F-35’s for India?

by Michael Mazza

DoD’s “Report to Congress on U.S.-India Security Cooperation” garnered attention last week for stating that “the United States would be prepared to provide information on the [F-35 Joint Strike Fighter] and its requirements (infrastructure, security, etc.) to support India’s future planning.” Although India’s decision earlier this year not to down-select either the F-16 or F/A-18 in its Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition was disappointing, it does not appear to have derailed U.S.-India defense cooperation. From DoD’s point of view, it would be in America’s interests for India to fly the F-35, which would significantly enhance the Indian military’s ability to interoperate with U.S. forces and those of American allies.

The report is worth reading in full, as it makes clear the extent of U.S.-India defense cooperation efforts already underway. Some quick highlights:

  • 56 “cooperative events” in FY 2011 – “more than India conducted with any other country”
  • Seven annual combined military exercises
  • Four instances of operational cooperation in the last decade
  • More than 20 Foreign Military Sales agreements since 2002

The report asserts that “the United States and India are natural partners, destined to be closer because of shared interests and values and our mutual desire for a stable and secure world. A strong bilateral partnership is in U.S. interests and benefits both countries.” DoD, at least, is working to build that partnership.


Japan’s New PM Takes A Strong Stance on Defense

by Lara Crouch and John VerWey

After only two months in office, Japan’s latest prime minister is already making a reputation for himself as something of a defense hawk. Yoshihiko Noda’s conservative fiscal policies were well known before his election in August. The finance minister under the Kan government, Noda’s election was widely seen as a recognition that Japan needs to address its serious economic issues, including a strong yen, 197.5% public debt, and costs of between $235 billion to $310 billion incurred from the March 2011 earthquake reconstruction. While he is certainly working to address these problems, it is his recent remarks on defense which have garnered international attention.

Japan’s changing regional priorities have provided the impetus for Noda’s emphasis on defense. Commenting recently on Japan’s security situation, he stated that it “has grown increasingly murky due to China’s stepped-up activities in local waters and its rapid military expansion…” The updated National Defense Program Guidelines, released by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in December 2010, reflect Japan’s increasing concern over the growing threat posed by China. As recommended by the Guidelines, Noda recently indicated that he may be willing to relax a weapons manufacturing ban that has been in effect for 45 years. This decision would open the door for Japanese companies to participate in the joint manufacture of multinational projects like the F-35 fighter, providing domestic economic opportunities and thereby a potential political victory in the early months of Noda’s administration.

With the revelation last month that Japanese Air Self-Defense Force fighters have scrambled 83 times in the first half of 2011 in response to PLA aircraft, and with Chinese vessels’ continued operations in and around Japanese territorial waters, it is clear Tokyo has many reasons to focus on defending itself.  Noda’s biggest challenge remains focusing on the growing need to deal with an “increasingly murky” East Asian security situation as he faces significant pressure from an electorate largely concerned with domestic priorities such as post-earthquake reconstruction.

(wikimedia commons/Noda_Geithner)

As the Obama administration speeds up the drawdown in troops and rushes for the exit from Afghanistan, the Taliban has begun to celebrate the American withdrawal as a victory, and it is preparing for a comeback after foreign troops leave the country.

In a message posted today on the Taliban’s website to congratulate Muslims on the eve of Eid al-Adha, the group’s reclusive leader Mullah Omar praised his fighters for inflicting severe damage to the “invaders” and forcing the “greatest enemy of Islam” from Afghanistan:

For the past ten years, our brave Mujahedeen have been engaged in Jihad against a brutal and invading enemy for a noble cause, and are rendering sacrifices on a daily basis. And with Allah’s help, they have pushed the wealthiest and most arrogant power of the world to the brink of collapse. They have killed and wounded thousands of their troops and inflicted permanent disabilities and mental disorders on many others. As a result, their people have risen up, are protesting, and the American and Western nations are no longer ready to extend the Afghanistan war and see their soldiers return in coffins. It is only Allah Almighty’s grace and mercy that He chose us to serve this nation and the Islamic community at this determining and sensitive juncture and defeated the greatest enemy of Islam by our hands.

