The topic of personnel policy has been a near-constant theme of conversation throughout the Navy during the last few years. Recently, the Chief of Naval Personnel publicly discussed his worries about the future of the Navy’s manning, while the Secretary of the Navy’s recent speech at the US Naval Academy introduced a raft of new, and potentially revolutionary, personnel policies to the Navy.

As many of the issues surrounding retention are focused on the millennial generation, we here at the USNI blog thought that it would be interesting to reach out to members of that generation and ask for their thoughts and experiences. We hope to periodically provide voices and faces to the numbers and statistics that frequently dominate the personnel discussion.

But we don’t want to be a vehicle for parting salvos, nor do we want to be a platform for blind cheerleading. We hope to inject the honest and thoughtful insights of those members of the naval service who have served their country well, and are either moving on to serve it in other ways outside of the service (the “exit interview”) or who have chosen to pursue higher rank and greater responsibility within it. We were particularly interested in individuals who fell into one of two categories: those who are transitioning out of the service or have recently gotten out, and those who have recently chosen to stay in past their initial commitment.

Much like an exit interview in the corporate world, we are asking a series of standardized questions that are intended to be open-ended and solicit honest reflection. If you would like to participate, or you know somebody who would, please reach out to blog@usni.org

And with that, we present our first exit interview, with LT Erik Sand.

—————————————–

Why did you join the Navy?

A question without a simple answer. Like any decision it was as much a process as a moment. Since I was little, I have always been fascinated by history and in particular military and naval history. As a fourth grader I declared Dwight Eisenhower my hero and that I wanted to grow up to be strategist. I imagined myself pouring over maps in a European castle filled with SHAEF officers. Gym, however, was my least favorite subject in school, and I wasn’t very tough. I didn’t think I could cut it in the military. Then, the summer after tenth grade, my scout troop toured the Naval Academy. I was taken with the place. Having read biographies of generals, I knew much of West Point and a little of Annapolis, but the service academies seemed an unobtainability difficult places to attend. Now, having actually visited one, I wanted to go. My interest in history had grown into a general fascination with international affairs. I thought I might want to join the Foreign Service. The next fall I attended a service academy information night. The academies seemed like a perfect fit. They would provide an excellent education, entry to a career in international relations, fit with my interest in military and naval affairs, and my love of country. They’d be free too! A liaison officer recommended comparing the “land” and “sea” services’ cultures though their academy’s summer programs. After doing so, I preferred the Navy. During my week at the Naval Academy, the standards stood out most. Here was a place with unquestionable requirements (physical, moral, academic). The institution would provided the tools to meet those standards, and extra help if you worked for it, but had the end of the day, YOU needed to meet the standard. I loved the idea.

As it was, however, I almost did not join, I decided to attend a civilian institution instead. I had planned to investigate ROTC once I arrived on campus, but when the local recruiting office made it very easy to apply for a scholarship (they must have been short on their quota), I figured why not. The deal seemed just as good. I could get almost everything that attracted me to a service academy (which was really everything that attracted me to the Navy), and the benefits of my civilian institution. I could even get the Navy to pay for a year of school without incurring any commitment. What did I have to lose?

My ROTC unit was at a crosstown school. When I arrived, I planned to do the minimum, so I could focus on life at my campus. The unit, however, made sure the minimum was quite high. The more activities I participated in, the more I liked it. A year later when the time came to make my decision, the choice was obvious.

What was your favorite part of serving the Navy?

Doing things. I have always been a thinker. This morning my roommate of three weeks commented that I appeared to scrape my oatmeal bowl with calculated efficiency to get the last bit out. While not quite true, he captured my personality perfectly. In the Navy, thinking was not enough. I had to execute. Passing written tests is easy: making something happen in the moment is much more challenging. The Navy is about making things happen when it counts. Execution. Theory matters to the extent it improves execution. The satisfaction gained from success in doing is manifestly greater than in thinking. Of course, what you get to do and where you get to do it does not hurt either. The most satisfying events are those with stakes (entering and existing port, live fire, etc), and the fleet provides no shortage of such opportunities.

What did you find most frustrating?

A culture that emphasizes looking good over being good. Too often our organization develops metrics for readiness or other issues that we can easily game, or we send messages which are technically true but that do not accurately describe the situation at hand. As requirements increase and resources decrease, we cut corners to claim compliance rather than provide realistic feedback. Such a path leads eventually to disaster. The Army War College recently published a report about lying in the Army. The Navy needs a similar (public) evaluation.

When and why did you decide to get out of the Navy?

As late as I could, which the in slow time frames of our naval personnel system meant nine months before I wanted to separate (I was requesting an extension beyond my rotation date, so I was up against the window in which I could have been given other orders). I cannot quite say I am getting out of the Navy because I will remain in the drilling Reserve. The truth is I love Navy. I do not want to leave active duty, but, right now for me, leaving is the better decision. Two factors produce this conclusion:

1) Someday I would like to have a family. In my first six years in the Navy I lived six places. Until my shore duty, I did not spend more than 10 months in any place I lived nor more than six months in any place without being gone at least a month. I am not complaining. I chose units with high operational tempos and would to do so again, but now I am in a different place. I am almost 30. I would be up for five more years of moving, long hours, and being gone. When I joined standard deployments were six months, now we have a goal to get deployments down to eight months in two to three years (a goal which assumes no surges – unlikely). I am unwilling to wait until I am 35 to again have good conditions to start the process of finding the right person.

2) I think I will be able to do more good outside of active duty. The Navy does a poor job of assigning people to where they can do the most good. Consulting very senior mentors, I was told that, in my community, it would be unlikely that I would be detailed to such places where my particular skills could make the most difference. Indeed, spending even one assignment working on the issues of interest to me would make it difficult for me to meet all the requirements for promotion in the current system. I was told I could do more on the outside.

If you could change one thing about the Navy what would it be?

Enhance career path flexibility. One example: Reform the officer career path so that it is milestone based rather than time in service based (i.e. eligibility for promotion comes x years after the previous promotion or accomplishment of a specific milestone). Such a change would allow more time for various experiences without automatically penalizing those who cannot meet artificial clocks (our enlisted advancement system already works this way).

What single most important lesson or piece of advice would you leave with naval leaders?

Junior officers do not leave the Navy because they are under-compensated. Our compensation is extremely generous. Continuing to address retention issues through pay raises/bonuses without addressing the root causes of attrition will, on the margin, retain officers who are risk adverse (unwilling to accept the risk their compensation might go down on the outside before it goes up) or who believe they would be unable to make a similar amount on the outside. With compensation as substantial as it is [assuming national average BAH and no bonuses or benefits, an O-3 over six sits at the 85th income percentile for the age group), the people we want are, generally, not going to be the kept by more money.

What’s next for you?

In the short run, I’m spending the summer as National Park Ranger in Alaska. In the fall, I will start a doctoral program in security studies at MIT.

 

 


Posted by LT Erik Sand in Navy | 3 Comments

The following study was neither directed nor supported by any government agency. The views presented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the DoD or its Components. The study has been formatted for online publication. The document in its original form can be found in the references section.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 cuts Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) compensation by 25% for all cohabitating service members and cuts it entirely for the junior member of a dual-military marriage in most cases.

Section 604 is proposed as a cost-savings measure that targets unnecessary spending. An in-depth examination, however, reveals that its means are regressive, discriminatory, and costly.

The overwhelming majority of those affected by Section 604 are the service’s junior-most members, and those members are affected by a greater magnitude than seniors.

The bill discriminates against specific service member marital choices and penalizes female service members at a disproportionate rate.

Potential cost-savings depend exclusively upon a service member’s willingness to continue working despite a significant compensation cut. Any associated attrition reduces cost-savings, and attrition beyond a certain minimal threshold increases costs.

Section 604 is not in keeping with the military’s efforts to recruit and retain high quality people, and should it pass, the bill will negatively affect morale, recruitment, retention, and future budgets.

BACKGROUND

On June 18, 2015 the U.S. Senate passed S. 1376, its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016.[1] Section 604 attempts to decrease spending by imposing compensation reductions for cohabitating single service members and members in dual-military marriages.[2] The provision is not part of H.R. 1735, the House version of the NDAA, nor is it part of the Department of Defense Budget Request.[3],[4] Since the bill’s proposal, Section 604 has endured intense scrutiny and has been publicly opposed by President Obama and senior Defense Department leaders.[5] Nevertheless, the provision remains the subject of contentious and emotional debate amongst interested parties, in and out of uniform, and has become the impetus for broader conversations pertaining to military compensation and demographics.[6] A review of public comments, in favor of and in opposition to Section 604, reveals deep and broad misunderstandings of history, the law, and economics as they apply to these subjects.

PURPOSE

To replace misinformation and conjecture with facts and realities, the following study defines relevant terms using source document lexicon, describes the evolution of military housing finance in response to changing family demographics from 1949 to 2015, challenges the assumptions inherent in S. 1376 Section 604, evaluates the bill’s effectiveness as a cost-savings measure, and describes it’s likely impact on service members and the overall force.

RELEVANT TERMS DEFINED

To properly evaluate any proposal involving military compensation and its components, one must understand the following terms as defined by U.S. law or Department of Defense policy.

