Archive for the 'Budget Wars' Tag
Listening to the always superb Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work Tuesday AM at the opening of West2015 should be on everyone’s short list of things you need to watch. As when he was the Under Secretary of the Navy, at such events he gives those in the audience a good outline of what he is working on, what concerns him, and what the priorities are for the administration and nation he serves.
How you look at the challenges he describes depends on the time-frame you are thinking about. Much of it covers the short term, to say 2016, and also to the medium term, up to 2020. Sure, there are some technology big pixel items that may mature that he discusses at 2020 and beyond, but much of what he shared was inside the 2020s.
He started out with a snapshot of the President’s defense budget proposals in the world of sequestration – a world he describes as one defined as lower budgets (than desired) with higher demands; a $534 baseline budget plus $51 OCO budget. that gets you a bit over a 7% increase above the present budget.
Yes, that is an increase, but as defined by a strategy driven budget, that he envisions, it isn’t enough to do what national security requirements need – especially if sequestration continues forward.
As he discussed what happened during 2014, one almost felt as if the Pentagon wished it could stand athwart history and yell, “STOP!” as they did their best to see what they wanted to do and how to get there.
There was much discussion of shifting money in a resource constrained environment on the fly – adjusting and rebuilding as they went along reacting to developing events. He reminded us that are still working under the March 2014 strategy even though since then, Work stated that they have three “surprises” that caused them in September to do a baseline review. The Big-3 surprises were; 1. Russian aggression in Ukraine; 2. Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria in conjunction with the military collapse of the Iraqi army; 3. Ebola.
In spite off all that, they decided that their strategy was not broken, and the outlines of the QDR remain intact.
The five priorities from the Pentagon and the administration remain; the pivot to the Pacific, stability in Europe, counter terrorism, strengthening partnerships with allied nations (nations, he notes, are from a capability and capacity point of view tapped out), & modernization of the force. That is the short term. A short term challenge where the Administration has sent to Congress a proposal $150 billion above sequestration and will challenge the other branch of government to respond accordingly in the direction they propose.
The near term crisis is getting rid of the pressure of sequestration, as that keeps us from growing the force. From the perspective of the Pentagon, anything below will cause problems and will make things unmanageable. Can something be either unmanageable or unsustainable? Perhaps … we’ll get to that.
Moving to the medium term, they are already working on POM-17, trying to find the right balance where we have to accept a defined shortage of ISR & missile defense, while keepin a viable forward presence to deter possible enemies and support our allies. While all that is going on – somehow we have to find a way to structure things so we have a chance to reset our military to win one conflict while denying success to an enemy in a second.
Sound hard? It is … and there is no clear and simple answer … for the short term.
Trying to get to the medium term is not going to be easy either. At the end of past wars – and we have been at war for 13-years – there has always been a planned 2-3 yr reset to replace worn out equipment, relieve personnel stress, and retrain for all services to be ready to respond and be ready for full spectrum conflict.
It isn’t easy to do this reset because of our present OPTEMPO. The world won’t wait.
Events are coming up from the Islamic State and elsewhere that are causing us to try to do a reset on the run. As a result, though our deployed forces are full up, our surge force is not in good shape and cannot start to fully do the reset they need. What he described falls in perfectly with an action back home we call, “shooting up the horse” or in more familiar terms, a readiness death spiral.
Work believes that given what they see now and using the post Vietnam War reset as a rough baseline, it will take to 2020 for all services but the USAF, who will need to get to 2023, to reset to get back to full spectrum readiness.
A lot of positive things will have to flip our way to make that unfold as outlined. Not impossible to get everything set right for 2020, the end of the next President’s first administration, but not simple.
The argument can be made that the struggle in the short and medium term up to 2020 is actually the easy problem. The real challenge, and one where it is difficult to see how you fix it, comes once you start the third decade of this century. That is where one should start to try to propose a way forward now, we are only five years away.
This is the point where those who have been following my writing for the last half decade know where we are going; The Terrible 20s – and there was nothing in Work’s opening that addressed how our Navy is going to deal with this challenge that is only now creeping in to the general conscienceless. All the points the Deputy SECDEF brought up are true and important and rightfully the things he needs to focus on – they are the crocodiles closest to his canoe, but the real fiscal challenge and budget squeeze are coming – he knows this – but that crocodile is out of sight right now.
It is no secret that a mix of factors are going to make the 2020s a decade of incredible challenge for the US military in general, and the Navy in particular. You can follow the link above for details on The Terrible 20s, but there are two major causes in descending order of importance; SSBN recapitalization and the expected roosting of the debt interest chickens.
