Friday, February 10, 2006

Weaponized Idiocy

Max Boot hacks and slashes the new Defense Budget.

The old assumption that the armed forces must be ready to fight two conventional adversaries at once has been eliminated. Now the U.S. must be ready for only one conventional foe (say, Iran or North Korea) "if already engaged in a large-scale, long-duration irregular campaign." The QDR acknowledges that concepts such as "swiftly defeating" the enemy may not be applicable in this type of campaign, and that it will call for very different skills from our warriors, who will have to "understand foreign cultures and societies and possess the ability to train, mentor and advise foreign security forces."

This is a welcome reversal of years — make that centuries — of conventional thinking among the upper echelons of the armed forces. But what is the Pentagon doing to realize this bold vision?

The defense budget announces a few positive steps, such as 30% increases in the number of special operations, psychological operations and civil affairs units. Unfortunately, whatever the rhetoric of the QDR, too much of the $439-billion 2007 defense budget is still devoted to conventional weapons platforms left over from the Cold War.

For example, the Pentagon is continuing to fund three ruinously expensive short-range fighters — the F/A-22 Raptor, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — even though we already have total dominance in the air. The entire budget for language and cultural training — $181 million — comes to less than the cost of one F-35.

Also being funded is the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine, with the QDR calling for an eventual increase in its procurement from one sub a year to two. These $2.4-billion subs are now being sold as great tools for gathering intelligence, firing Tomahawk missiles and inserting Special Forces units into enemy waters, but they were designed to fight Soviet subs and surface ships, and that's still what they're best suited for.

Even more ill-suited for irregular warfare are two other ships whose development will eat up untold billions: the CVN-21 and the DD(X), a next-generation aircraft carrier and destroyer, respectively.

Attack submarines, aircraft carriers and fighter aircraft may be glamorous, but they are almost entirely useless for the challenges the United States faces today in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. There, the fighting is being done by Army and Marine infantrymen — and there are not nearly enough of them.

Among the fat WTFs this should pull out, there's also a reduction in the overall numbers of military personnel planned. So the QDR has great rhetoric, but puts the money in all the wrong places. This is again the source of much of our current budget woes. For all the talk of eliminating pork and earmarks, the greatest pork of all are these non-functional and un-necessary weapons systems ill-suited for the current war. These behemoth furnaces in which to burn all of our money only receive this funding because the contractors are savvy enough to position the plants and jobs so that key legislators would never want to hurt their own constituents by de-funding them. So we strip mine programs in the civilian agencies, which may not be effective programs, but when cut generate miniscule savings compared to these monstrosities.

I have no problem with big military spending. I only ask that it be on stuff that is actually USEFUL TO NATIONAL DEFENSE, not a vanity project for Senator Foolhead or Congressman Dumbass to gush to his constituents about that never ends up working. Ditch the relics. Then, if you want to reallocate it to defense, fine, but find something better than this baroque war machinery. Why not platinum-plated tanks or M16s? That might even be a better use than some of this stuff.