Restrained Strategy, Lower Military Budgets

September 7, 2016

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Editor’s Note: Welcome to the eighth installment in our new series, “Course Correction,” which features adapted articles from the Cato Institute’s recently released book, Our Foreign Policy Choices: Rethinking America’s Global Role. The articles in this series challenge the existing bipartisan foreign policy consensus and offer a different path.


Despite five years of official complaints about “sequestration” budgets, U.S. military spending remains historically high. In 2016, U.S. military spending will be $607 billion, including $59 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, the fund that ostensibly finances wars but also funds non-war (or base) accounts. Barring a new budget deal, the fiscal year 2017 budget, now stuck in Congress, will be virtually the same size.

In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, Americans spend more on the military today than at any point in the Cold War, except the brief peaks during the Korean War and the 1980s. Current military spending is 36 percent higher in real terms than in 2000, with two-thirds of the growth in base spending. The United States spends more than double what Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea collectively spend on their militaries.

U.S. military spending is so high because U.S. security ambitions remain too broad. The strategy of primacy fails to guide choices among military responses to danger. It requires a large U.S. military, with units permanently deployed in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East, and with the capability to quickly strike anywhere with air, naval, and ground forces. It sees threats everywhere and prescribes U.S. forces everywhere to meet them. As such, primacy is less a strategy, which prioritizes resources to achieve specific goals, than a vague invocation to try to use U.S. military forces to manage the world. A strategy of restraint, by contrast, would make more choices, involve the United States in far fewer potential fights, and lead to vast savings.

A strategy of restraint would serve the United States better. By narrowing the scope of what U.S. security requires, restraint would establish a true “defense” budget. Though cost savings are secondary to strategic benefits, a military budget premised on restraint would save substantially more than hunting “waste, fraud, and abuse,” a common method of finding military savings. Waste hunters implicitly endorse primacy by objecting only to what offends their sense of sound management: overruns in acquisition programs, failed projects in war zones, or research projects with foolish titles. The Pentagon’s efficient pursuit of unwise goals is a far richer target for cuts.

The 2011 Budget Control Act theoretically imposed austerity on the Pentagon through caps enforced by across-the-board sequestration. Compliance with those caps would have cut base spending 14 percent by 2021 — hardly draconian after a decade where it grew 40 percent. However, three subsequent budget deals raised the caps and reduced cuts to 10 percent. War funds further reduced austerity’s bite. Because the Overseas Contingency Operations fund is exempt from caps, Congress allowed the Pentagon to inflate war costs and shift the excess to the base.

Even those attenuated cuts forced some adjustments. Active-duty Army end strength dropped from 570,000 to 475,000 troops over the past five years and is due to hit 450,000 in 2018 (but a total of 980,000 when the National Guard and Army reserves are included). The Navy and Air Force saw delays in the procurement of new aircraft and ships and some orders trimmed. Military construction slowed and some administrative units shrunk. After years of requests from Pentagon leaders concerned by increases in personnel costs, Congress recently agreed to modest efforts to curtail pay raises and benefits for health care and housing.

Still, the Pentagon dodged the hard choices that a real drawdown would have required. No cancellation of a major procurement program has occurred since 2011. More importantly, the Pentagon essentially avoided strategic adjustment. The much-ballyhooed rebalancing (or pivot) to Asia produced no rebalancing of funds to the Navy and Air Force, which would be most relevant in a war with China. The fight against the Islamic State kept U.S. forces in the Middle East. In the name of countering Russia, the Pentagon’s recent budget proposal for 2017 has thousands more of U.S. troops rotating through Europe. The only big change that has a strategic rationale is the Army’s shrinkage.

The Pentagon will need to find additional savings in the next several years. The military’s latest five-year spending plan would exceed the caps by $107 billion between 2017 and 2020. Moreover, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) notes, the department’s plans could cost an additional $57 billion by 2020, with less rosy assumptions about cost control and acquiescence to measures Congress heartily opposes, like another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. Congress is likely to raise budget caps but not enough to cover the gap.

