Reductio Ad Absurdum, Navy Style

Chuck Spinney
10 December 2008

My good friend Pierre Sprey forwarded this amazing quote by Vice Admiral Bill Gortney. Pierre’s comments are in BLUE and Vice Adm Gortney’s comments are in italics. My comments follow and are so marked.

An utterly convincing testimonial, from an expert witness with flawless credentials, regarding the benefits of quality over quantity for the fleet:

“The U.S. commander in charge of the waters off Somalia, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, told CNN on Monday that he thought it would take a force of 61 warships to safeguard the sea lanes just in the Gulf of Aden, compared with the 14 international ships now patrolling off the Horn of Africa. If the U.S. Navy alone had to provide a force that size, it would take every destroyer and cruiser in the fleet, plus three frigates. ( Navy Times, 12/09/08 )”

Pierre continues: In other words, the USN’s pursuit of ever more “capable” ships has provided America with a fleet that is incapable of handling the Somali pirates.

Spinney’s comment: In January, it is my understanding that the Pentagon will request a budget of about $581 billion for its core budget, i.e., not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of the Navy’s share of this budget should be something on the order of $150-160 billion a year, yet Admiral Gortney is telling us that securing the Horn of Africa from a gang of rag tag Somali pirates will take every cruiser and destroyer in the Navy plus 3 or its Frigates. This means the Navy would not enough surface warships left over to configure the normal defense screen for even one carrier battle group. Since the United States is spending about as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, Gortney’s confession raises a basic question about about the Pentagon’s competence to do its job.

For those of you who are interested in understanding (1) the reasons why this ridiculous state of affairs is an inevitable product of business as usual in the Pentagon and (2) why a bailout for the Pentagon is guaranteed to worsen this state of affairs, I recommend you download or purchase America’s Defense Meltdown … this book pretty well covers the waterfront of the problems that have put all of our military forces into variations of the Navy’s reductio ad absurdum.

What makes this book unique inside the Beltway is that it is not written by pseudo-intellectuals, sequestered in thinktanks as they await Mr. Obama’s call to glory. It is written by the dirty unwashed — working level people who have fought and bled in the trenches of Versailles on the Potomac for a collective total of over 350 years. Most truncated their careers by standing up for what they believed in, or for matters of principle, or for committing that most hateful of all faux pas in in the Hall of Mirrors — TRUTH. I am proud to say they all of respected friends of mine.

Attached herewith for your reading pleasure is an executive summary of their skeleton in the national closet, which can be downloaded or purchased from the links indicated below:


“America’s Defense Meltdown” is a new anthology that gives President Obama and Congress a guide back onto the path of an effective defense at a cost a nation in recession can afford. Written by retired military officers, Pentagon insiders, and other experts with real world experience, this unique book addresses the following [download an electronic copy here or you can purchase it in book form here]:

  • America’s historic military heritage and how it can guide us in the modern age;
  • What is an effective national security strategy, and how do we construct one?
  • How to rear military leadership that excels in combat, not just bureaucratic politics;
  • How should we restructure our ground combat forces to prevail in all forms of combat they are likely to face in coming decades;
  • Do we want a navy to address twenty-first century problems, or do we merely want to chase the ghosts of the last century?
  • Our Air Force has only rarely excelled in bringing the nation victory. What are the real lessons of combat, and how can we apply them now? The same issues and questions apply to airlift.
  • Is there a new paradigm to help the reserves in this century?
  • The Pentagon’s acquisition system is a “train wreck.” How did that happen, and what can be done to address the profound problems?
  • Growth in the DoD budget makes us weaker, our forces older, and our combat units less ready to fight. What are the initial steps in a long term process to reverse these trends?

Each chapter in “America’s Defense Meltdown” takes on these issues and provides real world recommendations. For those who want more details, a more detail summary of each chapter (the book’s executive summary) follows:

Executive Summary:

Chapter Summaries and Recommendations

Chapter 1
Introduction and Historic Overview: The Overburden of America’s Outdated Defenses
Lt. Col. John Sayen (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.)

Our military forces have become high-cost dinosaurs that are insufficiently lethal against most of the enemies we are likely to face. Our forces have also broken free of their constitutional controls to the point where they have essentially become a presidential military. Congress exerts meaningful control neither in peacetime nor in wartime – and has lost all control over going to war. The large peacetime standing army established just before World War II (and maintained ever since) has become a vehicle for misuse by presidents, and multiple other parties both internal and external to the Pentagon.