Over the entire Trident era, spending on ballistic-missile submarine construction consumed 14 percent of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. However, it is the beginning of that period, 1974–78, that seems particularly relevant as we look at the Ohio replacement program in the coming decades. Average shipbuilding budgets in that period were over 50 percent higher than average shipbuilding budgets over the 1968–73 period. The Ohio class represented about a quarter of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, receiving a substantial fraction of those higher budgets.
Yet the Navy paid a price from other parts of its budget to buy those additional ships and submarines. Its average topline budget remained flat. Compared to 1968–73, it was only 1 percent higher over the 1974–78 period. To pay for new ships, including Ohio -class ballistic-missile submarines, the Navy sacrificed force structure. Its Fleet fell by over 40 percent, while both Navy and Marine Corps end-strength declined by 20 percent. The Vietnam War had come to an end, so it is perhaps not surprising to see those declines, but clearly in this early period of the Trident era the Navy was not receiving more money overall, although money was found within its budget to pay for new ships, including SSBNs.
Read the full article to understand how the Navy reacted to these previous periods, but the underlying fiscal facts remain; that money will need to come from somewhere, or we will simply have to do Strategic Deterrence on the cheap.
If you are waiting for a magic bag of money to show up next decade, there is something that will manifest itself that our nation has not faced, as a percentage of GDP, since the end of WWII. This time, we are not a nation with a big demobilization freeing up assets. We are not a nation untouched, astride a world in ashes. We do not have a clear path to growth in a wide open nation with economic potential of a new age. This time it is very different.
Let’s shift to Josh Zumbrun over at The Wall Street Journal and his article, The Legacy of Debt: Interest Costs Poised to Surpass Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending;
Currently, the government’s interest costs are around $200 billion a year, a sum that’s low due to the era of low interest rates. Forecasters at the White House and Congressional Budget Office believe interest rates will gradually rise, and when that happens, the interest costs of the U.S. government are set to soar, from just over $200 billion to nearly $800 billion a year by decade’s end.
By 2021, the government will be spending more on interest than on all national defense. according to White House forecasts. And one year later, interest costs will exceed nondefense discretionary spending–essentially every other domestic and international government program funded annually through congressional appropriations. (The largest part of the budget is, and will remain, the mandatory spending programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Mandatory spending is over $2 trillion and is set to double to $4 trillion by 2025.)
We have a zero option for SSBN if we wanted (not recommended) – but what we don’t have a zero option on is the servicing the national debt.
How do you manage these converging train wrecks? If we think that the pressures of sequester are almost unmanageable, then what is the plan for both of these challenges? Don’t forget, the Baby Boom generation that generated all that taxable income post-WWII will all be at retirement age by the 2020s – note the voting pressure that will come with it.
I am confident of the next couple of POM periods, but … soon.
“I’ve said many times that I believe the single, biggest threat to our national security is our debt, so I also believe we have every responsibility to help eliminate that threat,” he said. “We must, and will, do our part.”
– Admiral Mike Mullen, USN (Ret)
Every 22nd of May, unbeknownst to nearly all Americans, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s rich maritime lineage, cherish our goods delivered by sea-going ships, and remember the importance of our officers and sailors who sail in the far-flung corners of the world. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Transportation held a ceremony at their headquarters. Salutes were smartly rendered and rousing speeches delivered. At the end of the ceremony, eight bells were rung to signify the end of the watch and honor the Merchant Marine.
The next day, Maritime Administration (MARAD) officials went back to regulating one of the most poorly funded (under $500 million annually) and misguided (only one top official is a past merchant mariner) administrations in our nation’s capitol. Since the founding days of our nation to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the need for a strong militarily-useful and privately-owned U.S. flag merchant marine to protect, strengthen, and enhance our nation’s economic and military security has been clear. In times of peace and war, our U.S. flagged vessels effectively answered our nation’s call and provided unprecedented sealift capability to support our economy.
According to Rose George in Ninety-Nine Percent of Everything, trade carried by sea has grown fourfold since 1970 and is still growing. Three years ago, 360 commercial ports of the United States received in international goods worth $1.73 trillion. There are more than one hundred thousand ships at sea carrying all of the material we need to live.
Despite the amount of wealth reaching our shores, there are fewer than one hundred oceangoing U.S. flagged ships. Only 1 percent of trade at U.S. ports travels on an American-flagged vessels, and our fleet has declined by 80% since 1951. Less than 2% of all seagoing mariners are women. In a world of progressive ideology, it would seem that the other world – on the sea – is adrift and heading in the wrong direction.
