A nip here, a snip there, then some whole cloth changes: Defense Cuts

In case you live under a rock

Obama: With Coming Cuts to Defense, New Military Will Be Leaner, Still Superior

President Obama offered a new Pentagon strategy that cuts billions of dollars for defense over the next decade and will “turn the page on a decade of war,” but has critics arguing will gut U.S. ability to lead a dangerous world.

In a rare appearance in the Pentagon press briefing room Thursday, where he announced that the military will be reshaped over time, Obama said the reality of the U.S. economy is forcing the Defense Department to look at its strategy in an all-new way, even as he insisted that strategy will determine the force structure, “not the other way around.”

And who didn’t see this coming?

Several points that the pundits are rightfully putting up for discussion.  First, these cuts are in addition to those that will automagically apply because the Super Committee fiasco.  Second, most of the planned “savings” is with troop reductions – specifically the Army and the Marines.  Third, the US will no longer hold to the “two war” requirement for strategic military planning (arguably just another downgrade in the wording as we haven’t had a “two war” military since 1993).  Fourth, the “strategy” is not one of global interest but reducing our focus to regional issues, specifically Middle East and West Pacific. The President calls for a leaner, more agile force structure.  Reading through the details, there’s a lot of emphasis on drones, cyber-warfare, and high technology, but low man-power, options.

Listening to Bill Bennett’s radio program this morning, I overheard Frank Gaffney’s take, which is similar to my initial response: “We’ve seen this movie before and we know how it ends.”  I could list out the dates and scenarios here if you’d like – 1920, 1947, 1989, and even as late as 2000.   We might change the actors and settings, but the script is the same.  Last scene before the credits has some promise to not forget with a tag line “never forget!”

Ships, tanks, planes, and trucks we can produce.  We can produce them by the handful, basket loads, or yard lots. What’s the lead time to build a destroyer?  A gen-5 fighter?  A MBT?  Throw out development cycles for arguments sake, just go with what we have in production.  Worst case scenario?

But it takes 18 years to “build” a private, airman, or seaman.  It takes 22 years to build an inexperienced lieutenant or ensign.  Say about 26 years for a fairly experienced NCO or company grade officer.  Colonels and Generals?  Commanders and Admirals? We got plenty right now, but for replacements we need a 33 to 35 year lead time.

You want a lean, agile fighting force?  That means you need a highly professional, well trained and motivated cadre.  We have that (I’d argue) right now, trimming out a few edges where needed.  But to keep that force professional, we’ll need to support them.  Studies show the cost per soldier between the draft army and volunteer army nearly doubled.  Reduce the force structure, and increase deployments (that agility thing doesn’t come by osmosis), then you up that even more.

Keep in mind, Air-Sea battle is really only phase one of several possible next-war scenarios.  Someday in the future, in some place we can barely predict today, a commander will need something more than “drones” to reach a goal.

XBrad here:

Back in the 90s when Clinton slashed the military, the saying going around the Army was “No more Task Force Smiths!” This was a reference to the deplorable state of training and equipment of the first task force deployed to Korea in 1950. They were decimated in their first engagement with the North Koreans.

Theoretically, you can trim the size of the force, and yet maintain high readiness levels of remaining units. Well, I don’t know how other units fared, but my mech infantry battalion suffered greatly. Replacements for soldiers transferring out or leaving the service were slow to arrive. We started out at about 85% of our authorized strength, and ended up probably around 75%.  Spare parts were almost impossible to come by. Within six months, about half of the 13 Bradleys in my company were technically “deadlined” for lack of parts. At least two were completely unable to move.

For those vehicles that could work, we didn’t have the money for fuel and maintenance to go train. Morale plummeted. And low morale meant that many of the best and brightest decided to leave the Army.

We certainly weren’t the hollow force that the services had in the Carter era, but we were on our way there.  Had it not been for the reality of war forced upon us by 9/11, I suspect there would have been a generation of genteel decline in the forces.

On the strategy front. Obama insists that strategy is driving the force composition, though influenced by budgetary constraints. To some extent, that’s OK. The reality is that there will always be budgetary constraints.

The thing that sticks out to me is just how similar the buzzwords the President uses sound to those of Donald Rumsfeld in 2000. Leaner, lighter forces, doing more with less, leveraging technology to leave a smaller footprint. That sounded great right up until reality intruded. I find it interesting that for six years, Democrats pilloried Rumsfeld’s Revolution in Military Affairs approach, and yet now use the same mental framework to justify their slashing of the military.

As to the focus on Asia, I tend to think that’s probably a good thing. But the approach discussed is… odd. Again, the approach places emphasis on leveraging our technology to overcome our lack of mass. Considering the Chinese have for the last 20 years make the central theme of their military strategy nullifying our technical edge through technologies of their own, this strategy seems a bit… shallow.

4 thoughts on “A nip here, a snip there, then some whole cloth changes: Defense Cuts”

  1. The bradley platoon I went to NTC with in Nov/Dec 1992 had 15 people in it. The dismount squad was my squad leader, me the A team leader and the B team leader. Though I think we were the smallest platoon in the battalion. We were so short they didn’t bother up staffing us with members of our round out brigade like they did the other platoons. Was kind of funny when the OCs showed up and there were as many of them as us dismounts. The 1992-1994 years were really rough. It did get better somewhat in Germany in 1994-1998 as we were constantly in and out of the various Yugoslavia deployments. As we had a mission, we weren’t that bad off, staffed at 90-95% and could get parts and training ammo.

  2. You get the feeling like I do that Obama would have done this in January 2009 if he could have immediately pulled our forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan? Or is this an election-year move to appease the far left?

    1. I think it’s pretty typical that he blew through a few trillion dollars with nothing to show for it but 90 rounds of golf, and NOW says we just don’t have the money for defense…

  3. would argue that the only thing that saved the Army from hollowing out to the extent it was under Carter was the momentum from the Reagan years and the Balkans. Still, it was getting there by the time Slick Willie finally left the political scene. I imagine we are going to see it this time around, and I doubt it wilol make much difference who is inaugurated in a year. The economy is ogin to drive military spending, and I doubt it’s goint ot be pretty.

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