Archive for the 'Defense Budget' Tag

413IDUTnaWL._SX355_As we work our nogg’n’s to find a reasonable path to a realistic and sustainable fleet of 350 ships – do we need to look at the challenge a bit differently than our habit of throwing bags of IOU’s in our children’s name at it?

Matt Cavanaugh over at MWI has a fun bit about of all things, men’s shaving kit and what it can tell us about Russia vs. the USA – and how we buy the ability to force our will on others.

A sample. Stick with it;

In America, the most commonly used instrument is a plastic-handled, multi-bladed cartridge (usually three to five blades lashed together), which typically costs $3-5 per cartridge (though some lower-cost options are emerging—Harry’s, for example, are $2 each). The estimated lifetime cost of a daily shave for multi-bladed cartridges ranges from $7,000 for a Gillette Sensor3 to $22,000 for a Gillette Fusion ProShield (not including shaving cream!).

Russians and eastern Europeans, on the other hand, shave differently. In that part of the world, common usage is a steel-handled safety razor, designed to lock a single blade with two sides/edges into place—which is about a dime per blade. Estimated lifetime cost: $400.

Embarrassing, but enlightening. In this context, what a waste of capital – and are we really that much more smoothly shaved?

What would it be like to retrograde? What can a simple shave tell us about how we build our fleet of Sailors and ships?

So I bought a safety razor and have used it for the past six months … My observations: it’s not quite as good as a four- or five-bladed cartridge, and I did get a little bloody in transition, mostly owing to adjusting from a movable head to an inflexible steel variant. But the safety razor is at least 90 percent as good at 2–5 percent of the price. Put another way, I dropped 10 percent in performance to save 95–98 percent of the cost. That’s quite a bargain.

Let that set in. Now, think about what you have read about Russia’s economy, her military, her capability. Now, think again about shaving.

How does this translate?

…the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (48 percent over budget on a program already planned to cost hundreds of billions of dollars), the DDG-51 guided missile destroyer (619 percent over on a hundred-billion-dollar-plus program), and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft (44 percent over on a roughly sixty-billion-dollar program). [Note: figures cited in print and not digital edition.] But also recently, the New York Times published a massive cover story on Russian cyber efforts, calling it a “low-cost, high-impact weapon. … For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of an all-out war, cyberpower proved to be the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.” Even if contrasting these capabilities is apples to giraffes—the American/Russian strategic spending gap is noteworthy.

For each billion dollars increase in the Russian defense budget – how much more bang do they get compared to each billion of US defense spending?

Do you like the performance of the Russian corvettes in the Caspian and Mediterranean Seas? Do you, like me, sigh with longing at the SU-34?

As our good friend Jerry put it many moons ago; should we “Buy Fords, Not Ferraris?”

As Matt ended his article;

And as war inputs do not necessarily equal outputs, high investments will not guarantee optimal outcomes. From time to time, particularly in conflicts that appear to feature longer time frames, Americans could seek out simpler, less expensive options for strategic sustainability’s sake.

As with the Merkur handle, there is a shiny, silver-plated lining to this culture contrast: Americans willing to fight through the weight of cultural bias might acquire new tools for strategic success by appreciating the virtues of value and waging war on the cheap.



Fixing Navy Acquisition

April 2016



In a recent essay, “An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower,” Navy Captain Mark Vandroff and retired Navy Commander Bryan McGrath argue that “radical changes to the acquisition system are required” in order to save American seapower.[1] Their example of a program that would have benefited from such changes—the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)—does not, unfortunately, prove their point. Even if their changes had been in place in 2002, the decisions that led to the cost and schedule problems that have bedeviled CVN-78 could still have occurred.

Background: The Subsystems of Defense Acquisition

F-35B training aboard MCAS BeaufortBefore describing their proposed reforms, Vandroff and McGrath briefly outline the existing acquisition system. It has, they point out, three loosely coupled subsystems. The first is the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS), managed by the Joint Staff. This process exists to provide hardware and software designers and builders with the requirements that will, when they are satisfied, give the fighting forces the systems they need. The second is the acquisition process defined and supervised by the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. This detailed process is designed to reduce the technical risk that exists as part of any complex acquisition process. The third subsystem is the Planning, Programming, Budget, and Execution (PPBE) process. PPBE is how the major components of the Defense Department allocate the fiscal and human resources of the Department based on analyses of military needs and cost/benefit calculations. The purpose of PPBE is to produce programs and budgets that are fiscally efficient and militarily effective.