Pay– The term “pay” includes basic pay, special pay, retainer pay, incentive pay, retired pay, and equivalent pay, but does not include allowances.[7]

Allowance– the term is not defined in Title 37, Chapter 1, “Definitions,” nor is it defined in Chapter 7 “Allowances other than Travel and Transportation,” Section 401, “Definitions”,” or anywhere else in U.S. Code Title 37 “Pay and Allowances of the Uniformed Services.” “Allowance” is, however, referenced in sections covering Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and the tax-free attribute commonly associated with allowances is described in the latter, “Federal tax advantage accruing to the aforementioned allowances because they are not subject to Federal income tax.”[8]

Regular Military Compensation– The term “regular compensation” or “regular military compensation (RMC)” means “the total of the following elements that a member of a uniformed service accrues or receives, directly or indirectly, in cash or in kind every payday: basic pay, basic allowance for housing, basic allowance for subsistence; and Federal tax advantage accruing to the aforementioned allowances because they are not subject to Federal income tax.”[9]

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)– the term is not explicitly defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403 “Allowances other than Travel and Transportation,” of the U.S. Code, however, its construct is explained in detail:

(a) General Entitlement.-(1) Except as otherwise provided by law, a member of a uniformed service who is entitled to basic pay is entitled to a basic allowance for housing at the monthly rates prescribed under this section or another provision of law with regard to the applicable component of the basic allowance for housing. The amount of the basic allowance for housing for a member will vary according to the pay grade in which the member is assigned or distributed for basic pay purposes, the dependency status of the member, and the geographic location of the member.[10]

(The “except as otherwise provided by law” is presumably included to account for those situations where members are not entitled to BAH due to specific training requirements (e.g. USMC Basic School mandated barracks utilization,) a member’s non-drilling reserve status or in situations in which a member is assigned to a location where government housing is available.”

Dependent– Defined in Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401, a dependent is a spouse, an unmarried child under the age of 21 (or under the age of 23 if the child is a full-time student and dependent on the member for over one-half of financial support or if the child is incapacitated and dependent on the member for one-half of financial support), or a parent, if the parent is dependent on the member for over one-half of the parent’s financial support. A spouse, however, is considered a dependent regardless of employment status, income level or financial assets.

Dual-military Marriage- a marriage in which each spouse is serving as a member of the military. All references to “dual-military” henceforth refer to those couples in which each member is serving as part of the Active Component (AC), as this is the relevant group to consider when discussing BAH.

THE EVOLUTION OF BAH, MILITARY INTEGRATION POLICIES, AND AMERICAN FAMILY DEMOGRAPHICS

The Career Compensation Act of 1949 established “Basic Allowance for Quarters,” or “BAQ,” the predecessor to BAH, as a stipend paid to service members when government housing was unavailable.[11] At the time, a military family likely consisted of a male service member who had access to on-base housing and supported his female spouse and children. In the six and a half decades since, the American workforce, the American family, and the American military have undergone drastic changes, many of them due to equal rights movements. While often lagging, military compensation rates, policy initiatives, and family demographics have evolved along with those of America as a whole. The following timeline highlights significant shifts in each of the above, from 1949 to 2015.

1949

  • Career Compensation Act of 1949 established the “basic allowance for quarters,” which provided service members an allowance for housing equivalent to 75% of what civilians in a similar income bracket could afford. The allowance was based on grade and dependent status, where a dependent was a female spouse and/or a child.[12]
  • Women made up less than 2% of the armed forces, as required by the Women Services Integration Act of 1948, which permitted women to serve in all branches of the military, but limited them to less than 2% of each branch.[13]
  • According to U.S. Census data, women accounted for 31% of the overall U.S labor force.[14]

1973

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401 was amended to remove the provision requiring a female service member to prove to the Federal Government, in order to qualify for the “with dependent” rate, that her spouse was dependent for more than one-half of his financial support.
  • This change effectively ended any form of “means testing” in order to qualify for the housing allowance overall, or for the “with dependent” rate.

1973

  • The military draft ended, and the military transitioned to an all-volunteer force.
  • Women made up 2% of the enlisted ranks, and 4% of the officer corps.[15]

1980

  • First co-ed class graduated from the United States Service Academies (1978 for USMMA).

1981

  • Congress increased BAQ rates by 14.3% and increased basic pay rates by 10-15% in order to “restore, in current dollars, the relative relationship of military compensation to pay in the private sector that existed in 1972” when Congress adopted the “all-volunteer force.” [16]
  • All elements of RMC were raised to make compensation competitive with the civilian sector.

1991

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 401 was amended to remove “he” and “his” pronouns from the definition of a military dependent. This change replaced phrases such as “his spouse” with the gender neutral phrase “the service member’s spouse.”

1996

  • Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted.

1998

  • Legislation was passed that established the modern “basic allowance for housing,” which factored grade, dependent status and geographic location into its calculation to provide service members with an allowance equal to 85% of housing costs for a civilian in a similar income bracket.[17]

2001

  • The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2001 removed the formula that provided service members with BAH equal to 85% of housing costs, with the intention to have BAH cover 100% of the costs of what a civilian in a similar income bracket could afford. This formula did not account for any additional spousal income.[18]

2003

  • Title 37 U.S.C. Section 403 was amended so that each member of a dual-military couple received BAH at the single rate, and if the couple had children, the senior member received BAH at the with dependent rate.

2005

  • Median rental housing costs were covered 100% by BAH nationwide.[19]

2011

  • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly in the military.
  • Women made up 14% of the enlisted ranks and 16% of the officer corps.[20]
  • According to U.S. Census data, women accounted for 47% of the overall U.S. labor force.[21]

2013

  • The Supreme Court declared DOMA unconstitutional. Immediately following, DoD afforded same-sex marriages the same benefits afforded to all other military marriages.

2014

  • The DoD adjusted the BAH algorithm down by 1% and removed “renter’s insurance” as a variable. Spousal income remained a non-factor to the housing allowance algorithm.[22]

2015

  • Supreme Court required all states to recognize same-sex marriages.

Contrary to 1949, today’s American military family may be supported by a matriarch, whose “stay-at-home” husband cares for the kids. It may consist of a male Sailor married to a female investment banker, or a female Soldier married to a female Airman. Each of these families may have children, and their children may have been adopted or carried by a surrogate. What defines a “typical” American family has changed along with the times. Therefore, BAH cannot be viewed through the same lens that was used over six decades ago.

EXISTING LAW (FY2003-2015)

Since 2003, the National Defense Authorization Act and other precipitating Department of Defense Documents have consistently defined two BAH categories:

  • BAH without dependents- allowance entitled by law to eligible service members in an amount calculated by the Defense Travel Management Office in accordance with regulations. The allowance applies to service members who cannot claim a dependent as defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 101 of the U.S. Code. In all geographies and across all ranks, this is the lower of two distinctive amounts offered to service members based on their dependency status.
  • BAH with dependents- Same as above with the exception that this allowance applies to service members who CAN claim a dependent as defined in Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 101 of the U.S. Code.

These two categories apply differently to four potential lifestyle scenarios relevant to this study (dependency scenarios beyond those affected by S. 1376, Section 604 exist but are beyond the scope of this study, and therefore, not listed):

  • A service member living either alone or with a non-dependent civilian receives BAH at the without dependent rate.
  • A service member who marries a civilian or has a child (or other dependent) or both, receives BAH at the with dependent rate, regardless of the spouse’s employment status or income, and independent of the number of children (other dependents) in the household.
  • Two service members who cohabitate (married or unmarried) each receive BAH at the without dependent rate.
  • In the case where each member of a married couple serves in the military, and has a child or children, the senior member receives BAH at the with dependent rate and the junior member receives BAH at the without dependent rate.

S. 1376 SECTION 604

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 amends Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403 of the U.S. Code to reduce BAH for cohabitating military members eligible to receive the allowance “without dependents” to 75% of the prevailing rate and to eliminate BAH for the junior member of a cohabitating dual-military marriage residing within commuting distance to his/her workplace. The provision, if enacted, would take effect on October 1, 2015; however, reductions in compensation would not apply until a member received orders requiring a Permanent Change of Station (PCS).[23]

As reported by the media, the Senate aims to curb overall Federal spending on BAH under the assumption that military gender integration and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have accelerated DoD personnel spending.[24] The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) view, according to the press, is that BAH is not compensation and was never intended as such, therefore, it is subject to reduction at discriminatory and disproportionate rates.[25] The following section examines the validity of SASC assumptions, stated and implied, from an analytical, economical, and historical perspective.

S. 1376 SECTION 604’s ASSUMPTIONS TESTED

BAH is not compensation and should not be viewed as such.

