Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arms for the Poor

by Jeff Huber

Those poor kids at the Pentagon. They receive more funding than the rest of the world's military establishments combined, but it's just not enough. Pentagon officials have prepared a new defense spending estimate—one they plan to spring on us just before young Mr. Bush slinks out of office—that projects a requirement for $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced.

Whoa, you might be thinking. We already spend well over a half trillion a year on defense, and what do we get in return? The Pentagon did such a lousy job defending the homeland on 9/11 that we had to buy a whole separate agency to take that job over, and only neocons and other lunatics would say our military is protecting our national interests overseas.

You ignorant bedwetting liberal. Don't you see? The half trillion plus a year only buys you history's best equipped, best trained military and a few wars for them to fight in. If you want your armed forces to do what you pay them to do, that will cost extra.

Battle Budget Galactica

It's hard to tell exactly how much everybody spends on defense. America's fiscal year 2008 defense budget request was $623 billion. The Chinese, the nearest thing we have to a peer military competitor, say they spend about $25 billion a year on defense, roughly four percent of what we spend. The American warmongery, ever eager to create scary phantasms, claims that China spends a lot more on defense than it admits to. Critics of the Pentagon say they Chinese can't possibly lie more about their defense spending than we do. Our official defense budget doesn't include things like defense related spending by other departments, the Homeland Security budget, some veterans' care expenses, the ubiquitous "supplemental allotments" that never make it into the regular budget but always get through Congress, the ultra secret "black" budget, and other hush-and-slush funding.

Some say the Chinese spend up to three times on defense what they claim to spend. If so, they're still spending a half-trillion a year less than our official budget. Many claim that we spend twice as much on defense as the official budget total. If that's true, we're spending over a trillion dollars a year more than three times what the Chinese say they spend. Either way we're spending a bunch load more money on defense than the Chinese are. Half a trillion dollars a year will buy you very many $400 toilet seats. A trillion will buy you twice that amount.

Much of what China spends on defense goes to update its arsenal. Admiral Tim Keating, head of U.S. Pacific Command, says the Chinese admit to being "25 years behind us." I say that's another thing the Chinese are fudging facts about. The majority of their combat jets are J-7s and J-8s, fighters copied from the Soviet Mig-21 that first flew more than a half century ago.

However much the Chinese are lying about their defense spending, Russia spends somewhat less than they do, and however much we're lying, Iran's defense spending is less than one percent of ours and only about 70 percent of Mexico's, and those evildoing terrorists could hide their defense budget under a tic egg.

So at this point in the New American Century, whatever two-war strategy we're arming ourselves to fight must involve simultaneous conflicts with the Klingons and the Borg.

Force Plan 9 From Outer Space

As best we can tell, the 2009 defense budget only carries $520 million for space weapons research, which sounds like a trifling amount until you consider that we've signed on to a treaty that prohibit putting weapons in space. Don't feel too bad for space though; the Pentagon isn't neglecting it. In fact, the U.S. military is so heavily invested in space that it cannot navigate, communicate or hit a target without it. Without space, esoteric air breathing systems like the ultra stealthy, $2 billion a pop B-2 strategic bomber would be, well, worthless.

Maybe that's why the Air Force is looking to replace it by the year 2018. Originally called (cleverly enough) the "2018 Bomber," the Air Force now refers to the B-2's replacement as the NGB (New Generation Bomber). It's anybody's guess what they'll be calling it when 2018 rolls around. The NGB will be "super stealthy," which I reckon means it will have a smaller radar signature than a flying carpet. But the NGB does not represent the end of strategic bomber evolution. It's merely an interim weapon designed to fill the gap until the 2035 Bomber comes along. Nobody knows for sure what the 2035 Bomber will look like, or what they'll call it in 2035. Some say it will be a "system of systems." It sounds like it will cost enough to qualify as a self-contained economic system.

The B-2's tactical stealth buddy, the F-22 Raptor air-to-air fighter, isn't faring so well. As best anybody can tell, the Raptor costs $339 million per copy, as opposed to the less than $85 million unit cost of the other stealth fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. The F-22's predecessor, the F-15 Eagle, cost under $30 million per unit. The F-16 Falcon, still in production, costs less than $20 million a copy and carries the same state-of-the-art air-to-air missiles as the F-22 and the F-35 and the F-15.

