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Reshaping the Pentagon for an Age of Austerity

The systemic crisis now beginning to engulf the United States, Europe, and the global economy will bring drastic cuts in our defense spending. There is no other way to balance the federal budget without raising taxes. In this and the next four “On War” columns I will suggest means by which we can reduce defense outlays without endangering national security. Subsequent columns will look at each of the four armed services. Here, I want to lay out the assumptions that will shape our New Model Defense Department.

The first is that the maximum the country will be able to afford for national security will be $100 billion annually—about 10 percent of what we are spending now. That would still give the United States the world’s highest defense budget. The $100 billion figure is generous; our national finances may be so bad we have to spend less.

Second, our real defense requirements reflect our geography. In terms of threats from other states, we are an island. We face no hostile armies to our north or to our south, nor at present any threatening navies to our west or east—you may safely disregard the U.S. Navy’s game of puffing the Dragon. Though the nonstate, Fourth Generation danger from the south is real and growing, we should deal with it as a law-enforcement problem for as long as possible.

Third, our post-collapse foreign policy will be that recommended by Sen. Robert A. Taft. American armies will no longer be spreading “democracy” in the Hindu Kush, nor along the banks of the Euphrates. Our defense budget need only be adequate for defending our territory and citizens.

Fourth, consistent with a Taftian foreign policy, our grand strategy will be defensive. If other countries, cultures, and peoples leave us alone, we will leave them alone. If they attack us, we will wipe them off the planet and out of history.

Fifth, our armed services will be reoriented toward the threat posed by Fourth-Generation war, war waged by non-state entities. We will neither plan nor structure our forces for war with other states, although we will retain a residual capability for defensive state vs. state warfare, especially at sea and in our nuclear deterrent. We will avoid land and air war against other states as a matter of grand strategy. In such conflicts, the losing state is likely to disintegrate, creating yet another fertile field for Fourth Generation entities. That is a greater threat than any posed by another state.

Sixth, most of our current military units and weapons, which were designed for war against other state-armed forces, are useless or counterproductive in Fourth Generation war. Were they effective, we would have won in Iraq and Afghanistan in a matter of weeks, as we did against the former’s state-armed forces.

Seventh, we will fire virtually all military contractors, except those that actually build ships, tanks, aircraft, etc. Our troops will eat no more steak and lobster dinners courtesy of KBR; they will again run their own mess halls, maintain their own equipment, and do their own thinking. Nothing has damaged our military more than contracting out its thinking to retired senior officers, who created or perpetuated the problems we now hire them to solve.

Eighth, we will abolish almost all civil service positions in the Defense Department, except in the Pentagon itself. We might be wise to go further, abandon the Pentagon, and force the Defense Department to house itself in the Old Executive Office Building, which formerly had enough space for the State, War, and Navy Departments. Limiting space is one of the more effective ways to curb bureaucratic growth.

Ninth, all new equipment will be procured off-the-shelf, with competitors evaluated in rigorous fly-offs and shoot-offs designed to mimic combat conditions as closely as possible. At present, the services come up with “wish lists” for all the characteristics they want a new piece of equipment to have, then find someone to build it at enormous cost. Instead, they will buy new ships, tanks, and planes the way you and I buy cars, selecting from what is available. The competitions would be open to all the world; winners, if foreign, would have to build here under license.

If, as assumed here, we couple reducing the defense budget with genuine military reform, we can emerge from what will be a messy process with armed forces that are more effective and more useful than those we have now, at a small fraction of the cost. That is a fact, not an assumption. And as our systemic crisis builds and culminates, it will also be a necessity.

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#1 Comment By Don On December 1, 2011 @ 7:52 am

Well done, but I would add a few more items to the list:
1. No more double dipping. Once one leaves the service, at whatever level, from private to 4 star general, one is not allowed to work for a company selling equipment to the War Department. Period. No exceptions.
2. To take incentives for fomenting more wars away, forbid sales of US war material to any other country, or tax it heavily enough to make it unprofitable.
3. Drop the name “Defense Department.” I suggest renaming it the “War Department”, but I’m sure that others can come up with appropriate names. “Terror from Above Department” is one idea.
4. Shut down the service academies, and a good case can be made for eliminating the JCS, IMHO.