False. According to United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (25), BAH is part of Regular Military Compensation (RMC), a term that includes BAH by definition. The Defense department further articulates that RMC represents “a basic level of compensation which every service member receives, directly or indirectly, in-cash or in-kind, and which is common to all military personnel based on their pay grade, years of service, and family size.”[26]

Not only is BAH defined as compensation, it has been treated as such for decades. Since 1964, military pay raises have been distributed amongst each of the three components of RMC.[27] In 1980, and again in the early 1990s, Congress created new initiatives to keep RMC competitive with private sector compensation, acknowledging the need to do so to retain members serving in an ever more educated and technical all-volunteer force.[28] The House Armed Services Committee articulated its philosophy in 1991 when proposing a 4.1% increase in EACH component of RMC:

The committee remains committed to preserving a total military compensation package that will continue to attract and retain the high quality young men and women in the nation’s armed forces today. The committee is determined to maintain a competitive level of compensation in the future and to protect the quality of life for service members and their families.[29]

This well-known principle is used in military recruitment and retention materials, which routinely urge current and future service members to include the value of housing and other allowances when deciding whether or not to join or stay. An example from the Navy Web Page states:

When considering salary, be sure to take into account the value of housing and other allowances – plus outstanding Navy health-care benefits – which adds thousands of dollars to the value of your compensation.[30]

While the relationship between military and civilian compensation has fluctuated throughout the years, using all-components of RMC to compare the two has remained a constant.[31]

Finally, leaders at the highest levels, from those in the DoD to the Commander-in-Chief, recognize, “BAH is a part of every member’s regular military compensation . . .”[32]

BAH should only be used for housing.

False. The Defense Management Travel Office (DTMO), the Federal agency responsible for determining BAH rates in accordance with U.S. Code and for publishing their analysis via an annual “BAH Primer” states:

The Department of Defense and the Services designed the Basic Allowance for Housing program to provide accurate housing allowances based on the market price of rental housing rather than member‐reported rents. . .

The BAH program measures rental‐housing costs in the civilian market rather than measuring how much members spend on housing. This method ensures a more accurate correlation between allowance payments and rental prices. . . A member’s actual expenses may be higher or lower based on a member’s actual choice of housing and where they live. . .

The opportunity for service members to choose their off-base housing is important to DoD. Each member has the freedom to decide how to allocate his or her income (including housing allowance) without a penalty for deciding to conserve some dollars on rent to pay other expenses.[33]

Section 604 includes a “grandfather” clause.

True and False. The original proposal did not include any provision to delay compensation cuts beyond October 1, 2015. Such a delay would allow affected military members to prepare their finances. An amendment sponsored by Montana Senator, Steve Daines, added language that enforces the BAH reduction for affected members when one cohabitating member receives Permanent Change of Station orders outside the normal commuting distance of his/her current station.[34] In some sense, then, the provision is “grandfathered.” Practically, however, any military member is no more than 36 months away from his/her next PCS. Therefore, it is reasonable to presume that a large number of affected members will see pay cuts in the immediate or near future, if the bill is passed.

As a point of comparison, the President, Congress and the Department of Defense have repeatedly supported a “grandfathering” approach to military retirement compensation reform.[35] Their commitment is based on “keeping faith with military members” recruited and retained on a particular expectation of retirement compensation. Yet, despite the fact that the same representatives have collectively voted in favor of (or supported in DoD’s case) current BAH laws 13 times since 2003, and military members have been recruited and retained based on a particular expectation of BAH compensation, the same commitment to keeping faith seemingly does not apply here.

BAH provides excessive and unearned income to dual-military marriages.

False. Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403, (2) of the U.S. Code states, “The Secretary shall base the (BAH rate) determination upon the costs of adequate housing for civilians with comparable income levels in the same area.”[36] Logically, a civilian household in which each spouse is employed produces twice as much income as a civilian household in which only one spouse is employed, assuming all are similarly qualified. Since military BAH rates are differentiated by pay grade, and since fraternization policies prohibit members to marry well outside their pay grade, it is reasonable to use similarly qualified civilian dual-income households to determine “comparable income levels” for dual-military couples. In other words, a comparable income level for two O-3s should be a local household comprised of two working adults who each have bachelor’s degrees and 4-9 years of professional experience.

It is also logical that a senior military couple, like any other dual-employed and similarly qualified civilian couple, would earn what some may consider a high standard of living. Consider that an O-6 is guaranteed to hold a bachelor’s degree and have approximately 22 years of professional experience, and he/she is highly likely to hold a master’s degree and have held at least one, if not two, “C-suite” equivalent jobs.[37] Imposing a marriage penalty on that individual based on a value judgment that his/her standard of living is too high, in the rare case he/she is married to another O-6, creates a precedent unlike any other in the U.S. professional workforce.

Such a provision sends a message to the military that legislative leaders accept the standard of living of a business executive married to a lawyer, a GS-15 married to a GS-15, and a Congressman married to a Congressman, or any combination thereof; and that they equally accept the standard of living of a service member who marries any of the aforementioned. Yet, ONLY in the case in which a service member is married to another service member does that standard of living become unacceptable.

FIGURE 1

Possible combinations of married couples civilian, GS, and military

Marriage Penalty Comparison

 

This concept applies to E-6s just as much as it does to O-6s. In fact, discussing two O-6s married to one another in reference to Section 604 is as statistically irrelevant as mentioning two Congressmen married to one another, a point which will be explained later in detail.

Dual-military marriages have risen to 11.5%.

 True and False. Stars and Stripes reports that the number of members in dual-military marriages has increased in recent years and now represents 11.5% of the force.[38] While the percentage is accurate for the Total Force (TF), using TF data in reference to S. 1376 Section 604 is misleading and irrelevant. The TF consists of both the Active Component (AC) and Reserve Component (RC). Due to the “reserve” nature of the RC, these members rarely draw BAH. Furthermore, to be subject to S. 1376 Section 604, both members of a dual-military RC marriage would have to be simultaneously activated, an equally unlikely scenario. Finally, while RC dual-military marriages have increased in the past 13 years, from 1.9 to 2.6% of the RC, a negligible portion of a 0.7% increase over more than a decade can hardly be responsible for increased Federal spending. The appropriate demographic to consider is the AC.

In recent decades, dual-military marriages have increased in both numbers and as a percentage of the AC force.

 False. On an annual basis, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy), under contract with ICF International, produces a comprehensive and near all-inclusive report on military demographics. The most recent data covers the period 1995-2013. Unless otherwise explicitly stated or noted, all discussions contained herein reference this report entitled, “2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community.” Figure 2 was derived from that source and applies to the active component force, the only demographic that receives BAH on a routine basis.

FIGURE 2

Number and Percentage of Active Component Members by Family Status Trends: 1995-2013 

Percentage by family trends

False. Since the repeal of DADT in 2011, the number of dual-military couples has decreased in both numbers and as a percentage of the active duty force over successive years for which we have data: 6.5% in 2011 (91,916), 6.4% in 2012 (87,993), and 6.4% in 2013 (87,211).Since the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) dual-military marriages have increased in both numbers and as a percentage of the AC force.

Dual-military marriages cost the federal government more in BAH than other demographics. For example, two married O-6s living in Washington, DC receive an excessive amount of tax-free housing allowance a year.

False. Under existing law, service members who choose to marry another service member, rather than a civilian, suffer a “military marriage penalty” that equates to a “federal cost savings.” Consider the following scenarios, referencing Figure 3: 

FIGURE 3

2015 Federal BAH Spending on Married O-6 Service Members in the NCR[40]

 

Married O6 BAH

Suppose the DoD must fill two O-6 billets to meet end strength requirements in the National Capitol Region (NCR). If those O-6s do not have dependents, the Federal government is required to compensate each of them with BAH at the without dependent rate. Similarly, if those same O-6s marry one another, the Federal government is still only required to compensate each of them with BAH at the without dependent rate. Therefore, their dual-military status has no impact on Federal BAH spending.

However, if those same O-6s marry civilian spouses, which ~80% of AC O-6s do, the Federal government twice incurs an additional BAH cost in that it is then required to compensate each of them with BAH at the with dependent rate.

If the dual-military O-6s have children, the Federal savings is slightly lesser due to the fact that the senior member would switch from without to with dependent BAH. Nevertheless, in every possible combination the dual-military marriage consumes fewer overall dollars of BAH spending, making such marriages the most cost-effective BAH scenario to the Federal Government.

It is critically important to note that, while the concepts based on O-6 BAH rates in the National Capital Region are accurate and universally applicable, these numbers should not be used as talking points in favor of, or in opposition to, the proposed legislation because they do not represent the demographic affected by S. 1376 Section 604 on two accounts:

  • The NCR is but 1 of 300 Military Housing Areas (MHA) used to calculate BAH rates and it encompasses the nation’s most expensive place to live.[41]
  • The number of O-6 and above active duty dual-military couples is in the hundreds, while the number of active duty dual-military couples O-3 and below is in the tens of thousands, or more precisely, 93%.[42]

Therefore, using these numbers as talking points in favor of Section 604 is as much a misrepresentation of reality as using numbers for E-1s living in the cheapest MHA as a talking point in opposition to the legislation.

An effective and truthful analysis, one that this study will use from this point forward, considers the demographic most representative of the one targeted by the Bill: E-5 to E-6. In terms of pay grade, service members E-5 to E-6 comprise the largest portion of the affected personnel at 39.2%.[43] The following figure considers possible combinations for E-5s:

 FIGURE 4

Federal BAH Spending on E-5 Married Service Members Based on the Median National Rate[44]

 

BAH E-5

Figure 4 not only provides the most appropriate set of data on which to base broader discussions, when compared to Figure two, it confirms that dual-military couples reduce Federal BAH spending regardless of rank.

