Monday, February 18, 2008

Defense Budget: Feed the Pig

"Isn't it odd that after a terrorist attack that relied on $2 box-cutters, we are redoubling our pursuit of fantastical weaponry?"

Robert Scheer

On February 4, largely evading the media radar like a B-2 (Billion) stealth bomber, the Bush administration proposed to Congress a 2009 Defense budget of $515.4 billion. If approved, this amount, adjusting for inflation, will be the highest defense appropriation since World War II.

This is just the tab for "standard operations." Non-standard operations like the business in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere cost extra, as do defense related activities in departments like Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Energy, Justice and so forth. We can't calculate an exact figure for the total security tab. Doctor Robert Higgs , Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute, said in 2004 that "a well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon's (always well publicized) basic budget total and double it."

What will we get security wise for some indeterminate amount over $1 trillion? According to William Lind, defense analyst and co-author of The Case for Military Reform, "Most of what we're buying is a military museum."

Bringing Home the Bacon

The military we had on 9/11/2001 was the best-trained, best-equipped force in the world. Yet, it did not defend us against the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. Some time in 2006, U.S. defense spending exceeded that of the rest of the world combined. Today, the best-funded military in history is failing to achieve its country's goals overseas. Though we have battled toe-to-toe with al Qaeda for over six years, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell says the organization "remains the pre-eminent terrorist threat against the United States" and it is "improving the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.: the identification, training, and positioning of operatives for an attack in the homeland."

And all this time you thought we were fighting them over there so we wouldn't have to fight them over here.

Despite bankroll warfare's demonstrated failure, Pavlov's Dogs of War insist we can solve our security woes by throwing more money at them. Neoconservative luminary Frank Gaffney says we need to maintain defense spending at four percent of America's gross domestic product (GDP). Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen agree. By what specific criteria did they arrive at the four percent figure?

Gates, according to his press secretary Geoff Morrell, believes four percent "to be a reasonable price to stay free and protect our interests around the world.” Mullen says of the four percent benchmark, “It’s really important."

That the defense budget should be tied to the GDP has been a neoconservative clarion call for decades. I first heard it while attending the U.S. Naval War College in the 90s, but never once while at the War College did I hear or read of a single war's outcome that was determined by what percentage of their GDPs the belligerents spent on their militaries. If percentage of GDP expended on defense were an accurate predictor of failure or success in armed conflict, 27 other countries could presently kick our keyster in a straight up conventional war, including such military powerhouses as Armenia, Swaziland and Barundi.

The reason war hawks typically give for the need to increase military spending is that our Iraq experience shows we need a bigger Army and Marine Corps. But the Iraq experience really shows that we don't need to fight any more wars like the one we're fighting in Iraq, and wars like the one in Iraq are the only reason we would need a bigger Army and Marine Corps.

Frank Gaffney, on the other hand, believes in security through high tech, high dollar solutions.

Clutching Forks and Knives

Gaffney's name appears on 1997 Statement of Principles of the infamous Project for the New American Century that says "we need to increase defense spending significantly." His name also appears on the PNAC's September 20, 2001 letter to George W. Bush that encouraged the president to remove Saddam Hussein from power by force "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack."
These days, Gaffney is president of the Center for Security Policy which he founded in 1988 and a columnist for the slightly right of Generalissimo Francisco Franco Washington Times.

In a December 2007 Times piece, Gaffney asserted that if we don't continue to feed the Pentagon's insatiable appetite, we'll "leave the armed forces fighting today's wars with yesterday's weapons." Following this line of logic, Gaffney urged additional funding for the F-22 Raptor, which by a gentlemanly margin is the most expensive air-to-air fighter ever built and a weapon platform as vital to today's global security environment as the blunderbuss.

No, Gaffney's not concerned that the Red Sultan and his Flying Carpet Air Shieks will wrest control of the skies from us. He's worried because "countries like Russia and China are demonstrating a determination to field militaries comparable to and capable of inflicting great harm on the best of our armed forces."