The fugitive leader also warned his fighters that they would be penalized if found negligent in protecting civilians — an attempt to win hearts and minds after a U.N. report recently found the Taliban responsible for about 80 percent of civilian deaths. But Mullah Omar also cautioned the population to “avoid moving in close proximity to Americans that patrol in villages and countryside” because they will be targeted by the Taliban. Writing under the title of Amir-ul-Momineen, the leader of the Muslim community, he also called on Muslims around the world to observe Islamic law and “be cautious of the plots of the enemies of Islam.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said Washington was ready to negotiate with Mullah Omar and now regarded his involvement as key to peace in Afghanistan. American and Afghan officials have also tried to encourage the Taliban leadership to attend the international summit to be held next month in Germany to decide on Afghanistan’s future. But Mullah Omar rejected the Bonn Conference as “pointless.” He sees President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s strategy as preparation for surrender, and he envisages a complete Taliban military victory. Sometimes what American diplomats see as sincere outreach to seek an adversary’s unclenched fist, the enemy simply sees as weakness.

(flickr/user The White House)

Cross-posted from National Review Online.


Devaluing the Concurrency

by Tom Donnelly

“Concurrency” in defense programs-that is, overlapping development and production of weapons systems-has long been a controversial Pentagon practice. Not surprisingly, inventing something while beginning to build it, particularly something as complex as a modern warship, aircraft, or combat vehicle, introduces the risks of schedule delays and cost overruns. At the same time, the rapid fielding of a still-to-be-perfected system can create or preserve an advantage on the battlefield; it’s the technological equivalent of getting there “the fastest with the mostest.”

Now the Obama Pentagon is threatening to rewrite the procurement rules in a way that would make it extremely difficult to have the option of concurrent development and production.

While there’s no way to eliminate the risks, the Defense Department has often felt that the rewards of concurrency outweighed the risks. Back in the 1980s, a Congressional Budget Office study of the issue judged that, of the 31 major systems it surveyed, 13 qualified as “highly concurrent.” The CBO also found that “concurrent development and production of weapons systems has been emphasized during wartime or periods of national emergency, when a consensus readily supported the acceleration of high-priority weapons systems.” Historical examples included depth charges and nuclear weapons in World War II, the Sputnik-era missile programs of the 1950s, and the introduction of “smart” weapons from the 1960s through the 1980s.

There has been a wide range in Pentagon procurement policies over time; they seem to change with the decades. It was under Robert McNamara in the 1960s that the Pentagon went for concurrency in a big way, but the troubles of the C-5 cargo plane program and other rapidly developed and fielded systems swung the pendulum back to a more cautious approach. In the early 1970s, the Pentagon adopted a “fly-before-buy” approach along with a more rigorous effort of operational testing. The fashion changed again when, in the late 1970s, the Defense Science Board noted that development and production of weapons systems was taking longer than ever, and the defense build-up of the Reagan years again embraced systematic concurrency.

Hemlines have risen and fallen several times since, and Congress-which loves to sensationalize procurement scandals-has increasingly imposed testing and other hurdles to concurrent development and production. Yet, when the national or military need is great, everyone turns a blind eye and the normal bureaucratic order is set aside. Nothing reflects this basic common sense more than the rapid purchase of $25 billion in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Time is of the essence,” then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress. “Every month troops go without MRAPs could indeed cost lives.”

In sum, whatever the problems of unpredictability in cost and schedule that inevitably come with concurrent development and production, the Pentagon has always wanted to have the option open. But concurrency is only possible if the Defense Department is willing fairly to share the costs and risks.

This long-time bargain is now under threat from Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the acquisition officials of the Obama administration. They’re seeking to change the terms of the next production contract for the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter. Instead of splitting the costs and risks with prime F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin, Carter now wants to move the so-called “share line” substantially in Lockheed’s direction, perhaps to the point where the company runs all the financial risks.