As Vandroff and McGrath point out, the three subsystems of the overall acquisition system apply processes that “move along largely independently, and exist in differing decision-making contexts.” For example, the JCIDS process is supposed to anticipate those joint capabilities that will be needed in the future. By contrast, the acquisition process as defined in the Department of Defense 5000 series directives and instructions moves along at the pace allowed by technical developments, rigorous subsystem and system testing, and production. The speed of the process will vary from system to system. PPBE progresses as the calendar progresses; it moves at the same speed annually regardless of how any particular acquisition program is progressing.

The Negative Consequences of Having Three Subsystems

As Vandroff and McGrath note, different officials are responsible for the administration of each of the three acquisition subsystems. Captain Vandroff, who serves as the program manager for the Navy’s DDG-51 class ships, is acutely aware of what this means; there are often too many hands on the tiller, and they may push in opposite directions. As he points out in an essay published in the October 2015 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, there is therefore an inevitable “tension (and sometimes friction)” between or among all those officials whose organizations have a stake in the system.[2] Making this tension more likely is the way that formal government regulations separate the technical management of programs from the development and administration of their contracts.[3]

The result is often confusion. As Captain Vandroff notes, a “ship or aircraft can be mindbogglingly complex, and a single technical issue could require consulting half a dozen or more specialists to ensure a resolution does not cause unintended consequences.”[4] Making matters worse is that existing procedures err in vesting too many officials “outside the direct chain of command” with the authority and opportunity to “alter or override” acquisition decisions made by program managers. This undermines the authority of program managers and disrupts their management of development and production.[5]

Overcoming the Negative Consequences: Recommendations

RADM Mat Winter, chief of naval research, appears before the House Armed Services Committee to testify on the DoD FY2017 science and technology programs. U.S. Navy photo

RADM Mat Winter, chief of naval research, appears before the House Armed Services Committee to testify on the DoD FY2017 science and technology programs. U.S. Navy photo.

Can this almost inevitable confusion be overcome? Is there a way for managers of a major program to achieve the system’s cost, schedule and performance goals when officials not in the chain of command confuse their legitimate need for information with the power to intervene in acquisition management? Captain Vandroff drew on his own extensive experience to say that “the most important thing [a major program manager] can build throughout his or her career is relationships,” especially any relationship that can “convince a stakeholder with limited accountability for program success to support a program like his or her very job depended on it.”[6] Recommendation Number One is therefore that only officers and civilians with this sort of leadership ability should be given charge of major acquisition programs.

Yet the right form of leadership needs to be complemented by good systems engineering. Consequently, Vandroff and McGrath’s Recommendation Number Two is to keep acquisition program direction in a service chain of command where it is more likely that the responsible managers will have the experience and technical training necessary to guide the program to success. The service secretary will be better able to select the skilled managers, give them the authority they need, and coordinate the various technical reviews called for in the contract.

The authors make a very important point—that though the service secretary should have ultimate control over major acquisition programs, there will be officials outside the services who will need to have information about programs so that they can comment on how those programs are being managed. These officials will demand “oversight.” But Vandroff and McGrath say that legitimate “oversight” has been confused with “control.” As they say, “Oversight is the ability of an official or organization to be fully informed on an activity and have the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback to all the accountable decision-makers. Oversight does not mean an organization gets to make a decision, it means it gets to express an opinion.”[7] The distinction between oversight (offering an opinion) and accountability (making decisions that stick and then being responsible for those decisions) leads Vandroff and McGrath to their proposal to invest the military service secretaries with the responsibility and authority for acquisition.

Restoring Service Acquisition Authority

United_States_Capitol_-_west_frontAcquisition reform for a generation has focused on centralizing the management of major programs in the office of the Under Secretary of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Vandroff and McGrath reject this focus: “At the start of development of a new system . . . and at the start of production . . . the service secretary would approve the program requirements and test and evaluation plan generated by the service chief, the acquisition strategy generated by the service acquisition executive, and the budget generated by the service comptroller.”[8] Concurrently, the following Defense Department organizations would have oversight (offering an opinion) of the service secretary’s decisions: the Joint Staff, the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation in OSD. In each case, their evaluations would be sent to the service secretary, the Secretary of Defense, and the national defense committees of Congress.[9] What would this process produce? The answer is a “fully accountable official [a military service secretary] for program performance.”

