Newspaper Blogs

September 30, 2003

TIME FOR SOME NEW WEAPONS?....Whatever else you think of him, Gregg Easterbrook is an engaging writer when it comes to explaining fancy new weapons systems. Basically, he says we need some new ones:

Pentagon spending is reaching the end of a "procurement holiday." There hasn't been a major new aircraft or helicopter acquisition program in a decade. The "futuristic" F117 stealth fighter is 15 years old; the design of the Army's M1 Abrams main tank is 20 years old; the B52 bombers that did yeoman work in the Iraq war are 40 years old; Air Force fighters average almost two decades in age; the primary United States tanker plane is 45 years old; it goes on.

So which new systems do we need? Yesterday he trained his eye on the F-22 Raptor (he says thumbs down, we should buy the F-35 instead) and today he takes on the Littoral Combat Ship (thumbs up, but only if we fess up to its real purpose). He'll examine one new weapons system a day for the remainder of the week.

I can't judge myself whether Easterbrook is right about this stuff, but it's interesting reading anyway.

Posted by Kevin Drum at September 30, 2003 04:07 PM | TrackBack


What we don't need are airplanes so expensive we can't afford more than a couple of squadrons of them. We need upgraded A10s, or transfer the A10 to the Army and give up on the Key West agreement once and for all. In 10 years, which is when the F22 would be deployed, aerial combat will be with missiles and pilotless aircraft. The fighter-pilot mafia must finally give in. The whole Air Force will probably be pilotless, except for transports, in 20 years.

Posted by: Mike K at September 30, 2003 04:27 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Easterbrook is I love his writing, but then I started to find that whenever he was talking about something I knew about, he was full of sh**. This wasn't just the nitpicky inaccuracies you find in all news reports, but major factual and logical stuff. His old space shuttle stuff, though, is still a valuable contribution.

Posted by: elliottg at September 30, 2003 04:28 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Easterbrook gives a good explanation of why we don't need the F-22 at all; he then gives a good explanation of why the F-35 does almost all that the F-22 does at 25% the price. What he does not do is then make the logical connection: if we don't need planes that can do what the F22 does, then we need neither the F22 nor the F35. Bottom line: if the F15 is still better than anything else in the air, and nobody else is even designing anything better than what they have now, then the US can really get by with the F15 for the foreseeable future. As an additional aside: Mr. Easterbrook's fighter plane article is confusing in that in the top paragraphs he argues that the problem is that the equipment we have is old (implying we could purchase new copies of old designs), while he then goes on to describe new designs. Is the problem that our equipment is worn out, that the designs are obsolete, or perhaps -- neither?

Posted by: PT at September 30, 2003 04:35 PM | PERMALINK

Not to rain on this military parade, but one of the biggest threats to US weapon systems is ... US weapon systems sold to other nations. We’re in competition with ourselves. Yes, there are nations we should be wary of (eg, China) but when will we realized that we’re the ones really pushing the envelop of high tech weapons by selling more high and low tech arms abroad than any other nation?

We like to think we’re a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how most of the rest of the world sees us, and they’re on the receiving end of our stealth bombers, daisy-cutters, cruise missiles, etc and thus have, shall we say, a far more accurate perspective.

Using the "only Nixon could go to China" logic: perhaps it would take a general to initiate a generational shift in US attitudes to developing generation after generation of high tech weapons. To his credit, Pres. Eisenhower used his farewell speech to warn the nation of our growing military-industrial complex (a term first used by Wm. Fulbright and later amended by him to the “military-industrial-academic complex”), a complex whose size today would no doubt shock, awe, and sadden both Ike and Fulbright.

Of course, the domestic political costs for turning off or just slowing down our high tech military would be huge (see how hard it’s been for the military to shut down bases here in the US), as would the economic cost, but MORALLY, it would be the right thing to do, and it would help restore the world's respect for the US. I'm not saying we don't need a military, but that the world would be safer if we slowed down the one we've got and turned off the "glamor" of high tech systems.