The administration, still hunting $489 billion in overall defense cuts simply to meet targets in the recent Budget Control Act, has already hinted at F-35 program reductions.  It’s also happy to dump the blame on Lockheed for the JSF’s troubled development, counting on conservatives in Congress-led by Senator John McCain, who has advanced essentially the same idea in legislation-to regard the proposed contract changes as “procurement reform” targeting “Pentagon waste, fraud and abuse.” Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s “director of defense pricing,” represents an administration spoiling for a fight.  “We’re going to be breaking some glass here.”

But defense industry analyst Loren Thompson more accurately explained the immediate effect to Reuters: “If the government succeeds in shifting the ultimate risk…then it could easily wipe out any profit on the program and leave the company unprotected against future liability.” Only in the Defense Department can you ask a someone to invent an airplane unlike any previous airplane, change your mind repeatedly about what sort of airplane you’d like, change your mind repeatedly about what it “should cost,” and then hold the inventor liable for all the changes and expenses. Now that’s procurement reform!

While it’s politically expedient to beat up on defense contractors-the “military-industrial complex” commands very few votes these days-it makes for very bad policy.  Even when weapons programs aren’t “highly concurrent,” they rest upon trust that goes beyond the letter of the contract. And as Lockheed, which is pushing back against the proposed shift in cost-sharing, well knows, its ability to attract public capital will be crippled if it’s forced to eat the costs of both its mistakes and the Defense Department’s.  Punishing Lockheed in this way will send a chill throughout the industry. The ultimate result would be to weaken the entire system that has ensured the predominance of Americans on future battlefields. The defense industry is hardly a case of pure capitalism, but it has proved to be far better than any state-run arsenals, particularly when it comes to innovation.

And for dumping all the development costs onto contractors will only exacerbate the government’s worst habits. The majority of cost growth and schedule problems in acquisition programs stem from decisions made by the government-changes in requirements, unstable funding patterns and the like. This “reform” would allow the Pentagon to play exclusively with house money, and incentivize it to play longer odds.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(Flickr/U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Recycling “Reset”

by Tom Donnelly

One of the core strategic beliefs of the Obama administration has been that their Bush predecessors overreacted to the attacks of 9/11 and became obsessively focused on the greater Middle East at the expense of East Asia or the “Asia-Pacific,” where the rise of China and India presages a new constellation of global great powers. This, perhaps more than Russia policy, has been Obama’s idea of a strategic “reset” for the future.

Now, with the decisions to retreat in full from Iraq and to begin to retreat in Afghanistan, the killings of Osama bin Laden, and the buck about passed on the “Arab Spring” – and let’s not talk about those Iranians – the administration is talking up this supposed shift in American strategy. The campaign will climax, no doubt, with President Obama’s trip to Australia in November.

First to bat was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In a lengthy piece in Foreign Policy magazine, Clinton trumpeted “America’s Pacific Century.” The piece is a sensible attempt to sustain the tradition of American leadership in the region, but suffers from emphasizing processes (all the usual suspects appear: “Smart power,” “engagement,” and so on) over purposes (like defining a desirable balance of power).

Most of all, Clinton plays Polonius on China. Or perhaps more accurately, she’s been infected with the president’s delight in building and burning down rhetorical straw men. Thus: “Some in our country see China’s progress as a threat to the United States; some in China worry that America seeks to constrain China’s growth.” Predictably: “We reject both those views.” Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Much of the rest of the article is a recitation of what’s up with all the various “dialogues” and “partnerships” that represent what passes for modern statecraft. Secretary Clinton and her lieutenants have been busy. The region is rife with all sorts of organizations, formal and less formal – though, God forbid, no NATO-like alliance! – always preparing for the upcoming meeting.

No doubt those in Asia who have come to rely upon and prosper from the American-imposed international order are pleased to be mentioned in dispatches. But they’ve heard this before, both from this administration and from the Bush administration prior to 9/11. Yet it’s undeniably the case that happy talk of renewed commitment is no substitute for action. Asian geopolitical “markets” have already anticipated China’s rise, well beyond the value of Beijing’s actual power.

