Once in a while, we stumble across a simple solution to a seemingly impenetrable conundrum. And there is no more confusing process on the planet than Pentagon procurement. That it results in many amazingly effective combat systems for U.S. troops is a mystery and a tribute to the men, women, and companies that build the gear. But, especially since the end of the Cold War and the resulting drawdown, the process has become increasingly sclerotic.
The periodic intrusion of human greed into the process further fuels the unfortunate impulse to reform by ever-more-complex regulation. Rather than simply holding people to account for their misdeeds and, where laws are broken, prosecuting them, Congress—where the urge to regulate the defense industry transcends party or ideology—has added layer upon layer of red tape. Alas, this only increases the opportunities and incentives for further mischief, while deep-freezing an already glacial procurement system.
And when war imposes change—as it did beginning in Iraq after the invasion—and enemy action demands that new equipment be fielded rapidly, the system short circuits. To begin with, the normal order of business cannot satisfy the need. Think of how difficult it was to get the Army and Marine Corps to buy the first Mine Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles. And so then purchases are made outside the set procurement rules. Too often, the final act of the tragedy is the after-the-fact investigation that “uncovers” program irregularities.
But suppose that the Pentagon’s procurement system put a value—even a premium—on time. As it happens, this is the key to untying the Gordian knot of acquisition, as the Independent Quadrennial Defense Review Panel argues in its just-released report. The panel’s recommendation that new systems be fielded within just 5 to 7 years—as opposed to the decades now required—is both the simplest but potentially most important procurement reform. There is an almost perfect correlation between rapid fielding, good program management, low cost, and system performance. Conversely, long development times make for program nightmares.
This near-term development horizon does not mean that systems shouldn’t, can’t, or won’t be upgraded over long service life. Quite the contrary: Air Force pilots are flying an “E” model of the F-15, and tankers are driving a who-knows-what edition of the M1 Abrams. Yes, the particular platforms are aging, but the models have been consistently superior.
This would also reverse the common and conventional calculus of the past generation. But the Pentagon has gotten itself into trouble by developing more systems than it could ever buy and then parking them in a holding pattern, jacking up the cost while the technology becomes obsolescent.
Rapid procurement would also be a boost to the defense industry, making its business cycle—and its ability to finance itself—more predictable. And, while it wouldn’t change human nature or abolish greed, imposing such limits would also limit the opportunities for hanky-panky.
The QDR panel was brought to life by a Congress increasingly frustrated with the problems of defense planning. And with a procurement funding now under strain, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is searching his department for $10 to $15 billion in “overhead” savings. In the context of a near-$140 billion procurement budget, implementing a sensible buy-it-quick policy might well meet Gates’ target.
(DoD photo by Cherie Cullen)
For the past several months I’ve been helping former defense secretary William Perry, ex-national security advisor Steve Hadley and the other members of the “Independent Quadrennial Defense Review Panel”—a blue-ribbon body created by Congress to assess the Pentagon’s aging and infirm four-year strategy-and-force-planning process. Today Perry and Hadley will present the report to the House Armed Services Committee, and their unstated but obvious goal is to provoke a long-overdue national discussion about U.S. defense requirements. What follows is one staffer’s spin—a kind of reader’s guide—to the report.
Coverage of the report thus far—here’s a surprise—has focused on the panel’s critique of the QDR. And it’s certainly true that the panel strongly felt that although the 2010 QDR’s focus on fighting current wars was correct, that the Pentagon had failed to properly prepare for the future. If anything, the Obama Administration is proving itself more myopic than the Bush Administration.