BAH, however, represents only the beginning of cost savings generated by dual-military marriages. Adding health care to the equation exponentially increases the dollar return on a dual-military family. Each year the DoD pays health care costs for ~1,370,329 AC members and their ~1,878,092 dependents. In other words, family members will consume more of the $47.8 billion requested for the FY16 Unified Medical Budget than those actually serving in uniform.[45]

Every time a military member chooses to marry another military member as opposed to marrying a civilian, the DoD has at least two fewer dependents to consider when budgeting for health care and BAH. The following illustrations use annual BAH and health care expenditures on dual-military and military-to-civilian families to demonstrate this concept:

 FIGURE 5

Dependents and costs generated by dual-military and civilian-to-military families

ratios

*A weighted average probability of family demographics is used to estimate military-to-civilian hiring costs. It considers the hiring likelihood of singles, members married to civilians, and members married to civilians with 1 child (additional dependent). Each additional civilian dependent creates a health care cost (HC) beyond that of the service member.

 *A weighted average probability of family demographics is used to estimate military-to-civilian hiring costs. It considers the hiring likelihood of singles, members married to civilians, and members married to civilians with 1 child (additional dependent). Each additional civilian dependent creates a health care cost (HC) beyond that of the service member.

While the diagram above only considers BAH and health care, the dependent reduction effect of dual-military marriages provides even more cost-savings to the Federal government. There are too many dependent entitlements to quantify in this report, but they include: V.A. Benefits, Spouse Employment Assistance Program, etc.

Having demonstrated the value to the Federal government when a dual-military marriage is created, it is equally important to mention the value that is lost when such a couple is dis-incentivized from continued service, as would be the case if S. 1376 Section 604 becomes law. Uniquely, when one of the members of a dual-military couple resigns, not only does that person require a replacement, but they also become a dependent (assuming their spouse remains in the AC). Therefore, it is more costly to lose a member of a dual-military marriage than one that is married to a civilian.

Ultimately, overall spending on military personnel decreases as the number of dependents decreases. Considering U.S. family demographics (including a couple’s likelihood to have children, biological or otherwise), the most cost effective couple for the Department of Defense is one that is same-sex dual-military, followed by heterosexual dual-military, and finally heterosexual military-to-civilian.[46]

 IF NOT DUAL-MILITARY MARRIAGES AND DADT REPEAL THEN WHY THE INCREASED SPENDING?

Reduced “on-base” housing supply accompanied by steady demand.

Despite late 1990s force drawdowns and those in recent years, as well as force build-ups due to the Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM, active duty military DoD end strength has remained relatively constant over the past 20 years. (Mean end-strength – ~3.37 million, median end-strength- ~3.3 million, range ~3.2-3.7)[47]

At the same time, the number of on-base housing units steadily decreased due to Base Realignment and Closure Commission rounds. The 1995 round proposed to close 32 major U.S. military bases. Ultimately, 35 bases were either closed or realigned.[48]

The 2005 round proposed to close 22 major U.S. military bases and to realign 33 others. Closures and realignments resulting from 2005 proposals are ongoing.[49]

Decreasing government housing availability due to decreasing numbers of military bases and private-public venture efforts, accompanied by steady end strength, has required more members to seek housing off base. As more members have become eligible for BAH compensation, total spending on BAH has increased in kind.

An upwardly biased algorithm.

The algorithm used to calculate BAH allows increases in-kind with increases in aggregate rents, however, due to rate protection, a one-way valve that “locks-in” a floor during a member’s lease term, BAH does not decrease at the same rate as aggregate rents.

Congressional efforts to trend military compensation rates towards those of the private sector in a nascent all-volunteer force that increasingly required higher education and technical skills.

For two decades, Congress passed legislation to close the gap between military and private sector compensation using each element of RMC (basic pay, BAS, and BAH). BAH increased at accelerated rates between 2001 and 2005, due to Secretary Cohen’s goal to cover 100% of housing costs.[50] The “allowance” attributes of BAH were particularly attractive to Congress when determining which part of RMC to increase due to their tax-free nature. Increases in BAH had a multiplier effect over increases in basic pay. This allowed Congress to keep the total compensation number low while increasing effective compensation substantially, thereby reducing annual budgets and retirement obligations. Importantly, all compensation increases were applied universally, benefiting every service member regardless of their dependent or marital status. By 2011, the Quadrennial Military Compensation Review assessed military compensation to be closely aligned with that of the private sector.[51]

NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF S. 1376 SECTION 604

Regressive

The Commandant of the Marine Corps does not live with the Chief of Naval Operations, nor does the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force live with the Sergeant Major of the Army. An extreme example, no doubt, but demonstrative of the fact that, due to compensation and lifestyle choices associated with service members O-4 and above and E-7 and above, this demographic is not likely to cohabitate, married or not.

It is probable, however, that officers and enlisted, pay grades O-1 to O-3 and E-1 to E-6 have cohabitated, are cohabitating, or will cohabitate.[52] Therefore, while all service members enjoyed BAH increases outlined in the section above, only the junior most members will suffer the overwhelming majority of the 25% and 100% BAH cuts under S. 1376 Section 604.

The regressive impact is compounded by the fact that BAH is a greater portion of overall compensation for junior service members than it is for senior members. For example, BAH is 31% of Regular military Compensation for an E-5 and just 10.3% for an O-10.

Discriminatory

Not only does Section 604 discriminate against the military’s junior-most members as described above, it inequitably targets dual-military members as a whole (who only represent 6.4% of the active duty force), and has a particularly disparate effect on women. If 604 were to take effect, two cohabitating E-5s would each see a 25% cut in BAH. However, if those two E-5s married one another, the junior of the two would lose 100% of BAH. Because women only comprise ~14.9% of the force, but still account for ~50% of service members in dual-military marriages, they are 650% more likely than men to be affected by Section 604.[53]

Also consider that, in American heterosexual marriages, a male is more likely to be older than his female spouse. Since military rank structure is largely defined by tenure, and since the overwhelming majority of senior officers and enlisted are male, it is highly likely that the woman is the junior member of a dual-military couple.[54] Therefore, women are not only more likely than men to be indirectly effected, but they are more likely to be directly affected. In either case, the discriminatory nature of the proposal creates an incentive for women to resign from service.

Section 604 further discriminates by targeting but protecting an arbitrary benefit provided to a “policy-preferred” demographic. Since the current system is based on the previously described 1949 paradigm, in which a civilian spouse is assumed to be dependent on the service member, it favors the 1949 family model over other married models and over singles. For example, a single E-5 who performs the same duties as an E-5 who is married to a teacher or a lawyer gets paid less simply for being single. This attribute is preserved by Section 604.

Additionally, 25% of civilian spouses are employed AND do not have children.[55] In these cases, the service member still receives a dependent benefit despite having no true financial dependent. Dependency considerations also neglect scenarios in which a civilian spouse earns higher compensation than the service member. Here too, the service member receives a dependent benefit despite having no true financial dependent. If Section 604 becomes law, an O-5 in the NCR who marries a hedge fund manager will receive an annual pay raise of $5,472 while an O-5 who marries an O-6 will be penalized with a $31,464 annual pay cut.[56]

Costly

Any proposed cost-savings or compensation initiatives must consider incentives in their calculus. Under the provision that reduces cohabitation BAH by 25%, members are less likely to cohabitate with other members and more likely to get civilian roommates or live alone. Therefore, what sounds like a cost-savings measure, may not produce the desired effect.

In the case of the dual-military couple, in order to achieve any cost savings by eliminating BAH from the junior member’s compensation, that member has to commit to work equally for unequal pay (e.g. a 31% reduction in compensation for an E-5). If that member resigns, S. 1376 Section 604 can no longer exploit her for cost savings. A measure that attempts to decrease spending by retaining a specific demographic, then applies, as its primary cost-savings mechanism, an incentive for that same demographic to resign, is sure to fail.

For example, Congress could propose a law that eliminated basic pay from the compensation package of Naval Aviators or Army Rangers. If all Naval Aviators and Army Rangers continued to serve despite a draconian pay cut, spending would certainly decrease. However, it is reasonable to assume that the Joint Force would lose a large number of Naval Aviators and Army Rangers as a result of the new policy and be left with a hollow force and a recruiting problem.

However, Naval Aviators and Army Rangers are not the most cost-effective demographic. That attribute belongs to dual-military marriages. Therefore, Section 604, targets the most cost-effective group and provides it with the following choice: accept unequal pay for equal work, get a divorce, or resign. If 45,000 signatures on a White House petition are any indication of which choice dual-military couples will make, the likelihood of resignation being a popular choice is high.[57]

And when a dual-military spouse resigns, the number of dependents on the Department of Defense, and the accompanying costs, increases at a much higher rate than any other demographic. The effect is so drastic that if the percentage of dual-military couples drops from 6.4% the AC force to 4.6%, Section 604 becomes cost neutral. At 4.5%, Section 604 begins to cost the Department of Defense $2.6 million for every .1% drop. Since attrition is dynamic and includes both those who resign and others who are dis-incentivized to join, this measure creates an unpredictable and precarious position for the Department.