The problem is that – as is plain to see – the Obama administration is not planning what Clinton describes as a strategic “pivot” from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific. It’s just retreating from the Middle East and reducing the U.S. military.

This puts the administration’s number two hitter, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in the position of a good-field, no-hit shortstop trying just to move the runner over; Eddie Brinkman is filling the line-up spot that used to be Frank Howard’s. (You Senators fans will get the reference.) Panetta is on his first trip to East Asia as Pentagon chief, and finds himself having to insist that the United States can both substantially reduce defense budgets and “strengthen our presence in the Pacific.”

It sounds, from press reports, however, that the Asians are not buying this logic. “There’s no question that those concerns [about American military power in the region] have been expressed,” Panetta told a press gaggle at the meeting of the defense ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “I’ve made it clear that even with the budget constraints we are facing in the United States,” there is “no question that in discussions within the Pentagon, and discussions in the White House, that the Pacific will be a priority for the United States of America.”

Even the New York Times was forced to admit that “Mr. Panetta offered no specifics” beyond that the United States would maintain its “force projection” in the region, which the paper then equated with the small permanent garrisons in South Korea and Japan. It may be that Panetta’s heart is in the right place – he increasingly expresses his concern about China’s military build-up – but it’s not reflected in administration policies; the supposed $350 billion in Pentagon cuts under the Budget Control Act has blossomed, thanks entirely to White House decisions, into a $489 billion reduction.

Thus, by the time President Obama steps to the plate in November, one swing of the bat won’t save the game. There’s very little practical difference between “reset” and retreat. Indeed, “pivot” sounds like George McClellan’s “change of base” rationale for withdrawal from Richmond in 1862.

But just as the road to Richmond went through Vicksburg and Atlanta, so the path to an American “Pacific century” may wind indirectly through places like the greater Middle East, Africa, and even Latin America. Beyond the failure to back up a shift in policy focus with sufficient military resources, Obama’s reset misses the essential quality of American strategy making: it’s a global whole, not an aggregation of regional interests. The wise men of the Obama administration most resemble a kids’ soccer team, all following the bouncing ball without regard to overall positioning.

By contrast, it’s the Chinese who appear to be thinking a few moves ahead, looking not only to recover Taiwan or dominate the “first island chain” or engineering a Chinese “Pacific century” but to become a great power in a globalized world. No one would argue that the United States does not need to buttress its position and military presence in the Asia-Pacific. But even if it proves possible to do so within the constraints of a reduced defense establishment – and the cuts in prospect will be most ruinous to the few weapons modernization programs not yet terminated by the Obama administration – it is unlikely to produce a net grand strategic gain.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.

(flickr/White House Photo/Pete Souza)

The Los Angeles Times ran a brief story on Sunday on the death over the weekend of a U.S. Army Ranger in Kandahar, Sergeant Kristoffer Doneij. Since 2001 there have been countless similar obituaries printed in papers across the country, with details on when the servicemember joined the military and the family and loved ones they left behind. On the face of it, then, nothing all that unusual about this particular story—except one thing. Sergeant Doneij was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) on his 14th combat deployment either in Iraq or Afghanistan. 14th! And while such a number is unusual, it nevertheless is a stark reminder of the level of personal sacrifice active duty and reserve members of the Marines and Army have made in fighting those two conflicts.

Because America’s ground forces were too small in 2001 (480,000 Army; 173,000 Marine Corps) and only belatedly increased over the next decade (570,000 Army; 202,000 Marine Corps), Iraq and Afghanistan have required repeated deployments by the ground combat elements of the U.S. military. For much of the past ten years, for example, more than 100,000 National Guard and Reserves a year were called up to participate in those campaigns—a rate no one ever imagined we would see unless there was a major conflict between the United States and another major power. But rather than learn the obvious lesson that the Army and the Marine Corps were too small to handle these two contingencies, Congress and the administration are now talking about cutting the country’s active duty ground combat capability back to pre-9/11 levels—or lower. The only rationale behind such cuts is that, first, we will not be in Afghanistan for much longer, having chosen to leave without finishing the job there, and, second, there will be no other conflict, such as with Iran or North Korea, that requires substantial ground forces. And, indeed, maybe that is the choice and the hope that the United States pins its national strategy to. But, if recent history tells us anything, both are poor bets, with the result that there will likely be even more Sergeant Doneijs in our future.