But the rear-view mirror criticisms are not really the news; what would really mark success for the panel is to spark a conversation about the future. To begin with, the panel’s succinct definition of the enduring missions for U.S. armed forces gives clearer guidance to defense planners than the entire library of past QDRs or national security strategies. Rather than trying to divine a planning benchmark from these impenetrable texts—how many aircraft carriers are needed to fulfill the 2006 National Security Strategy’s mandate to “engage the opportunities and confront the challenges of globalization?”—the panel chose to study how Americans have actually made strategy over the course of the last 100 years. Across a broad political spectrum, panel members agreed that the structure of U.S. strategy reflected a global perspective with four components: defend the American homeland; retain assured access to the so-called “commons” of the seas, air, space and cyberspace; preserve a favorable balance of power across the Eurasian landmass; and provide for the global “common good.” The panel’s consensus was that these strategic principles should be followed in the 21st century as well, and that “America cannot abandon its leadership role.”
Having determined what they wanted the future to look like—rather than attempting, as past such reports have done, to precisely predict the future—the panel then found it fairly easy to understand the challenges of the coming decades. Salafist terror groups will remain a clear and present danger. But the panel recognized that, in the middle distance, larger geopolitical forces were at work—the rise of new global great powers in China and India—and that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would fuel Iran’s long-held desire to dominate the volatile and critical Persian Gulf. Further heightening the prospects for conflict in the region was the developed and developing world’s need for natural resources, especially energy. The panel also expects irregular wars in failed and failing states to be a constant feature of international life, providing sanctuary not only for terrorists but criminal groups with global reach, great wealth, and very dangerous military capacity.
The panel concluded that while these emerging conditions did create the need and opportunity for international cooperation, the most striking feature for the foreseeable future would be the continued demand for American “hard power.” As through history, security is the first order of international business. No other nation has the “system operator” capacity to provide anything like the guarantees that America gives, and the new rising powers of China and India have little immediate desire to take on such responsibilities; they have the ability to disrupt the current order, but not the power to bring order out of chaos.
And so the panel found it relatively easy to do what the 2010 QDR did not: establish a force-sizing construct for defense planning purposes. (Of all the problems of the recent QDR, this represents a cardinal failure; setting the size and capabilities of the U.S. military is the prime directive of any defense review.) With overwhelming conservative and Republican-appointee agreement, the panel looked back to the very first post-Cold War review, the Clinton Administration’s 1993 Bottom-Up Review, as the minimum expression of the requirements for U.S. global military power. As the report puts it:
U.S. defense strategy for the near and long term must continue to shape the international environment to advance U.S. interests, maintain the capability to respond to the full spectrum of threats, and prepare for the threats and dangers of tomorrow. Underlying this strategy is the inescapable reality that, as a global power with global interests to protect, the United States must remain diplomatically, economically, and militarily engaged with the world. To do so requires confidence, both at home and abroad, that the United States can and will continue to play a leading role in world affairs and can and will defend its homeland; guarantee access to global commerce, freedom of the seas, international airspace, and space; and maintain a balance of power in Europe and Asia that protects America—all while preserving the peace and sustaining a climate conducive to global economic growth.
To do this our nation needs adequate military force levels. In the absence of a force planning construct indicating otherwise, the Panel recommends the force structure be sized, at a minimum, at the end strength outlined in the 1993 Bottom Up Review. We further recommend the Department‘s inventory be thoroughly recapitalized and modernized, and special emphasis be placed on continuing the improvements in cyber defense and the effective use of the reserve components in civil defense and to respond to an attack on the homeland.
In such light, the inadequacies of the Obama Administration’s defense plans are plain, particularly in regard to the Navy, now just 288 ships, whereas the Clinton Administration planned for 346. Such an expansion, along with accelerated Air Force modernization, is key to preserving a favorable global great-power balance, and the panel also saw the need to shift U.S. posture toward the Asia-Pacific:
First, as a Pacific power, the U.S. presence in Asia has underwritten the regional stability that has enabled India and China to emerge as rising economic powers. The United States should plan on continuing that role for the indefinite future. The Panel remains concerned that the QDR force structure may not be sufficient to assure others that the United States can meet its treaty commitments in the face of China‘s increased military capabilities….[W] e recommend an increased priority on defeating anti-access and area-denial threats…. Specifically, we believe the United States must fully fund the modernization of its surface fleet. We also believe the United States must be able to deny an adversary sanctuary by providing persistent surveillance, tracking, and rapid engagement with high-volume precision strike. That is why the Panel supports an increase in investment in long-range strike systems and their associated sensors. In addition, U.S. forces must develop and demonstrate the ability to operate in an information-denied environment.