In order to do what you suggest, including maintaining a nuclear deterrent, I suspect that the actual cost might be higher than 100 billion. At this point, given the dire state of our finances, I would drop the nuclear deterrent, item 4. Who is going to attack us, once we shut down the Empire? Iceland? Mozambique?

I don’t know if you read AW&ST, but they have been going nuclear over the tiny nicks in military spending that the failure of the Super Committee is supposed to trigger. It should be interesting to see what would happen if real cuts are made.

Any thoughts as to VA reform, and the Intel agencies?

#2 Comment By nathan On December 1, 2011 @ 8:36 am

Outstanding. No more being the world’s policeman, no more “democracy jihad”. No more “white man’s burden”. I remind people all the time that in 1999 Pat said that if we continue to be where we don’t belong sooner or later people will respond in asymetrical ways. Two years later he was proved exactly right.

We need to remember too that the days of the manned aircraft are over. The F-22 and F-35 if that plane is not canceled, are probably the final planes with humans in them. Maybe there will be an interim hybrid that can be either manned or unmanned depending on the mission but after that they are all drones with huge savings. The Ford carriers however many get built are the last big deck carriers.

The litorral combat ship? Just a big expensive target. The better solution will be enlarged fishing vessels at maybe 50 million a copy. There are so many other things we eliminate or change at huge savings without putting the republic at risk.

Unfortunately I think only Ron Paul do what Mr. Lind is proposing. Newt is clearly in love with an imperial presidency and so is Mitt. We still have far too many neocon imperialists in positions of power and influence especially in Congress. If we are to survive as a country, we must end our empire now.

Again Mr. Lind great work. And should be required reading for everyone.

#3 Comment By Kim Margosein On December 1, 2011 @ 9:36 am

“Ninth, all new equipment will be procured off-the-shelf, with competitors evaluated in rigorous fly-offs and shoot-offs designed to mimic combat conditions as closely as possible. At present, the services come up with “wish lists” for all the characteristics they want a new piece of equipment to have, then find someone to build it at enormous cost. Instead, they will buy new ships, tanks, and planes the way you and I buy cars, selecting from what is available. The competitions would be open to all the world; winners, if foreign, would have to build here under license. ”

Nice, but contractors are not going to build prototypes on spec. R&D costs are astronomical, and could sink the losing contractor. As a corollary, there are only a handful of outfits world wide that can make these products. Frankly, a 50-60% reduction in defense expenditure seems realistic considering the threat level. Politically, a 5% reduction would be a miracle. We have become worshipers of our military establishment. We are also moving towards a doctrine and concept of permanent, worldwide war. In a way, this does make sense considering 4th generation war. However, we don’t seem to be able to “do” this type of war well.
I think you touched on this problem briefly by considering aspects of this as a law enforcement problem, and this is the root of issue. Our thinking on these matters is law enforcement vs military. Neither establishment is really suited to the task. I would lean toward law enforcement. However, the weakening of our rights vis a vis the state, such as the PATRIOT act and current attempts to emasculate habeus corpus, make me reluctant to hand LE more power and authority.
I’m fresh out of ideas, Mr Lind. You?

#4 Comment By Kim Margosein On December 1, 2011 @ 9:50 am

To respond to Nathan-
1. The larger drones-properly unmanned aircraft- cost quite a bit more that you may suspect. However, you can match the appropriate size to the mission. We are still figuring out what they can do in combat, and what we want them to do. Come back in about 10 years.

2. We probably need about two new carriers constructed, and then let the fleet shrink as they wear out. For 4th generation warfare, the LCS is ideal to provide heavy weapons backup and command and control. Sea control is not much of a concern in asymmetrical warfare, so I don’t think they are much of a target.