The large standing forces were supposed to facilitate professional preparation for war, but the essential officer corps never truly professionalized itself. Thus, we were almost invariably unprepared, in mind set and in doctrine, for the conflicts we faced. In both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam, America hurriedly threw together unprofessionally led armies to fight – too often ineffectively. The result, especially today, has been notably mediocre senior military leadership – with only the rarest exceptions. At the same time, our armed forces have become ruinously expensive, as they simultaneously shrink, age, and become remarkably less capable. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, the Army and Marine Corps have been stretched to the limits of their strength to fight enemies not even a tenth as numerous as those they faced in Vietnam. We have become a pampered, sluggish, weak-muscled elephant that can not even deal effectively with mice.

Chapter 2
Shattering Illusions: A National Security Strategy for 2009 – 2017
Col. Chet Richards (U.S. Air Force, ret.)

Decisions by the last two Democratic and Republican administrations have left the country deeply in debt, depleted our military strength, lowered our national standard of living, and strengthened those around the world whose goals conflict with ours. Much of this can be traced to the initially politically-popular use of military force to attempt to solve problems that are inherently social, economic or political and therefore do not admit of military solutions. Chief among the examples are Iraq and Afghanistan, where the initial successes against third-rate military opponents have dragged on into separate occupations of a bewildering array of religious, political, and ethnic groups, few of which wish to be dominated by Americans. The solution requires the next administration to explicitly restrict the use of our military forces to those problems that only military forces can solve and that the nation can rally to, and to eschew the use of our forces to serve hubris, propaganda, or dogma.

The advent of nuclear weapons has limited the utility of military force against other major powers: there will be no replays of World War II. For smaller conflicts, history has shown that military occupations of developing countries or alien cultures will be expensive and very unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, the continuing epidemics of crime and political instability in areas where force was initially successful, as in the former Yugoslavia and the Middle East, show that the West still has no solution to the problem of rebuilding destroyed states.


The new president needs to

· formally assess the policy objectives for which military force still has utility in today’s world, and

· propose a program of revamping our force sizes and missions, shaped by the essential requirement to act in concert with America’s national ethic and our allies on each of those missions.

In parallel with this presidential revamping, Congress and the president need to

· fundamentally change the preparation and presentation of intelligence so that misuse of force based on false pretext becomes far more difficult, and

· dramatically strengthen regulation of private contractors in the public sector, particularly in the military and intelligence services.

Chapter 3
Leading the Human Dimension Out of a Legacy of Failure
Col. G.I. Wilson (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.) and Maj. Donald Vandergriff (U.S. Army, ret.)

Institutional failures pervade the current management of military men and women, by far our most important defense resource. The end of the Cold War necessitated fundamental change, yet we remain hobbled by an archaic and dysfunctional personnel system in each of the active military services and their all-important reserves. That archaic system fails to recognize and benefit from the new realities of leading human resources in the 21st century. Without fundamental changes in how we nurture and lead our people, there can be no real military reform.

The military’s legacy system is built on flawed constructs: a centralized “beer-can” personnel system, lack of imagination in nurturing leaders, and faulty assumptions about human beings and warfare itself. This concoction is worsened by ingrained behaviors: adversity to risk, preference for the status quo and “group think,” preoccupation with bureaucratic “turf battles,” and valuing contracts above winning wars.


· The fundamental reform requirement is to learn to lead people first and manage things second. Instead, today we administer people as a subset of managing things.

· The primary route to valuing people is to learn to nurture highly innovative, unshakably ethical thinkers. Sadly, in today’s armed forces such people, those who lead by virtue of their courage, creativity, boldness, vision, honesty and sometimes irreverence, are known as mavericks. The military services must learn it is admirable to disagree with, change, and improve the institution the individual serves and remains loyal to. Such change-seeking individuals are the ones who best adapt and prevail in humankind’s most stressful circumstance: war. They are the war-winning leaders.

Specific recommendations for bringing such people and such values to the fore are articulated in the chapter.

Chapter 4
Maneuver Forces: The Army and Marine Corps after Iraq
Col. Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, ret.) and Col. G.I. Wilson (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.)

Today’s Army and Marine warfighting structures have reached block obsolescence. The strategic conditions that created them no longer exist. The problematic structures are characterized by antiquated, inappropriate World War II-style organizations for combat, inventories of aging and broken equipment thanks to unaffordable and mismanaged modernization programs, heavy operational dependence on large, fixed foreign bases, disjointed unit rotational and readiness policies, and a very troubling exodus of young talent out of the ground combat formations.