Cross-posted from the Enterprise Blog.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

NATO Intervention in Libya: Breach of Contract?

by Richard Cleary

Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi’s killing has resurrected an argument made at the time of NATO’s intervention: that, by removing Gaddafi from power, the United States would send the wrong message to rogue states. Countries considering engagement with the West will be dissuaded from doing so by America’s unseating of Gaddafi. In the words of Clifford May, “It is more dangerous to be America’s ally than its enemy.”

Being an American “ally”—and this term is a stretch for Gaddafi’s regime—does not entitle one to butcher one’s own people, however. We agreed to do business with Gaddafi because of what Condoleezza Rice called a “strategic change of direction”; beginning with Tripoli’s giving up WMD aspirations, renouncing terrorism and compensating the families of victims of the Lockerbie bombing. These acts were never sufficient to absolve Gaddafi of future crimes. Rather, Gaddafi’s improved behavior was understood as the first steps of a new Libyan foreign policy.

Even more, Gaddafi understood the importance of politics within Libya to the United States. Saif al-Islam’s calls for democracy and human rights were part and parcel of Tripoli’s engagement strategy. Still, in its 2011 issue of Freedom in the World, Freedom House wrote “(Libyan) diplomatic and economic shifts were not accompanied by noticeable improvements in political rights or civil liberties.” Gaddafi was less than remorseful on the Lockerbie issue, as well, giving a hero’s welcome to convicted bomber Abdelbaset al-Meghrahi in 2009. Meanwhile, Gaddafi’s repression of internal dissent continued through the Arab Spring, when public uprising was met with public crackdown.

Whatever “alliance” existed with Gaddafi’s Libya was shattered by the “mad dog” himself when he dispatched troops to crush protestors. When American administrations have allowed human rights violations by allies, they have done so out of strategic calculus: not out of an “alliance contract.” For an immoral contract cannot be binding.

(wikipedia/U.S. Navy photo/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)

Quds and Zetas

by Tom Donnelly

The revelation that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and its Quds Force had plotted to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States – by blowing him up as he dined at a Washington restaurant – is a stark reminder of the nature of the Tehran regime and its ambitions. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story is that Iran’s thugs are developing a strategic partnership with Mexico’s most violent thugs: Los Zetas may only be the second-largest drug cartel in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s rankings, but they’re probably the most lethal. The gang is said to have formed around a platoon’s worth of deserters from Mexico’s special operations forces, and became the elite troops of another Mexican drug organization, the Gulf Cartel. The leader of that cartel got himself arrested, and the Zetas moved out on their own.

The Zetas have shot their way to prominence ever since, in turf wars with other gangs and in a number of spectacular massacres. This past August, the Zetas conducted a mounted raid on the Casino Royale – yes, the Casino Royale – in Monterrey in Nuevo Leon. After gunning down a few gamblers and guards at the entrance, they then doused the premises with gasoline and set the entrance ablaze. New reports indicate that more than 60 were killed, and another 35 trapped inside the building. The purpose of the attack appears to be simple retaliation for the Calderon government’s crackdown on the cartels, to demonstrate vividly that Mexican security forces – 3,000 were sent to restore order in Monterey – could not control what amounts to an insurgent group. The attack was mostly an act of political symbolism.

The alliance with the Zetas is only the tip of the Iranian iceberg in Latin America. As Roger Noriega and Jose Cardenas have recently written, “Iran has made the Western Hemisphere a priority….The real game changer has been the alliance developed between Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.” In addition to the Quds Force, Iran often operates through Hezbollah, which has established networks in the Lebanese communities that have long-standing enclaves in the trading and port cities of South America. In addition to Chavez, Iran has established closer ties to the Bolivian government of Evo Morales’s and Rafael Correa’s regime in Ecuador.

