to go nuclear very quickly if they feel that they can no longer rely on the U.S. Other nations on the edge of nuclear capability include Saudi Arabia – which is considered likely to get weapons from Pakistan if Iran publicly goes nuclear….
[T]here is no single standard “firebreak” between conventional and nuclear weapons. If the conventional revulsion against their use does not hold, Watts warns, “limited use of low-yield nuclear weapons will become the new normal and give rise to a second nuclear age whose dangers and uncertainties will dwarf those of the first.
Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, American foreign policy has rested on a global system of explicit or implicit commitments to use military power to guarantee the interests of the U.S. and its allies. The current administration has chosen to reduce, limit or underfund those commitments, and the results—which we may begin to see before President Obama’s term ends—will be dangerous.
Some of America’s commitments are enshrined in treaties, such as Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, which says of NATO’s 28 member countries that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” Other commitments are less formal. The U.S. has no defense treaty with Israel, but repeated presidential declarations, including those Mr. Obama will make during his trip this week, amount to nearly the same thing.
Some commitments are moral and humanitarian, such as the “responsibility to protect” that led American decision makers racked with guilt over the Rwanda massacres of 1994 to intervene in the Yugoslav civil war in 1998. All amount to a web of obligations that have been central to the American role in the world since World War II.
Over the past four years, the U.S. has scaled down its presence, ambitions and promises overseas. Mr. Obama has announced the end of the early-21st-century wars, though in truth the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are merely shifting to new, not necessarily less-vicious phases. He has refrained from issuing unambiguous threats to hostile states, such as Iran, that engage in bellicose behavior toward the U.S., and he has let his staff speak of “leading from behind” as a desirable approach to foreign policy….
Americans take for granted the world in which they grew up—a world in which, for better or worse, the U.S. was the ultimate security guarantor of scores of states, and in many ways the entire international system.
Today we are informed by many politicians and commentators that we are weary of those burdens—though what we should be weary of, given that our children aren’t conscripted and our taxes aren’t being raised in order to pay for those wars, is unclear. The truth is that defense spending at the rate of 4% of gross domestic product (less than that sustained with ease by Singapore) is eminently affordable….
A world in which the U.S. abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states. A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons.
The year-old defense strategic guidance authored by the Obama administration is being rewritten in the wake of sequestration budget cuts that could wipe out $500 billion in military spending over the next decade. Senior military leaders, nonetheless, do not expect the revised strategy will reduce the armed forces’ global presence.
Rear Adm. Rick Snyder told a March 19 meeting of the Precision Strike Association that the U.S. military is and will continue to be involved in regions that comprise nearly three quarters of the globe….
[He] laid out what he said the Joint Staff considers the United States’ global military responsibility in its entirety, expanding the 2012 strategic guidance to include most of earth.
The strategic environment, in broad terms, is “complex, dynamic and uncertain” and includes “strategically significant actors” like U.S. peers Russia and China. The U.S. military will also have to deal with regional heavyweights like India, Indonesia and Turkey as well as “frail states” like Pakistan and Afghanistan and many in Africa, he said.
Catalysts of instability that are expected to increase in intensity in coming decades — climate change, globalization, rising demand for scarce resources — will affect all these areas, Snyder said. Transnational criminal organizations, piracy and the ongoing threat from terrorist organizations further complicate the future of U.S global military engagement, he added.
The budget debate’s central reality is that federal retirement programs, led by Social Security and Medicare, are crowding out most other government spending. Until we openly recognize and discuss this, it will be impossible to have a “balanced approach” — to use one of President Obama’s favorite phrases. It’s the math: In fiscal 2012, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and civil service and military retirement cost $1.7 trillion, about half the budget. If they’re off-limits, the burdens on other programs and tax increases grow ever greater.
It’s already happening. The military is shrinking and weakening: The Army is to be cut by 80,000 troops, the Marines by 20,000. As a share of national income, defense spending ($670 billion in 2012) is headed toward its lowest level since 1940. Even now, the Pentagon says budget limits hamper its response to cyberattacks. “Domestic discretionary spending” — a category that includes food inspectors, the FBI, the National Weather Service and many others — faces a similar fate. By 2023, this spending will drop 33 percent as a share of national income, estimates the Congressional Budget Office. Dozens of programs will be squeezed….
The budget debate may seem inconclusive, but it’s having pervasive effects. Choices are being made by default. Almost everything is being subordinated to protect retirees. Solicitude for government’s largest constituency undermines the rest of government. This is an immensely important story almost totally ignored by the media. One reason is that it’s happening spontaneously and invisibly: Growing numbers of elderly are simply collecting existing benefits. The media do not excel at covering inertia.
Liberals drive this process by treating Social Security and Medicare as sacrosanct. Do not touch a penny of benefits; these programs are by definition progressive; all recipients are deserving and needy. Only a few brave liberals complain that this dogma threatens programs for the non-aged poor.