Perhaps General Clark, if elected, could deliver the long-forgotten peace dividend promised at the end of the Cold War while still keeping us adequately defended. If not, the 21st-century may make the 20th look like a cake walk.

Posted by: Victor at September 30, 2003 04:57 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with the above poster. If the F-22 was designed for an obsolete purpose (air superiority fighter against Soviet MiGs), then why do we need the F-35 to fill the same role when our current fleet of F-15s, F-16s, F-14s, F/A-18s, F-117s, and AV-8Bs will do just fine?

Easterbrook also fails to mention other key points. For example, all branches repeatedly upgrade their fleets, so that, say, an F-16 built in 1988 and flying now is significantly improved over its original design (in terms of avionics, weapons capabilities, and structural enhancements). He also neglects to mention the other fighter projects that have been funded recently, like the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, the F-14D, and the F-15E. And don't forget all those non-fighter projects (C-17, V-22, Longbow AH-64, the Commanche helicopter, B-2, etc.). Sure, the B-52 is on the old side, that's why we have B-1s, B-2s, F-117s and the other strike fighters.

Easterbrook's statement that the primary USAF tankers are 45 years old is just plain wrong. KC-10s are about 15-20 years old and the KC-135s have been upgraded with just about everything on earth, from engines to wing spars.

We really don't need a new strike fighter yet because our current weapons, countermeasures, and radar systems are so advanced that a new airframe and engine package really wouldn't add much to our capabilities. Planning for the future is great, but let's move toward UAVs and a whole new class of capabilities (imagine a fighter that could sustain a 15-20g turn - no human could take it).

Posted by: Cretin at Sparta at September 30, 2003 05:02 PM | PERMALINK

Did Gregg mention anything about investing in new training and doctrine, or human factors such as morale and leadership? It seems as if everything he mentioned represented a way for big contractors to generate big fees.

Posted by: JLowe at September 30, 2003 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

I agree completely with elliottg.

Posted by: MWB at September 30, 2003 05:23 PM | PERMALINK

We need a death ray. And light sabres. And some cool lightcycles, and jet packs that work.

Oh, and we need to be prepared for the rise of the machines. But I guess Arnie will take care of that for us.

Posted by: craigie at September 30, 2003 05:34 PM | PERMALINK

"Though a word to the wise to the IDF. Should Israel, deliberately or accidentally, decide to fire on a Littoral Combat Ship in the way it fired on the U.S.S. Liberty during the 1967 war, attacking forces are not likely to last more than a few minutes before being reduced to hot slag. "

I can't believe he managed to slip this into the New Republic.

Posted by: Hackticus at September 30, 2003 05:40 PM | PERMALINK

I third ellittg and second MWB.
Easterbrook knows about as much about LCS as the contractor's press releases say.

Posted by: wolf at September 30, 2003 05:43 PM | PERMALINK

Not advocating more weapons systems, but something is left out of this discussion: The JSF (or f-35) is supposed to standardise the airplanes in both the Navy and Airforce. The F-35 can take off and land on a carrier, carry out fighter and bomber missions, and fly farther and longer than most planes that it would replace. The idea behind the JSF is the same idea behind giving the army and marines the same type of boots: it will save $$$. Whether it will or not is another story but it is at least worth talking about.

Posted by: Ted at September 30, 2003 05:56 PM | PERMALINK

Cretin at Sparta,

Shouldn't that be Spartan at Crete?

Remember, thou art mortal!

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at September 30, 2003 06:36 PM | PERMALINK

Just to nitpick, at various times over the last few decades the armed forces have actually developed functioning jetpack prototypes. Out in the civilian sector, there are people still working on the idea:

Posted by: Geoduck at September 30, 2003 06:36 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Air Force procurements is that they're trying to combine every roll for a fighter into one single package, and that ends up driving the cost of the planes way the hell up. A-10's are cheap (relatively), but their drawback is that they have only one really effective role: low-speed ground support.