Vandroff and McGrath also want Congress to “create a new defense appropriation specifically for system development,” through which, once approved, a program could be fully funded for “the next 3-5 years, with the exact duration of appropriation dependent on the system in question . . .”[10] A new Assistant Comptroller General for Defense Acquisition in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would assist the national defense committees by reviewing the documentation provided by program managers and by the oversight organizations (the Joint Staff, the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation). This new official would be “a former flag or general officer, or member of the Senior Executive Service, who had served as either [sic] a major program manager, direct reporting program manager, or program executive officer,” and the staff supporting this Assistant Comptroller “would be made up of former . . . program managers or deputy program managers for major defense programs.”[11] This office within GAO would support the national defense committees in Congress by conducting “a program review every time a service made a request for procurement funds for a program.”[12]

Support for Reform? The Case of CVN-78

Vandroff and McGrath cite the case of the Ford class aircraft carriers to support their claim that their proposed acquisition reform is needed. They argue that the Ford (CVN-78) acquisition program would not have experienced major cost and schedule problems if former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff had left the initial acquisition plan of the CVN-78 program office alone. As current Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN[RD&A]) Sean Stackley testified to the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in October 2015, the initial June 2000 acquisition strategy for CVN-78 and its successor (CVN-79) was cautious and evolutionary. The new class of carriers would be developed in stages, from CVN-77 through CVN-79. New and revolutionary technologies, such as the dual-band radar and the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS), would be proven before they were designed into CVN-78.[13] Other new technologies would not be incorporated into the new carrier class until CVN-79.

Construction of Gerald R. Ford in 2013. U.S. Navy photo courtesy Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Construction of Gerald R. Ford in 2013. U.S. Navy photo courtesy Huntington Ingalls Industries.

This deliberate, risk-reduction approach was superseded in 2002 when Secretary Rumsfeld directed the Navy to reassess it. The Navy then chose to advance the timetable for the installation of new technologies, placing what were considered to be systems of high technological risk into CVN-78.[14] That plan was approved in December 2002 in a program decision memorandum (PDM) signed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense. The plan was affirmed in the April 2004 operational requirements document (ORD) for the Ford class carriers, and an acquisition decision memorandum (ADM) that same month approved low-rate initial production of the first three ships of the class. The step up from CVN-77 to CVN-78 was dramatically increased; the risks to the program increased accordingly.

The basic subsystems of CVN-78 had not been well defined when the program passed that major technical and fiscal review in April 2004. Given the perturbations made in the program by officials at a level above that of the Secretary of the Navy, the review process could not be thorough. As ASN(RD&A) Stackley explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the CVN-78 program office therefore had to cope with the responsibility of directing a shipbuilding effort where a number of the “developmental systems introduced on CVN 78” were not technically mature. Stackley told the senators that “In 2006, the Navy identified 10 of these new systems . . . as critical technologies which posed the highest ship integration risk.” An extensive series of tests of these systems identified “design deficiencies,” and once the problems had been pinpointed they had to be overcome, and overcoming them resulted “in delays and cost growth to certain systems and equipments.”[15] In plain terms, pulling all the systems together was a knotty and very time-consuming task. The complexity of the task, and the amount of time it took to complete it, ran up the estimated bill and knocked the schedule off its tracks.

The case of CVN-78 illustrates the strength and the weakness of the acquisition reform proposals put forward by Captain Mark Vandroff and Bryan McGrath. If the Secretary of the Navy had been in legal charge of the CVN-78 program, then the Office of the Secretary of Defense might not have altered the Navy’s acquisition strategy. But can we be sure of that? The program was so expensive, so complex, and yet so promising that there were a number of influential “stakeholders,” and it would have been difficult for them to resist encouraging a jump to a new carrier concept in one leap. How could a service secretary constrain enough of them to retain ultimate control of the program?