Importantly, to preserve the integrity of this study, all data used considers extremes that make Section 604 most effective. According to CBO reports, however, first-year “cost-savings” only amount to $3.4 million vice the $8.8 million used in the calculations above. When considering CBO data, dual-military marriages as a percentage of the total force would only have to fall .064% to ~5.7% to negate any potential cost-savings.[58] Attrition, static or dynamic, is NOT considered in the CBO report. The report rather assumes that 100% of affected service members will martyr themselves to Section 604.

Finally, Section 604 does not consider divorce. Divorce rates in the military are high and even higher for those in dual-military marriages.[59] If the marriage penalty in Section 604 becomes law, then a junior service member choosing to separate from her/his spouse would be beholden to the senior member for housing. Under state law in both Virginia and California, states with a large number of active component military members, there is a minimum waiting period of 6 months for a divorce to become finalized.[60] In some cases, divorce proceedings can take years. This added challenge is sure to lower the mission readiness of the junior service member, especially when the separation is caused by situations such as domestic violence or adultery.

CONCLUSION

Senate Bill 1376 Section 604 is a case in which the narrative is driving the facts rather than the facts driving the narrative. The provision is based on false assumptions; it is regressive, it is discriminatory, and it exacerbates the problem it intends to curb while introducing new problems. Furthermore, it contradicts Secretary of Defense Carter’s vision of the “Force of the Future” and undermines the continued gender integration efforts of leaders like Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus, who champion equal opportunity for all Americans to serve. An alternative and necessary solution, one that is effective, intelligent, and just, must utilize data-driven economics, target the source of increased spending, provide guaranteed and predictable savings, and institute a universally applicable correction.

Original Document

[1] S. 1376.

[2] Ibid.

[3] H.R. 1735.

[4] United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

[5] Statement of Administration Policy, S. 1376, Executive Office of the President (June 2, 2015).

[6] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[7] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (21).

[8] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1.

[9] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 1, Section 101, (25).

[10] United States Code, Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403.

[11] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Print.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 06 July 2015.

[14] We Asked– You Told Us. Washington, D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, 1995. Web. 06 July 2015.

[15] “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 July 2015.

[16] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Print.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 22 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 July 2015.

[21] Statistics, U.S. Bureau Of Labor. “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook.” Web. 06 July 2015.

[22] A Primer on the Basic Allowance for Housing. Defense Travel Management Office, Jan. 2015. Web. 07 July 2015.

[23] S. 1376, Section 604.

[24] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Military Compensation.” Regular (RMC) Calculator. Web. 08 July 2015.

[27] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Web.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Military Pay.” Military Pay Chart & US Navy Pay Grades : Navy.com. Navy Recruiting Command, Web. 09 July 2015. http://www.navy.com/joining/benefits/pay.html.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Statement of Administration Policy, S. 1376, Executive Office of the President (June 2, 2015).

[33] A Primer on the Basic Allowance for Housing. Defense Travel Management Office, Jan. 2015. Web. 07 July 2015.

[34] S.Amdt.1890 – 114th Congress (2015-2016)

[35] Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, January 2015.

[36] U.S.C. Title 37, Chapter 7, Section 403, (2)

[37] FY16 Active Duty Line/Staff Community Briefs, http://www.npc.navy.mil/bupers-npc/boards/activedutyofficer/Pages/CommunityBriefs.aspx

[38] Erik Slavin. “BAH Change for Dual-Military Couples Could Cause Troubles.” Stars and Stripes, 22 June 2015: Web.

[39] Ibid.

[40] BAH Calculator. Defense Travel Management Office, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 08 July 2015.

[41] “District of Columbia the Nation’s Most Expensive Place to Live.” Real Time Economics RSS. Web. 08 July 2015.

[42] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[43] Ibid.

[44] 2015 National Mean BAH Spreadsheet, Defense Management Travel Office.

[45] United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

[46] Gates, Gary J. “Same-sex and Different-sex Couples in the American Community Survey: 2005-2011.” The Williams Institute, Feb. 2013. Web.

[47] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[48] Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, Report to the President, July 1995.

[49] Base Closure and Realignment Report, Volume 1, Part 2, May 2005.

[50] “Basic Allowance for Housing.” Military Compensation Background Papers: Compensation Elements and Related Manpower Cost Items: Their Purposes and Legislative Backgrounds. Seventh ed. Washington, D.C.: Dept. of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2011. 167-204. Web.

[51] 2016 Department of Defense Budget Request

[52] U S Census Bureau, Household and Families (2010)

[53] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[54] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009

[55] 2013 Demographics: Profile of the Military Community. Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Military Community and Family Policy).

[56] BAH Calculator. Defense Travel Management Office, 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 08 July 2015.

[57] Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for S. 1376

[58] Ibid.

[59] Negrusa, Sebastian, Brighita Negrusa, and James Hosek. “Gone to War: Have Deployments Increased Divorces?” J Popul Econ 27.2 (2013): 473-96. Web.

[60] Va. Code § 20-91, 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5 § 401


Please join us on 12 July 2015 at 5pm (EDT, U.S.) for Midrats Episode 288: “The Between the Ears Challenge”:

Are the growing feelings of crisis, confusion and strategic drift in the national security arena not so much the result of external challenges, but the result of poor thinking and intellectual habits on our part?

Using his article in The National Interest, “The Real Problem with the American Military” as a starting point, our guest for the full hour will be Dakota Wood, Senior Research Fellow on Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.

Dakota L. Wood, LtCol USMC (Ret.), Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs at The Heritage Foundation.

Dakota served two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. Following retirement, Mr. Wood served as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Most recently, Mr. Wood served as the Strategist for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command.

Mr. Wood holds a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the U.S. Naval Academy; a Master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the College of Naval Command and Staff, U.S. Naval War College.

Join the show live if you can or pick it up later by clicking here. You will also be able to find the show later at our iTunes page here.


Recent articles such as this one by James Holmes (also covered by Sal) and this Proceedings article by ENS Daniel Stefanus have leveled some very specific criticisms against the industrial architecture which supports our Navy. Holmes writes of the past generations of Sailors:

[They] were expected to make themselves as self-sufficient as possible... Big ships outfitted with machine shops, welding facilities, and the like could help out in a pinch, fashioning spares not stocked on board.

Meanwhile, Stefanus points out other erosion in self-sufficiency in his criticism in the use of contractors to fix things:

If a cruiser’s SPQ-9B radar suddenly goes down in the middle of an engagement, there is no time to fly out a contractor. Only the ship’s crew can salvage the situation… An overreliance on contractors only diminishes this capability.

How did we arrive here? It has its roots in what we do want our Sailors to look like and be capable of–and we have wanted them to act more as operators and less as technicians. This is apparent when we look at trends in submarine enlisted rates. For us, interior communications electricians, radiomen, and quartermasters have all been folded into the same rating: electronics technician. We no longer sub-specialize Sailors in radio division into operating/maintaining either our radio equipment or our electronic warfare stuff–they do both now. We haven’t generalized these ratings because we have less complicated gear onboard or because they had skills we didn’t want anymore. As Stefanus and Holmes pointed out, we’ve simply ceded these skills to shore support. Once we transform a workforce into operators vice technicians, it makes sense to drop the onboard machine and welding shops. Who would use them? When manning decisions no longer focus around staffing a maintenance/repair crew, it becomes about filling out the watchbill. That’s how you get to the 40-person crew Holmes points out.

While Stefanus discussed the business side of the decision to outsource repair and maintenance, I think there’s a deeper logic to it that’s linked to our understanding of naval warfare: we can find technical solutions to human problems. If we can make it more technical, we should make it more technical.

The classic example is the implementation of radar onboard ships post-WWII. As more and more ships got radar, we expected to drive down collision rates. But what actually happened? Overall, collision rates did not fall and collision rates involving ships with at least one radar may have actually grown over time until recently! Largely what happened was that ships didn’t reduce speed as they used to–they had radar and could “see” things they never could “see” before. People found new ways to hit things with “radar-assisted collisions.”

I’m not saying radar is worthless or success in naval warfare doesn’t rely on using new technologies more effectively than your opponent. I am saying that innovations don’t neatly employ themselves and people may interact with a new toolset in ways we could never predict. As we add layers of complexity onto our systems, how much more capable are we really? Do submarines with the latest and greatest tracking systems using widescreen HD computer screens provide a demonstratively greater return than earlier generations which entailed hand plotting? Our assumption is yes, and we have committed ourselves in ways described by Stefanus and Holmes.

I wonder what the data would prove though? Sonar_US_Navy_Technician_Submarines_2nd_Class_Harlie_Williams_III_Los_Angeles_class_attack_submarine_USS


Slide2-e1435085398953-1024x688The future battlespace is looking a lot like the battlespace of MIDN Salamander.

At the height of the Cold War there were a few assumptions; the electronic spectrum would be contested; to project power ashore, you needed long range strike packages that could fight their way in and still accomplish the mission with losses; you will have multiple threats from the ground and the air with peer to near-peer capabilities.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have in some respects become complacent, hedging, and forgetful.

In a slightly different context with different platforms, does this sound familiar?

A staggering 96 percent of the precision weapons the Pentagon has bought since 9/11 have been “direct attack” munitions. These weapons are relatively short-ranged. For example, the new Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II has wings to glide up to 40 nautical miles from the aircraft that launches it. The older and larger Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can glide just 13 nm.