The Air Force doesn't like them for this reason, but if you look carefully, it would save more money to have lots of mission-specialized planes rather than general mission high-tech planes (such as the JSF or the F-22). The more hardware that needs to be shoved into the plane drives the cost up higher and higher, and they're not that effective at bombing if they can only carry half a dozen low-yield conventional warheads to a target. B-52's might be old, but by God they rain destruction from the skies. A single A-10 costs $8.8 million dollars. For the cost of a single F-22, you can buy nearly two dozen A-10's. The operational costs of keeping nearly 100 B-52's flying is half of that of maintaining a single B-2 bomber; compare bomb yields on the two and you'll see that the B-52 is more effective in lower-resistanace areas. There are lots of ways to show cost-analysis, but most of them will show that specialized planes are cheaper to buy AND maintain than the new planes that the Air Force and Navy tend to lean towards.

Posted by: Kit Smith at September 30, 2003 06:44 PM | PERMALINK

Leaving aside the question of the necessity of new toys, TNR really bugs me. Watching the *Democrats* there, getting all puffed up, doing their part to contribute to the testicularization of the US, is pretty laughable.

I think there's already enough of that from the thugs on the other side of the aisle, but then I'm probably not serious about the treat posed to us by rogue countries that we lose control over, pursuing weapons that we don't like (regardless of their efficacy) then establishing ties to terrorist groups without return addresses, and giving those weapons to these groups (never mind that they are enemies), and then these terrorist groups sneaking these weapons into our country to disasterous effect. Like what happened on 9/11.

It's true, I don't take that threat seriously. I mean, the probability isn't zero, but damn...I wonder how long before some sanity returns to our country.

Posted by: andrew at September 30, 2003 06:48 PM | PERMALINK

How is it that when guys get around and talk about military junk, they're all experts?

Anyhow, I think you're all missing the point of the who essay. It's about how not only old equipment is, well, old... It's even more expensive to maintain.

We've got dozens of aircraft doing dozens of jobs, and that's cool, and whatnot, but... Really the cost savings are when the parts are the same.

The current crop of aircraft have been shoehorned with new technology... But that's just it, it's been shoehorned in.

And we need to be careful about where we sell the extras of our old stuff. It might be all well and good that we have jobs, but... We spend more money on our military endeavours, on just our weapons which violate international treaties, than we do on our whole psace and research budgets.

It's a problem.

Posted by: Crissa at September 30, 2003 06:48 PM | PERMALINK

Ugh, where to start...

Cretin at Sparta:
The F(/A)-18 has notoriously short legs, even the echo has shorter legs than the A-6's it replaced, and if I'm not mistaken at a smaller bomb load and worse all weather capability. Bottom line the Navy is doing the bomber role with Fighter Airframes. They need something dedicated to the role or we're going to be forever flying half-way around the world with the USAF to do the bombing. Not even the F-35 will fill this role.

Air superiority of Soviet MiG's is not an obsolete purpose. China is building Su-27 derivatives under contract, and I believe that India has purchased MiG-29 and Su-27's from Mother Russia. Admit it or not, but in trained hands both of these airframes would be a handful for American pilots, especially with American or Israeli avionics upgrades. Also someone up thread did mention that the F-15's of today may very well be facing the F-15's we sold to our allies in the future. Like say Saudi Arabian F-15's? Air Superiority is not obsolete, it just hasn't come into play in a long while.

Last I heard the F-14D project was using existing airframes, at least in a majority of the vehicles. The fact is these airframes are OLD, they need to be replaced before we put too many more hours on them.

F-15E IS a new project and is filling in the Role of the F-111 nicely, should give the USAF some tac capability for a good long time, but there aren't any tac/cas designs being talked about are there? Okay maybe F-35 but it's not a dedicated airframe, much like the F-16.

As for the BUFF's, I'm sorry but nothing can put ordinance on target like a B-52. Not a BONE, not a B-2, not an F-117. If Afghanistan told us nothing else (and it told us oh so much more) it's that there are time and places for carpet bombing and nothing says death from above like a B-52.

I'm actually not too concerned about the tanker fleet, it sounds like we're going to lease new or newish airframes from Boing.