Pressure to find military spending cuts will remain after caps expire. The CBO now expects the deficit to grow from 2.9 percent to 4.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over 10 years while adding nearly $10 trillion in debt. Even though defense spending should drop to around 2.5 percent of GDP by 2020, it will remain a prime target. Recent experience suggests that Republicans will block tax increases, Democrats will protect entitlements, and deficit-reduction efforts will focus on discretionary spending, more than half of which belongs to the Pentagon.

Restraint-oriented reforms can help, cutting at least 25 percent from the current $600 billion plus. Savings would arrive gradually, as the United States exited alliances, ended wars, closed facilities, and retired forces. Those cuts would be achieved by reducing commitments and military units. Divesting force structure would allow substantial savings in personnel, operations and maintenance, intelligence, and real estate costs.

A strategy of restraint would take advantage of America’s geographic advantages and give the Navy a larger share of the Pentagon’s budget. Ships and submarines have access to most of the earth’s surface without needing basing rights. With gains in range and massive increases in missile and bomb accuracy, aircraft can deliver firepower to most targets, even against states with considerable ability to defend their coastlines. The Navy would operate as a surge force that deploys to attack shorelines or open sea lanes, rather than constantly patrolling peaceful areas in the name of presence. Divested of presence-driven requirements, the navy could reduce the number of carriers and associated air groups it operates to eight or nine, retire several amphibious assault ships, cancel the littoral combat ship while developing a cheaper frigate alternative, replace the floundering F-35 with F-18s, and accelerate the shrinkage of the attack submarine force.

Restraint recommends cuts to ground forces for two reasons. First, the dearth of conventional wars where the United States might play a leading role. In the event of a conventional war on the Korean Peninsula, in the Persian Gulf region, or even in Eastern Europe, wealthy U.S. allies should man their frontlines. No modern Wehrmacht is poised to overcome them, and there is time to adjust if circumstances change. Second, counterterrorism is not best served by manpower-intensive occupational wars, which struggle to produce stability, let alone democracy. Air forces and raids cannot reorder fractious states, but they can deny haven to terrorists and aid local allies, as we see today in the war against the Islamic State.

U.S. policymakers should cut the end strength of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps. Because restraint requires less frequent deployments and reduces the emphasis on deployment speed, it would cut a smaller portion of reserve and National Guard forces. Reduced demand for military-to-military training and fewer U.S. wars would allow substantial cuts to the size and budget of Special Operations Command.

Restraint also implies cutting the Air Force’s air wings across active and reserve forces. Few enemies today challenge U.S. air superiority. This is why so many missions fall to drones and non-stealth aircraft with limited ability to fend off rival aircraft or surface-to-air missiles. Recent advances in aircraft’s ability to communicate, surveille targets, and strike them precisely with laser guidance and GPS have made each aircraft and sortie vastly more capable of destroying targets. Naval aviation, which also benefits from these gains, can bear most of the remaining airpower load.

Precision also allows massive savings in the nuclear weapons budget. A credible nuclear deterrent does not require nearly 1,538 deployed nuclear weapons nor a triad of redundant delivery vehicles — bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). No enemy can reliably track U.S. ballistic missile submarines, let alone do so with the sort of reliability required to attempt a preemptive strike against all of them. Even if extended deterrence requires the ability to preempt enemy nuclear forces, which is doubtful, a monad-only nuclear force can achieve it. They would have the help of conventional missiles, which are now accurate enough to destroy hardened silos.

Doing without the ICBM and bomber legs would save much of the $18 billion that the Pentagon plans to spend annually starting in 2021 on improving nuclear delivery systems, including a new bomber-launched cruise missile or upgrading B-2 bombers, Minuteman ICBMs, and their warheads.