Against a low-tech adversary like the Islamic State, a US aircraft 13 miles away might as well be on the moon. Against an adversary with modern anti-aircraft weapons, however, a US aircraft that comes within 13 or even 40 miles is begging to be shot down.

In brief, we’ve not bought enough smart weapons for a major war — and the ones we have bought are mostly the wrong kind.

Conversely, we have far too few long-range weapons such as cruise missiles, which can be fired from outside enemy air defenses’ range, and the ones we do have are far too expensive to buy in bulk. The average direct-attack bomb bought since 2001 costs $55,500; the average long-range precision-guided weapon costs $1.1 million, twenty times as much.

Replaying the 2003 invasion of Iraq with long-range weapons in place of all the direct-attack ones, Gunzinger and Clark write, “would cost $22 billion for the PGMs alone.” Even if we wrote a blank check in a crisis, they say, the industrial base probably couldn’t ramp up fast enough. Whatever we do about the smart bomb problem, we need to start working on it now.

While the CBSA study focuses of standoff weapons (again, not a new topic) – the reason is the same – reaching deep in to the enemy’s territory.

They have some ideas;

In the near term, there are modest modifications we can make to our existing direct-attack weapons, like adding wings and even small turbojets that boost their range dramatically. New explosive materials can make lighter weapons hit harder.

In the longer term, we can build new types of intermediate-range weapons in what Gunzinger and Clark call the “sweet spot” between cheap direct-attack munitions and expensive long-range ones. The vast majority of existing US weapons have ranges either less than 50 nautical miles or more than 400, they write, but weapons in the 50-400 band should be far more affordable than cruise missiles yet far more capable of penetrating advanced air defenses than unpowered gliding bombs. (The 200-nm-range JASSM, or Joint Air-To-Surface Standoff Missile, is one of the few weapons in this “sweet spot” currently).

While we are talking about distributed lethality – let’s also discuss distributed risk; program risk, tactical risk, technology risk. How has the world’s only maritime superpower found itself in this position?

One slow, late-20th Century ASCM that is only carried by a few capital ships? A deck full of short-range light strike fighters? A single, large, rather slow land attack cruise missile? No organic tanking (buddy tanking does not count)? Single main-mounts per ship? Limited self-repair and fragile forward-deployed repair facilities? One exquisitely priced, over-compromised jack of all trades aircraft? Glass-jawed, thinly armed, and undermanned ships?

Some think yet to be fleshed out drones are the answer – not so fast. From ROE to situational awareness, a limited platform gets more limited – part of the solution perhaps – but not the full answer or the easy answer.

What we do need are ideas and actions. The challenge is changing – the easy days are coming to a close. The shot term ideas offered in the study are good – nice payload ideas – but platforms still matter.

There is the rub – the medium and longer term. Are we changing out mindsets and habits? How do we build off of the capabilities of new payloads with platforms that enhance them?

The answer to the platforms is the same as the authors came up with for the payloads – range. Start there, and then let the engineers work the details – and don’t think that one can do it all.

That only works for accountants.


185x200_q75Alternative title: The News of the Neo-Isolationist Superpower Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

If as Americans we have trouble figuring out from “Lead-From-Behind” to Stryker road rallies, Aegis Ashore, and Abrams to the Baltics what direction we are going concerning international involvement, imagine the confusion we are creating in the halls of our competitors.

Nice PSYOPS plan – intentional or not.

No one can deny that in many areas we have signaled a withdraw under fire in the last six years or so. From the premature exit from Iraq, to the great decoupling in Afghanistan, that gets the headlines. From the Maghreb to the Levant, we also had experienced the strange experiment of “Lead-From-Behind” a concept as disconnected as its results.

There was also the long goodbye from Europe that began with the end of the Cold War, and until the Russians started playing in their near abroad, was drip-by-remaining-drip continuing apace.

2015 put that in the dustbin of history.

In the last year, we have returned to Iraq and Europe. Indeed, we have expanded in critical areas in some subtle but important ways, especially for the maritime services. These recent moves tie in closely with larger programmatic decisions we need to make now.

I want to pick two specific examples of where we are starting to move back in to the world and how these moves should shape our debate. They are subtle, and in many ways echo some of the broader concepts outlined by Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons.” Low footprint, modest cost, high flexibility, high return – scalable impact.

Let’s start with the Pacific Pivot first.

Darwin, Australia; never will be a hard-fill set of orders. Show the flag, build partnerships, and presence in a primary SLOC that, to no surprise, has the most critical choke point in China’s maritime silk road within … err … range;

“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued.
“But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a warfighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”

Ideally, in the future PACOM would have two ARGs deployed throughout the theater instead of today’s one-ARG presence. But Dunford said the Marines have to handle today’s problems with today’s resources, so the Marines are looking into a variety of non-amphibious platforms that could carry Marines around the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.

OK, there is your Pacific Pivot, but what is going on in Europe?

U.S. and Spanish officials yesterday signed an amendment to the nations’ defense agreement that will change the deployment of the U.S. crisis response force at Moron Air Base from temporary to permanent, defense officials said today.

In the State Department’s Treaty Room, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Spanish Deputy Foreign Minister Ignacio Ybanez signed the Third Protocol of Amendment to the U.S.-Spanish Agreement for Defense and Cooperation.

The amendment, when the Spanish parliament approves it, will make permanent the temporary deployment of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force for Crisis Response at Moron Air Base.

Nice bit of kit for a variety of uses. Knowing how hard the Army has tried since 1919 to keep Marines out of continental Europe – well played;

SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a rotational contingent of approximately 800 Marines, sailors and support elements sourced from a variety of Marine Corps units to include II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Its organic assets include 12 MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, four KC-130J Hercules aerial refueling tankers, one UC-35, a logistics and sustainment element, and a reinforced company of infantry Marines.

How do we hedge expanding a footprint while capabilities shrink? Start by thinking.

Our traditional amphibious ship shortfall is well known, but with the budgetary pressures and need to recapitalize our SSBN force through the Terrible 20s, there simply is not enough money to have it all. Knowing that – what can we do?

There are other areas we can look for capability relief, and the last month has seen good ideas addressing both.

First, though few in number, our partner nations have usable ships;

Where some nations are game to contribute at sea, but they may not be game to go ashore (like the Canadians and British at Iwo Jima) – so why not use what they have available?

Among the concepts the Marines are trying out now is putting U.S. Marine Corps units onto NATO allies’ ships. Allies including Spain and Italy already host SPMAGTF units on the ground, and “the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is designed to cover gaps in available U.S. amphibious ships by leveraging our European allies’ ships, just as we leverage our allies’ land bases,” U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh told USNI News.

“Ideally, we would partner with our Navy brethren to provide a year-round, day and night crisis response force. However, with more requirements world-wide than available U.S. Navy amphibious ships, the Marine Corps has had to adopt a land-based deployment model from allied countries such as Spain, Italy, and Romania,” he said. Having these units land-based, however, means they are limited to operating in a hub-and-spoke model and deploying only as far as their MV-22 Osprey and KC-130J tanker combination will take them.

Operating from a ship not only offers a mobile home base, but “basing at sea offers allies and international partners a visible deterrent when a warship – be it American, British, Italian, Spanish, or French – with U.S. Marines embarked aboard is sitting off the coast. In any language, such a sight means it is best to not cause trouble here,” Ulsh added.

Marines will first head to sea on an Italian ship this fall, followed by a British amphib and eventually French, Spanish and Dutch ships, the Marine Corps Times reported.

Also, not just JHSV, but other USNS are there for the pondering. What kind of USNS might be useful?

We can look back;

MSC’s two aviation logistics ships — S.S. Wright and S.S. Curtiss. Six hundred-and-two feet long, displacing 24,000 tons fully loaded, the twin loggies each boasts a large helicopter landing pad, multiple cranes and a full-length cargo hold opening onto ramps on its sides and stern. With a crew of just 41, each of the vessels can accommodate more than 360 passengers.

While less tough than dedicated amphibs and totally lacking defensive weaponry, under the right circumstances the aviation logistics ships could embark potentially hundreds of Marines and their vehicles plus thousands of tons of supplies. Joining other specialized ships, the loggies could help send the Leathernecks ashore to invade an enemy, defend an ally or help out following a natural disaster.

… and now;

The Navy accepted delivery of the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, USNS Lewis B. Puller(MLP-3/AFSB-1), two weeks ago, and though the ship was built to support mine countermeasures efforts, the Marines have been eyeing the new platform for operations in the Gulf of Guinea in Western Africa. Currently, the closest presence the Marines have to the Gulf is a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) operating out of Spain.

“The combatant commander from AFRICOM and the combatant commander from EUCOM have already written a letter to the secretary of defense outlining their requirement for an alternative platform” to support theater security cooperation, embassy evacuations, counter-piracy missions and more, Dunford said.
“They recognize that while a Special Purpose MAGTF provides a great capability, and while the V-22 does mitigate” the great distance between Spain and southern parts of Africa, having Marines on American ships allows more freedom to operate as needed and to sustain the force from the sea without becoming dependent on partners.

That is just what the Navy-Marine Corp team is doing. Our sister services are busy too.

