Rise of the Declinists

January 2013


1-s2.0-S0003682X09001959-gr2Plans, expectation, and beautiful theories can all be changed, destroyed, or morphed in to radically different futures in the blink of an eye.

Russian Dadaists, Berlin’s avant guard, American segregationists, and in our own parochial time; those who spent their year working of the QDR in 2001; they know how it can happen.

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.”

—- Lieutenant Ambroise Baudry, French Navy

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.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy
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  • my take: 200-180 ships by 2018-2020 mark my words…
    and lucky if not to end with Russia-type-graveyard piers

  • grandpabluewater

    This is the question that should have been put up 6 months ago, rather than airing out the suggestion that women go on prolonged leave of absence upon maternity’s onset, without career effect.

    Let us think, speak, and write on the important questions of strategy and policy that affect out ability to defend the republic. All to often, in this forum, we haven’t, by choice.

    Not that sillyness doesn’t have it’s place, but rearranging miniature deer in a photograph suggestively should happen after the serious questions get posted for the day, not in lieu of….

    • “…by choice” indeed. That “dare” part of the mission statement must be pretty steep these days…

      Concur on your mothball fleet comment. We know many of these older ships are seaworthy and designed to fight—unlike most of the stuff we’re putting to sea these days…

  • grandpabluewater

    Moving on from the pre morning coffee grump, this go around we should get back in the reserve (mothball) fleet business. Remember the destroyer loan deal of WWII, and the usefulness of strip ship pools to keep the older vessels able to deploy combat ready.

  • H20

    This is crazy. We spend about 3/4 of a TRILLION dollars a year on defense and we can’t keep how many ships ready? Let’s do a real review of defense needs and separate the wheat from the chaff. Get rid of the bands (OK, each service can have one band), the PR demonstration teams (yes, that includes the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, etc.), cut back on honors and ceremonies (how many man/woman hours are spent on changes of command, retirements, etc.?). And that’s a start; let’s really get rid of the peripheral “noise” and get back to defending our great nation. All of the programs I mentioned above have advocates/champions; try to cut the Blue Angels and folks will come out of the woodwork saying they’re essential for national defense. But, in reality, they are entertainment. It’s time to get back to DEFENSE and leave the fat in the rear view mirror. I am one angry taxpayer if we can support 140+ military bands, several demonstration teams, but can’t man and maintain our ships!

    • H2O, you might want to read up on how little your suggestions will save, on the order of (maybe) $100 million a year overall.

      You want a good start? Warm bodies. The single most expensive category in the Defense budget is personnel.

      • H20

        Casey, how many personnel (warm bodies) are in the bands, demonstration shows, etc,? How many personnel (warm bodies ) are in support roles? How much is spent on the aircraft? Fuel costs, maintenance, training costs, facilities, travel, TAD, etc.? How about aircraft procurement? Me thinks your (maybe) $100 million/year is a little more than a tad off.
        If you can show – not speculate, but show – the costs are <$100 million/year, I would like you to cite your references.
        I'm not trying to say that shrinking the DoD budget will be easy, but the services (all) have to prioritize to get things right. Even if you are right, and we would save $100m, isn't it better to spend that $100M on readiness than bands, demonstration teams, etc.? If readiness and taking care of our brave men and women are the top priorities, better spend the $$ on readiness and personnel. Just my .02

      • grandpabluewater

        100 million here, 100 million there, pretty soon it’s adding up to real money. The future is for he and she who pinch the most pennies.

  • TractorEngineer

    We could’ve purchased 100 CVNs with the money put toward just the last round of bank-bailouts, which accomplished absolutely nothing. Start with making that crap illegal.

    • grandpabluewater

      It was, some of it still is, and don’t expect prosecutions soon, or ever. Don’t expect putting the laws back in place that held this sort of nonsense at bay for 75 years either. Elections have consequences, which is why it is so expensive to buy one, or buy a piece of an elected official.

  • I thought priorities were dictated in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) doc?

    Let the requirement decide the force structure, and if the taxpayer is unwilling to foot the bill, let them know up front what services they will lose.

  • Jeannette Haynie

    Last week I spent a day trying to get a single administrative task completed…it should have taken less than 20 minutes, but it kept getting more complicated by things such as having to re-do a semi-annual USMC weigh-in because the original wasn’t filed correctly at HQMC, re-submitting an annual training certificate, and trying desperately to get the good folks responsible for Reserve admin to remove my admin data from someone else’s record and put it back into my own. Took the entire workday. Small potatoes in the grand scheme of things but a symptom of the greater problem. That was a whole day. Since I only have about 38 of those a year now, that’s quite a percentage of time that got wasted while I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off instead of a functioning adult.

    Later, it sparked a discussion of how in the world we go about changing a beast that seems mired in its own web of bureaucratic pain. The ideas ranged from just telling 40% of the force not to show up for the next month (one way to rearrange priorities) to accepting it for what it is and just trying to take small steps. And how to avoid the parochialism, some intentional, most probably not, inherent in trying to trim and revamp a behemoth such as DoD?

    But what will it take to fix it? Sal, it would be interesting to hear exactly what you think, if you have specific thoughts.
    And Grandpa, thank you for the shout out–I was beginning to feel neglected…

    • grandpabluewater

      You are frequently on an old man’s mind. Well, your ideas and priorities, not to mention you allies and mentors (shudder). My regards to your spouse and best wishes for your children and family happiness generally.

      In my day, we would refer to creating meaningful change in the Naval Service as pushing against an 80 ton marshmallow. You may get an initial sense of forward momentum, but the center of mass never moves.

      The only thing that never changes is the human condition.

      • Jeannette Haynie

        Likewise. As for the 80-ton marshmallow, I am grateful that everyone does not share your opinion about change, or this nation–if it even existed at all–would be a pitiful place indeed.

      • grandpabluewater

        A. change in the Navy….not change elsewhere. B. refers to change by one individual, Leverage and a crew are required, not to mention a workable plan and considerable

      • Jeannette Haynie

        Hmm. Again, see my response above.

  • Phil Candreva

    “You want a good start? Warm bodies. The single most expensive category in the Defense budget is personnel.”

    Maybe. It depends on how you measure. From 1954-1985, the largest appropriation in the defense budget was MilPers, but since then it has been O&M. MilPers today is about 25% of the defense budget, down from 27% in the 1990s and down from 42% when we switched to an all-volunteer force.

    If you account for civilian substitution of military functions and look at total military and civilian pay and benefits, it accounts for about 1/3 of the defense budget, compared to 47% in the mid-90s and 58% when we switched to an all-volunteer force. (See Defense Budget Greenbook, Table 6-12)

    So where is the money? It is not in the investment accounts (procurement R&D, construction): they have consistently accounted for 28-33% of the defense budget during the last 60 years. The growth in spending is in non-labor O&M. Look at fuel, parts, IT, contractor support, training, and installations. Non-labor O&M is currently 35% of the defense budget, up from 20% in the mid-90s and up from 16% when we switched to an all-volunteer force. If the money is in warm bodies, they are not bodies wearing a government ID card.