Three other areas for savings are sensible though not intrinsic to restraint’s logic. First, the Pentagon’s administrative costs remain excessive despite repeated pushes to trim them. Greater results will come from consolidating combatant commands, reducing three- and four-star commands, and reducing associated contract and civilian personnel.

Second, compensation costs — including basic pay, medical costs, housing allowances, and other benefits — should be controlled. Manpower costs have jumped since 2000, with compensation far exceeding comparable private-sector earnings. Service leaders and a bipartisan coterie of defense experts annually beg Congress to adopt cost-controlling reforms. Congress has agreed to slow pay increases and to allow modest hikes in contributions to Tricare fees and housing, but it should accept the Department of Defense’s more aggressive cost-saving proposals in those areas. Also, Congress should consider reforms to future service members’ retirement benefits, such as those recommended by the 2015 Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.

Third, Congress should authorize another BRAC round. The Pentagon estimates that base capacity exceeds needs by 20 percent. It estimates that the five rounds between 1988 and 2005 produced $12 billion in recurring annual savings. BRAC is designed to overcome the congressional parochialism that imposes such inefficiency.

Proponents of a strategy of primacy often argue that a restrained military budget will expose us to danger. But the real danger is the idea that our security requires constant global patrolling, alliances, interventions, and annual costs of nearly $600 billion. A strategy of restraint would reduce our profligate military budget, save us a fortune, and keep us out of needless conflicts.


Benjamin H. Friedman is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.

Image: Dept of Defense photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

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20 thoughts on “Restrained Strategy, Lower Military Budgets

  1. People accuse Trump of promoting isolationism, this author openly advocates it.

    Would a military built along the lines of this article have ‘surged’ to deal with Saddam taking over Kuwait?

    Was it six months to buildup for the ground war? In that time the air war was in process.
    Can sufficient additional planes be built, additional pilots trained, additional bombs be made in two months to then conduct a proper bombing campaign?
    Can sufficient troops be trained, tanks built, missiles made, shells assembled in six months? Then ship them over to theater?

    The DC police force is said to be 3,900. In the logic of this article that is far too many. Wouldn’t 500 be sufficient? If something happens they can just call upon neighboring municipalities, who also bent to the ‘logic’ of this article and don’t have the personnel to assist anyone else. But hey, whatever, as long as money is saved.
    In the meantime new officers can be trained and tossed into the melee.
    Well, no. The melee would be over by then. But this is actually good. Considering it would be meaningless to surge new police officers, there’s no point in doing so, ergo, money saved.

    Why have fire extinguishers around the house? Fires ONLY occur in the kitchen so I only have to have one extinguisher on hand, money saved.

    Everything the author advocates represents the textbook definition of ‘false economy’. Nothing was left out, I’m impressed.

    1. I would like to comment but my jaw is still on the ground from the shock of the authors lack of understanding of what it takes to equip and train marines, soldiers, sailors, and marines. Not to mention the need s of a trained industrial base.

      The lack of true intellectual understanding of the author is beneath the writing on this site.

      1. Gents,
        I’ve been a military professional for over 30 years now, but I see a lot (a lot) of sense in this article. I understand that it takes time to generate forces for war, but I also understand and accept the authors unstated assumption – that the US need not fight any major wars in the foreseeable future.
        So to reply to your Iraq/Kuwait example, Dan, the answer would be: The US would have done nothing except exert diplomatic pressure. In hindsight I think most strategists would agree that sending troops into the Middle East was the single worst strategic error the USA has ever made. The US had no vital interests at stake there, and still does not. (And no, we don’t care who owns the oil. They need to sell it and if they don’t others will). So let the locals fight it out.
        The author makes this same case explicitly for Europe and Asia. Our allies there are quite capable of looking after their own interests.
        If the US adopted its traditional strategy of off-shore balancing we could probably assume ten years notice before it needs to intervene on another continental conflict.
        Really, since there is no country with the means to cross oceans and invade the USA, the only military threat to the USA is from nuclear weapons. A sufficient deterrence capability is needed to counter that.
        Once you accept the authors unstated (but I must say quite reasonable) assumption that the US need not fight any wars for the foreseeable future, then his proposals seem quite modest. Indeed, why not disarm completely then, one might ask?
        Obviously, because there is a need to maintain skills and an industrial base. While the US may wish to participate in small missions here or there, there is no Need to do so, and certainly no need to go into debt to so.
        And that’s the real reason to cut now: It makes the US stronger for the next war. In the long term, a nations military strength is based not on forces in being but on population and economic power. Every dollar spent on over-insuring the US today is not spent on building up its human and economic base.