It is seemingly unimaginable that most Americans are ignorant to the world of shipping. Play a game the next time you go out to a restaurant or visit your local coffee shop and see how many items you can count that came from a sea-going vessel.
- Plates: Made in China, containership
- T-Shirt on young child: Made in India, containership
- Chair and table set: Looks expensive, but likely IKEA: containership
- Gap Jeans: Made in Bangladesh, containership
- Cell Phone: Made in China, containership
- Coffee: Beans from Latin America, containership
- European car parked outside window: German, roll-on roll-off ship
- Fuel presumed in said European car: Crude from Middle East, tanker
The list is extensive. Better game: what was not brought over by maritime shipping?
Proceedings focuses mostly on developments in the maritime security domain, but a deeper conversation should revolve around the status of our civilian mariners. After all, one of our primary missions as sailors of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard is to uphold the umbrella convention as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the United States has not ratified the convention (we do not like its deep-sea mining stipulations), we uphold its core meaning. Over 300 articles aim to create “a legal order for the seas and oceans which will facilitate international communication, and will promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans, the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources, the conservation of their living resources, and the study, protection and preservation of the marine environment.”
Simply put, our maritime security organizations exist to support the global merchant marine and to promote free trade domestically and abroad. But when we lose American flagged vessels and shipyard workers lose their contracts, their income and their wealth of knowledge is lost. For our government – and in particular the Department of Transportation and Department of Defense – this means that an insufficient number of American mariners will no longer be there to support the industry. The next time we need to support a global war, we will have to rely on foreign shipping companies to move U.S. war material abroad.
- Outside thinking. Fund and stand up an independent, outside think tank that can meet the maritime challenges of the 21st If we do not try and sort out the maritime industry, the stability necessary for U.S. flag companies to attract the investments they need and for maritime labor to recruit and retain the mariner our country needs will simply not be there. Create a long term
- Bi-Partisan Support. MARAD should continue to lobby and build coalitions to ensure proper funding efforts to build a robust, seagoing merchant marine. If the United States is serious about the declining state of our maritime industry, we must modify existing programs and create new ones that would increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S. flag, the amount of cargo carried by U.S. flag vessels, and the shipboard employment opportunities for licensed and unlicensed merchant mariners.
- Reward companies that flag their vessels under the United States. Under the auspices of the intricately elusive tool of “flag of convenience,” where ships can fly the flag of a state that has nothing to do with its owner, cargo, crew or route, many shipping companies have chose to dodge taxes and pay mariners less. Consequently, many civilian mariners can’t find work. We should create tax incentives for companies that fly under the American flag and hire more mariners, rather than allow ships that maintain a crew of twenty to reap in the benefits of maritime trade.
- Subsidize shipbuilding in the United States. In order to compete with South Korea and other major shipbuilding nations that construct vessels on the cheap, we need to craft private-public contracts to allow our shipbuilding to flourish. Explore new ways to meet the capability and capacity to meet the most demanding wartime scenarios that might lie on the horizon.
- Rethink maritime officer and crew placement. Even though ships are getting considerably larger, crew sizes are getting smaller. Nearly a thousand professional mariners graduate from the US Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime academies each year with no prospective deep-sea job opportunities. Most sea-going accidents occur due to fatigue and most mariners have reported working over 80 hours in a given week. We should expand Military Sealift Command employment so U.S. Naval Reserve / Merchant Marine Reserve can serve on ‘active duty’ in the merchant marine. If this model works, we can incentivize a program in the private sector where larger crews are rewarded with tax breaks for operating safely.
Trade has always traveled and the world will continue to trade in our globalized society. The United States relies on a few VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) to bring in two-thirds of our oil supply every day. Without the assured commercial sea power capability provided by the U.S. flag merchant marine and civilian manpower, we will find ourselves at the mercy of foreign vessels that are owned and operated by foreign interests.
The symbolic ringing of eight bells was superfluous this past National Maritime Day. Through bad policies over the last several decades, we have left the U.S. maritime industry at the whim of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand,’ then wondered, what happened to the Merchant Marine? Answer: it was turned over decades ago to the rest of the world.
You have been properly relieved America. Maersk has the watch.
Block some time out today to watch the speech by Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox that kicked off the AFCEA-USNI West2014 Conference. She was strong, direct, and the substance of her comments should be considered a good source of Indications & Warnings for what our Navy will be faced with going forward.