As for the 'UAV/missiles will do it' reasoning, I've heard this before, when was it 1968? Wasn't that the reason the F-4 didn't come with a gun? Didn't one get added toot-sweet? I don't buy it, keep the gun, and keep the dogfighter until the combat UAV is proven.

PT: Nothing better than the F-15? Can you say Eurofighter? Can you say Rafael? I knew you could. But again, these airframes are old. It's not that the tech isn't up to snuff, it's that it's a bitch keeping these things flying. F-15 was a hanger queen when it was rolled out, I can only imagine it's gotten worse as the grand dame has gotten older.

NOW as for the whole Littoral Combat Ship.... I'm a little leary. Not because we don't need it (we do) but because it goes against character for the navy to want it. When I first read LCS I thought it must be a take off on the Sea Control Ship concept (the 'Jeep Carrier' concept introduced in the 70's). It's not, it seems more like an updated Burke class with a deck gun and augmented sonar for shallow water operations.

Easterbrook is wrong that no other navy ship has any stealthy features, the Burkes sure do. The other thing he either gets wrong or doesn't realize is that the Liberty was a ELINT ship, it was conducting Electronic Intelligence, you wouldn't expect a trawler like that to be heavily armed, though I suppose in this day and age it would be a bit better armed. Comparing Liberty to this fictional LCS it like comparing a Perry class to a Ticonderoga.

I'm actually not too sure why the navy couldn't get away with re-fitting the Burke design to fit this LCS role, just as the Spruance and Tico share a common hull couldn't they just take the basic hull structure from the Burke and re-fit it for shallow water operations? Ultimately it isn't anti-air operations the people worry about in litoral waters, but anti-sub operations. With the Soviets selling off Kilo's, and other countries building them under contract this is where the threat is. Easterbrook doesn't even touch on that aspect of the LCS's. If he's so concerned why isn't he asking for the resurgence of the Sea Control concept, mated with an updated SH-60 Seahawk and LAMPs system?

Ultimately in reading this article I'm reminded why I go to Janes for military reporting and not TNR.

Posted by: Gary at September 30, 2003 07:03 PM | PERMALINK

So, Did Isreal end up selling their (our) AWACS to the Chinese?

Posted by: Ross at September 30, 2003 07:03 PM | PERMALINK

A-10's are cheap (relatively), but their drawback is that they have only one really effective role: low-speed ground support.

That and they're the only plane in the USAF inventory to take a bird strike from behind.

Posted by: Gary at September 30, 2003 07:05 PM | PERMALINK

We've got dozens of aircraft doing dozens of jobs, and that's cool, and whatnot, but... Really the cost savings are when the parts are the same.

The Navy hasn't forgotten the fiasco of the F-111B. Commonality is nice, but not at the cost of mission applicability.

Posted by: Gary at September 30, 2003 07:08 PM | PERMALINK

I like Crissa's comment: when guys get together, we all think we're experts on military gadgets. Well, I don't. I haven't a clue.

But I do know something about Gregg Easterbrook. Simply put -- and exactly as Eliottg said above -- I wouldn't trust him for the time of day. He is NOT a reliable reporter.

When you think about his writing, you can't hardly help but note the incredibly "authoritative" tone he conveys. But when you dig into the details, you'll find he's frequently gotten it all wrong. To cite but one example: Years ago Newsweek threw over what seemed like half an issue for a "special report" he'd done on health care in America. I actually cut the thing out and kept it for years, for future reference, since I was occasionally writing on the topic too (and at the time had been ever-so-impressed by his diligent efforts).

Then, after those years had passed (and I had learned a LOT about the nation's health care system as part of my own work), I rediscovered my now-yellowed copy of his "special report." What an eye-opener: it was just a load of flapdoodle on stilts!

Certainly his writings on the environment have frequently been astoundingly inaccurate, sometimes to the point of being entirely ludicrous.

So ... now he's claiming to be some sort of Genius Expert on Military Hardware. Well, I know that I couldn't intelligently discuss the merits of various military systems for more than 20 or 30 seconds, such are the severe limits of my knowledge. But I'd bet dollars for doughnuts that if I WERE to take the time and effort to acquire some knowledge in that field, I'd very soon discover all kinds of ways Easterbrook is pathetically offbase in his assessments.