        1. Rayifarrell,

          Wouldn’t such a mentality transform the US’ armed forces into something more like the German, Taiwanese, or Japanese forces? Would such forces be able to perform a first-strike option if it was a strategic necessity?

  2. I have a number of counter-points on this one, but let’s start with this

    ” Manpower costs have jumped since 2000, with compensation far exceeding comparable private-sector earnings. .”

    First off you cannot compare the private sector to the military in regards to pay or benefits and if you’ve ever served a day in uniform you would realize this.

    We’re not talking about a 40 hr. a week cushy office job, where they get to sit around and pontificate on their ideas

    Majority of active duty service members maybe be called to work at any time during the week, month, year, work long hours, and be deployed away from home for months if not years at a time and may give their life in service of their country. Guard and Reserve members have made the same sacrifices during recent conflicts

    Do you really think there is any comparison in the private sector to the work schedule and hardships that service members have?

    Do you really think it matters one bit how civilians are compensated in their wages, health benefits and retirement compared to the military?

    Shall we talk about the lackluster care our veteran’s are currently receiving through the VA hospital system?

    You want to change the retirement? Fine, then every military member deserves the same retirement package and pay rates given to congress., because unlike our congressmen, the military actually deserves it.

    1. Actually, a comparison between military and civilian compensation matters for a number of reasons. Foremost, the whole population is paying for it, so we — military and civilian — should understand how the money’s being spent. Since the civilian population is the source of volunteers for an all-volunteer force, the DoD needs some benchmark to insure military pay and benefits are attractive enough to bring in good volunteers…patriots or not, bills have to be paid, and you certainly won’t argue that military families ought enjoy a lesser standard of living (there’s enough of that already). And it’s a measure of affordability — whatever your stance on distribution of the federal budget, the treasury’s not bottomless.

      As far as comparison between tasks, let’s keep ourselves grounded in reality. No one spends an entire career deployed…it ebbs and flows. And there are plenty of military specialties that have civilian counterparts close enough to make some comparison. Not to mention there are some civilian occupations that demand long hours in harsh environments, and are even risky to life and limb. So while rightly demanding adequate support for those still in uniform and their families, for those of us who put in a whole career, and especially for taking care of those broken and worn out, let’s not destroy our credibility by claiming we’re too unique to compare with the population we come from. (And I did spend a day in uniform. Many thousands.)

      As far as the general thrust of the article, consider the source. Cato is consistent with their message. I don’t think they’re entirely right, but the kernel of truth is that Bad Things happen in the world all the time, and we shouldn’t — even if we can — be the solution of first resort to take care of them. We need a clear assessment of what’s important enough to spend American blood and treasure on — something clear enough for John and Jane Taxpayer to understand — and then provide the means to support it. We’ve spent too long trying to conduct war on the cheap, with poorly defined goals, and it’s damaged both our economy and our credibility.

      1. Where I agree that bad things happen and we should not be the first resort to take care of them. The solution is not disarmament and gutting the core strethght that underwrites our diplomacy and economic might as the writter advocates.

        We are an 18T dollar economy spending less per GDP than in modern times. To tie the argument to inflation measurement is grabbing a statistic to bolster a bad argument. One just needs to look at modern automobiles if their cost were only to rise by the cost of inflation I wouldn’t be paying $54,000 for a new pickup truck.