Congress has limited the F-22 buy to 183 airframes; the Air Force says that isn't sufficient to cover all of its missions, which now include, believe it or not, homeland security. The U.S. Air Force is the only armed service in the world arrogant enough to argue that it needs a fleet of $339 million fighters to shoot down commercial airliners armed with box cutters. But seeing as how the only congress the Air Force has to bamboozle with that argument is the U.S. Congress, they may get away with it.

The Navy tried to kill its DDG-1000 project after only two copies were made, but Congress apparently wouldn't let them, and included money to build a third hull in the 2009 budget. The Navy's estimated unit cost for the DDG-1000 is $3.3 billion, but the Government Accounting Office expects the cost to be higher. So a DDG-1000 costs somewhere in the neighborhood of two B-2 bombers, but not nearly so much as the new class of nuclear aircraft carriers will cost.

The new class of aircraft carrier is estimated to cost about $8 billion per copy. It will feature the latest in automation technology that the Navy says will reduce the cost of the future carriers. That's an interesting statement for the Navy to make, considering that the older class of Nimitz class aircraft carriers are said to have only cost $4.5 billion apiece.

In that light, it is perhaps fitting that the new class of American flagships will bear the name of Gerald R. Ford, the only U.S. president who was not elected to either the office of president or vice president.

It's also fitting that the most pressing maritime mission these multi-billion dollar juggernauts will perform any time soon involves war at sea with Somali pirates, whose vessels are comparable, capability and cost-wise, to Jack Kennedy's PT-109.

Reports from respected military analysts like the Rand Corporation say that the best approach to the war on terror is "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all," yet it seems all but inevitable that Congress will increase the size of our land forces. Part of the justification for the expansion is that the Army and Marine Corps are "stretched to the breaking point" after seven years of overseas deployments in support of the war on terror. Yet, incredibly, a combat unit from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division has just been assigned to U.S. Northern Command to quell "civil unrest" and conduct "crowd control" inside the United States.

In other words, an active duty Army combat unit has been pulled from action in ongoing foreign wars to suppress insurrection by American citizens at home.

And all this time I though violating Americans' right to protest was Homeland Security's job.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. Anonymous1:12 PM

    I think the massive military budget request is the result of the on-going contest between the Pentagon and the Treasury Department - as to who can piss the most taxpayer dollars down a rat hole. For a short while it looked like Treasury was winning.

  2. Those Pentagon boys are fierce competitors.


  3. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Whoa! Commander! Did you just say a combat unit from the 3rd ID has been assigned to Northern Command to quell "civil unrest" and conduct "crowd control?" Not that I am an expert of a lawyer, but doesn't the Constitution gurantee US citizens the right to bear arms if they should wish to overthrow an onerous and despotic gov't? Am I living in the US? Or am I hallucinating?

  4. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Wow, what a great blog. I just wandered over here from a blogroll on Daily Kos. I added you to my own roll there. I have been writing a lot about a congressional candidate with whom you have Navy service and some political opinions in common, and, almost, a name: Rob Hubler is running against the notoriously creepy Steve King in Iowa 5.

    I am wondering about the answer to your question about Fred Kagan and the Hong Kong phone book.

    Best regards, 2laneIA

  5. Anon 1. That's right, you heard right. Combat outfit with NORTHCOM, riot control.

    Anon 2.

    Thanks. Answer: Both have many chins.


  6. Anonymous1:00 PM

    Okay, for the record, I do not agree with a lot of US Military fiscal policy. I mean... it does seem obtuse that the US Air Force wants to purchase F-22s that can evade the radar terrorists do not have but has been eager to kill the A-10 Thunderbolt II from day one (and will eventually replace it with the F-35 OF ALL THINGS).

    However, to be the devil's advocate, isn't there SOME justification for trying to maintain a large, technologically advanced force-- deterrent? The reason why America's opponents opt to go for assymetric strategies is precisely because they are convinced of the futility of tackling America one on one? I suppose I'm arguing for the point that assymetric strategies against America might be costly and can cause tragic results, like 9/11, but are far less costly than conventional wars-- that is, assuming the opponent America fights in the conventional war can match it somehow (like Germany in World War II, or even how North Korea and China did in the Korean War).