Posted by: Marsman at September 30, 2003 07:12 PM | PERMALINK

>>Whatever else you think of him, Gregg Easterbrook is an engaging writer when it comes to explaining fancy new weapons systems.

Damn straight. And the world needs more .. of .... them.

Hang on ...

Posted by: Andrew | BYTE BACK at September 30, 2003 07:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm strictly a ground guy, so I don't know much about the Air Force or Navy birds. But, I do know that thier are few things more reassuring than the sound of an A-10, and the sight of a couple of Apaches squaring up to wreak some havoc. That sh*t does wonders for morale.

Just my take, air superiority was a thing of the Cold War, large open battlefields in Europe and whatnot. While Air Superiority is important today, it is not the "numero uno" that it was, with the decreasing size of todays battlefield. Apart from an outright invasion, most battlefield are going to be small and enclosed, and the birds really might not be able to help, outside of gunships. Maybe we should focus on delivery methods (fixing the Blackhawk)and restructuring our ground forces to integrate Heavy Armor, Stryker Brigades, Mech. and Light Infantry, and Aviation assets better. As it stands right now, I think we have too many "different" kinds of units.

Posted by: Cassidy at September 30, 2003 07:27 PM | PERMALINK

Easterbrook's tone does seem a little puffed up. The LCS article has that odd "hot slag" reference to the Liberty incident, and the F-22 one says "Neither Russia nor any other nation on Earth is currently even attempting to build a fighter that existing United States fighters don't already totally outclass".

I'm not at all an expert on this, but that doesn't seem to correspond to what I've read elsewhere. I'm assuming he's talking about a comparison between the F-15 and the Su-35, Rafale or Eurofighter. Perhaps I misunderstood. Is there an argument for that comment or is he full of fertiliser?

Posted by: Andrew Kanaber at September 30, 2003 07:28 PM | PERMALINK

Cut the defense budget by 30%. Then build a foreign policy around the resulting capability.

By the way, take the Sukhoi SU-29 airframe, add GE or Rolls Royce engintes and American avionics and you will have all the fighter you will ever need (and get it yesterday) for 1/4 the cost of anything on the drawing board.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 30, 2003 07:35 PM | PERMALINK

Is there an argument for that comment or is he full of fertiliser?

No, he's full of shit, check this Janes link or start googling for the Chinese J-10. Looks a lot like Eurofighter to me, which is a generation ahead of F-15.

Posted by: Gary at September 30, 2003 07:41 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, the notion that Lockheed Martin will deliver anything useful is out of bounds. Look at all the major space and aeronautical disasters in recent years and you will see Lockheed-Martins hand.

The notion that Lockheed-Martin, responsible for the F-22 skyrocketing costs, can keep the lid on the F-35 costs is simply ridiculous.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 30, 2003 07:42 PM | PERMALINK

The article about the F-22 is completely wrong on one point. The F-35 can't do the job of the F-22. The F-22 is an air superiority fighter designed to outmatch any current or future enemy fighter.

The F-35 is a ground attack aircraft with some air to air capability. Its good enough to match it with current fighters like perhaps the F-15C, but by around 2010-15 you should expect nations like China to have online new fighters that could outmatch it. Plus there are Russian fighters on the market today that with upgraded avionics are capable of outfighting the F-15 and perhaps the F-35. Nations as small as Malaysia are purchasing the Russian fighters today.

Fighter planes take 10 years to develop. If the F-22 is canned, then the US may not have a first rate air superority fighter in 2010. Without that, the rest of the airforce is an expensive target. Yes its useless for war against nations like Iraq, but there's a small chance there could be conflict with much more powerful nations in future.

Having said all that, the F-22 is overpriced and perhaps over-rated. Point is though, there is no other choice.

Posted by: still working it out at September 30, 2003 08:14 PM | PERMALINK

Corrected Malaysian Russian fighter purchase link. Above didn't work.

