Posted by: cousindampier | 24 April 2011

Thoughts on Buying Military

Just as a beginning note, much more intelligent people write about this kind of topic – acquisition and strategy – than I.

Acquisition agents look to the future.  Ten or fifteen or twenty years, in terms of what will be needed, how long a platform will last – because most discussions about acquisition are about platforms, not the weapons themselves – and what any threat will seem like.  There is a natural reaction to look to the past to understand what was expected of the now, and then use that to modify visions of the future.

Complicate this with the near obsession to harken to the past.  Al Qaeda is painted like the Soviets.  China is painted like the Soviets, or like rising Nazi Germany, depending on the news channel one watches.  But the world is full of threats, just like the Cold War, and America can’t be unprepared, like the 1930’s.

But China is China, not the Soviet Union.  China’s path to power was much different, and will continue to be so.

The point here is everything flows in cycles.  This is one of the key ways to look back to guess the future.  Specific events do not copy historic incidents.  We will never see another Michael Jordan, but we will see an era where a star basketball player rises above his peers and dominates.

Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote his work Influence of Sea Power Upon History at a time in which it was already beginning to shift against his thesis.  That is not to say his thesis was incorrect, just that Britain’s total control of the seas left little opening to contest at sea.  Any new primacy would be established on land.  The railway, telegraph, and re-establishment of the dominance of the defensive mode of war assisted the cyclic nature of the movement towards the dominance of the land power.

Globalization is the great unknown in this regard.  It has the power to end absolute war between nation-states.  Absolute and limited warfare have always worked in cycles.  From roughly 1763-1814, the countries of Europe found themselves embroiled in almost constant war, culminating in the Napoleonic Wars, sucking in every nation-state of Europe and spreading around the world.

The period following was one of limited war.  Largely due to the Napoleonic Wars, the century from 1814 to 1914 saw a number of wars, but none of them led to a general, system-altering conflict.  They were all limited in scope.  The bloodiest of these was the American Civil War, which largely gave a preview of the coming century – the power of the defensive and the devastation absolute war would cause.   But it was confined to America, without any European involvement.

The era now is, seemingly, a shifting one.  11 Carrier Strike groups is a lot for a world where none other exist.  But they are also remarkably useful – providing the ability to nearly strike anywhere on relatively short notice.  They can also be command and control platforms of amazing magnitude, as was seen shortly after the Japanese earthquake.  But are they useful to what America needs to accomplish?  Yes.  Perhaps not 11, though with the long periods each carrier needs to refit and refuel, cutting that number may well cede large areas of the world where America could be unable to respond in short periods of time.

But what parts of the world does it need to have the ability to respond quickly? Where do the Air Force and Navy overlap, for example?

The cycle seems to be shifting away from quality and towards quantity – which is, very generally, away from Mahan and towards Sir Herald Mackinder, who argued at the turn of the 19th Century, that land power would be dominant.  America, currently, doesn’t necessarily need ‘next-generation’ better.  America needs more. But two questions remain: will America need more or better in the future? More importantly, how can America shift and mold the environment to fit the path she chooses now?

Not only does Congress need to scale back procurement, Congress needs to get back into the business of determining America’s future.  Which sounds absurd, but America is currently leaving an era of no-name Congresspeople.  Few will be remembered from the 90’s. Tip O’Neill, Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and perhaps an Orrin Hatch, Russ Finegold, or John Kerry will be the persons remembered for their somewhat apolitical contributions. But few others have stood out, as party has taken so much precedence over office that partisanship is to be expected and originality shocking.

Paul Ryan’s budget is a rather good start.  It lacks in many places, but it is a comprehensive proposal which causes debate.  More the point, it is perhaps a sign of a Congress which may yet find the ability to think independently and produce viable ideas.

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