No one has tracked the increasing strategic cooperation between Iran, other anti-America states, international criminal, and narco-gangs than Douglas Farah of the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Recently, he testified to the House Homeland Security Committee that:

We see the further empowerment, training and technological support [to] the oppressive security apparatuses in the increasingly undemocratic Bolivarian states provided by the Iran-Hezbollah-IRGC/Quds Force combine….[They] are the sharpest edge of the sword at present, and the one most openly aimed at the United States, and the one least tractable to diplomacy.

To many long-time Iran watchers, the bungled bomb plot “reeks of desperation,” as Mathew Levitt, a former Treasury Department terrorism official put it. The ubiquitous Robert Baer sniffed: “Maybe things have really fallen apart in Tehran….[T]he Quds are better than this. If they wanted to come after you, you’d be dead already.” But there’s also the sloppiness that comes from overconfidence, miscalculating not only your adversary’s abilities but your own. Tactical sloppiness often goes hand in hand – and sometimes results from – strategic design.

We underestimate the Quds-Zeta partnership at our peril. The distinction between law enforcement and warfare is increasingly blurred; the Mexican government claims it had a hand in exposing the plot and it was a DEA agent who foiled the attack. While the Obama administration was right to bring charges against the operatives who plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador, this is a response to symptoms, not the disease. The larger problem is the maturing anti-America coalition governments and extremely rich, powerful, and violent groups; thinking of these organizations simply as criminals obscures their political interests – in keeping governments like Mexico’s or Colombia’s weak, in securing sanctuary, in access to the “international commons,” and the like. An appropriate response demands an integrated strategy. The biggest danger is not “militarizing” U.S. policy but in failing to address the fundamental security issues at stake.

Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.


Qods Force Terrorist Plot in US

by Maseh Zarif

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force—the organization overseeing Iran’s global terrorist activities and reporting directly to Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei—has been plotting a mass-casualty attack on American soil targeting Saudi Arabian interests. The Iranian officials involved in planning the attack include the commander of the Qods Force Qassem Soleimani and two deputies Hamed Abdollahi and Abdul Reza Shahlai.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced today that authorities recently arrested one of the two perpetrators in the plot, U.S.-based dual Iranian-American citizen Manssor Arbabsiar, and that Arbabsiar admitted to receiving direction and funding from senior Qods Force officials in Iran. Following trips to Iran where he met Qods Force officials, Arbabsiar hired and paid an undercover Drug Enforcement Agency informant he thought was a Mexican drug cartel member to assassinate Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al Jubair. The initial target of the foiled plot was the ambassador, but the investigation indicates that the Qods Force-directed assassination attempt was one in a series of future planned attacks. U.S. officials involved in the case have cited the Israeli and Saudi Arabian embassies in Washington, D.C. and Buenos Aires, Argentina as future targets of the terror network.

The network behind the plot included: Arbabsiar; Arbabsiar’s Iran-based cousin who is an unnamed “high-ranking member” of the Qods Force; an Iran-based member of the Qods Force named Gholam Shakuri who served as the cousin’s deputy and one of Arbabsiar’s interlocutors in Iran; and a third unnamed high-ranking member of the Qods Force. The DOJ also noted that Shakuri told Arbabsiar “that an individual whom Arbabsiar understood to be the leader of the Qods Force…was aware of what Arbabsiar was doing.” Designations from the U.S. Treasury Department indicate that the unnamed officials cited in the criminal complaint include the head of the Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani, who reports directly to Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei.

The Qods Force has repeatedly engaged in terrorist activities against American and allied officials, service members, and civilians. The significance of this plot cannot be overstated: the Iranian government is now attempting to carry out terrorist attacks on American soil. The initial target of the assassination plot was the Saudi ambassador, but the guidance given to the operatives would have resulted in a mass-casualty attack in a public restaurant in the nation’s capital with subsequent attacks in the future. Iran has been at war with the U.S. for decades; the regime, advancing on a path toward nuclear weapons, is now bringing that war to the American homeland.

For a timeline of the Qods Force plot, go here.

Cross-posted from AEI’s Iran Tracker.

(Getty images)