This is what Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) was getting at in the October 2015 hearing when he said, “changing acquisition rules will not alone prevent the kinds of problems we have seen on this aircraft carrier program.”[16] He’s right. If an acquisition program is expensive enough, or controversial, then it will attract a wide range of “partisan participants,” including members of Congress, industry lobbyists, labor leaders, military officials, and a host of others. That means you can’t isolate the acquisition process from the worst effects of partisan politics or from the urge by senior officials to get some system before political support for it weakens. The high cost of major systems today, coupled with the years and years it often takes to field them, opens up the acquisition process to interference and continuing controversy. The response of Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense has been to try to use laws and regulations to squeeze partisan and political activity out of the acquisition process. The persistence of such activity, however, means that it can’t be shut out.

Vandroff and McGrath are correct to argue that there are changes in the acquisition process that can make it faster and more efficient. However, as far as major systems are concerned, the ability of higher authorities (including Congress) to intervene in the mandated process will not go away. That intervention harmed the CVN-78 program. My point is that critics of the acquisition process such as Vandroff and McGrath are mistaken if they want the Secretary of the Navy to have the kind of control over the process that the captain of a ship has when at sea. As even a cursory look at the history of Navy acquisition will show you, no secretary will get it.

[1] Capt. Mark Vandroff, USN, and Bryan McGrath, “An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower,” USNI (U.S. Naval Institute) News, Jan. 21, 2016, p. 2.

[2] Capt. Mark Vandroff, USN, “Confessions of a Major Program Manager,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 141, No. 10 (October 2015), p. 51.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vandroff and McGrath, “An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower,” p. 5.

[6] Vandroff, “Confessions of a Major Program Manager,” p. 51.

[7] Vandroff and McGrath, “An Acquisition System to Enable American Seapower,” p. 5.

[8] Ibid., p. 6.

[9] Ibid., pp. 6-7.

[10] Ibid., pp. 8-9.

[11] Ibid., p. 9.

[12] Ibid., p. 10.

[13] Sean J. Stackley, ASN(RD&A), “Statement” [.pdf] before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Procurement, Acquisition, Testing and Oversight of the Navy’s Gerald R. Ford Class Aircraft Carrier Program,” Oct. 1, 2015, p. 3. For a more detailed chronology of decisions affecting the CVN-78 program, see “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” by Ronald O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service, Dec. 17, 2015. Also see the Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) for the CVN 78 Class, Dec. 31, 2011.

[14] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), “Opening Statement,” [.pdf] to receive testimony on procurement, acquisition, testing, and oversight of the Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program, Senate Armed Services Committee, Oct. 1, 2015, p. 2.

[15] Ibid., p. 9.

[16] Senator Reed, “Opening Statement,” p. 2.

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.

In the latest edition of USNI‘s Proceedings, Eric Labs’s article, Finding Funding for a New Boomer has a graph that tells the story well of what is coming up. We’ve been down the SSBN road before.

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.)

Here’s the graph for you visual types.
BN-GT738_ristid_G_20150203110744This begs the question; if we have a challenge now to meet our national security requirements, then what are we going to do in The Terrible 20s?

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)

(Note: This article appeared at RealClearDefense and is cross-posted by permission.)

On August 18th South Korea selected Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle as the sole candidate for Phase III of its Fighter eXperimental Project (F-X) over Lockheed Martin’s F-35A and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The decision has drawn vociferous criticism from defense experts who fear the selection of F-15SE may not provide the South Korean military with the sufficient Required Operational Capabilities (ROCs) to counterbalance Japan and China’s acquisition of 5th generation stealth fighters.

In hindsight, Zachary Keck of The Diplomat believes that Republic of Korea’s (ROK)preference for the F-15SE over two other competitors was “unsurprising.” After all, Boeing won the previous two fighter competitions with its F-15-K jet. In 2002 and 2008, South Korea bought a total of 61 F-15K jets from Boeing. South Korea’s predilection for the F-15SE is understandable given its 85% platform compatibility with the existing F-15Ks.

The ROK has 60 F-15K Slam Eagles in service with its 11th Fighter Wing based in Taegu.

The ROK has 60 F-15K Slam Eagles in service with its 11th Fighter Wing based in Taegu.