[emphasis added: this is non-discretionary spending]
On Tuesday, the New York Times had a piece by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, a professor of American foreign relations at San Diego State University, that misunderstands America’s foreign military presence, misrepresents its role today, and mis-prescribes how to “fix” it. The piece, uninspiringly titled “Come Home, America,” rehashes old liberal talking points, then mashes them up with neo-isolationist aims of pulling American troops out of their remaining strongholds in Europe and Asia (primarily Japan). But her call for global American withdrawal is a little too slick for its own good.
It’s easy to prescribe withdrawal when you set up a straw man to frame your argument. Thus, Hoffman daringly asks about our troop locations abroad: “Why are we still fighting World War II?” The problem is, we’re not still fighting the Good War, as she acknowledges in her next sentence. Our global posture is based on Cold War commitments taken on starting in 1947; the fact that we used our presence in the occupied territory of former enemies to base American troops is no more proof that we are still fighting WWII than the Marshall Plan was evidence that we had resurrected the Dawes Plan and thus were still rebuilding Europe after World War I….
So what’s the problem today? Well, to paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, Hoffman is arguing: “I knew the Communists. The Communists were friends of mine, and China and Russia, you’re no Communists.” (Well, the Chinese are, but never mind). To Hoffman, today’s global troublemakers are just skinny street punks, not worthy of the Charles Atlas–like figure of America’s military. And it is here that her argument falls apart.
“Germany and Japan . . . are perfectly capable of defending themselves and should be trusted to help their neighbors,” she claims. “It’s time they foot more of the bill or operate their own bases.” Consider Japan first: It already spends more than $50 billion annually on defense, so it’s not exactly shirking. And yet, Washington and Tokyo also realize that no nation in Asia can outspend or outbuild China, so teamwork is necessary. Moreover, and unforgivably, Ms. Hoffman utterly ignores that Japan’s neighbors don’t trust it at all and are decades, if not centuries, away from accepting meaningful Japanese help on security issues, and therefore the Japanese can’t “help their neighbors” even if they tried. The U.S.’s “hub and spoke” structure of bilateral alliances remains irreplaceable in Asia, and it requires troops in Japan.
As for Germany (and many other American allies): Wishing something will not make it so. Berlin is ending conscription and cutting the size of its military. Britain (which will have its smallest army since the 19th century), France, and other NATO partners are all cutting defense, too. The absence of U.S. troops will not make our broke European partners suddenly build up, even if they could afford it. She is flat wrong, moreover, when she writes that “the Libyan crisis showed that our allies can do a lot.” In fact, it showed precisely the opposite, as anyone who followed the European-led operation knows: Britain and France ran out of ammunition within days of commencing airstrikes, and the U.S. Air Force and Navy provided crucial intelligence, communications, and supplies, even conducting their own operations.
But further, Hoffman appears entirely comfortable with greater risk and uncertainty in both Europe and Asia. She asserts, for instance, that “China’s authoritarian capitalism hasn’t translated into territorial aggression, while Russia no longer commands central and eastern Europe.” This is an easy wager to make when you assume we will be spared the consequences.
Tell that to Japan, which faces near-daily incursions by Chinese maritime patrol vessels into its administered waters near the Senkaku Islands, or to Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Malaysia, who are all trying to protect their territory from Chinese fishermen and Chinese state-owned patrol craft. That’s not to mention China’s suppression of Tibet or its missile buildup across the Taiwan Straits from the only democratic ethnically Chinese state. Russia, meanwhile, boasts of modernizing its military and nuclear forces, while it meddles in Ukraine and other neighboring countries. Yet, despite these threats, Ms. Hoffman considers it “irrational” to plan for a potential two-front war.
After misdiagnosing the global environment and misunderstanding America’s security needs, Hoffman then prescribes a flawed policy. She argues that Washington should continue to pressure Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, and then she praises multilateralism, of course, and offers vague nostrums about “championing the right of small nations, including Israel, to ‘freedom from fear,’” whatever that means.
It’s all very inspiring — and profoundly unrealistic. Like it or not, American influence comes from our military and economic strength. Thus, it is particularly galling that Hoffman states that our military commitments, which have helped free hundreds of millions of vulnerable people, “drain” our resources, without even mentioning America’s ruinous entitlement programs.
As for her prescriptions, we have decades of evidence that woolly-headed multilateralism doesn’t work, and that disruptive actors (such as Pyongyang and Tehran) simply use negotiations to buy time for their weapons programs. We know that our allies will continue to cut their defense budgets, at least until they get scared enough to embark on a destabilizing arms race fueled by nationalism and a sense of strategic vulnerability. And we definitely don’t want to reach that point.