Posted by: still working it out at September 30, 2003 08:21 PM | PERMALINK

Here's an idea - cut your military budget to 60% of its current total, take 20% and hire the Russian military with it, and take the other 20% as lagniappe (how's your deficit doing these days?).

Less cost, less threats, more manpower to occupy other countries, and you've still got more weapons than any other possible coalition.

Jesus - does anybody ask *why* you need these new generation weapons?

Posted by: a Phoenician in a time of Romans at September 30, 2003 08:23 PM | PERMALINK

God I love talking shop and and not this political stuff for a while.

Posted by: Cassidy at September 30, 2003 08:30 PM | PERMALINK

I like the dig on Clinton. Sure, Gregg, they decided to abandon the Nimitz class because they would've had to name the next one after Clinton. Good spotting there.

I'm wondering what impact the Eurofighter, or, for that matter, the Rafale, is having on this whole thing. It looks to me like they would be the big reason we're sticking with both the F-22 and the F-35. Either one, on it's own, isn't going to beat out Europe's offerings solidly enough to keep everybody happy. If we go with the F-35, we're left without anything that can outrun the Eurofighter and Rummy has a devestating crisis of masculinity. If we go with the F-22, we have the most impressive aircraft ever, but Lockheed's stuck with something far to advanced to sell to anybody except Missouri.

I'm betting that the only reason we have the F-35 is to make sure Lockheed has something to throw at Israel or Kuwait or whoever if they start looking at the Eurofighter too closely. Otherwise, what ammounts to a stealthier F-16 just isn't worth all this trouble.

Posted by: Mike at September 30, 2003 08:45 PM | PERMALINK

There are also rumors of a replacement for the M-16, manufactured by H-K, who are said to have built a US factory for the expected contract.

The new 155mm howitzer is supposed to be a French designed truck mounted affair. It would go with the Stryker brigades. What it lacks in cross country mobility compared to a fully tracked design is offset somewhat by the fact that without road access, you're not going to get speedy and copious resupply of ammunition.

Posted by: etc. at September 30, 2003 09:06 PM | PERMALINK

It's the attack of the Tom Clancy clones!

Ever thought that if you trimmed back the defense budget by say $100 billion a year, which would still leave the US with the biggest baddest army in the world, that you could wage peace instead of war.

1) Immunize all the world's children against all communicable disease for which there is a vaccine.

2) Provide clean drinking water to...well everywhere.

3) Stop paying farmers not to produce crops and simply buy up all they can produce and eliminate much if not all of world hunger.

4) Hire a million teachers to make sure every child in the world can read.

5) Much more...

These are not unattainable goals; a $100 billion goes a helluva long way--especially if it recurs annually. Nor is it bleeding heart liberalism, for unless you're a warmonger, you are spending money on the military to prevent your country from being attacked, and it would seem reasonable to have a multi-pronged approach towards that prevention.

Oh, and if the US were to do something like that, you could be quite confident that most of the other developed nations could be shamed into making comparable per capita expenditures.

You may call me a dreamer, but...

Posted by: Dazir at September 30, 2003 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

Dazir, you obviously hate America.

Posted by: craigie at September 30, 2003 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

The calculus of the US military has been, since the Roosevelt administration, to get the most bang for the man, and not the most bang for the buck. In general, this has served the nation well. It is possible that this will not continue to be so. For instance, the current situation in Iraq would be well addressed by a force that de-emphasized air forces, naval forces, armored divisions, and mechanized infantry divisions in favor of plain vanilla infantry divisions, which are cheaper to outfit and supply. It bears looking into whther our high tech advantage has become an unbeneficial high tech obsession.

Posted by: etc. at September 30, 2003 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

The calculus of the US Military/Industrial complex, since the Truman Administration, has been to tax the bejeezus out of ordinary citizens and funnel most of that to an ever-shrinking clique of military contractors. The soldiers have so much bang per man because that is how to justify this rat race.

It is a system. In its own way it works. The economic flywheel effect of this guaranteed market was crucial in stabilizing the post-World War II national (and hence global) economy.