Finally, if delicately, the panel understands the need, despite the government’s fiscal problems, for increased defense spending. Nor did it agree that “management efficiencies,” reductions in “overhead costs” or the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse” would be sufficient. “We cannot reverse the decline of shipbuilding, buy enough naval aircraft, recapitalize Army equipment, modernize tactical aircraft, purchase a new aerial tanker, increase our deep-strike capability, and recapitalize the bomber fleet just by saving the $10 billion–$15 billion the Department hopes to save through acquisition reform—even if those savings can be achieved and even if they are left in the defense budget. Meeting the crucial requirements of modernization will require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.”
Blue-ribbon panels are too often apt to merely enshrine Establishment wisdom. When they don’t—and the Independent QDR Panel’s report is nothing if not a challenge to the emerging consensus on the Left and Right about American imperial overstretch—they deserve at least “man-bites-dog” attention. Sure, I’m being an advocate for a report I helped draft, but I’m only echoing the sense of urgency the members felt: “The potential consequences for the United States of a business-as usual-attitude towards the concerns in this Report are not acceptable.”
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John M. Hageman, U.S. Navy/Released)
Tomorrow, the bipartisan independent panel tasked by Congress to review the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review will release a report of its conclusions and recommendations. The panel’s chairmen, former defense secretary William Perry and former national security advisor Stephen Hadley, will also be testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on the group’s findings.
Early reports suggest that the panel pulls few punches in its critique of current DOD force structure, modernization, and cost-saving plans. According to Defense News, in the report’s introduction, panelists state that “We are concerned by what we see as a growing gap between our interests and our military capability to protect those interests in the face of a complex and challenging security environment.” Later, the panel notes that “We cannot reverse the decline of shipbuilding, buy enough naval aircraft, recapitalize Army equipment, buy the F-35 requirement, purchase a new aerial tanker, increase deep strike capability, and recapitalize the bomber fleet just by saving $10-15 billion dollars that the Department of Defense hopes to save through acquisition reform.”
In a statement released this morning, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee, explained that “The Independent Panel report accomplished what the 2010 QDR failed to do: it took a look at the challenges our military will face beyond the next five years and made recommendations—free of budgetary constraints—about the type of force and capabilities our military will need for tomorrow.” McKeon went on:
The report rightly states that our nation ‘cannot afford business as usual’, and warns that a ‘potential train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition and force structure.’ Most importantly, the report offers a realist view of the global security environment: to maintain and grow our alliances will place an increased demand on American hard power and require an increase in the military‘s force structure.
This bipartisan report repudiates those seeking a peace dividend and reaffirms the need to prioritize investment in our national defense.
Rep. McKeon’s statement features a number of other key excerpts from the forthcoming report. Expect further analysis of the document here tomorrow, following its official release.
It was, as Stanley McChrystal himself said, an occasion “that had the potential to be awkward:” a retirement speech from a commanding general whose own shortcomings precipitated a tragic fall. Fifty years ago, Douglas MacArthur rose to a somewhat similar occasion with his melodramatic “Duty, Honor, Country” address, a beautiful bit of speechifying but one, in retrospect, that seems also rife with the treacly sentiments that came so easily to MacArthur.
But at his Fort McNair farewell last week, McChrystal chose self-deprecation over self-pity, wry humor over grandiose rhetoric, specific names and places over faceless long gray lines and the crash of guns. It was fitting of a war and a man who had to measure half-steps toward victory in a small war rather than the oceanic shifts of battlefronts in a world war.