So much for our inevitable retreat. What next? Well, step one might be to reactivate Maritime Prepositioning Squadron One we decommissioned in 2012.

World changes; change with it.


This past week, Navy leaders called for sailors, civilians, and researchers to commit themselves to emphasizing and adopting robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve warfighting challenges. In a memo to service chiefs, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called for the DON to consider “how to adapt recent private sector advances in fields such as machine learning, natural language processing, ontological engineering, and automated planning for naval applications.”

Why do commercially developed AI and robotics offer such promise to the sea service? Are these advances decades away? And how can sailors in the fleet help drive the change Secretary Mabus is calling for? Let’s examine these questions further.

The Virtuous Technological Cycle: Faster and Cheaper Computing

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Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks – Source Link)

Pop culture is familiar with the concept of Moore’s Law of Integrated Circuits. Simply put, this maxim states that computing power has tended to double every 18 months for the last several decades. This leads to steady advances processing power and resulting technical advances.

But Moore’s Law is not the end of the story. As speed and computing power have increased, the cost of these capabilities has decreased rapidly. Consider the cost required to execute a gigaflop, a standard measure of computing power. In 1984, it cost $42,780,000 in hardware to complete this task. By the year 2000, this figure had dropped to $1,300. Today, it costs less than eight cents in hardware to complete this task.

These factors create a virtuous cycle. More advances in power lead to more applications where a technology might be adapted. More applications lead to more demand, which in turn lead to larger numbers of chips being manufactured. More investments in manufacturing lead to more investment in research and therefore quicker development. The cycle feeds on itself.

As computing power becomes faster and cheaper, it allows scientists to harness machines to complete new and more challenging tasks. Artificial intelligence programs can sift through massive repositories of data to learn patterns they can then recognize. Software can be programmed to observe situations and “learn,” just as a human does from experience.

Consider the Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks, or BRETT, under development at UC Berkley. BRETT is programmed to utilize “deep learning” techniques to observe a problem, orient itself, and solve the issue. While it takes several hours to solve a simple task, with increases in computing power, its speed will grow. Just as a child’s simple brain grows into an elegant masterpiece, so too will such machine learning technology develop rapidly as computing power continues to race forward.

Adopting Rapid Technological Solutions: How to Outfit a Truck

In an article in Proceedings in 2012, CNO Jonathan Greenert wrote about budgetary and acquisitions challenges. Due to lengthy development of new platforms, Adm. Greenert suggested that rather than buying “luxury cars” with numerous built in features, the Navy ought to buy “trucks” that can carry modular payloads. Such open architecture systems can easily and rapidly adopt new sensors, weapons, and technology at relatively low cost.

This flexibility combined with rapidly advancing computing technologies makes the near future very bright. While DoD has been and remains at the forefront of research and development, there are many commercial entities building robots and AI products that have dual military uses. Tools like autonomous robots, facial recognition databases, and speech recognition and translation software have all been developed in the civilian sector and offer great promise in military applications. The speed of commercial innovation is regulated by market forces and Moore’s Law. The speed of our acquisitions system is regulated by a bloated process developed by legislators and implemented by managers with a vested interest in its perpetuation. Which system do you think is faster?

By adopting commercial technology in open architecture systems, the pace of adopting new capabilities can accelerate. Enhancements to ensure information assurance and security will be required. Acquisitions processes will have to be respected as well. But this will minimize costs as well as cut down on the multi-year interval between requirements for a weapons system being frozen, and initial operating capability milestones. Open architecture systems in the aviation, submarine, and surface forces that will enable these capabilities to quickly “plug and play,” with upgrades coming in months rather than years. This will bring new capabilities to match the pace of technological advances as closely as possible.

Imagining the (Not so Distant) Future

How realistic, though, is the introduction of machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence into military service? Certainly, the Navy has adopted systems like the X-47 Unmanned Combat Air System. But are these other technologies more pipedream than reality? Let’s conduct a thought experiment.

While writing, I imagined flying a mission in the near future in my most recent fleet aircraft, the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft. Such a jet would have an AI system that could analyze the ocean environment, predict the actions of a threat submarine, and recommend to its operators where to search. Acoustic operators using SSQ-125 multistatic sensors would be assisted by an AI system that used machine learning techniques to analyze reflections from underwater targets and provide its judgment whether the return was a submarine or a shipwreck. The aircraft would be equipped with an autonomous communications intelligence (COMINT) recording and translating system. This system would automatically record, translate, and transcribe chatter it received.

Sound like science fiction? If it does, the reader may be surprised to know that all these technologies either already exist in various forms, or are very close to reaching fruition. For over a decade, the MH-60R helicopter has boasted an advanced decision aid called the Acoustic Mission Planner (AMP).[7] By analyzing the ocean, AMP can provide a crew with recommendations on where to employ sensors and search. Updated in real time, its algorithm provides a changing search plan as the hunt unfolds. Similar tools for fixed wing aircraft are being developed.

To detect quiet diesel submarines, the navy has turned to high-powered active sonars. These systems, in theory, are subject to high false alarm rates, and require operators to decipher the returns. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing machine learning software that observes how humans classify returns, and then mimics that behavior. Such “human mimetic” behavior can augment the performance of a less-experienced human operator or speed up classification by a seasoned aviator.

While automatic translation seems to be the realm of Star Trek, such technologies are becoming increasingly common, to the point where they are freely available through services such as Google Translate. Earlier this year, DARPA announced that speech identification and translation software could be available to intelligence analysts and combat troops as early as 2017. Such automated tech could remove the need to carry a linguist onboard, while providing the P-8 a new intelligence gathering capability with no additional manning.

Challenging the Warfighter

Adopting robots and AI systems will not just require warfighters and support personnel to consider how new technology can be employed. It will also require that we consider our relationship with these tools. Far from fearing this technology as a threat to us, or our eventual replacement, we should acknowledge that our role will shift and embrace that reality.

While machines increasingly take on monotonous or computationally intense tasks, we will take on the role of supervisor and analyst. For example, airline pilots frequently discuss their role as one of a “systems manager,” allowing the autopilot to conduct much of the physical task of flying while they observe system performance and make decisions regarding malfunctions, weather, and optimizing their route.

Joining the Conversation

New technologies and warfighting challenges will require solutions from all corners of the fleet. The Navy’s Office of Strategy and Innovation has recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as the Innovation Hatch. In the next month, leaders are challenging sailors fleet-wide to offer their ideas and thoughts on how advances in AI can solve problems they see every day on the deckplates.

The Naval Warfare Development Center has also recently launched a crowd-sourced website known as Navy Brightwork to harvest ideas from the fleet. Brightwork is more focused on warfighting applications and as such has both NIPRnet and SIPRnet portals.

It’s an exciting time both in the Navy as well as society at large as we watch technology grow and change around us. Tools that were rare just years ago are ubiquitous and cheap today. As advances in computing race forward, let us hope that sailors adopt the technology around us to seize the intellectual high ground and win the conflicts of tomorrow.


Please join us at 5pm Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.) for Midrats Episode 286: A Restless Russia and its Near Abroad with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg:

It is time to catch up with Putin’s Russia, her domestic developments, involvement in Ukraine, and the changes she is forcing on border nations and the near abroad.

To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Lawand a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later from our iTunes page.


As a Junior Officer, it was very enjoyable to drive for an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) – with the sole exception, that is, of trying to make sense of the Radian Rule. I have strong memories of my attempts to internalize the relationship between the bearings and ranges. There always seemed to be one, but I never quite made it to a coherent understanding until much later in sea duty years. As an XO and CO recently, I finally had a more mature understanding of this important ship driving principle as well as numerous opportunities to train and coach Midshipmen and Junior Officers during UNREP events. In this article, I’d like to share a few approaches that take advantage of a more nuanced understanding of this well-known guidance.

The Radian Rule Equation and Its Uses

The rule of thumb that’s encoded in every table of Radian Rule values is laid out below. There are several ways to capitalize on this understanding as the team is either preparing for or executing an UNREP approach. I’ll start with a couple of the more common ones and then introduce three favored approaches to the problem. As a baseline assumption, the goal distance I’ll use for alongside separation is 180 ft. I think you’ll see soon, however, that they work equally well for any alongside separation distance.

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Common Techniques

Technique #1: Make a List

 Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 6.34.24 PMFrom a new Conning Officer’s point of view, this was a fairly common approach to the problem of understanding and using the Radian Rule. Many Junior Officers arrived for both the brief and the evolution with a list of bearings and ranges that would indicate the ship was on track for the desired separation. Such a list might look like this:

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This technique works well if the team is able to verify bearing to the oiler at each of the yardage milestones on the list, since a single data point is seldom as valuable as a series of consecutive observations. This method is less useful if the range for a given observation isn’t one of the milestones, or if the team misses a milestone.

Technique #2: Use a Radian Rule Table to Determine Separation Distance

This technique is by far the most common, and involves a third party (typically a Quartermaster) looking up each bearing and range combination in a table similar to the excerpt shown below. While it ensures that each data point is useful in determining the overall trend of the ship’s relative motion with respect to the oiler, this method – in my opinion – doesn’t help substantially to develop the Conning Officer’s understanding of that motion. Stated differently, the difference between a good and a great Conning Officer is the ability to add his/her own evaluation of a situation to the input they get from the rest of the bridge team. I believe there are more effective ways (discussed further below) to build this capability in our Junior Officers.