In some ways, she spoke as a prophet of the Church of the Hard Truth, and that was refreshing. More of that tone from her and others. It is healthy and gets people’s attention.
Some points to ponder from her speech as I heard it – with a little commentary from my part from what I saw, unspoken, between the lines;
Pacific Pivot: She rightfully reminded everyone of the fundamentals. The Pacific is predominately a maritime theater, and that aspect needs to be central to the military side of the refocus. This cannot be just a military effort, it must be a diplomatic, informational, and economic rebalance to the Pacific. Yep, she kicked off with D.I.M.E. It was at that point that I knew I was going to like a lot about what she had to say.
China: In the near term, we should look at the military growth of China in the maritime theater as a drive to thwart the freedom of movement of others in her sphere of influence, as China sees it.
Disengagement: If the influence and presence of the USA decreases, regional rivalries will increase. In the Pacific, American military presence is a stabilizing force, not a provocative force.
Complacency & Assumptions: We cannot assume American dominance going forward or that we can operate in the permissive environment we have enjoyed for the last couple of decades. We need to reassess our ability to bring force from over the horizon and under the surface in order to get around Anti-Access and Area-Denial systems.
LCS: Though she didn’t address LCS directly, it was clearly there in her warnings that we cannot build a Fleet for a specific kind of fight. Our platforms need to be flexible, and more importantly, survivable in combat. “Niche” platforms are not what we need to invest our limited resources in.
Unsexy but Important: She reminded all that in previous drawdowns, enabling forces were ignored in a rush to save “combat” assets. When actual war comes, we are significantly hampered by the lack of those enablers we ignored in the lean years. Sacrificing enablers for combat units in peace is a false economy.
Hollow Force: We know what creates a hollow force, all we have to do is look at the 1970s. We need to make sure we don’t ignore that history. This will be the 5th drawdown in living memory, and when the next conflict comes, forces will be used more than what was sold during the drawdown.
Personnel Compensation: The post-911 benefit plus-ups are not sustainable and the costs are impacting readiness and modernization. That and the fact we need a BRAC are well known, but there is no political will to address it.
Force Levels: The upcoming QDR will show that there will be no “Peace Dividend” from the last decade of conflict. That being said, the military must get smaller in the next 5 years. We just need to ensure a tighter fit between strategy and budget resources in order to get it right. In theory strategy should drive budgets, but the reality is that budgets force one to make strategic decisions and define priorities. Budgets and strategy are hard-linked together.
One final note on style. Yes, style. In both style and substance, Fox was strong. We are lucky to have someone like her at the front of the conversation, and if I may offer – whatever her future holds, the Pentagon needs to make sure a place is found to have her out front of the public and decision makers.
As you watch the video, remember that though superficial, it is true that regardless of how good or important the information you want to present, you have to deliver it in a manner that gets and keeps people’s attention. You have to make sure your style matches your substance, or the substance is lost.
Fox was not dry, stilted, nervous, or excessively wonky. She was humble without being cheesy, but most important – the hard truths she delivered were presented with an upbeat but serious tone. Even a few smiles thrown in. The happy warrior style.
That is how you do it. Again, the national security community needs to encourage and create opportunities for Fox to come more from out of the background. This drawdown will be done right or wrong based on a the results of intellectual battles in the marketplace of ideas. In this conversation, I think we have identified a High Value Unit.
First off the bat is the best news of the week from SECDEF Hagel. Some may say it is pocket change, but it really isn’t. More than anything else, this sets the tone and has out front who should already be there. Good start and hopefully generates some desired 2nd-order effects. Via Craig Whitlock at WaPo;
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that he has ordered a 20 percent cut in the number of top brass and senior civilians at the Pentagon by 2019, the latest attempt to shrink the military bureaucracy after years of heady growth.
Hagel’s directive could force the Pentagon and military command staffs to shed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 jobs. That’s a tiny percentage of the Defense Department’s 2.1 million active-duty troops and civilian employees, but analysts said it would be a symbolically important trimming of the upper branches of the bureaucracy, which has proved to be resistant to past pruning attempts.
Exactly. We went through PTS and ERB while the senior levels floated at anchor. If done in conjunction with Staff restructuring, significant efficiencies on the admin side of the house at least will be in order.
Late Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little estimated that Hagel’s order would result in total savings that “could be in the range” of $1.5 billion to $2 billion over five years. In a statement, he said that the number of job cuts was yet to be determined and that they wouldn’t begin until 2015.
