Arms control elicits strong emotions and sparks great debates. In that tradition, Kingston Reif and Travis Sharp offer a rebuttal to the recent commentary we ran from the folks at the Heritage Foundation. Here’s the take of two dedicated arms control advocates. In their recent commentary on DoD Buzz (“Will START Talks Go MAD,”), the Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring and Helle Dale recycle a snake oil sales pitch that first emerged at the dawn of the Atomic Age. The illusion is that the awesome destructiveness of nuclear weapons can somehow be neutralized by a panacea—in this case impenetrable missile defenses.
The Obama Pentagon proclaims it’s commitment to reformed acquisition and greater competition. Robbin Laird, international defense consultant who advised the Air Force on the last tanker competition, argues in this commentary that Northrop’s decision to pull out of the KC-X competition will pose a basic test of the administration’s commitment and it’s ability to oversee a major program.
Russia has tried to use these treaty talks to lock in its nuclear advantages and take away any potential American defenses, and our side seems ready to agree it will neither improve nor expand its existing system for countering long-range ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, true to Obama’s dream, the U.S. government doesn’t seem to think that having the ability to inflict widespread damage on Russia would be essential to an improved bilateral relationship.
Much will be made of a few reluctant acknowledgements of reality. The Navy won’t plan on, for now, a new cruiser it can’t afford even under the wildest budget growth assumptions. The Army will continue redesigning the vehicles for its “system of system” target hunting technologies that we now know can’t find even primitive enemies. The Air Force will have to wait, but just a bit, for a new bomber to try, yet again, to attack what it called decades ago “critical nodes.” The Marine Corps will declare a return to its amphibious warfare heritage: to fight its way onto hostile shores — something it has not done since 1945.
Last week several respected Washington defense analysts told the House Armed Services Committee that we are in decline while Asia is on the rise. While most military analysts watch China closely and never forget the always ambitious Russians, few have been willing to tell Congress or anyone else that what the Chinese might call US hegemony is on the wane. Such an essential critique invites a closer look and requires debate. Our first critique is from two respected scholars, one from the Naval War College and the other from Harvard’s Kennedy School and the war college. Their conclusion: the end of the world is quite a ways off, though US power is in “relative decline.”
A major troop buildup in Afghanistan would prolong the war at a moment when the U.S. should be looking for ways to end it. Worse, military escalation could further destabilize South Asia and hinder the Obama administration’s larger efforts to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda. How might things unravel? Consider the last eight years of conflict in the region. In 2001, U.S. troops and their allies routed much of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
A key part of the seemingly endless debate about Afghanistan and Pakistan — not to mention Iraq — has been just what forces are needed to succeed. Most analysts agree that mass — numbers of troops — is one key to success. Most thinktank analysts agree that a counterinsurgency (COIN) approach is best. Deploy close to the people and clear, hold, build. The part that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the public debate is just what it takes to do to the “clear” part. Read Doug MacGregor’s pungent comments on what he thinks the US needs to send.
With President Obama heading to China as part of his sweep through Asia, it’s a good time to assess the recent and groundbreaking visit of Gen. Xu Caihou, the Chinese equivalent of the defense secretary to America. The Chinese put on a full-court propaganda press, filled with images of PLA troops helping the afflicted and laced with declarations of China’s peaceful intentions. We turned to Dean Cheng, one of the top analysts on the Chinese military who recently joined the right-wing Heritage Foundation, for his more independent assessment.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have taken a small but significant step to eliminate – well, almost – one of the most outrageous congressional behaviors in defense legislation. The appropriators have not — yet. It will be interesting to see what the appropriators do. We should all pay attention.
As the Obama Administration shapes the acquisition approach of the Department of Defense for the years to come, hard choices will be taken. Among the key drivers will be Afghanistan, Iraq and the operation and shape of power projection forces. Finally, how the administration approaches the re-shaping of US expeditionary and power projection forces will have a fundamental impact on the US posture.
One of the debates bubbling beneath the surface over the last few months has been about just what effects Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ program cuts, combined with a flat defense budget projected for the next five years, would have on America’s ability to project power. Former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne argues in a commentary that the administration is schizophrenic about its national security approach. On the one hand, the State Department is offering the broadest defense umbrella it can to friends and allies. On the other hand, Gates is cutting crucial systems that would help the US extend and maintain that umbrella.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress and the American public that the Quadrennial Defense Review would answer many tough unanswered policy and acquisition issues. Now Rep. Todd Akin, ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary warfare, accuses the senior Pentagon leadership of using the QDR “to evade any question they did not want to answer.” Akin calls for his colleagues to pass language ensuring that an independent National Defense Panel will offer “balance” to Gates’ review. Read his commentary.
UPDATED: Obama Reissues F-22 Veto Threat in Letter to McCain; Levin and McCain File Amendment To Stop Plane; POGO Tracks Votes
The Senate should debate the F-22’s fate this week . Sen. John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services committee, has pledged to lead the fight against the F-22, which the committee approved over the objections of McCain and Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the committee. Following is an op-ed by Winslow Wheeler and Pierre Sprey calling for an end to a plane they argue doesn’t work nearly as well as claimed and is far too expensive.
Former Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne argues below that Defense Secretary Gates’ acquisition decisions last week reflect that the United States is focused so intently on “becoming the armed custodians in two nations, Afghanistan and Iraq” that the country is engaging in a “strategic drawdown.” Although the decision to curtail F-22 production attracted much ink in the last week, Wynne argues that the F-22 decision– while important — must be analyzed together with Gates’ other decisions to understand that the Pentagon is “reducing the President’s options to protect U.S. interests.”
America has done a lousy job of ensuring we have a crop of well trained and experienced strategists and must act to fix this. That is the conclusion of Barry Watts, one of the leading US experts on transformation and its discontents and a top analyst of weapons systems. Few failures are as fraught with consequences as poor strategic decision making. We may have the best weapons and and best trained troops, but if we use them badly the results are unlikely to transcend the abilities of the fine men and women who serve in the military. The last decade should be ample proof of the poor quality of our national security strategists.
Anti-satellite weapons. There. We’ve got your attention. The topic we are really discussing — space situational awareness (SSA) is something lots of people know very little about because almost everything about it is so highly classified. Read on for a proposed international plan to lessen the chances of satellites colliding.
Congress is awash in acquisition reform, as it was the last time a Democrat was elected president. Robbin Laird, a defense consultant with a wide practice, wonders whether acquisition reform serves the country or may saddle it with aging and technically inferior weapons.
Tough love remains one of those concepts our society embraces mostly in the negative. It’s just, well, too tough. The following commentary certainly constitutes a fine example of tough love, coming from two of the country’s more distinguished military and airpower analysts. Essentially, Robert Dilger and Pierre Sprey argue that the country should scrap plans for the F-35 and F-22 and build what they call “austerely-designed and affordable aircraft tailored to missions that actually win wars…”
The increase in piracy off the Somali and Yemeni coasts has prompted international shipping companies to call for a blockade of the region. Some companies have already decided to go round South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, incurring huge cost increases as high as 30 percent, rather than risk piracy. Defense consultant Robbin Laird writes about what the Obama administration should do to address this crisis.
The debate about guns or butter hotted up last week, with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) calling for an enormous decline in defense spending of 25 percent and the head of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) saying money for weapons will have to come from spending slated to fund more Army personnel. Defense consultant Robbin Laird weighs in on the likely impacts of the financial crisis on defense spending.