However, the most convincing explanation seems to be the fear of “structural disarmament” of the ROK Air Force should it choose to buy yet another batch of expensive fighters to replace the aging F-4 Phantom and F-5 Tiger fighters. Simply stated, the more advanced the fighter jet, the more costly it is. The more expensive the jet, the fewer the South Korean military can purchase. The fewer stealth fighters purchased, the smaller the ROK Air Force.

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This article was originally featured at Real Clear Defense.

“Show me the money” is the mantra of those analyzing Chinese defense budgets, searching for every defense dollar hidden behind state-owned defense enterprises and construction projects. But perhaps what they should be asking is, “where’s the beef?”

Every traveler knows that money is only as good as what it can buy. What you find on the dollar menu on one side of the border may cost $2.05 on the other. A lack of this purchasing-power-parity perspective is a major flaw in standard comparisons of annual defense spending. Analysis of the U.S. and Chinese defense budgets should not concentrate on dollar-vs-dollar, but rather the meat of what those budgets can buy.

For a quick non-scientific assessment of defense budgets weighted by purchasing-power, we look to the Big Mac Index (BMI, no pun intended). In 1986, the Economist developed the BMI as a humorous way of gauging the accuracy of currency valuations world-wide. What started out as educational humor became a serious academic endeavor. The BMI is so effective that the infamous currency manipulating government of Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has passed laws regulating the sale and marketing of the Big Mac. Although the Economist has produced a “gourmet” version controlling for local factors such as differences in labor costs, it is those local market defects that make the raw BMI appropriate for defense budget analysis – the analysis is not of currency on the exchange floor, but on the shop floor.

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According to the Yŏnhap News Agency last Thursday, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “confirmed…that he had requested the U.S. government” to postpone the OPCON (Operational Command) transfer slated for December, 2015. Citing from the same source, the National Journal elaborated further by saying Minister Kim believed that the United States was open to postponing the transfer because “a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists” Minister Kim’s request for the delay.

Chuck Hagel and Kim Kwan-jin

Ministerial-level meeting

There may be several reasons for the ROK government’s desire to postpone the OPCON transfer. First, the critics of the OPCON transfer both in Washington and the ROK argue that this transition is “dangerously myopic” as it ignores “the asymmetric challenges that [North Korea] presents.” Second, given the shrinking budget, they argue that the ROK may not have enough time to improve its own C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence) capabilities, notwithstanding a vigorous procurement and acquisition of state-of-the-art weaponry and indigenous research and development programs for its local defense industries. Third, South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps have prevented South Korea from developing a coherent strategy and the necessary wherewithal to operate on its own. To the critics of the OPCON handover, all these may point to the fact that, over the years, the ROK’s “political will to allocate the required resources has been constrained by economic pressures and the imperative to sustain South Korea’s socio-economic stability and growth.” As if to underscore this point, the ROK’s defense budget grew fourfold “at a rate higher than conventional explanations would expect” due to fears that the United States may eventually withdraw from the Korean peninsula. It was perhaps for these reasons that retired GEN B. B. Bell, a former Commander of the United States Forces Korea, has advocated postponing the transfer “permanently.

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bowl-of-white-riceMid-week brings up a few issues that we should be watching as the budget battles and the new SECDEF’s restructuring starts to shape facts on the ground.

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?



4477314924_4c82c411da_zThere is a habit in the military of holding one’s tongue for the future, when the present would profit most by speaking now.

Some keep their thoughts to themselves when they see problems, or keep them firmly behind closed doors. Others see the requirement to step from the shadows to confront in the open what others are keeping silent about.

Why are so many people in the profession of arms so quiet? The reasons are many and varied; loyalty to ones chain of command, deference to authority, orders, propriety, fear, passivity, verve, desire to retain professional viability, or just a lack of confidence in ones opinions.

When is the supported institution best served by silence, and when by open and contentious discourse? Is this a time for silence, or a time for those at the highest levels of leadership to dare to read, think, speak, and write?

Not put their name to something a person on their staff wrote; not some “It takes a village to write 3,000 words” safety-in-numbers collaboration. No – something in their own words either in their personnel by-line, or by a properly vetted “Federalist Papers” format.

At its best though; Sims, Mitchell and Connolly – there is the benchmark that we need right now.