Sure, Frank. By and large, what's left of Russia's mighty Cold War arsenal is either leaking radioactivity in the silo, rusting on the flight line, sinking at the pier or burning in Chechnya. The Russians already got their hats handed to them in one arms race with the U.S. They aren't inclined to take up another one.

What's more, China isn't likely to launch a campaign to challenge our military industrial air superiority complex. The vast majority of China's fighter jets are Jian-7s and -8s, aircraft patterned after the Mig-17 Fishbed which the Soviets introduced in 1956.

You may not be shocked to learn that the boards of directors and advisers of Gaffney's Center for Security Policy are typically populated with executive officers of Lockheed Martin, the primary contractor for the F-22 project. The CSP boards also include executives from defense companies involved with the Star Wars missile defense system that doesn't work, a system that Gaffney also aggressively advocates.

Don't jump to the conclusion that we have a conflict of interests going on here. Gaffney and his cronies, all loyal patriots, are merely concerned for our country's security.

And the F-22 Raptor and Star Wars will be, after all, America's first, last and only line of defense when the Borg invade.


Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008.
"…a witty, wacky, wildly outrageous novel that skewers just about anything you’d care to name, from military budgets to political machinations to America’s success as the self-appointed guardian of the world…a remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight."



  1. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Thanks, Commander, for another post that should be an eye-opener for each and every citizen. I'll send a link to the people I care about, knowing that it is a long reach to imagine it will do much to improve things any time soon. I really appreciate the effort you spend spreading a little truth about the mess the neocons and their military- industrial friends have made and are making of this planet.
    Continued best wishes.

  2. Thanks for the nice words, Jeg.

  3. I was around during the first wave of NeoCon largess to the military during the Reagan Years. At least in terms of the U.S. Army, it illustrates some means by which both the largess was often misplaced, and by how little things like fuel and ammunition for training make a huge difference.

    The major combat system fielded during my tenure was the wonderful, very heavy, and very, very thirsty M-1 Tank. You might be surprised to learn that my unit was condemned to doing (dry!) fire missions from the battalion motor pool. Why? One M-1 tank consumes more fuel than a platoon of M60A1/A3. Within the first quarter, the six tank battalions had literally sucked the division dry. Although our reported readiness levels never dropped, division readiness was a feat only Cap the Knife could love.

    Then there is the "sexy syndrome." "Point-of-the-spear" jerks just love systems like the M-1, Apache, etc. And sometimes, we really need such systems. But very often, behind the fielding of mega-million dollar platforms, are the MTOE items that get delayed, cut, etc.

    For example, my radios were all models in regular use when my father was on active duty. Now, longevity is a good thing, but the old radios were notoriously hard to tune for digital communications. The new radios were on the MTOE, but it took nearly tens years on the MTOE before the new radios were finally acquired. The moral, radios are essential to ground combat operations, but no one gets a hard-on being posed next to a brand new radio.

    Don't get me started on artillery shells . . .

  4. So what is your point? I need a job. DOD is spending big bucks. Sounds like a match made in heaven if you ask me.

    Bring back the cold war-I can live with an activist Russia if it provides me with world wide opportunities and job security


  5. LOL. Then I'd say things are working out great for you.

    You bring up a good point though. If we crank back on the MI complex spending, we need to know what to do with the labor pool.


  6. JOhn,

    One tank sucked the division dry...

    Sounds like a M/I reform clarion call to me.

  7. Oh, it gets better . . . there's not an Army or Marine Corp armor unit that has the organic capacity at battalion level to fuel its M-1s for a pursuit operation for more than a few hours. Now, this doesn't matter much if the tankers are assigned to a DIP (Die In Place) position along the Schweinfurt Gap. But I have noticed we have been in engaged in land warfare over large distances lately. The solution? Strip the diesel tankers (4000 liters each) from the artillery, engineer, and support units. :)

  8. Have you seen this little gem of a survey?

    Foreign Policy Magazine Poll Results


  9. I'm either buying a bar in Thailand-or holding out for the Wal-Mart greeter job.

    "Welcome to Wal-Mart! How much for the women? How much for the little girl?"