Compensating for these deficiencies by binding ground forces more tightly within “networked” systems, such as the Army’s misguided Future Combat Systems, does not work and is prohibitively expensive.

Reform lies in changes that promise both huge dollar savings and powerful synergies with proven – not hypothetical – technologies and concepts fielded by the air and naval services. This means a laser-like focus on people, ideas, and things in that order.


· Because defined, continuous fronts on the hypothetical World War II model do not exist today and because ubiquitous strike capabilities and proliferating weapons of mass destruction make the concentration of ground forces very dangerous, mobile dispersed warfare is the dominant form of combat we must be prepared to conduct.

· Needed organizational change means new, integrated, more fundamentally “joint” command and control structures for the nation’s ground maneuver forces. This approach expands the nation’s range of strategic options in modern warfare operations against a spectrum of opponents with both conventional and unconventional capabilities.

· Because Marines are now much more likely to conduct Army-like operations far from the sea than they are to re-enact Inchon-style amphibious landings, it is time to harmonize Army and Marine deployments within a predictable joint rotational readiness schedule.

· The authors focus on ways to reorient thinking, organization, and modernization in the ground maneuver force to:

o reshape today’s force for new strategic conditions (mobile dispersed warfare);

o exploit new technology, new operational concepts, new organizations, and new approaches to readiness, training and leadership; and

o extract huge dollar savings through fundamental reorganization and reform.

The authors do not pretend that the changes outlined in the chapter will gain easy acceptance. New strategies, tactics and technologies promising more victories and fewer casualties are typically viewed as threatening by general officers and senior civilians who are comfortable with the status quo.

Chapter 5
A Traveler’s Perspective on Third and Fourth Generation War
William S. Lind

While the United States Marine Corps espouses a doctrine of Third Generation (maneuver) War, it is organized and mentally prepared only for Second Generation (attrition) Warfare. The chapter proposes an alternative structure that reflects Third Generation doctrine.


· Most Marines should again become “trigger pullers.”

· The size of the officer corps above company grades should be drastically reduced.

· A “regimental” system – based on the battalion – would provide mentally and morally cohesive units through unprecedented personnel stability.

· Reserve units should become as capable as active-duty battalions.

· Marines need to convert from line infantry to highly mentally and physically agile, true light (“Jaeger”) infantry.

· Marine aviation should be restructured and re-equipped to reflect the “Jaeger Air” close air support concept with far less costly and inestimably more effective task-designed, single purpose aircraft.

The chapter concludes with a brief look at Fourth Generation War concepts, for which the proposed Marine Corps force structure would also be suitable.

Chapter 6
The Navy
William S. Lind

America’s geography dictates that it must remain a maritime power, but today’s U.S. Navy remains structured to fight the aircraft carrier navy of Imperial Japan. Reform can only proceed from a fundamental understanding that people are most important, ideas come second, and hardware, including ships, is only third.


· The main personnel deficiency of the Navy is an officer corps dominated by technicians. That reinforces the Navy’s Second Generation institutional culture. Reform requires adopting a Third Generation culture and putting the engineers back in the engine room.

· Fourth Generation War demands the Navy shift its focus from Mahanian battles for sea control to controlling coastal and inland waters in places where the state is disintegrating.

· Submarines are today’s capital ships, and the U.S. Navy must remain a dominant submarine force while exploring alternative submarine designs.

· Aircraft carriers remain useful “big boxes.” However, they should be decoupled from standardized air wings and thought of as general purpose carriers, transporting whatever is useful in a specific crisis or conflict.

· The Navy should acquire an aircraft similar to the Air Force’s A-10 so it can begin to effectively support troops on the ground.

· Cruisers, destroyers and frigates are obsolescent as warship types and should be retired; their functions assumed by small carriers or converted merchant ships.

· The Navy should build a new flotilla of small warships suited to green and brown waters and deployable as self-sustaining “packages” in Fourth Generation conflicts. (The Navy’s current “Littoral Combat Ship” is an apparently failed attempt at this design.)

Chapter 7
Reversing the Decay of American Air Power
Col. Robert Dilger (U.S. Air Force, ret.) and Pierre M. Sprey

The Air Force’s resource allocations and tactical/strategic decisions from the 1930s until today have been dominated by airpower theoretician Giulio Douhet’s 1921 assertion that strategic bombardment of an enemy’s heartland can win wars independently of ground forces.