        Modern weapons systems are far more complex and include more costly electronics much like an automobile. Except without the same world wide supply chain given to help reduce cost. the writter provides zero contexts to the cost nor to the bow wave of legacy systems requiring replacements everything from subs, cruisers, Oilers, destroyers, f15, F16, b1, B52, humvee’s, m111, m2s etc. we are facing a bow wave of legacy equipment reaching end of life and requiring replacment or life extension costs. All which can’t be done at spending that is falling below 3% of GDP.

        In looking at the increase in new car cost just look at the modern soldier. Long gone are the days of being issued an m16A1 with iron sights. Now it a complete weapons system an m4 equipped with rails for laser designator, day night capable optics, among other mission specific items. All together we go from a m16 that may have cost $455 per soldier in the 80s to a $4,600 weapon system. A cost that far out strips inflation.

        1. Exactly. We’re not simply replacing old stuff (and people) with new. Not only is today’s hardware more capable than what it replaced, today’s *troops* are expected to be more capable…that requires recruiting good raw material into a volunteer force, and it requires training not only to operate all this sophisticated hardware, but to use it effectively and intelligently. So indexing costs to inflation is meaningless.

          Indexing costs to GDP is likewise meaningless. Quoting a proportion of GDP figure simply says “as a nation, we afforded this before, we should be able to afford it again.” And that’s probably true…but not very helpful. You didn’t buy a $54k pickup because 20 years ago you spent a certain proportion of your pay on car payments. You decided what you needed in a truck, and $54k is what it cost. If that took a bigger bite of your paycheck, but you had to have that truck, you adjusted your budget. And if it had been a $27k truck, you wouldn’t have bought two just because you could afford it.

          Since the end of the Cold War, our basic national strategy can be summed up in two words: resist change everywhere. That’s a very expensive strategy, and it doesn’t make much sense. We’re 25 years overdue for an open debate on national strategy — where and under what conditions we’ll come roaring in, where we’ll rely on others to take care of themselves, and frankly, where we’ll let events take their course. We build to support that strategy, and adjust our budget and revenue generation to pay for it.

      2. One critical difference, mentioned earlier, is the difference between entering the boardroom and entering the battlefield, between going into a meeting and going into harm’s way.

        The price of readiness was demonstrated in Korea (we were Not ready, so not ready) and the ’91 Gulf War (we were ready).

        It is close to impossible to quantify the price of prevention if it always works (unless you’re the opponent being held back. That would be good intel to have). But the price for when it is not applied, or otherwise, ignored is easily quantified, such as World War One, being forced to introduce a draft and such.

      3. My point was the author thinks the military is overpaid “Manpower costs have jumped since 2000, with compensation far exceeding comparable private-sector earnings.”

        Which is not the case. So since his whole premise is cuts across the board, trying to compare the two isn’t going to support that idea

        I agree there are jobs in the military that exist in the private sector (Law Enforcement, Intelligence Analyst, Medical Techs, Doctors, Lawyers, Air Traffic Controllers, Mechanics, etc.) and in the private sector they are always paid more and often have better medical benefits.

        1. Generalizations — lower word count, but accuracy suffers.

          Cato Institute is a libertarian-leaning think tank — everything they say is designed to prune the federal government back to a minimum. That doesn’t produce good strategy, but the status quo isn’t doing us much good, either.

  3. First off, I’d like to note that restraint isn’t a strategy.
    What’s your end goal here?
    Are you just trying to reduce spending or do you actually care about restructuring the force to meet the needs of the 21st century?
    Because reading through this, it just sounds like you want to make cuts for the sake of making cuts, which has never fixed anything in the Federal Government. Focusing on the fact that spending is higher than previous years, or we spend more than other countries, isn’t the right approach. It doesn’t matter what other countries claim they spend on defense.
    If we want to reduce waste in the Federal government to include the Department of Defense, that’s fine, but making random cuts isn’t going to solve that problem.