In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered a three-year freeze on staffing in his office, the Joint Staff and the military combatant commands. But a recent analysis by Defense News, a trade publication, found that the size of those staffs nevertheless has grown by about 15 percent.
You can buy a lot of training for $2.1 billion in 5 years. We’ll take it.
That is the official side – and when you start taking away people’s parking spaces and personal staff – that will create a bit of friction down at the Potomac Flotilla tactical level.
On the unofficial side, the real fireworks will take place when, and I believe it will, as the concept raised by Zachary Keck at TheDiplomat continues to set its roots;
… the different services within the armed forces have long been treated with near perfect equality.
That’s at least one implication of the Golden Ratio principle of defense budgeting, whereby the three different services—the Army, Navy (including Marines), and Air Force—receive a constant and nearly equal share of the defense budget. As Travis Sharp, one of the most outspoken critics of the Golden Ratio, explains: “Since fiscal year 1948, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have on average received 28 percent, 31 percent, and 33 percent, respectively, of DOD’s annual budget. Hot war, cold war, or no war – the allotment of the services’ budgets has remained relatively constant over time.”
However, with the post-9/11 wars winding down, a potential future peer competitor emerging, and austerity taking hold, the U.S. no longer needs nor can it afford to continue obliging the military equality of the Golden Ratio.
For one thing, the shift to the Indo-Pacific, as well as the declining utility of large ground forces, eliminates the strategic rationale of holding the three armed services in equal esteem, at least when it comes to the allocation of resources.
Now THAT is something that will keep a lot of people busy for the rest of the decade.
Advertising is funny; it doesn’t so much tell you about the company that pays for it – but that that company thinks motivates its customers.
In the Chrystal City Metro stop in DC you can see two view from the defense industry. Speaks for itself … which one do you think is more effective?
What seems obvious in hindsight is not, for most, that obvious to those closest to it, distracted from it, or willfully floating along in a sea of indifference.
There are times, decision or pivot points for some, where the signs become clear. That steady, darkening, and thickening line starts to burn through the ambient noise. It looks familiar, it is harmonic of what you have seen before – it cannot be ignored. It demands action
You only get the Fleet your nation decides to buy, more people need to accept that … and the political and economic reality we are in.
Former Senator Hagel has been nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense. In an August 2011 interview with The Financial Times’ Stephanie Kirchgaessner, he stated the following;
The defence department, I think in many ways has been bloated.
I think the Pentagon needs to be pared down. I think we need the Pentagon to look at their own priorities.
There’s a tremendous amount of bloat in the Pentagon, and that has to be scaled back …
I don’t think that our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long, long time. Every agency needs to do that. The Department of Defence, and I’m a strong supporter of this … no American wants to in any way hurt our capabilities to national defence, but that doesn’t mean an unlimited amount of money, and a blank cheque for anything they want at any time, for any purpose. Not at all. Not at all, and so the realities are that the mess we’re in this country, with our debt and our deficits, and our infrastructure and jobless and all the rest, is going to require everybody to take a look, even the defence department, and make a pretty hard re-evaluation and review.
President Obama picked Hagel for very specific reasons, and his views above are not unknown and were part of that. Good people can agree or disagree on the substance of his argument, but that is the fact both sides will have to work with.
Next, let’s look to the uniformed side of the house. In a speech at SNA earlier this week, Vice Admiral Copeman stated the following;
Ultimately, (Copeman) warned, “if you don’t want to get hollow, you have to give up force structure.”
“Resources are going to drop. They’re going to drop significantly,” the admiral said. … “If it were my choice,” Copeman said, “I’d give up force structure to get whole. But it’s not always my choice.”
There are just a few tidbits of I&W to ponder.
In the last few years, we have heard a lot of talk about a Fleet of 313 and now 300. Many of us have been arguing for half a decade that neither is the number we should be looking at, that is not what the nation will fund; 270 to 240 is more likely.
“If we cannot have the navy estimates of our policy, then let’s have the policy of our navy estimates.”
If this is the maritime Zeitgeist for the remainder of this decade, then let’s embrace it. We can’t stomp our feet and hold our breath until the Pentagon turns blue.
How do we best do it? What do we need to preserve – what should we cut – what will we have to get rid of root-n-branch?
What are our priorities?
The smart money on the future is on who the CINC is hiring, what that hire’s recent statements say about his ideas, and what our senior officers are starting to send out trial balloons on to test the winds.
With some of the budget reduction POM options coming to the front over the last couple of weeks, everyone’s Fleet-number waterfall graph just shifted to the left a few years. A quick note to those blandly blinking at the PPT; this is not a drill.