The authors’ analysis of combat results and spending since 1936 shows the unchanging dominance of that strategic bombardment paradigm has caused the Air Force to:

a) leave close air support capabilities, which have proven far more effective than strategic bombing in determining the outcome of conflicts, essentially unfunded over the last 70 years;

b) habitually underfund effective air-to-air capabilities; and

c) engender serious U.S. military setbacks and unnecessary loss of American lives in each modern conflict America has fought.

The actual combat results of strategic bombardment campaigns in each conflict since 1936 show a consistent pattern of failure to accomplish the assigned military objectives – and often, no noticeable military results at all. Supporting these bombardment campaigns always entailed very high budget costs, far higher than the costs of close support or air-to-air. There were also consistently high losses of aircrew lives in pursuing strategic bombardment – far higher than the losses in close support or air-to-air. In every theater with sustained air opposition, neither strategic bombardment nor close support proved possible without large forces of air-to-air fighters.

Wherever we mounted significant close support efforts (invariably opposed by bombardment-minded senior Air Force leaders) in mobile battle situations-no matter whether we were retreating or advancing-the military gains proved to be remarkable, out of all proportion to the resources expended.

The implications of the last 70 years of combat results for future Air Force aircraft procurement are not hard to grasp.


· First and foremost, we must abandon a business-as-usual procurement process hopelessly centered on aircraft specifically designed for-or compromised for – strategic bombardment.

· For the first time in U.S. history, we need to provide in peacetime for real, single-purpose close air support forces of substantial size. The only aircraft to succeed in real world close support have been ones that are highly maneuverable at slow speeds and highly resistant to anti-aircraft artillery impacts. High speed jets have consistently failed in close support.

· We must provide adequate air-to-air fighter forces to make close support (and perhaps some small amount of deeper “interdiction” bombing) viable in the face of air-to-air opposition.

To actually implement such forces,

· we must abandon wish-list planning that comes up with outrageously expensive, unimplementable procurement plans.

· Instead, we must fit our aircraft development and procurement plans within fixed, real world budgets – and make sure we develop and buy aircraft so austerely designed for single missions (and therefore much more effective than multi-mission “gold-platers”) that we can procure large, adequate forces.

· The authors present a radically new procurement plan, based on new close support, air-to-air, “Forward Air Control,” and “dirt-strip” airlift aircraft designs of greatly superior effectiveness and vastly lower unit cost. These will make possible buying over 9,000 new, highly effective airframes over the next 20 years – all within current U.S. Air Force budget levels.

Air forces based on these concepts will have unprecedented effectiveness in either conventional or counterinsurgency warfare.

Chapter 8
Air Mobility Alternatives for a New Administration
James P. Stevenson

The Pentagon’s current plans for air mobility should not continue; they are not plausible. The United States has the best air mobility capability in the world. Nevertheless, it comes at excessive cost. Even with record-level defense spending, current plans for air mobility are impossible to achieve without huge budget increases – increases which are unnecessary and even counter-productive.


· To reduce the cost of the tanker fleet, the U.S. Air Force should start work on a smaller, cheaper, more tactically effective tanker (KC-Y) as quickly as possible. The Air Force should also stop the currently contemplated buy of large, too expensive KC-X tankers at about 100 aircraft. There exist other innovative ideas to provide more capability at lower cost.

· For strategic air- and sea-lift, the Pentagon should reduce the number of strategic airlifters to approximately 260, which implies retiring C-5As and stopping the buy of C-17s at about 205 aircraft. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) should be increased by at least ten percent. The capacity for fast strategic sealift should be doubled since it dominates the actual fast deployment capabilities of U.S. forces.

· Tactical airlift capability should be about 400 aircraft. The mix of aircraft should include faster retirement of older C-130s, stopping the egregiously high cost C-130J buy at about 100 aircraft, buying more of the smaller, cheaper, more useful-to-the-Army C-27Js, and pursuing a new commercial-derivative airlifter that is more cost-effective than anything in current Air Force plans. The Army’s Joint Heavy Lift program should be cancelled.

· For Special Operations air capabilities, the CV-22 should be stopped immediately, replacing them with one or more new, cost-effective helicopters. New variants of the C-130Js and C-27J should replace MC-130s and AC-130s. A new irregular warfare wing of small, manned aircraft should be started instead of less effective unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The chapter advocates a strategic focus on aerial refueling and special operations air warfare, with less emphasis on strategic and tactical airlift. In all cases, innovative solutions that run counter to conventional wisdom allow us to lower costs without loss of overall capability.