    “The Navy would operate as a surge force that deploys to attack shorelines or open sea lanes, rather than constantly patrolling peaceful areas in the name of presence.”

    Hate to break it to you, but patrolling peaceful areas, is part of the Navy’s mission, always has an always will be. Or are you not aware that the Navy is involved in not only military operations, but Maritime security, counter-piracy as well as humanitarian assistance?

    You might want to actually read up on our national defense strategy as well as the Navy doctrine.
    For example:
    “Secure U.S. strategic access and retain freedom of action
    For more than sixty years, the United States has secured the global commons for
    the benefit of all. Global prosperity is contingent on the free flow of ideas, goods,
    and services. The enormous growth in trade has lifted millions of people out of
    poverty by making locally produced goods available on the global market. Low
    barriers to trade also benefit consumers by reducing the cost of goods and
    allowing countries to specialize. None of this is possible without a basic belief
    that goods shipped through air or by sea, or information transmitted under the
    ocean or through space, will arrive at their destination safely. The development
    and proliferation of anti-access technologies and tactics threatens to undermine
    this belief.”

    Who do you think plays a role in that? It’s the Navy on patrol in peaceful areas.

    “Divested of presence-driven requirements, the navy could reduce the number of carriers and associated air groups it operates to eight or nine, retire several amphibious assault ships, cancel the littoral combat ship while developing a cheaper frigate alternative, replace the floundering F-35 with F-18s, and accelerate the shrinkage of the attack submarine force.”

    You can’t be serious; this is exactly what I was talking about with blind cuts. You also contradict a later point you make saying the Navy can take over for airpower if the airforce is cut as well as the nuclear mission if we cut ICBMs and Bombers.

    “First, the dearth of conventional wars where the United States might play a leading role. In the event of a conventional war on the Korean Peninsula, in the Persian Gulf region, or even in Eastern Europe, wealthy U.S. allies should man their frontlines.”

    You might want to take time to understand out commitments to our NATO allies and our agreements with the ROK forces, should a conflict break out in Europe or the Korean peninsula and look at their force structures. You cannot assume, they have the manpower to take a leading role.
    As far as a conventional war breaking out in the Middle East, where have you been the last 30 years? Have you seen any of our allies step up and provide ground forces to support us?

    “Restraint also implies cutting the Air Force’s air wings across active and reserve forces. Few enemies today challenge U.S. air superiority. This is why so many missions fall to drones and non-stealth aircraft with limited ability to fend off rival aircraft or surface-to-air missiles. Recent advances in aircraft’s ability to communicate, surveille targets, and strike them precisely with laser guidance and GPS have made each aircraft and sortie vastly more capable of destroying targets. Naval aviation, which also benefits from these gains, can bear most of the remaining airpower load.”

    No one can challenge us? That’s a bit of Hubris there don’t you think? Last time I checked we had several peers with modern/modernizing air and air defense capabilities or have you forgotten about Russia and China? Now that that we’ve made this poorly structured deal with Iran, you can bet they’ll want to modernize the IRAIF and the Air Defense command. In a Korean conflict scenario, while the Air Force isn’t on par with our, they do have a considerable air defense threat.
    And once again you contradict your points, you want to cut the number of aircraft carriers we have along with the F-35. In case you’re not aware that would REDUCE the capabilities of Naval aviation, not improve them, so no they wouldn’t be able to bear the airpower load, if those cuts were made and the air force was cut as well.

    1. Agree with every point except ROK. They are an ally that spends on their defense and are quite capable. In many ways they are a model for our NATO allies to replicate. Though not an expeditionary force like the US they are structured to defend themselves and have provided forces for every war since Vietnam. They spend more than 2.5% of their GDP and have built an indiginoeus arms industry . They field an active force of 630,000 men and 2’970,000 reserves.