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A Note on Advanced Techniques

Techniques #3 – #5 have one prominent feature in common – they all depend on mental math. While this may present a challenge, there are several advantages to these methods. First, mental math promotes independent judgment by the Conning Officer and/or coach for each observation throughout the approach evolution. Second, the mental math in these methods requires that the Conning Officer and/or coach build a mental model of the relative motion and internalize the relationships among bearing, range, and lateral separation. Third, from the Conning Officer’s point of view, these techniques offer a different way to learn the evolution and may appeal more intuitively to certain Officers. Finally, from the coach’s point of view, these techniques offer yet another mental tool for dispassionately evaluating the sight picture and ensuring the bridge team is appropriately focused on providing good inputs to the Conning Officer.

With these points in mind, I’ll introduce three non-traditional techniques. Each of these relies on the Conning Officer’s and coach’s ability to mentally exploit various forms of the baseline Radian Rule equation.

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Advanced Techniques

Technique #3: “The Rule of 3600”

This technique works well in concert with either Approach #1 or #2 above. Since the separation distance for which we’re aiming is a constant (180 ft in this case), the right side of the equation becomes a constant:

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Click to view full size image

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Simplifying the Radian Rule equation, then, we get the following:

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For any combination of bearing and range, we can multiply them and compare them to 3600. If the product is less than 3600, the ship is approaching the oiler at something less than 180 ft of separation. If the product is greater than 3600, the ship will approach the oiler wide of 180 ft separation. A few examples below illustrate this principle.

 

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While it’s an imperfect measure, this technique allows the Conning Officer to corroborate his or her visual judgment with a quick check of the math, and then to combine those judgments with either of the first two approaches to refine the solution. This technique is very flexible with respect to desired separation distance, as well. If the goal is 200 ft, for instance, then the constant becomes 4000. Finally, this technique provides a good gateway to the next two approaches.

Technique #4: “Where Should You Be Right Now”

With range as an input, the Conning Officer works out the bearing he or she expects to see and then compares that prediction to reality (measured bearing separation). Direction and magnitude of any required course corrections follow relatively easily. The baseline equation, solved for bearing, follows.

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This technique is a modification of technique #1, and it has two principal benefits. First, it helps the Conning Officer avoid the persistent need to divert attention from the approach to consult a list of bearings and ranges. Second, it helps to build the Conning Officer’s and/or coach’s comfort with mental math.

Technique #5: “Predict the Separation”

This technique is a modification of technique #3 and an extension of technique #4, using a different arrangement of the equation to anticipate the estimated separation for each bearing and range combination. Solving the Radian Rule equation for separation, the expression becomes:

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 6.35.45 PM

Once the Conning Officer is adept at the mental math of multiplying the bearing and range, the only remaining step is to divide by 20. The simplest way to do this is to remove a zero and divide by two. A sample is shown below.

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This is a mental math version of Approach #2. While this is more difficult than any of the four previous techniques, the principal benefit to this approach is that it gives the Conning Officer and/or coach convenient tools to mentally evaluate the geometry they are seeing on the bow. For the Conning Officer, the nuanced context available from each observation constructively builds the spatial judgment and physical intuition we call Seaman’s Eye. This technique allows the Conning Officer to take maximum advantage of sometimes-scarce evolutions and reinforces a more subtle understanding of the relative motion between ships that sometimes eludes the most seasoned veterans. I found it to be tougher than the other techniques to teach and use, at least at first, but it was infinitely more rewarding when the Conning Officer understood it and was able to use it.

Conclusion

It takes time and effort to learn how to safely conn the ship alongside. Proven techniques that have propelled ships alongside safely for decades are available to those who will take the time to learn and use them, and they can be improved with a small investment in systematic thinking about the geometry built into the evolution. Techniques #3 – #5 suggest ways to exploit the mathematical relationships inherent to the Radian Rule that offer two significant benefits. First, they build confidence in coaches by encouraging a more intuitive understanding of the relative motion throughout the UNREP approach. Second, they help build Seaman’s Eye in our Junior Officers by sharing those insights with the fertile minds of the Officers who drive the ship most frequently, and who are most apt to exploit them effectively.


20141113 IRON SWORD Closing Ceremony - assembled troops, vehicles and national flags“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” – Morelly/Blanc/Marx/Soviet Union/etc 

For an organization based on “collective security,” using socialist/communist guidance isn’t totally out of synch – it actually makes a lot of sense.

As with all collectives, there is a big problem – free riders. Those who benefit from being part of a collective – or alliance – but do not even attempt to make and effort to contribute their fair share.

For a very long time, there have been calls for NATO to be an alliance not just of benefits, but of obligations – that regardless of size or economic might, that each nation should make a fair and reasonably equitable investment in the collective defense.

Though an imperfect measure, defense spending as a percentage of GDP has been the best benchmark to use as it gives a reasonable measure of each nation’s dedication and willingness to contribute to the expensive work of deterrence and when needed, action.

The agreed upon benchmark has been 2%. How are we doing?

Military spending by NATO countries is set to fall again this year in real terms despite increased tensions with Russia and a pledge by alliance leaders last year to halt falls in defence budgets, NATO figures released on Monday showed.

The figures showed defence spending by the 28 members of the alliance is set to fall by 1.5 percent in real terms this year after a 3.9 percent fall in 2014.

The fall comes at a time when tension between NATO and Russia is running high over the Ukraine conflict. Russia has sharply raised its defence spending over the past decade.

It also comes in spite of a pledge by NATO leaders, jolted by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, last September to stop cutting military spending and move towards the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense within a decade.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 18 allies were set to raise defence spending this year in real terms, but the total was lower, continuing a trend of declining military spending, especially by European NATO allies.

NATO expects five NATO allies to meet the 2 percent spending goal in 2015, up from four in 2014.

Poland, which has embarked on a major military modernisation programme, is set to join the United States, Britain, Estonia and Greece as the only NATO allies meeting the target.

You can find a nice historical scorecard here, go to page 6. BusinessInsider has the goods too.
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Who is increasing defense spending?

… defense spending in a number of NATO states will either fall or remain nearly flat compared to the previous year — with the exceptions of the “frontline” states of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, along with Luxembourg:

Combined populations of those nations in millions: 38.4+2.2+3.5+.5= 44.6 million. That is a little less than the combined populations of Texas and Florida.

Once you get past the accounting indicator, what is another indication of an alliance members operational utility? The willingness of the citizens of its member states to follow through once war starts.

Pew has done some serious work on this exact topic.

Roughly half or fewer in six of the eight countries surveyed say their country should use military force if Russia attacks a neighboring country that is a NATO ally. And at least half in three of the eight NATO countries say that their government should not use military force in such circumstances. The strongest opposition to responding with armed force is in Germany (58%), followed by France (53%) and Italy (51%). Germans (65%) and French (59%) ages 50 and older are more opposed to the use of military force against Russia than are their younger counterparts ages 18 to 29 (Germans 50%, French 48%). German, British and Spanish women are particularly against a military response.

Sadly, it seems that the Europeans remain the world’s military security welfare queens; willing to defend Europe to the last American;

While some in NATO are reluctant to help aid others attacked by Russia, a median of 68% of the NATO member countries surveyed believe that the U.S. would use military force to defend an ally. The Canadians (72%), Spanish (70%), Germans (68%) and Italians (68%) are the most confident that the U.S. would send military aid.

I guess institutional anti-Americanism ends when the bear is at your throat.

Russia-Ukraine-Report-27

What is the best hedge if you are a front line nation? Spend like you are on your own – because there is a good chance that you will be – and if you are there is a better than average chance at at least the USA will stand beside you. Uncle Sam can be a spotty ally, one election away from throwing you to the wolves, always remember that – and the rest of Europe? Review your own history.

Uncle Sam is trying. This isn’t a REFORGER, but Salamander approves this messaging:

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed Tuesday that the U.S. is to station heavy military equipment, including tanks and other weapons, in new NATO member states for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

“These are responses to Russia’s provocations,” Carter told CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan in an exclusive interview in Estonia, one of the nations the American defense chief said could already “feel” the imminent threat posed by its massive neighbour to the east.

The increased American military presence on Russia’s doorstep is intended to reassure jittery allies like Estonia, which have been alarmed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists leading the war in eastern Ukraine.

Finally, there is in the end more than just money – there is will. Let’s look at those five nations again, and use their performance in Afghanistan as a benchmark and give them a grade on their will to fight:
1. USA: A.
2. GBR: A.
3. EST: A.
4: POL: B. (late to the game in numbers, limited equipment, needed a lot of help, some caveat issues – but solid effort).
5: GRC: F. Really? Yes, really. I have a story about a potted plant in the CJ-5 shop, but I’ll keep it to myself.

There is your “what.” What about the “so what” and “what next?” Ready or not – history will deliver that in her own sweet time. The alliance will continue as an exercise shop at least by inertia at worst. First contact with an enemy will tell the story. Hopefully we will do better than the Franco-Bavarian army at Blenheim.


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