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:: July 2001 Newsletter ::

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Dear Proud Members Of The Defense Industrial Base,

Last month my letter looked at Europe. Well, since then I’ve been stuck in the malarial swamp of Washington, DC, so it’s time to turn my attentions closer to home. This is just as well—there’s plenty of material. The FY 2002 budget has landed, with a thud.

Let’s face it. Everyone’s expectations of the great Bush Administration Defense Revolution were somewhat bloated. RMA, QDR, whatever other alphabet soup transformations have been mooted, the fact remains that the long-delayed FY 2002 budget is basically (a) business as usual, and (b) a harbinger of things to come.

Top Ten Signs the Defense Revolution may have been overstated:

1. DoD officials proudly point to continued Low-Rate production of Global Hawk UAV as “Transformational.” (FY 2002 budget procures two Global Hawks).

2. Northrop Grumman B-2 lobbyists start to get that 10,000-mile look in their eyes (embarrassingly, for all the talk, FY 2002 B-2 funding shows a decrease).

3. Cutting 33 B-1s from active fleet to benefit remaining planes becomes huge political hot potato.

4. Crusader. Profoundly irrelevant. Still alive, expensive, and kicking.

5. $5 million budgeted to open Transformation Program Office. If you get a chance, steal one of their ashtrays—it’ll make a funny souvenir in 20 years.

6. Tough Decisions: one-per-month procurement of controversial new platforms: F-22, V-22. Oh, and continuation of 12 carrier battle groups and 11 Navy air wings.

7. Still on track with JSF and Fighter Procurement Train Wreck.

8. Comanche. $180 million more for RDT&E; zero ideas about procurement cash.

9. Despite weak procurement numbers, successful (but rigged) test of one NMD system expected to double defense stock prices and restore companies to health. Wall Street yawns.

10. DoD pay raise to deal with pressing problem of personnel retention—just as civil economy finally heads downward.

Obviously, this FY 2002 budget couldn’t be a revolution by itself. As SecDef Rumsfeld put it, “We cannot do everything in a single year.” But what hope is there, really, for FY 2003? If you can’t grow the topline (no political will, and there’s that tax cut problem), and you can’t kill anything (not even 33 B-1s), and you fund NMD, where’s the cash for a revolution? There’s also the very big issue that revolutions don’t happen in peacetime. Even smart guys like Andy Marshall can’t make the right choices. It takes the Darwinian process of war to sort out good and bad weapons, and good and bad strategies. It generally also takes a war to get past entrenched interests, and to kill irrelevant programs.

So what would I do about air power if I were in charge? Well, if we truncate the F-22 and Hornet E/F programs, and delay JSF by two years, we just might avoid the train wreck (see the details in our Fighter overview). But as always, I’m weak on original ideas, and strong on criticism of other people’s ideas. That’s why I was delighted to see the recent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) report on future defense priorities. It’s a delightfully wrongheaded catalog of suggestions, put forth by people who purportedly have close ties to the administration. It recommends canceling JSF (shouldn’t the US have an export fighter after 2010?) and studying more B-2s (the production line will be dead in about ten months unless we throw cash at it—more studies are futile).

So what are we left with? A Clinton/Gore budget, with NMD. The latter is good for $7-10 billion per year, with relatively little accountability but guaranteed profit margins. That might be good for the companies, but I just can’t bring myself to like the idea. I’m a useless historian by inclination, and it’s very difficult to sort through good and bad themes in military history. But one general truism is that mobility and flexibility beat fixed, positional defenses. It would be one thing if NMD was some Department of Energy add-on item. But the reality is that the defense budget is limited, and NMD takes cash away from flexible, mobile forces (like air power, towards which I guess I am just naturally biased). Seems like a bad idea to me. And, curiously, the media has ignored a key Defense Week story revealing that the recent NMD test was faked (a GPS beacon was implanted in the target).

What new military ideas might materialize? The new lighter Army may go somewhere, although that’s not DoD, just the Army trying to rescue itself from oblivion. The Navy’s Streetfighter ship sounds intriguing, but there’s the usual institutional resistance. Then there’s large jet transports armed with strike weapons. I knew if I stayed in this field long enough, this proposal would be resurrected. It might make an adequate “B-3,” until a dedicated space bomber arrives.

Anyway, time for your binder’s monthly booster. Updated overviews cover Rotorcraft and Regional aircraft. Updated reports include the 747, A340, ERJ-170/190, and numerous other programs. Next month will bring a new Commercial jet Transports overview, plus updates of the Russian jetliners, AH-1, F-117, and others. Call with requests, and, while you are spending your tax rebate on that retro air hockey table, think about how we could have had more B-2s, instead.

Yours, ‘Til We Get That Mile-Wide Nuclear Attack Helicopter,

Richard Aboulafia
 

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