What do those three General Officers/Flag Officers (GOFO) have in common? Well, at different stages in their careers, they were highly influential due to their very public outspokenness about what was not being done correctly in order to, in their minds, address the critical shortfall in weapons development, procurement and strategy in order to have an effective fighting force.

They put their reputations and careers on the line – while on active duty and planning to stay on active duty – in order to elevate the discussion in the open. The did this for one reason – in order to bring about a better American military.

Sims was sending letters directly to the President, used rather colorful terms to identify critical shortfalls, and was an aggressive publisher of anti-establishmentarian ideas. Mitchell beat the drum and edged across a few lines to pronounce to an unlistening and ossified parochial bureaucracy the future influence of air power upon history. Connolly had no problem aggressively explaining Newtonian physics against the Joint-fetishists of his day. Sims was rewarded, Mitchell was Court Martialed, and Connolly found himself a terminal 3-Star.

They chose the risky path – and rewarded or punished individually; their nation’s military were the better for it collectively.

There is another path – it is an honorable one as well – one that has a mixed record of success. While it is true that the higher one goes up the chain, the more perceived “power” one has and as a result has the ability to affect change, most of the time that remains just-beyond reach. That power lever is a mirage. It is a trick. It is the triumph of hope against experience.

Good people who are truly trying to do the right thing often find they have waited too long. That magic set of PCS orders, that enabling rank – it never comes. All of a sudden, they find themselves scheduled for Executive TAP, yet realize their work is incomplete.

And so we find the parting shot. Look at one of General Craddock’s final speeches as SACEUR. Look at Admiral Harvey’s parting gift, and finally, we have this.

Does the United States need a 300-ship Navy or will it over the next 70 years need seven strategic nuclear submarines on patrol in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans? Each would have 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles, all of which could carry up to five nuclear warheads.

That was the choice Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems, described Tuesday at the Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series.

Burke, who is set to retire in the next few weeks, spoke frankly about the undersea portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad “and its intersection with our shipbuilding plan.”

His conclusion: “If we buy the SSBN [the planned 12 replacement strategic submarines for the current 14 Ohio class now in service] within existing funds, we will not reach 300 ships. In fact, we’ll find ourselves closer to 250. At these numbers, our global presence will be reduced such that we’ll only be able to visit some areas of the world episodically.”

This topic of the impact of SSBN recapitalization in the face of a perfect storm of macro-budgetary crisis and the delayed effects of the procurement Lost Decade from poor programmatic decisions that will be the 2020’s is not new. Indeed, many of us have been writing and speaking about the need to address the coming “Terrible ‘20s” for years.

Why is it a GOFO scheduled to “retire in the next few weeks” is the one who is talking about this? On this and many other issues; you can have all the “Disruptive Thinker” JOs and sharp enlisted you can jam in a conference room, you can have scores of retired Field Grade officers pounding away at their dinner table each evening, and you can have the pundit-pondering think-tankers of the Potomac chattering until Judgement Day and it won’t have the impact of serving GOFO standing up and speaking without guile or hedge about what everyone sees, but few openly say. As long as they do not, then you will get the B-team working the creative friction.

What impact can a GOFO have as he is heading out the door? Not really that much. Like a lame-duck politician – his professional capital is spent. The cynic and critic will simply dismiss his comments as sour grapes. His natural allies will just set their jaws and mumble “too-little-too-late.” If the only issues he raise are related sequester, then he will be looked at as just a political hack.

Are these professional death-bed conversions helpful? While the decision to be silent and work behind the closed door is a valid and honorable one, in the end is it really a false economy of delayed revelation? Better late than never, or just another lost opportunity?

Sure, comments heading out the door can be helpful, important, and impactful in a fashion, but they have but a shadow of the impact they could be have had if these actions took place in the open, in high profile, years before while the GOFO were still in uniform and intended to stay as such for another tour or two.

As our Fleet shrinks and is balanced out with either sub-optimal platforms such as LCS or expensive Tiffany porcelain dolls; as our carrier decks are full of short-legged strike fighters and underarmed expensive F-35s (TBD), our deployed Sailors are burdened by a bloated, demanding, and ineffective Shore/Staff fonctionnaire cadre, and a money-sponge of a SSBN recapitalization requirement is squatting right in front of us – where are our Sims, Mitchells, and Connellys?

Do we need them? Do we have them? What do they need to do?


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.

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