Chapter 9
The Army National Guard, the Army Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve
Bruce I. Gudmundsson

The chapter lays out the broad outlines of a new approach to the recruitment, organization, and training of reserve forces. Essentially, it would mean a reserve component much more closely tied in outlook and mission to the citizenry it defends.


· A somewhat smaller National Guard should focus on homeland security missions.

· Most units of the Army Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve should be organized as “lifecycle units,” organizations in which members remain together for the entire course of their initial terms of service. As such, these units should receive much more training than they currently receive.

· Training schedules and benefits packages should be custom tailored to the civilian occupations of their individual members. For example, units composed of college students – of which there would be many based on the recreated incentives packages – will have longer periods of initial training as well two-month periods of training each summer. Similarly, units composed of people with seasonal occupations would train in their “off-season.”

Chapter 10
Long in Coming, the Acquisition Train Wreck Is Here
Thomas Christie

After more than four decades of supposedly well-structured defense planning and programming, as well numerous studies aimed at reforming its multi-billion dollar acquisition system, the Pentagon’s decision process governing our defense establishment is clearly broken. We need far-reaching, even radical, remedial initiatives. The evidence supporting the need for drastic action abounds.

Despite the largest defense budgets in real terms in more than sixty years, we have a smaller military force structure than at any time during that period, one that is equipped to a great extent with worn-out, aging equipment.

Granted, the employment of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed to the wear and tear on our combat and support equipment, particularly for our ground forces. The bill for repairing and replacing that equipment (reported to be in the hundreds of billions) is mostly yet to be faced. And, more to the point, this only exacerbates the already severe modernization problems faced by all three services. Those problems have been on the horizon for decades and would have plagued our forces even if the war on terror had not evolved as ruinously as it has since 2001.

A fundamental source of DOD’s problems is the historically long pattern of unrealistically high defense budget projections combined with equally unrealistic low estimates of the costs of new programs. The net effect is for DOD’s leaders to claim that they can afford the weapons they want to buy. Thus, there is no urgency to face up to the needed hard choices on new weapon systems. In addition, there are other looming demands on the budget, such as health care for both active and retired personnel and planned increases in ground forces manpower. Any confidence that DOD’s in-house goals can be achieved in the future (even with increased spending) is sorely mistaken.
Recommendations: See below for Chapter 11.

Chapter 11
Understand, Then Contain America’s Out-of-Control Defense Budget
Winslow T. Wheeler

As Thomas Christie and Franklin C. “Chuck” Spinney have argued, major U.S. defense components are now smaller, older, and less operationally ready than at any time in recent history. This collapse has occurred in the face of the highest levels of defense spending since the end of World War II. This is not compensated by the (false) illusion that our smaller military forces are more effective due to their “high tech,” sophisticated nature. In fact, what many proclaim to be “high tech” is merely high complexity – at extraordinarily high budgetary and operational cost. The armed forces, Congress, and many others seek to solve the problems with still more money, which will only accelerate the shrinking, the aging, and the diminishing of combat effectiveness. In fact, if existing ways of thinking and current processes are employed, more money will guarantee failure. Decades of data make this counterintuitive conclusion unavoidable.


· There can be no recovery without being able to track how DOD spends its money, which is not now done. The first order of priority is to force DOD to comply with federal laws and regulations that require financial accountability – without permitting the exercise of the many loopholes Congress and DOD managers have created and exploited.

· Analytical integrity based on real world combat history must be applied to the rigorous evaluation of DOD programs and policies, now riddled with bias and advocacy. In the absence of objective, independent assessment of weapons program cost, performance, and schedule (especially at the beginning of any program), DOD decision-makers have no ability to manage programs with any competence whatsoever.

· A new panel of independent, objective professionals (with no contemporaneous or future ties whatsoever with industry or other sources of bias and self-interest) should be convened by the president to assess

o the extent to which DOD programs and policies do or do not fit with current world conditions,

o the president’s national security strategy, and – very importantly –

o a realistic assessment of the reduced budget that will be available for the Department of Defense.

· This panel should provide the secretary of defense his primary advice on how to proceed with DOD program acquisition and management until such time as the military services and the regular civilian bureaucracy have demonstrated sufficient competence and objectivity to re-assert primary control.

· The president should expect strong protest from the advocates of business-as-usual in the military services, the civilian Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, industry, and “think tanks.” Many such individuals cannot now conceive of a U.S. national security apparatus run outside the boundaries of what they have grown accustomed to and what they have advocated. Most will refuse to adapt. Those who can adapt, especially in the military services, should be brought back into the decision-making structure. Those who cannot should anticipate a career outside the Department of Defense.

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