It is time to leave behind the sway-back, hidebound arguments and talking points of the Lost Decade; FRP, Optimal Manning, Transformation, exquisite systems, Network-Centric Unicorn Theory – that is in the past. The future, if you will, that never was.
They have either been measured and found wanting, abandoned, unaffordable, or perpetually shifted to the right waiting for quantum theory and pixie dust to make them operational. It is time to move forward.
One underlying fact that has finally reached the 51% tipping point in the minds of most decision makers in the last 18-months is this; in time of financial crisis the military budget will be hit harder than other parts of the budget if for no other reason than it is structurally easier for politicians to do so. With our new “Super Committee” process – even more so.
Relax; there is no need to panic. No need to wear sack cloth and ashes, bound with your full-leg metal cilices as you walk off the Blue Line, through Pentagon Station to your desk. No; it is time to straighten your gig-line, lean forward, walk with purpose to get your next cup of coffee, put a smile on your face, and get to work.
Look at what has been done by our predecessors in a time of stress; naval developments in the 1920s and 1930s in carrier and cruisers; even the 1970s, more or less, brought us the F-16, TLAM, Aegis and others.
This is a time to focus. We can come out of this period – be it 10 years or 20, in a good position if we start now to look; look not just at platforms, but what those platforms carry. Sensors, weapons, leaders, Sailors, and ideas. That is what is critical. Don’t get me wrong – numbers matter for a dual-ocean, maritime, mercantile republic with global responsibilities – but what is on those platforms is more important than just numbers.
To do this right though, we need vision and leadership grounded in fact, modesty, honesty, and respect for risk. Not just that, but in our age it needs to be public vision and public leadership. The time is now to look back for a firm grip on something firm, solid, and reliable – and then reach forward.
A great worry however, is that we won’t benchmark the successful responses to stress in the past clearly founded on solid programs and viable short-cycle evolutionary progresses, but instead will follow the intellectually moribund and disgraced habits of the other past as defined by a future-imperfect PPT deep and an efficiency plan as thoughtful as, “Everyone grab your spoon and take two scoops our of your rice bowl.”
Simple reductions of what we have without vision and an understanding of a strategy to support it is not a plan, it is a reaction. It is drift; drift in rapidly shoaling water.
If you are looking for an underlying theme for national defense in the USA for the next couple of decades, it will be one of fewer ships, minimal shipbuilding. It doesn’t matter if that is what you want or think is needed – it will be a byproduct of the response to the larger budgetary train-wreck that can no longer be avoided. This is national – and the defense budget will be part of the fix.
There will be less money, so we have to focus on maximizing the flexibility and utility of what money we do have. The luxury of spin & pray we used in the fat years is gone. The missed opportunities of the Lost Decade are just that – lost.
This fiscal constraint will combine with something percolating on the political front regardless of what party is in power; after a decade of war the American people are not in the mood for nation building or additional elective overseas military operations without a defined, short-term duration.
Adding to this is a growing understanding that we are well past point where the post-WWII, post-Cold War, post-post-Cold War need/want/desire to garrison large numbers of forces ashore in foreign lands makes any sense. Inertia no longer overrides the reality that these nations are more than capable of defending themselves without ten to hundreds of thousands of Americans garrisoned like mercenaries to do their fighting for them. We don’t need to be isolationist, just a friend they can call on; a friend who lives in his own house.
If they need our help once they are fully engaged, then we can help them. Germany, Japan, and Korea are not weak nations. We are not an empire, nor a nation that needs to send its young abroad as mercenaries for hire by rich and lazy nations too busy to properly defend themselves.
As an maritime nation whose land borders relatively small and friendly nations – one would think that an emerging Strategic reset would favor a homeland based, flexible, expeditionary mindset – one with a bias towards using air and sea power to project national will and assist our friends as needed. The emerging economic and global security reality is tailor made for the Navy Marine Corps team along with parts of the Air Force skill set.
For some reason though – it doesn’t look that people in the “right” circles are buying what we’re selling. The recently released released report by the Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility is a data point telling us that our core power-projection force structure and the tools that make it possible are seen as easy-picking for the budget battles to come.
It is easy to dismiss as yesterday’s news the recommendations of the commission – but don’t. Generally considered DOA by the press – its ideas are far from dead. Busy people take other people’s ideas.
If you want to get an understanding of what suited establishment Washington DC thinks we should look in the defense budget for savings to close the budget gap – it would be helpful to start with the commission.