      They field a modern well trained army of 495,000 active soldier which is bigger than the US Army with 2,500 MBTs, 5,800 mixed artillery, 2,700 APCs, 60 MLRS, 600 Helios. Not to mention a reserve force of 400k additional soldiers. They also equip their soldiers with the new k11 which is a dual air burst weapon costing $14k per soldier (again a fact that the writter seems to forget we don’t field armies with Springfield rifles anymore or where they bring their own musket to the fight)

      Beyond their army their navy has 41,000 sailors and 29,000 marines supported by a fleet of 160 ships made up of 10 subs, 120 surface combatants, 10 amphibs, and a remaining mix of 20 mine and auxiliary ships plus 60 aircraft and 500 armored vehicles. In comparison to our NATO partner and former maritime heavy weight the UK they are larger across the board.

      Their air force has another 65,000 active duty airmen and around 800 aircraft of which more than half 450 are combat aircraft.

      In any fight with the north they will be the ones leading the fight especially in the early days and they know it and are structured to fight and win. They have a high state of readiness and in many ways have higher readiness rates than we do today.

      So unlike many of our NATO allies (Germany, Britian, Canada Italy) South Korea is pulling its weight in providing for its defense.

  4. I’d like to see some specifics on what a restrained strategy looks like. What areas that the US is now involved in should we back off from?

    I do agree that it seems the US feels a responsibility to solve every problem on the planet and this is nether affordable nor effective (we don’t always do such a good job solving problems – we often create them).

    One thing that sticks out in my mind is that the US used to make great fighter jets at reasonable cost – I am thinking of the F-16 which was about 11million when it first came out. Now we have such a fascination with out there tech and develop such complex weapons with insanely high cost that we end up depriving necessary operational units. The infantry/Marines are starved whilst we have all this whiz bang fancy high tech at insane cost. The procurement piece needs major overhaul – we should develop restraint around what kind of equipment we get.

    Finally, the Pentagon has proposed some sensible cost savings which the Congress rejects – things like a co pay on prescription drugs or reducing the number of civilian employees in the Pentagon, then there is the ridiculous number of admirals, generals and the massive staff they employ. Let’s go after that first.

    1. History makes many things look wonderful. F-16s…models of simplicity…but in 1975, it was bleeding edge tech. Statically unstable by design. Multiplexed digital flight controls. Fully fly-by-wire (no backup mechanical connection between the stick and the control surfaces). Significant use of carbon fiber in the structure. Multi-function displays from the start in the cockpit.

      Nor was it completely without problems. A/B models suffered compressor stalls so often that they were restricted to flying within gliding distance of bases for a period. The configuration is still prone to high-AOA deep stalls. The canopy jettison sequence for the two-seaters had to be modified to avoid having the canopy smack the back-seater in the head during ejections (a European air force discovered that in the late ’80s). And $11 million was nothing to sneeze at when $5000 could buy a new car.

      Our problem isn’t fascination with high tech — it’s reluctance to speed up the cycle. We’re so insistent on perfection now that it takes 15 years to develop an aircraft, making it so expensive that we feel we have to keep it for 30 years (which turns into 50 years) to recover the investment. By the time we replace it, we’re driven to make another huge leap in capability and replace the whole force, instead of an incremental leap and replace part of it.

      Congressional members will do nothing to endanger their job security. But all those things are just nibbling around the edges until we figure out where we’re going.

      1. Quite wise, Warlock. Can you imagine being on the engineering and design staff for a project like the Zumwalt or he CVN-21s? By the time the keel is laid, the entire interior of the ship could have been redesigned five times over due to the modernization efforts which occur over the span of construction. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have programs like the B-52 and C-130 that just keep on working, far exceeding their expected design life.

        1. Don’t have to imagine. In the late ’80s, I was involved for a couple of years in weapons carriage testing for the Advanced Tactical Fighter and adaptation of the AIM-120 missile for internal carriage. It only took about 10 years (by which time I was long gone from that assignment) to see results for the AMRAAM…and *another* 10 years to see F-22s on the ramp.