Category Archives: Defense

Scrap the Air Force

Finally, some public discussion of an idea that Bruno and I have been talking about for years – get rid of the U.S. Air Force.

… the Air Force should be eliminated, and its personnel and equipment integrated into the Army, Navy and Marine Corps …

At the moment, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps are at war, but the Air Force is not. This is not the fault of the Air Force: it is simply not structured to be in the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Army, Marine and Navy personnel have borne the brunt of deployments, commonly serving multiple tours, the Air Force’s operational tempo remains comparatively comfortable. In 2007, only about 5 percent of the troops in Iraq were airmen.

Yes, air power is a critical component of America’s arsenal. But the Army, Navy and Marines already maintain air wings within their expeditionary units. The Air Force is increasingly a redundancy in structure and spending.

War is no longer made up of set-piece battles between huge armies confronting each other with tanks and airplanes. As we move toward a greater emphasis on rapid-response troops, the Army has tightened its physical fitness regime and the Marine Corps has introduced a physically grueling Combat Fitness Test for all members. Yet an Air Force study last year found that more than half of airmen and women were overweight and 12 percent were obese.

The Air Force is a Cold War legacy, the power-lust child of Curtis LeMay. It flies planes we don’t use, and is so poorly integrated with the rest of our military that it is a leading cause of friendly-fire casualties. It’s time to move forward with a more rational – and cost-effective – military that better serves the needs of the present century.

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Ramp-up in Afghanistan

Just as he promised in the campaign, President Obama is ratcheting up the American commitment in Afghanistan, doubling the number of troops there. The Prof and I talk a lot about Afghanistan on the show, because it’s such a fascinating country and crossroads and potential quagmire for foreign occupiers going back 1,000 years.

Kevin Drum, seeing this whole thing as the potential to Be Obama’s Vietnam, writes, “at a gut level something about this whole plan makes my blood run cold. It’s so McNamara-ish I can practically see him making the announcement in my mind’s eye.”

When pressed about the comparisons to the USSR’s decade-long effort to control Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokesperson said (via The Plank):

And I would just further add that there’s absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, which was an occupation to control a country, repress a population, install their own sort of puppet leadership. We are there to, first and foremost, combat terrorism and protect our own interests and our own people from attack. But we’re also there to help the Afghan people and enable them to reclaim their country. There is absolutely no comparison that’s valid between the two.

That’s all well and true, but the real reason that the U.S. has a shot at pacifying Afghanistan is that there’s no global superpower arming the resistance, as we did with the mujahedeen in the 1980s (or as the Russians and Chinese did in Vietnam).

Unless, of course, that’s not true, and there is a country providing Taliban insurgents with funding and arms and making the war unwinnable. A nuclear-armed state, say, that shares a large, porous border with Afganistan.

Which brings us to the real rub: what to do about Pakistan. Joe Klein rounds up the “Af-Pak” strategy and finds the President’s approach acceptable on that score.

Wait and see, I guess.

America, F**k Yeah!

Big Pharma kills terrorists:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.

For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country’s roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.

Great. Now nationalized health care is screwed.

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Here Comes the F-22!

When we last left our favorite bloated, overbudget next-generation jet fighter, the F-22 raptor, it was being sold as a vital weapon in the “War on Terror.” Desperate to keep their funding, Air Force Generals were trying to convince us that billion-dollar fighter jets could be used to, I don’t know… sniff out suicide bombers at Ramadi check points?

What a difference a year makes.

With neocon nutcases angling for WW3 with Russia over the disputed provinces in Georgia, the Military-Industrial Complex has shaken off the GWOT like a bad cold and found a new raison d’etre:

When Russia’s invading forces choked roads into Georgia with columns of armored vehicles and struck targets from the air, it instantly bolstered the case being made by some that the Defense Department isn’t taking the threat from Russia and China seriously enough. If the conflict in Georgia continues and intensifies, it could make it easier for defense companies to ensure the long-term funding of their big-ticket items.

Ho baby! Where’s Tom Clancy when we need him?! Listen to the whining of the former fighter jocks at the “Air Force Association”:

Mr. Dunn, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, said that if U.S. F-16 and F-18 fighters were carrying out combat missions over Georgia, they would be in grave danger from highly advanced Russian surface-to-air missiles on the border that a newer plane like the F-22 can evade. “The debate has got to shift as a result of this war,” said Mr. Dunn.

Look, if F-16 and F-18 fighters were carrying out combat missions over Georgia, it would mean that World War III was underway, and that New York, DC, and Moscow were days away from being obliterated in a nuclear holocaust. You’ll excuse me if, under those circumstances, my utmost concern is not the air superiority of our F-16s.

Hillary for SecDef

Reading this Doris Kearns Goodwin article on whether or not Obama should assemble a “team of rivals,” for his cabinet, the thought that immediately came to mind is that Obama should nominate Hillary Clinton for Secretary of Defense.

She’s certainly qualified, having served on the Senate Armed Services committee. But more than that, it would be a real ballsy choice (sorry for the poor choice of words), one that would go along way to ameliorating Clinton’s supporters’ charges of sexism during the campaign.

Finally, it would be a neat taunt at the GOP: “I dare you to attack her for being a woman in charge of the military.”

I dunno, maybe it’s just nuts.

Bean Counters

I suspect that this is a feature, not a bug:

In 1990, Congress enacted legislation requiring all federal agencies to pass independent audits. Every year, the Defense inspector general dispatched dozens of auditors to the military’s financial and accounting centers. Every year, they reported back that the job couldn’t be done. Defense Department records were in such disarray and were so lacking in documentation that any attempt would be futile. In 2000, the inspector general told Congress that his auditors stopped counting after finding $2.3 trillion in unsupported entries made to force financial data to agree.

The Pentagon budget, larger than the GDP of most of the world’s nations and roughly one quarter of the entire U.S. Government budget, is unaudited and unaccountable. But because each of the branches — Air Force, Army, Navy, etc. — want to keep their independence, there’s no way to bring them all together. And since defense spending exists in a parallel universe to all other government spending (a universe where Republicans support big government, where projects don’t really have to justify their budgets, and where overspending is par for the course).

So, in honor of Tax Day, here’s a chart, courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

taxesgo-thumb-350x335.jpg

Boeing and the Tankers

Following up on a topic we broached on this week’s podcast, a detailed look at why Boeing lost the contract, from McClatchy and the TNT:

Thompson and others say Boeing’s commercial airplane division was too focused on the 787 to pay much attention to the tankers.

“The tanker was not as high a priority for Boeing as it was for Northrop-EADS,” Thompson said.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst for the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va., firm that tracks trends in the aerospace industry, said Boeing’s commercial division was also focused on ramping up production of the 777, increasing production of the 737 and launching the 747-8.

“Tankers were a very distant fifth priority for them,” Aboulafia said. “EADS’ highest priority was to crack the U.S. military market.”