3. The F-35 is a case of its own, in a way harking back to my earlier comment about the handful of contractors and enormous R&D cost. The contractors promised too much at too little cost. If we had it to do all over again 25 years ago, we would probably have gone for simpler requirements, especially the idiotic mix and match requirements between three very different aircraft.

#5 Comment By nathan On December 1, 2011 @ 10:51 am

@Kim. But that’s my point. In DTI there’s questions about whether we upgrade the F-15’s or go next generation. My guess is in either case drones will continue to fill more and more of the roles we now assign manned aircraft. Take the human out of the plane and costs do drop substantially.

The problem with the LCS is that you can’t put them close in. Wargames showed major combatants just become big targets for cruise missiles which can’t really be taken out. At 625 a copy instead of 250 a copy they’re too expensive to risk close in where they’ll be sitting ducks. What we’re seeing is that increasingly major combatants have to move farther out from shore to be safe. The only ships you’re going to put close in are low cost vessels that you don’t mind losing.

After the Ford carriers the next ones built if there is a follow on will be drone carriers. But with the capabilities we see coming they may not be necessary. Helicopter carriers may still be useful for humanitarian relief efforts but sea control is definitely going to be redefined.

MIT Technology Review did an article that said technology is easy to understand, thinking creatively about it is the hard part. That is going to be the challenge for DOD in the next two decades or so.

#6 Comment By James Canning On December 1, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

The US will spend nearly $1.2 trillion this year on “defence”, “security”, “intelligence”, etc. Lunacy.

Surely a return to the spending levels that obtained during last year prior to “9/11”, is the best way forward.

US can be safe and secure while spending less than half what it currently spends. $400 billion sufficient?

#7 Comment By Greg Panfile On December 1, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

It’s a pleasure to read Mr. Lind again on these matters, as his judgment for example on the Iraq War has been proven to be objectively a trillion dollars more valuable than that of the Texas cheerleader in charge of military matters at the time.

One wonders how points four and five mesh, in that if we take a defensive and mass retaliatory approach, where other than in the southwestern US would we actually participate in a 4GW? And even there a more conventional approach might be more effective.

The complexity and interconnectedness of the somewhat randomly constructed society in which we live is clearly so problematic that almost no one has any practical plan that makes a decent world for us all, regardless of our individual natures. Assuming Mr. Lind has a sound plan… almost guaranteed… and that some variant thereof can be implemented… perhaps unlikely, but not impossible, and certainly quite desirable… then what?

Ideology aside (as it has proven useless), how do we solve energy, manufacturing, imbalances of payments, corruption, and the dominance of people who push paper and money (more accurately now, electrical impulses) around to no productive end, imperiling our very society in the process? Fixing this area will do no good unless part of something comprehensive, and something clearly not on offer from either right or left. Government large and small has failed, socialism and capitalism both do not work; democracy is ineffective but all prior despotic forms led to their own destruction.

What, then?

#8 Comment By gcochran On December 1, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

I am reminded of Mr. Lind’s previous work: for example, that in which he explained that a bad sandstorm (interfering with air support) would leave our troops in Iraq vulnerable to destruction by the Iranian Army – with their obsolete, decrepit, poorly trained tank force. That and teenagers with rifles.
A force that couldn’t beat the Iraqi Army.

We should cut back on the military, since most of what it does is useless. But the idea that we won’t be able to afford more than $100 billion is just plain stupid.

#9 Comment By Fran On December 1, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

Excellent post, Mr. Lind. The seventh was my favorite. No more war profiteering. Also aggreed with Don’s points as well.

#10 Comment By Chris Mallory On December 1, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

Afford it or not, there is no reason to spend more than 100 billion on defense. No one can touch us, unless you are worried about Canada or Mexico. Israel, Korea, Europe, the various thugs of the Arab countries, none of our business. China? Not a threat.
Spending money we don’t have? That is just plain stupid.

#11 Comment By LessIsMore On December 1, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

Here are two suggestions:

– Keep the Israel subsidy out of the Defense budget. Eric Cantor is suspected of wanting to hide it there to protect it from the votes of future Congresses.