Most "foreign aid" the USA has ever "given away" since that war has been military or police aid; training and most of all equipment. But even the actually humanitarian stuff we also threw into that pot was to pursue the Cold War; this also helped "stabilize" the post-war world, if sometimes using methods reminiscent of Mussolini's brand of stability.

Since the 1970's it doesn't work as well; the bottom line is that in the 1950's the ordinary working people were still close to the idea that they had real power and they could have taken it up if not treated reasonably well. Back then, military production meant lots of ordinary working people on lots of assembly lines (not to mention lots of draftees doing lots of pushups and driving lots of tanks and toting lots of M-1s). As the "bang per soldier" racked up everything got more specialized and gold-plated and expensive; assembly more automated; delivery more high-tech. All this kills the economic multiplier effect and concentrates the profits directly in the most powerful hands--who were becoming more and more consolidated into fewer and fewer conglomerates.

Meanwhile out in the real world the "Soviet threat" no longer looked so automatically menacing; even when they started to get a little cocky and mix up in wars of their own in Ethiopia and Afghanistan, they got bogged down fast. Anyone who attacks Russia ever is an idiot, but Ivan does not want to conquer the world, and when he tries he does not get far. Then in 1991 the USSR went belly-up completely (you know, they still have all the weapons--but the fear was based on that "Empire of Evil" nonsense and now they look just like any other Third World racket regime, never mind they still can make the biggest airplanes in the world...) Did this mean we cut back the military, the big objective threat being "gone" politically? Nope. It's not about defense, it's about our domestic political economy. We are addicted to war and the threat of war, pure and simple. We are ruled by military contractors.

Maybe with the Bush way of fighting wars ,it will be the soldiers and their officers who finally move to get us off this treadmill.

But the great lesson is, "eliminating big government" is a joke. Without big government in the form of warping the whole country around serving the military/industrial regime, the USA as we know it could not have existed. All the other countries that participated in the boom in the West in the 50's and '60s did so with a significant amount of national income taxed and devoted openly to social programs; we did that mostly disguised as military or defense-related expenditures (the Interstate Highways for instance being nominally a military transport system that civilians could just happen to also use--it was _vital_ for _national defense_ you see, so all those States Rights Southerners and anti-New Deal Republicans could vote for it and collect their pork).

If we cut back our military to something reasonable (and that could spiral down to something downright tiny if we used the political leverage that offered to create and enforce a real international peacekeeping regime--every reasonably large "threat"' could also cut its arsenal down and rely on collective action to stop the few real rouges left) we'd have to devote much of the money now taxed or borrowed for it to a lot of government programs, otherwise economic cycles will spin out of control and give us another Great Depression within 10 years.

Posted by: Mark at October 1, 2003 01:02 AM | PERMALINK


If I read your post correctly, you seem to imply that must cut back carefully to avoid a major depression, because the economy is built around the military industrial complex.

But, the defense budget is a mere $500 billion, or 5% of the economy. In Silicon Valley, when we shut down Lockheed, and released some 20,000 workers for the private sector we did not experience and depression, if fact, we experienced a boom.

A 30% cut in the Defense budget, to $350 billion, would represent a 1.5% decrease in the GNP, but certainly the released resources would recover all of that, and more, in the private sector.

We could then plan on another 30%, bringing defense down to $250 billion, allowing enough time for the private sector to adapt. Of course, Libertarians will demand a further cuts until the number is close to $150 billion, just enough to trash Mexico and Canada, on at a time of course.

Posted by: Matt Young at October 1, 2003 02:18 AM | PERMALINK

I've said it here before, but it fits into this thread well, so I'll say it again. I was enjoying Easterbrook's "Best Laid Plans" column in TNR until he mentioned something I knew about: he said the depleted uranium used in tanks is "non-radioactive". This simply (very simply) not true, and Easterbrook has to know it. Why say it?

Since then, I've decided the guy has some agenda (whatever it is) and a willingness to lie to further his agenda, so I don't trust a word.

Posted by: Ben Vollmayr-Lee at October 1, 2003 06:44 AM | PERMALINK

We could then plan on another 30%, bringing defense down to $250 billion, allowing enough time for the private sector to adapt. Of course, Libertarians will demand a further cuts until the number is close to $150 billion, just enough to trash Mexico and Canada, on at a time of course.