Indeed, the longest segment and most ambitious part of McChrystal’s speech honored his wife, Annie. This is, of course, a mandatory rite in any retirement speech, but McChrystal’s career has hardly been one of a garrison soldier, and one can well imagine that Mrs. McChrystal has spent many, many hours alone, not knowing her husband’s whereabouts but sure in the knowledge that his mission was a dangerous one. McChrystal honored her with a long passage from Stephen Pressfield’s The Gates of Fire, his evocation of the Spartans at Thermopylae. As King Leonidas explains to one of the wives of the 300 sent to defend the pass:
“I chose [these warriors] not for their valor, lady, but for that of their women….[W]hen the battle is over, when the 300 have gone to death, then all Greece will look to the Spartans to see how they bear it. But who, lady, will the Spartans look to? To you. To you and the other wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of the fallen.
If they behold your hearts riven and broken with grief, they too will break and Greece will break with them. But if you bear up, dry eyed, not alone enduring your loss but seizing it with contempt for its agony and embracing it as the honor that it is in truth, then Sparta will stand and all Greece will stand behind her.”
McChrystal summarized in his own words: “To all who wear no uniform but give so much…my thanks.”
One of the results of America’s experiment in a large-scale, professional, “all-volunteer” force has been a distancing of the warrior class from society at large. There is much reason to worry about this, and to try to break down the distance even while understanding that the condition is chronic and all but inevitable. Most of us wear no uniform and never will. We don’t give much, beyond paying taxes and perhaps passing up an airline seat—for which we expect bonus miles. Nor can we directly know the grief that the wives and families of the dead and wounded know. But the practice of bestowing honor on soldiers uplifts the rest of us as well as them. It is an essential expression of a virtuous society and a critical component of healthy civil-military relations.
It is too much to say that nothing became Stanley McChrystal like the leaving of service, for his service was superb; Defense Secretary Robert Gates remarked at the ceremony that no one had done our post-9/11 enemies more harm than had McChrystal, and I can quite believe that. Nonetheless, his retirement speech was a lovely grace note under what might have been awkward circumstances indeed. To the last, the general sublimated self to service.
(Photo: flickr/U.S. Embassy Kabul Afghanistan)
Last Friday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported in the Washington Post on the increasing regional uneasiness about Pakistan’s growing influence in Afghanistan. India in particular is concerned about Hamid Karzai’s recent rapprochement with Islamabad and his apparent enthusiasm for reconciliation with elements of the insurgency.
The United States faces a difficult balancing act in managing its strategic partnerships with South Asia’s archrival duo. On the one hand, Pakistan’s cooperation and assistance remains vital to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, as well as to the United States’ drone campaign along the Af-Pak border. As Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke noted during his recent visit to New Delhi, “You cannot stabilize Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan as a legitimate concerned party.” On the other hand, India is a rising power with enormous potential as a partner beyond the region, and it continues to make valuable contributions to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development.
Last week, the rhetorical scales seemed to tip slightly in India’s favor. While in New Delhi, Holbrooke made clear that “the links between the ISI and the Taliban are a problem” and “[the] U.S. has spoken to the Pakistan government and the military on ISI links with the Taliban.” Admiral Mike Mullen, who was also in the Indian capital last week, reiterated during a brief trip to Pakistan his concerns about the growing regional, even global, threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group which India rightly perceives as one of the chief threats to its security. His comments, along with the launch of the new U.S.-India Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative, should go some ways in reducing Indian anxieties about the United States’ commitment to combating terrorism and extremism regionally.
In the Post story, I was most surprised to see an unnamed U.S. official acknowledging that “India, perhaps more than any outside country, has the greatest stake in our success in Afghanistan.” I was recently cited making a similar observation in an article about India’s evolving strategy in Afghanistan: in short, of the states in the region, India’s interests in Afghanistan are most thoroughly aligned with those of the United States. India’s advisory efforts within key Afghan ministries represents a desire to see an Afghan government that functions effectively and, eventually, independently. At the same time, its infrastructure development projects, medical missions, and academic exchange programs have won India broad support among the Afghan population.
The United States has not always provided full-throated support for India’s role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, as it was believed that Pakistan’s inevitable protests would derail U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in the country. But to the degree that this view continues to wane, the United States, Afghanistan, and India will only find their shared interests better served.
(DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)
Back in April, I wrote about the delayed release of DOD’s annual report on Chinese military power. The report is now four months late, and Senators John Cornyn (R-Tx.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), James E. Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and James Inhofe (R-Ok.) have written a letter to Secretary Gates asking for its immediate delivery to Congress. That the White House continues to hold up the report’s release—in contravention of the law, by the way—is further evidence of this administration’s questionable support for a strong defense. The report is due annually in March so that it can inform the summer’s debates over the new year’s national defense authorization act. In delaying the report, which DOD finished drafting months ago, the White House is ensuring that Congress does not have an honest discussion about the threats facing the country and about how best to respond to those threats.
This, of course, is part of a pattern. The 2009 QDR, which should have informed the FY2010 NDAA, was not released until four months after the NDAA was signed. In similar fashion, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was released in April only two days before the signing of New START—not exactly enough time to allow for Congressional input on the treaty.
For political, budgetary, and ideological reasons, the Obama administration has certain things it wishes to accomplish. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s not going to let the country’s defense requirements stand in its way.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones/Released)
Yesterday, the New York Times featured an article comparing the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to those of previous major U.S. conflicts. Titled “A Trillion Can Be Cheap,” the piece explains that the wars since September 11, 2001, with their combined $1 trillion price tag, are the second most expensive American military endeavors in U.S. history; the first is World War II, which cost $4 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
The story then goes on to make a number of critical points that put those figures in greater perspective. The most important of these illustrates the burden of the wars on the economy, by calculating the costs of the conflicts as a percentage of GDP. Whereas at the peak of spending, the costs of World War II amounted to nearly 36% of GDP, the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have at their highest point only ever represented 1.2% GDP—less than World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (The graphics associated with the story illustrate this well).
Other factors that have driven up the costs of the current conflicts, the article notes, include the extent of the advanced technology employed on the battlefield today, as well as the expense of fielding and maintaining an all-volunteer force. As Gary Schmitt noted recently in related testimony, the wars in Vietnam or Korea would have been far more costly had they been fought with professional, volunteer forces instead of conscripts.
There’s no denying that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been expensive endeavors—a fact of which Americans will be increasingly reminded as calls grow in Congress to limit defense spending. But it’s important to consider the costs of the conflicts in historical context, keeping in mind their relatively minimal impact on the economy as compared to wars of the last century. It’s equally important not to overstate the potential for dramatic savings to accrue as the conflicts eventually wind down, as some analysts have recently suggested. What that argument fails to consider is the steep cost of resetting a force that has been badly strained over years of continuous combat. Even when we have finished fighting the wars, we will still be paying for them.
(DoD photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz, U.S. Navy/Released)
Looks like I spoke too soon. According to a joint statement issued by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and his South Korean counterpart, the upcoming “exercise will be a multi-day combined naval and air exercise set to commence July the 25th in the seas east of the peninsula. A range of forces will participate, including the USS George Washington, naval ship Dokdo and F-22 Raptors.”
The good news: robust exercises involving 8,000 personnel and a U.S. carrier strike group, designed to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea.
The bad news: no exercises—let alone a carrier exercise—in the Yellow Sea where the Cheonan sinking occurred, sending a clear message of weakness to the Chinese.
China complained about U.S.-ROK plans to hold an exercise in international waters in the Yellow Sea and, simply put, the United States backed down. The joint statement did promise that “this is the first of a series of ROK-U.S. combined naval exercises that will occur in both the East and West Seas,” which is good news. But if I were a betting man, I would say that any future exercises in the Yellow Sea will be significantly smaller than this first one and will not involve an aircraft carrier.
Were the upcoming exercises—our most immediate military response to the Cheonan sinking—to take place in the Yellow Sea in spite of Chinese objections, they would have incentivized Beijing to alter its behavior. Instead, the United States has altered its own behavior in the hopes that China will act more cooperatively in the future. It is folly to think that this will be effective.