– Minimize foreign parts and foreign contractors in weapons development and procurement.

#12 Comment By Publion On December 1, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

Strongly concur with William Lind’s return to commentary on things military and strategic!

But I wonder: if we re-shape the military for 4GW threats and ops, will we create a tempting vacuum for some state that sees an opening? We would be incapable of meeting that development, which might tempt us to go-nuclear as the only way of winning; even if only tac-nukes.

What then?

#13 Comment By Nick K. On December 2, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

Mr. Lind, well put. I personally like point number seven, but you are correct on all counts. The personnel composition, the hardware, and the very mindset of the senior leadership are all artifacts of the military’s need to go fight imperial wars. Do away with the imperial warfare and we can revert to a much smaller and more effective military where quality of troops is more important than hardware.

#14 Comment By Stephen Gosling On December 2, 2011 @ 1:59 pm

William S Lind for President!

#15 Comment By tz On December 2, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

“.., nor along the banks of the Euphrates.”

Investment or commercial, or does it matter after the repeal of Glass-Stegsl.], and will they be FDIC insured.

#16 Comment By TheRightRadical On December 4, 2011 @ 12:41 am

I am reminded of Mr. Lind’s previous work: for example, that in which he explained that a bad sandstorm (interfering with air support) would leave our troops in Iraq vulnerable to destruction by the Iranian Army – with their obsolete, decrepit, poorly trained tank force. That and teenagers with rifles.
A force that couldn’t beat the Iraqi Army.””

“Iran has a second, bolder option it could combine with a Shi’ite insurrection at our rear. It could cross the Iran-Iraq border with several armored and mechanized divisions of the regular Iranian Army, sever our supply lines, then move to roll us up from the south with the aim of encircling us, perhaps in and around Baghdad. This would be a classic operational maneuver, the sort of thing for which armored forces are designed.

At present, U.S. forces in Iraq could be vulnerable to such an action by the Iranian army. We have no field army in Iraq; necessarily, our forces are penny-packeted all over the place, dealing with insurgents. They would be hard-pressed to assemble quickly to meet a regular force, especially if fuel was running short.

The U.S. military’s answer, as is too often the case, will be air power. It is true that American air power could destroy any Iranian armored formations it caught in the open. But there is a tried-and-true defense against air power, one the Iranians could employ: bad weather.”

Your remarks aside that is what he actually said. As for poorly trained forces, who knows? They have over a 100 MBT of their own design, that they have built of the last 15 years, plus several hundred T-72, which I assume they have gotten, since the 80s. The T-72 isn’t a bad tank, and is only a 40 year old design, which actually is not that old. In any case it is going to make for an interesting scenario, when it finally does happen.

#17 Comment By hw On December 4, 2011 @ 1:57 am

The Defense Department needs to shrink and practically focus on legitimate threats, but other federal departments need to likewise shrink.

An unintended result of de-globalizing our national view from a military perspective is we may not like our reflection in the mirror as we have more time to reflect internally. We may find attempting to address ills of who we really are could bring divisions within our country that split the union.

#18 Comment By Leon Berton On December 7, 2011 @ 7:49 am

I think every proposal made in your essay, sir, is splendid, many of the specifications made by commentors.

I was wondering, though, whether at some future date either you or someone with full expertise can give some hard figure projections concerning how we could have a fully maintained, constantly updated military capable of fulfilling your conditional: “If they attack us, we will wipe them off the planet and out of history.”

After all, that still will require large contingents of extremely well-trained special ops groups (in all their varieties), special forces, Marines, etc., ALONG with an ever sufficient, always updated arsenal of weaponry (and platforms) that can achieve ever greater precision delivery of proportional destructive power with minimal collateral damage, including the eventual integration of inventions such as scram-jet technology for unmanned aircraft, as well as delivery of fighting contingents and materials to combat zones anywhere on earth within a matter of half a day.

Surely, that will require much more than a hundred billion per year.

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