  10. Yeah, Skip, those Thai Wal-Marts are a lot of fun. ;-)

  11. wkmaier11:01 AM


    I can guess your answer already, but here goes: should the Republican candidate lose in November, is there ANY conceivable scenario for the new President and Congress to reduce military spending, even just a teensy bit?

    Seems to me the inertia of the defense budget will destroy anything in its path.

    (BTW, good stuff, as usual)

  12. I think it's possible, WK, but a lot more people than me will have to start debunking the myth that defense spending equals real security.


  13. IF (monumental, Montana-sized IF) some defense money could be re-purposed, they could maybe sell the idea of using it to rebuild our nation's infrastructure -- bridge collapse, anyone?

    What about some mass transit plans involving light rail, and so on...?

    Even that would take some set of cojones, and a long hard fight to make it happen.

  14. Jeff,

    Infrastructure is precisely where I'd redirect the money and jobs.

  15. Anonymous1:12 AM

    1. Your description of Russia's military could use a little more facts, seeing the recent exercises lately.

    2. Both Russia and China will be having fifth-gen aircraft flying in 2010 (T-50/PAK FA and J-13/XX) and not to mention, no bloggers or congressmen to stop them from mass-producing them.

    3. Missile Defense worked, where were you the other day?

    4. Why pick on Gaffney? It just so happens the request for more F-22s were made by air force generals like Bruce Carlson. Just another neocon though I guess?

    5. I fail to understand why a former Navy commander doesn't realize that the reason why the defense budget is so much larger than the rest of the world is because of wage differences and the global commitment of the U.S. military. Only 1/5 of the Defense budget goes towards weapons procurement.

    6. The average age of an air force fighter plane right now is twenty-seven years.

    By the way, about a 'military-industrial complex,' apparently it's so big that Rep. Duncan Hunter couldn't even find more than one factory still in the United States that makes humvees. If there was such a military-industrial complex and a web of war profiteers, maybe mothers wouldn't be sending their kids helmets and body armor. Please, wake up.

  16. Anonymous1:20 AM

    I just noticed that article about Russia is from *1999.* You cannot be serious.

    Is it U.S. Navy SOP to judge what course of action to take based on events that took place 9 years ago?

  17. Dear Anonymous,

    1. If you're talking about the Bear missile fires over the Bay of Biscay, that was a pathetic scale "exercise" to be bragging about. Two 50s era bombers fire two 70s era missiles, and that's their "biggest naval exercise in the area since the Soviet era?" Embarrassing.

    2. Assuming these fifth gen aircraft actually work (a huge assumption), and assuming they can get enough of them to work to fill an air superiority grid (another huge assumption), where, other than in their own airspace, do you imagine they'll be able to establish air superiority?

    3. Do you honestly believe shooting down one of your own satellites is the same as shooting down somebody else's ballistic missile?

    4. Gaffney and Carlson are peas in a pod. Why pick on Gaffney? Because he's a liar, and his lies are harming this country. An Air Force fighter pilot favors the F-22? Gee, where's his agenda?

    5. Nobody else pays comparable defense related wages because nobody, including Russia, has a comparable military of arms industry. You realize the magnitudes of costs we're dealing with, right? We're spending, realistically, about a trillion a year for the hard nut, not including wars. China, at number two, spends something like $80 billion, and they're upgrading from a Korean War era arsenal. Wages and benefits don't account for that wide a gap.

    6. As to the average age of today's USAF fighter jets, they can all be economically replaced with F-16s. The F-16 assembly line is still open as it's still produced for export.

    Please share these points with all your pals.

    Anything else on you mind?



    P.S. If you know anything about force structure, you know you can't rebuild a force the size of the old Soviet arsenal in nine years. You can probably never rebuild it.

  18. Anonymous11:02 AM

    1. The exercise I was referring to was the one that took place in the Atlantic Ocean less than a month ago which included multiple ships and fighter planes. But besides that, why should Bear bombers not give people pause when Russia is using this opportunity to send a message that it is going to be assertive again? Why ignore the recent threat by the Russian "diplomat" to NATO just yesterday threatening force over Kosovo? I read your P.S., but look, the fact is in Putin's eight years much has been done and much is being done to revive the Russian military.

    2. The thing about China is that they don't need to project power very far regarding their lebensraum claims. It's just across the Taiwan Strait, the Paracel Islands, the Spratlys, or the South China Sea, all areas which they have pledged to use force over and if such a conflict existed it would draw the United States into it. 27-year old F-15/14/18 hornets aren't going to be able to fight off their next-generation jets. Besides that, I think you are making assumptions that it won't work out for them for some unknown reason, and that's not convincing enough for me. Now the second problem - even if we do not go to war with Russia or China, it doesn't matter - These planes could find their way into the hands of other adversaries through foreign sale. Russia has already been offering its most high-tech TOR air defense systems.

    3. The size of the object does not matter at all...that's not how missile defense is. Missile Defense has nothing to do with the idea of hitting a balloon with a baseball, it has to do with computer systems that lock onto airborne objects which fly at an accelerated rate (in that case, a falling satellite). In any case, since 2005 an overwhelming majority of tests have been successful and not just on our part, but also for the Japanese and the Israelis. In 1991 alone the missile defense system had a 90 percent success rate in the gulf war against Iraqi Scuds (which I am sure you are aware of). If Missile Defense was such a 'neo con project' then why are so many countries embracing this technology? Clinton ended up regretting not funding this technology throughout the 1990s and finally decided to in the last year of his office. We don't need a repeat of this ignorance again.

    4. I'm not following - yes, Bruce Carlson is in the air force. He of all people is more qualified to make these judgments. It's not about having an 'agenda' - I think you are spending too much time in the political world right now if you believe that an Air Force general should not be listened to simply because he's in the Air Force. Should we not listen to Army generals about Iraq straining the forces just because they are in the Army and thus have 'an agenda'? The fact is, the Air Force is not a service branch intended to fight the kind of wars we are fighting today. When Carlson made this request, he did so knowing full well what contingencies his service is responsible for, meaning the Pacific rather than the Middle East. As a USAF general he is probably aware of the aircraft development taking place in his AOR. What surface ships we have in the Pacific don't matter if the USAF can't protect them.

    5. All I can say is you haven't been paying attention to the damage of free trade deals and globalization if you think that the United States still has an intact defense industrial base. Manufacturing is shot to hell in this country thanks to the past 16 years of political leadership. Wage differences do matter when arms cost 4-5 times less to make in Russia or China - this is actually the reason why small arms are bought from them more often from poorer countries. As you probably know, the Navy (and the AF) pays very high salaries to some of its personnel because of the expertise required. All in all, like I said before, for one to say that we spend $515 billion on arms is incorrect. Take a look at the procurement section of the budget and you will see that weapons purchases take up only 20% of the budget, the rest paying for R&D, personnel, military pay, maintenance, and a few other things you can find online.

    6. The problem with your response here is you don't seem to understand that the upgrade the f-22 is for is the F-15C - that is the current air superiority fighter flown by the USAF right now. It is old, antiquated, and if you think about it, dangerous to keep in the inventory. We saw what happened in Op Eagle Claw in 1979 the consequences of not upgrading old equipment. With a security posture like the one the US has right now in a growingly unstable world, this is taking a risk. Personally, with no draft, no war tax, and no economic mobilization to support the war efforts, I think the American people shouldn't complain about this investment. It's astonishing to me that after the Iraq war we are still arguing over whether the military should get the best equipment they can possibly have.