What Hoffman misses is that we pay such costs to ensure stability, not to go looking for foreign monsters to destroy. It is what the military calls “phase zero” operations: shaping the international environment, assuring partners, dissuading potential adversaries. By any measure, it is cheaper than actually fighting.
The Pentagon has approved a major expansion of its cybersecurity force over the next several years, increasing its size more than fivefold to bolster the nation’s ability to defend critical computer systems and conduct offensive computer operations against foreign adversaries, according to U.S. officials.
The move, requested by the head of the Defense Department’s Cyber Command, is part of an effort to turn an organization that has focused largely on defensive measures into the equivalent of an Internet-era fighting force. The command, made up of about 900 personnel, will expand to include 4,900 troops and civilians.
Details of the plan have not been finalized, but the decision to expand the Cyber Command was made by senior Pentagon officials late last year in recognition of a growing threat in cyberspace, said officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the expansion has not been formally announced. The gravity of that threat, they said, has been highlighted by a string of sabotage attacks, including one in which a virus was used to wipe dat a from more than 30,000 computers at a Saudi Arabian state oil company last summer.
The plan calls for the creation of three types of forces under the Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that undergird electrical grids, power plants and other infrastructure deemed critical to national and economic security; “combat mission forces” to help commanders abroad plan and execute attacks or other offensive operations; and “cyber protection forces” to fortify the Defense Department’s networks.
DARPA plans to buy a second Hellads high-energy laser system from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI), to provide to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for the demonstration of a laser weapon system against targets relevant to surface ships.
Hellads is a liquid-cooled, solid-state laser that has been under development for DARPA for several years. GA-ASI is building a 150kW Hellads laser to be integrated with an existing US Air Force beam control system for a ground demonstration in 2014….
After focusing its directed-energy research for years on the free electron laser, ONR has launched a program to mature available solid-state electric laser technology with a goal of getting laser weapons on ships more quickly.
Hellads is designed to meet a weight goal of less that 5kg/kW, enabling a high-energy laser weapon to be integrated onto tactical aircraft. DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory are planning a follow-on flight demonstration under the Electric Lasers on Large Aircraft (ELLA) program.
The design is based on combining a series of unit cell modules together to produce a single 150kW laser. DARPA says GA-ASI demonstrated the required power output and optical performance with a single module, then showed that two unit cells could be integrated to produce more than 34kW.
Fabrication of the 150kW laser was planned to be completed the end of 2012. Plans for 2013 include its integration with the power, thermal management, beam control, and command-and-control subsystems to produce a laser weapon ready for low-power testing. Shoot-down tests against targets such as surface-to-air missiles and rockets will follow in 2014.
Arguing it is costly and complex to send large numbers of warships to forward operating areas - and that the energy and logistics needed to deploy lower-cost unmanned systems over oceanic distances limits their usefulness - DARPA has come with another idea.
That idea is to pre-deploy “deep-ocean nodes” in forward areas years in advance. These would be commanded from a safe stand-off distance to launch to the surface and release waterborne or airborne unmanned systems to disperse and provide ISR or “non-lethal effects” over a wide area in contested environments.
The program is called Upward Falling Payload (UFP).
[… and I am not at all certain that this isn’t an early April Fool’s joke.]
It’s quite telling that the one agency that the president wants to slash is the one that (a) is operating best and has garnered the most trust from the public and (b) is the area in which the federal government’s role is the most explicit and appropriate.
For those who still wonder whether Mr. Obama is at heart a pragmatist or a liberal ideologue, it’s worth pointing out that Obama has shown zero interest in cutting spending in non-defense related areas. In fact, during his presidency non-defense spending has skyrocketed. Mr. Obama has no desire to pare back the welfare state; his goal is to expand it beyond anything we’ve ever seen. Except when it comes to national defense. There he can barely contain his budget cutting ways.
… I suspect we’ll end up paying a very high cost for what Obama is doing in the whole area of national security, from massive cuts in defense, to losing the Afghanistan war (and our premature exiting from Iraq), to events increasingly spinning out of control in the Middle East and beyond.
At top, the Northrop Tacit Blue technology demonstrator — aka the famed flying Twinkie! At bottom, the Boeing Bird of Prey (via Urban Ghosts)
Top secret aircraft, even those that have been publicly disclosed, remain mysterious long after emerging from the black world. When – and if – secret planes are declassified, they’re treated differently from other military aircraft, and the specifics of their hardware may remain under wraps for decades. While some ultimately go to museums, others are placed into storage well away from prying eyes, awaiting a fate that may take years to arrive.
One such fate that has befallen crashed, retired or failed projects over the decades is burial. Aircraft have literally been dragged into deep pits miles from public land, often near the enigmatic Groom Lake test site in Nevada, famously known as Area 51. Not only does Groom serve as a testing ground for the U.S. government’s most advanced programmes, it also serves as the final resting place of many of its most secret aircraft. Some of these classified planes have never been publicly acknowledged.