Like all human endeavors, politics and budgetary maneuvers will default to the path that requires the least amount of work. If you can steal someone’s idea that is good enough, then you can move your billable hours on to other things. Knowing the intellectual borrowing that goes on, one needs to take a serious look at and be prepared to respond to each part of the commission’s recommendations in case they gain a second life under a different name.
As outlined earlier, I don’t see very many other options than moving away from the static, Cold War, quasi-imperial mindset of garrisoning forces globally, and towards a more flexible, homeland-based expeditionary mindset better suited for a mercantile representative republic. We need mobile, quick, and flexible forces that give you the ability to create desired effects globally where needed. Along with certain parts of the Army’s light forces, and Air Force logistical and long-range air; that skill-set is a crown jewel of the Navy-Marine Corps team.
Strangely, with the list of recommended cuts, not only does the commission go after the archaic overseas garrisoning of ground forces which is part of our problem – they go after the heart of our future expeditionary capabilities embodied with the Marine Corps – which weakens the solution and leaves us with the question; how do we get where with what?
Review paras 44-48. They recommend:
- End procurement of the V-22.
- Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
- Substitute F-16 & F/A-18Es for half of the F-35 buys.
- Cancel the USMC version of the F-35.
- Cancel the Future Maritime Prepositioning Force and abandon sea-basing.
Ponder that for a moment. Just as an example, because the Navy is building an amphibious fleet to Tiffany standards such that it does not want to close within 25nm, we would also find ourselves without the possibility of getting to the shore … therefore …. Tiffany must get close. Close with a fragile logistics tail and sketchy top-cover.
Paint; corner – some assembly required.
That isn’t the story. The story the fact that the Navy Marine-Corp team has failed to make the sale to decision makers.
Why? There are a few possible reasons to consider: one messaging and the other programmatic.
From a messaging stand point, the results are clear: we have failed to consistently, clearly, and credibly describe what the Navy-Marine Corps team brings to the table. If we had, there would not have been a feeling that you could get rid of all the equipment that makes power projection possible.
Why have we failed in the messaging dept?
- The Maritime Strategy is unclear, ineffective, and seen as irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. When looking forward, our maritime strategy documents should be Ref. A. They are not. That is probably part of the problem, for reasons I covered over at my home blog over three years ago.
- Selling the Navy-Marine Corp team’s capabilities has not been a priority. Well, we know it isn’t the # 1 priority, and when you review the Navy’s latest speeches and press releases, you don’t see that story being told. If you don’t tell everyone your story, no one will. The Marines have done a good job, but they need the Navy to work with them – though they may say differently, they cannot do this alone.
If the problem isn’t messaging, then is the problem programmatic?
- When it comes to the programs we have invested our intellectual and political capital in over the last decade – where are the major successful programs that we can use to increase our credibility? DDG-1000? LCS? ACS? LPD-17? You can argue that the LEWIS & CLARK T-AKE, VIRGINIA SSN, P-8, and Riverine have been a success, but besides the VIRGINIA none of those are above the fold programs.
- How many times have we heard senior leadership go in front of Congress to say “313?” How many here actually believed that was achievable? How many here thought that those in uniform saying “313” to Congress didn’t believe it was achievable either? What does that do to credibility inside and outside? When you lose credibility, eventually no one takes anything you say seriously.
If everything is critical; nothing is critical. If you say “313” when you know it isn’t achievable – then why should you be believed when you say something else is a must? If none of the things you said about DDG-1000, LCS, LPD-17 or other programs worked out well – then why should someone invest effort in believing what you say about the F-35B?
Read carefully the cuts recommended. Long after this commission is forgotten, their ideas will be re-cycled a few times.
Don’t expect them to go away. Our nation is under an exceptional fiscal crisis of our own creation, and will be for the next couple decades. Europe is about 5-10 years ahead of us in this regard. Look what has happened to their military budget over the last few years. It will happen here.
We are about to see even more change in senior leadership for the Navy-Marine Corps team. The primary challenge for that leadership isn’t so much to manage decline – but to repair our ability to communicate to decision makers and the taxpayer so they know what they are buying for their national security buck.
They will need to speak clearly, with credibility, and with a message that is consistent in the YouTube age where anyone can get what you said 6-months ago and repeat it with what you said yesterday. Promote creative friction. Re-build a strategic concept that makes sense and is heavy on reality and light on the “crank military metaphysics that has infected our literature over the past dozen years.”