This decision evidences not only a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the administration of how to deal with the North Korean problem, as I discussed here yesterday, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of how to shape Chinese behavior. China respects power and preys on weakness. Right now, Beijing smells blood in the water.
(Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Charles Oki/released)
In a speech today at AEI, Representative Paul Ryan took some initial steps to mollify those conservatives concerned that his renowned “Roadmap for America’s Future” would allow the defense budget to wither. In the question-and-answer session, AEI’s Marc Thiessen pressed Rep. Ryan about his commitment to a strong national defense. Here’s how he responded:
I believe in … the coalition of the Republican Party, in a strong national defense party. There’s lots of waste that can be saved. And those savings should go to fulfilling the mission of the Pentagon. But believe me, I’ve sat in lots of hearings, I’ve read lots of GAO reports. If you give any agency that much money there’s going to be waste. There’s a procurement problem, there’s an operations and maintenance problem, I could go on and on about ways in which we can save money—not to hollow out our defenses, not to reduce the fulfillment of our missions, but to make them better and more secure. But we should make sure we take that scalpel to the Pentagon as well. Because I would argue there is a lot of waste to be gotten. But let’s not do so at the expense of our fundamental, primary function of our federal government, which is to secure our national defense. So I believe in a big cap, and I believe in a firewall, so you can’t take money from defense to plow it into all this domestic spending, but under that cap let’s make sure that we can get savings so that we can do more with less—or, what do they say these days? Do more with not as much, I think, is the way Secretary Gates says it.
Rep. Ryan is wise to acknowledge that national defense is the primary function of government, and it’s very encouraging to hear him use terms like “firewall” and “big cap.” But the prospect of “doing more with not as much” is still an alarming one, given the extent of the United States’ defense commitments today. What’s more, the Congressman may be surprised at just how little savings he finds, relatively speaking, to take from DOD’s tail and give to its tooth.
Apropos of Rep. Ryan’s remarks is the recent testimony of AEI’s Gary Schmitt, delivered yesterday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. In his remarks, Schmitt neatly picks apart the arguments about skyrocketing defense budgets and cost-savings measures put forward in a recent report from Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul’s Sustainable Defense Task Force. Schmitt puts the United States’ current levels of defense spending in historical context:
Now, there is no question that we, as a nation, spend a lot on defense. It is often noted, for example, that measured in FY 2010 dollars, the current Pentagon budget is the highest since World War II, eclipsing the previous high at the height of the Korean War (1952). However, note that the financial burden on the nation was far more significant then; defense spending as percentage of GDP was 14%, while today—with spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan included—the percent of the nation’s wealth going to the Pentagon stands at 4.9%. Moreover, imagine what the Korean War might have cost if it had been waged by an all-volunteer force rather than relying on the more than 1.5 million draftees. The fact is, when it comes to waging wars and providing for the national defense, the burden on the country’s economy is substantially below what historically has been the average for the past 60 years.
In addition, although the core defense budget—the total Pentagon budget, minus the appropriated supplementals to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan—grew by $228 billion over a decade starting in FY 2001, that increase reflects only a moderate increase in the defense burden to the nation. In 2001, the percentage of GDP that went to defense was 3% (a post-WWII low); in 2010, it was just shy of 3.6%. And, indeed, that growth is on the order of just 4% real (CPI adjusted) growth per year. This is hardly, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked in his May speech at the Eisenhower Library, a “gusher” of spending sent the Pentagon’s way. In fact, if one factors in defense-related inflation—a figure that typically outpaces the CPI—then the so-called gusher for defense spending is more like a trickle than not.
Again, I am not arguing that the United States does not spend substantial amounts for defense; we do. However, suggesting that an increase of $228 billion over ten years is exorbitant is not, to my mind, accurate. Or, if it is, how should we compare that figure with the nearly $800 billion spent to stimulate (it was hoped) the economy?
Later on, Schmitt highlights the dangers ahead for the United States and its allies should it pursue a grand strategy of “restraint,” as advocated in the report. The full testimony is well worth a read.