Friday, January 10, 2014

Military Industrial Complex

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex."--President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

The military-industrial complex is the relationship between industry (now more commonly called defense contractors), the military (either the DoD or one of the separate military branches) and of course legislators (who often vote for things that will be built by their constituents rather than demonstrated need).  The role of legislators is often the least remembered and is why people don't understand the impact of the Goldwater-Nichols Act 1986 to increasing the military industrial complex.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act was intended to increase the ability of the DoD to conduct joint (inter-service) and combined (inter-allied) operations AND improved the DoD budget process.  The impetus was to improve the poor relationships that exist between Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.  The thought being to increase efficiencies, legislate cooperation amongst the services.  To insure compliance, mandate a corresponding change in the budgeting process.

It does make sense that the various branches of the military should be able to operate on the battlefield to achieve a common goal (without committing fratricide).  It also makes sense to save money by combining procurement efforts.  However, you can't always legislate everything.

Let's look at a simple example.  Based on the wording of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, you would think one thing the military would go to is a common battlefield uniform.  This almost worked with the Battlefield Dress Uniform (BDU).  Each service used the same manufacturer and placed their own own accoutrements (such as name tapes, service identifier, rank, occupational badges, etc).  The BDU was not perfect.  The pattern was designed to blend in against the forests of Europe.  Not really the best thing for the desert which is what happened in Desert Storm.  Then came the first generation of Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU) creating a separate uniform.  By the time the wars started in Afghanistan and Iraq, each branch started looking for new utility uniforms.  The Army went to a moss green digitized pattern that really didn't work in the desert.  The Air Force and Navy still switched to DCUs when in theater.  The Army tried to split the baby with their digitized ACUs.  The Marines created their own digitized ACUs.

One common need, five different solutions.  So much for jointness.  But let's look at an example of applying Goldwater-Nichols they way they meant.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation multirole fighters under development to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions with stealth capability. The F-35 has three main models; the F-35A is a conventional takeoff and landing variant, the F-35B is a short take-off and vertical-landing variant, and the F-35C is a carrier-based variant.--Wikipedia (sorry, it was the most concise definition of the program that I could find).

Despite this being in one sense a "single-procurement" and accomplishes many of the "jointness" intended by Goldwater-Nichols Act, it is achieved at dizzying costs.  According to Defense Update, the last cost for the F-35A is $85 million per copy.  The article continues, "“The 2014 procurement cost for 19 F-35As will be $2.989 billion. However, we need to add to that the “long lead” money for the 2014 buy that was appropriated in 2013; that was $293 million, making a total of $3.282 billion for 19 aircraft in 2014. The math for unit cost comes to $172.7 million for each aircraft."

The F-35 is supposed to insure that the various services maintain air-superiority for years to come.  However, the sheer costs per copy makes one wonder if how will military planners are going to be to risk these aircraft being shot down?  Going back to Desert Storm, why even engage in dogfighting when stand-off platforms can bomb the enemy's aircraft while still on the ground negating the need to risk your $172 million dollar fighter?

This is what is missing in Robert Farely's article in Foreign Affairs, "Ground the Air Force".  He attempts to argue the case for disbanding the USAF and putting its people and equipment back into the Army and Navy.  The biggest reason why this won't happen is because of the military-industrial complex.  As I've just outlined, it would mean less money towards big ticket aircraft projects.

For example, I doubt had the USAF remained part of the Army would air refueling have ever been developed.  The focus on manned-bombers would mean less funding for other weapon systems that ground officers would find more beneficial (such as light-armored wheeled vehicles).  It is not in the interest of the military-industrial complex to allow the USAF (or any other military branch) to go away.

Gaining efficiencies in a bureaucracy is counter-intuitive.  It takes so long to gain approval for the smallest change in the project that the contractor(s) inevitably gets to charge for delays and cost-overruns.  Legislators are not interested in reducing bureaucracy which insures their ability to garner votes and support by adding their pet project to ridiculously long pieces of legislation.

Let's not forget, the military-industrial complex is not just an American institution.  All of the hang-wrangling that went on about switch from the Colt 1911 to the Beretta M-9 really does not consider how many components of our other weapon systems are manufactured abroad.  For every dissenter about using an Airbus airframe for the next air refueler neglects to see how many components on our current aircraft are made from parts from overseas vendors.

It is this line that gives raise to conspiracy theorists and war-haters alike that war is really only about making money.  China is a great example of a huge economic power that could benefit economically from engaging in a war with Japan (nothing sells your product like being able to add "combat proven" to the product description).

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