They will need to make hard choices – get rid of billets that are not essential. Slash Staff redundancy. Lead personnel cuts from the front through larger than average cuts in Flag Officer and SES billets. Make Shore scream in pain before you demand more from Sailors at Sea. Demand from program managers performance we demand from COs. Focus on the affordable evolutionary vice the sexy revolutionary. Revisit the Cruiser development between WWI & WWII, the guided missile program of the ’50s and ’60s, and Aegis for benchmarks. Take out all the dirty laundry from DDG-1000, LCS, and LPD-17 so we can see it and smell it – and by example – not repeat those mistakes. That will help programmatics. Oh, sure it cost him a star – but review VADM Connelly’s record as well.
Ponder and prepare. Something must go. Find a counter argument, or lose. The game is afoot.
The 30 AUG edition of The Economist has an outstanding article that demands your attention, “Defence spending in a time of austerity.”
It is a wide-ranging article, but it is the graph on the right and another couple of points that grabbed my attention.
What I like about the graph on the right is that it focuses on just major combatants. Yes, numbers are not everything – but when you consider the concentration vs. dilution of power when it comes to the waters off China, the numbers look even more interesting. When you fold in they tyranny of distance – you add a bit more flavor. Yes, there is a quality vs. quantity argument as well – but the historian understands the Tiger vs. Sherman argument. Follow the trends to 2030 and ponder some more.
Speaking of China, from the article;
Is the constraint on military spending evidence of a general decline of the West? Critics of Mr Gates argue that he is hollowing out the armed forces and accepting a diminished position for America in the world. In a seminal book of 1987, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, Paul Kennedy of Yale University popularised the notion that a country’s military power flows from its economic strength; the global pecking order is determined as much by economic performance in peacetime as by martial abilities in wartime. By this measure, China’s economic strength should give the West cause for concern. China is also fast building up its naval power …
Our debt growth is unsustainable and a decrease in our defense budgets will be an unavoidable result of our fiscal irresponsibility. Where is China in this?
Well, when you consider our trade deficit and national debt – don’t blame the dragon for getting fat when we sell our children to feed it.
China is now the largest holder of U.S. debt. It’s also the largest exporter and within the next five to seven years, it’s expected to surpass the U.S. as the largest manufacturer in the world.
How much interest are we already paying on our debt?
The national debt is the single biggest threat to national security, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tax payers will be paying around $600 billion in interest on the national debt by 2012, the chairman told students and local leaders in Detroit.
“That’s one year’s worth of defense budget,” he said,
America, you should keep your eye on the Chinese Fleet. No so much that it may be a threat down the road – but just for the reason that you’re paying for much of it.
So, solutions? The macro issues of run-away deficit spending and trade imbalances are beyond the ability of the Navy to do anything about. What can the Navy do about this challenge of a shrinking American Fleet? For starters – go after per-unit costs – something we have been horrible at. We need to fix it though, as shipbuilding budgets are not going to grow in real dollars – indeed, expect a decrease. The cause of our per-unit cost problem is well understood; cue the LCS video.
Few would disagree with another of Mr Augustine’s laws, that “the last 10% of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.” Moreover, the quest for the best is often allied to a “conspiracy of optimism”, whereby bureaucrats and contractors underestimate the likely cost of weapons, wittingly or unwittingly. Once approved, military projects are hard to kill.
Such are the ingredients for a spiral of cost and delay: technological stumbles hold up development; delay raises costs; governments postpone work further to avoid busting yearly budgets, incurring greater long-term costs. With time, technology becomes outdated, so weapons must be redesigned, giving the top brass a chance to tinker endlessly with requirements. In the end, governments cut the size of the purchase, so driving up unit costs further.
We could do with a little more good and a little less perfect.
Hope is not a plan, but hope that our elected representatives get our financial house in order – for without it a military cannot be effective. After hope – then act develop a culture of accountability and not obsequiousness.
We did not get here by accident. Real people made real decisions that put us here.
… we (Team Navy) are in deep bat guano where public perceptions are concerned:
See especially slides 17-21 for recruiter’s challenge:
” If you were just turning 18 and had to spend two years in the Service, which branch would you prefer to join?” AF: 37 Navy: 20 Army: 15 CG: 14 Marines: 14.
Slides 3-7 aren’t exactly a bed of rose either. Mayhaps the Navy might want to work its message a little harder outside the cloistered “Conversations With America” while spending less time/effort/manpower on contrived “ethos” statements?
Of course leadership could just shut its eyes, click its heels and say “it’s only a poll – it’s only a poll…” Just don’t think these results aren’t going to have some bearing in the coming budgetary knife fights on the Hill and in the 5-sided wind tunnel…
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer