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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Field Marshal Mathers

I hate to second-guess our military. I once got flamed by the nuts at Atrios because I said we sent the optimum number of troops to Iraq. I said, sure, a hundred thousand more troops would be nice, but they're not worth the cost. By cost, I mean incapacitating our national defense, opening the Korean DMZ, allowing a hundred uneasy truces to deteriorate, and generally ushering in the apocalypse for a doubtful gain in tactical advantage in Iraq.

A hundred thousand more troops would be nice, I said- and I got one comment that said "1-800-Go-Army." Pretty ironic, if you know me, which I assume that you don't.

Anyway, I've commented on, but not really criticised, the DOD. However, after my last year or so of studying their advanced technology programs, contract award policies, and longterm strategic planning, I have to say that this is NOT the way I would do things.

First, we set the criteria for success.

1) We must maintain the ability to fight two regional wars. That is an arbitrary standard, but it seems reasonable. This ability will allow us to defend ourselves in an all-out war against half the planet.

2) We must be able to project force anywhere on Earth, as in the current Iraq model.

3) We must be able to rapidly field smaller forces to achieve objectives in emergencies. For example, we must be able to rescue any of our embassies within three days, if they have been captured.

4) We must stay one generation ahead of everyone else in terms of conventional weaponry.

5) We must improve our guerrilla warfare abilities. This means a more effective information architecture. The Jitters program would be nice.

6) We must maintain our ability to threaten Mutually Assured Destruction against any nuclear threat.

There are other objectives, such as the ability to ramp up to total war status quickly. Whatever.

Currently, the DOD is spending too much money trying to stay generations ahead in conventional warfare, and doing it poorly. The procurement programs themselves are extremely inefficient, due to poorly worded development contracts that reward failure. The programs are also poorly directed.

Advanced weapons development should be continued. DARPA does a good job, but there is no need to expand it further. Contracts must be designed to reward companies that produce the product on time and to specification. Those that don't shouldn't be paid. A potential five billion dollar loss will make the Industrial complex work a little harder.

The DOD should also be able to spend its money, end programs, and close bases without congressional earmarks, but that would reflect good will and competence on the part of Congress. The DD(X) destroyer is a technological and strategic leap ahead of anything else in the water, but will probably be too expensive to produce because of political shenanigans. That's a 10 billion dollar or so problem.

The DOD underestimates the importance of ground troops. Ground troops can survive nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, and conventional explosives. They can be invisible to radar. A squad can destroy an enemy tank. A squad can capture an enemy building. Soldiers are the most flexible and most intelligent of all weapon systems. We should direct some of the Big Toys money towards soldiers. This has the advantage of a short term increase in guerrilla warfare effectiveness. It will also increase the trained reserve of citizens in the 28 to 40 age bracket, in the event of a major war. Might also increase national solidarity, though I'm not a huge fan of patriotism personally.

Information architecture in the military is fairly good, although we are still years away from the total information awareness network that is envisioned. Basically, every radar, microphone, and camera on every UAV, soldier, satellite, and aircraft would be networked to create a virtual model of the battlefield, which would then be available to all US forces. The technology to make this useful to individual soldiers in battle is extremely far away, but it can be introduced in parts, starting at the top. Anyway, I think this effort should be accelerated. It promises to marry guerrilla warfare with conventional warfare, and integrate airpower with artillery and infantry in a seamless way.

So I would shift focus slightly toward gadgets for soldiers, like the thermobaric rocket and the personnel radar, and away from giant programs like the 747 Laser Cannon and the F-22. It would be a better ROI.

We need more cargo planes. We have to be able to airlift some sort of armor capability, and the C-130 is not going to last another 50 years. Ideally, we would be able to airlift an entire battle group (infantry, armor, artillery, and support) at once from Germany or the US. I'm not sure what the optimum size of this capability would be. Battalion? Regiment? We currently ship most of our equipment by sea. That's fine, unless you have an emergency. When the enemy is a sitting duck, completely lacking offensive capability, like Iraq, sealift is fine. In the next war, it won't be fast enough.

The Pentagon is currently thinking about developing a long-range hypersonic strategic drone bomber. Now, that would be great. It really would. I guess our strategic bomber force could use an upgrade, considering we don't really have one. Why not? Well, we have ICBMs. We want to be able to respond to a first strike or initiate one, and a hypersonic drone bomber still won't be as fast as an ICBM. The HSDB would be nice to have- we could take out Iran from the comfort of Cheyenne Mountain. I have to ask, though: is this really the best use of our resources? I ca't help but think that enemy fighters might be a match for a drone bomber. Without hypersonic drone fighters for escorts... Sigh.

Meanwhile, our reserve forces are serving multiple tours in Iraq with antique HMMWVs, which were never intended to serve as light armor. This is evidenced by the fact that they don't have armor.

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