  19. Anonymous11:09 AM


    For someone to claim they know the actual size of the People's Liberation Army budget indicates to me that they have not done much study on the subject. It is simply implausible and impossible that the official PRC budget for its military is covering a 2+ million man military with unprecedented naval and air force modernization programs taking place attempting to achieve strategic parity with the U.S. in the naval, ASAT and AF fields. Not even when the U.S. military was undertaking this same feat was it that inexpensive..

  20. Okay, you're blowing bull feathers now. I've done all the pig wrestling I'm going to do with you.


  21. Anonymous12:25 PM


    Reading some of these posts, as a civilian, I'm trying to find the logic in the argument - that if "they" bankrupt "their" economy on military spending "we" should do the same.

    P.S. Does one bomber really cost $1.2 Billion --- with a (B)?

    When you lose one -- and a couple of fighter jets, which collide over the Gulf of Mexico, do you just wheel another one out of whatever plant, by whatever defense contractor, builds the things?

    Thank Goodness the pilots, from all three incidents, survived.

    Years ago, people asked the question: "What if the Pentagon had to hold a bake sale - to get money for all this military hardware."

    It's still a valid question.


  22. Anonymous,

    The price tag I've seen most often for the B-2 is closer to $2 billion, and that's just the fly away price.

    Anonymous II,

    Okay, I've answered your playbook talking points and let you post your "anonymous" manifesto here. Thats all the bandwidth and oxygen you get at this URL.


  23. Okay. Now I know what it's like to be dismissed by the Commander :)


  24. Don't feel too bad for him human. He does this sort of thing all the time; he'll find another house to haunt in the blink of an eye, believe me. ;-)


  25. Dude,

    front page at al-Jazeera today:
    US loses $1.2bn stealth bomber
    Witnesses reported smoke billowing from the wreckage of the stealth bomber in Guam [AP]

    A B-2 stealth bomber aircraft has crashed in a US air force base on the island of Guam in the Pacific.

    on Bill Moyers yesterday:
    "offer a hard and fresh look at how earmarks really work."

  26. Troll Alert!

    Anon should engage in some courtesy. People can have a discussion with different points of view-or at least they used to be able to do so.

    I will bring up one point about the USAF. It is ignoring its real needs to feed the F-22. That's what USAF generals miss. I applaud them for sticking up for their service but where is the USAF pogue who will go to the mat for what they really need:

    A new heavy bomber. And it does not need to be stealthy-but it does need to be able to drop 80-100 bombs in a single mission. And it needs to be able to stay on station for 8 hours.

    Tankers. All of US war plans live or die on this one asset. The USAF is pissing it away on this score.

    MORE AIRLIFT and stop charging for airlift. Resource the asset and pay the bill. Because they charge airlift costs to TWCF at EXORIBNANT RATES cost becomes a scheduling driver. That's wrong.

    Helo's-SOF and other wise.

    More CAS aircraft like the A-10. I know you realize that if he coporate Air Force had had its way the A-10 would be gone-much to everyone's chagrin.

    So bring it on. I've taken YSAF bashing to a new level. I will be happy to straighten out the USAF and its supporters any day of the week..

    But it is a great way of life.

  27. Nunya,

    Yeah, this is huge news. A Broken Arrow style B-2 crash has been coming for a long time, now it's here. We'll see what the fallout is (heh, heh).


    I make a joke now and again about how the Air Force is mainly an airline for an Army that's an identity crisis in cammies.

    We can go on and on about the F-22, but I go back to my original statement about the blunderbuss. Re: air superiority--when I was at the air university on the Truckee, we constantly trotted out the stats from WWII on that showed the vast, vast majority of our air losses have been to AAA, not bad guy fighters. And we've both worked/watched enough OCA and DCA exercises to know their main product is blue-on-blue kills.


  28. Anonymous12:44 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  29. Jeff, you can watch the Bill Moyers show online. He focused on one item that the troops called "junk," and sat in a warehouse, but helped get Patty Murray re-elected. The newspaper that actually employed investigative journalists (will wonders never cease?)has a database of earmarks.

  30. Nunya, thanks for the link.


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