Well, yes, we could do this, but it's certainly not going to happen.

I'm not informed to enough to know whether Easterbrook is full of crap in his analysis of the merits of these two weapons systems or not, so I'm wondering if those who are (or at least come off as if they are) could suggest some sources that I might educate myself? Books, particuarly, or links if you've got more of them. Just curious.

Posted by: mc_masterchef at October 1, 2003 06:48 AM | PERMALINK

Easterbrook probably meant that depleted uranium is not a radiological health hazard. If so, he can be accused of loose usage of the term "radioactive", but lying is too strong an allegation.

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Cretin at Sparta,

Shouldn't that be Spartan at Crete?

Remember, thou art mortal!

FINALLY, someone got that movie reference!!!

Anyway, back to the military fantasizing...

Did I hear mention of the Rafale? And the Eurofighter? Oh no, look out! Please. Harriers have been doing the vectored thrust thing since the 70s and it's not that much of an advantage. The Rafale and Eurofighter are still limited by the constraints of their human pilots at about 9Gs in a turn. The turn-distance ratios and energy bleed rates of those aircraft have not proven superior to the F-15 and -16 (maybe the -18). We still beat out those planes when it comes to air-to-air ordnance. Until China (or whomever) designs a decent fighter radar and missiles comparable to the AMRAAM and Phoenix, the contest won't even be close.

Posted by: Cretin at Sparta at October 1, 2003 09:26 AM | PERMALINK

This is interesting. I'm a civilian pilot, and as many civilian pilots I've accumulated a lot of knowledge about military aircraft, history, and doctrine through the years. I don't know much about Navy or Army hardware.

Basically, I think R/D should continue at a moderate pace, simply because you don't build development teams over night, or even over a year or two. It's a complex web of relationships between government, private industry, and academe.

That said, the sort of accelerated development we are seeing now proposed is not only unnecesary but dangerous, and extremely costly. The F-22 is a fantasy airplane. Sure, one-on-one it might be the only air superiority fighter capable of beating, rather than merely matching, all known and near-future foes. BUT we will never be one-on-one and never are. The USAF has a larger number of aircraft than any other force by far, and more important, it has highly INTEGRATED operating capability thanks to highly coordinated command and control. The Iraqi air force in GWI was useless not because of individual fighter superiority, but because AWACS coverage meant they couldn't move without being tracked.

US radar, GPS/GIS integration, and combat data management are so superior it is impossible to overstate, as is our simulation capability. The Russians have some excellent aerospace engineers and are working with advanced concepts such as high speed thrust-vectoring, but dogfighting is just not a critical capabiity anymore, although pilots will talk about it for hours.

The B-52 might be old, but a JDAM load B-52 is not your dad's B-52. It is a cheap and deadly delivery system. It's like dropping bullets with a dump-truck, but with the accuracy of a sniper rifle. Since we happen to own the GPS, we can shut off that capability to anyone else, as the Russian GLONAS system is underfunded and no longer operational, and the Europeans haven't even started launching theirs. Not that anybody else could actually get a subsonic strategic bomber anywhere near a target we didn't want them to hit in the first place.

Bottom line, the "old" hardware is plenty good, constantly upgraded, more reliable now than ever (mostly because of improved avionics), but we need a few brains, and a few prototypes, just to make sure that we do not fall behind should an effective and militarily inclined "peer-power" actually materialize. We need to save the money, and we also need to refrain from driving an arms race that makes little sense in a world where every major power is increasingly integrated economically, something that was not the case in the cold war.

Also, we have important non-military threats we are not dealing with adequately. I thought the following phrase was revealing:

and then these terrorist groups sneaking these weapons into our country to disasterous effect. Like what happened on 9/11

9/11, need it be said, was enabled by box-cutters and a bit of creative thinking. If our answer is the F-22, we've got a serious reality problem. We will not become secure by having Lockheed-Martin enhance shareholder value, but there sure is a lot of money being spent to make us think just that.

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