    I know, I know, lame justification. Then how about this then: at least all these toys give work to Tom Clancy, Tamiya, Jane's, Dale Brown and, you know, those people who publish gatefold books with F-15s.

  7. Anonymous1:02 PM

    That's funny.

    2laneIA, not anonymous. I have given up on getting the Google/blogger mechanism to every remember me. I have to create a new identity every time I write a comment and have given up bothering with it.

  8. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Re Northcom: Pat Lang posted about this and there was quite the lively discussion in the comments. I wold be interested in your take on what he had to say. The announcement of this new command and the construction of lots of detention facilities by Halliburton has made me nervous. January 20 cannot come soon enough.


  9. Anonymous2:42 PM

    dear jeff, as a b52 radar nav for 18 years, consider the following: 2000 B-47's, 740 B-52's, 103 B-1's & 21 B2's. Now, the $64 question is whether 7 or 8 B-3's/2018 bombers/NGB? the real question is when they're going to start pulling B-17's & B-24's from museums to get the numbers up. b/w radar ron

  10. I was wondering when you'd pick up on the riot control soldiers stationed here. What IZ they pertectin' anyway?

    Watch Bill Moyers tomorrow.

  11. Anonymous10:55 PM

    Spot on as always Commander. why the American taxpayer hasn't tarred and feathered every single one of the brass in the Pentagon is beyond me... What a nation you could have been without the criminal waste/theft that's gone on since Eisenhower actually got on TV and warned you all... A true tragi-comedy.

    RE: Your previous blog about that 'grave of empires' Afghanistan and the artificial construct of Iraq. Churchill said that Iraq was his biggest foreign policy mistake and given he was responsible for Gallipoli and Singapore - 2 of 'Great' Britain's greatest f*** ups he was saying a mouthful.

    As I've said before if the Repugnicans manage to steal election #3 you're welcome Down Under - as long as 'crowd control' let's you out.

    Keep Up The Good Words


  12. I thought that the Klingons were our allies these days. What happened? Did John Bolton become an astronaut?

    Funny you should mention aircraft carrier names. I was poking through a book called Clash of the Carriers, about the latter days of the Pacific War, and it had me thinking of just that. Specifically, how odd it is that the U.S. fleet carriers during WW2 were mostly named after battles and places from our Revolution (Bunker Hill, Lexington, Saratoga, etc.) while the current fleet mostly carries the names of some of our most warmongering presidents (Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Reagan, etc. With the odd omission of Woodrow Wilson. Or have they gotten to him yet?).

    It's almost as if, somewhere along the line, we went from Republic to Empire and somebody forgot to tell the smiley-happy-face propaganda office in the Pentagon (or whoever decides these things) to cool it and quit being so obvious.

  13. Nunya,

    They're desensitizing the public to the idea that their soldiers will break up their protests. I'm still glad that I've stubbornly stuck to my guns, so to speak, on 2nd right amendments. That's the one right wing agenda item I've pretty much ridden along with.


    I'm already working on a strategy to escape the American archipelago.


    Yeah, the carrier name thing got out of hand some time back. I though it was bad enough when they named one after GHW Bush. I thought I was being over the top naming them after Nixon and Millard Fillmore in Bathtub Admirals. But naming a whole class after Ford; good God!


  14. Yeah, I forgot about the U.S.S. Bush. Ugh. As a Houstonian, I have to live next to "Bush Intercontinental" airport, which is bad enough. (Didn't they used to wait for these jerks to die before they started naming things after them?)

    I don't know, Ford was a Navy man. Another book I've poked through recently is Halsey's Typhoon, and he was portrayed as being fairly heroic during the fight to save his ship. If they were honoring him for that, I could just barely see it.

    If they were honoring him for his achievements as President, well, yeah, a nice bathysphere would have been more appropriate. Maybe they should name submarines after these guys (ala The Jimmy Carter).

  15. A great post, as always. I've always wondered about the future utility of all this high-tech junk that they buy. In the event that we someday get into “a shooting war, Mandrake!” what happens when the enemy resorts to asymmetrical warfare? Count me a skeptic when it comes to U.S. “full spectrum dominance.”

    The roots of that skepticism go back to a novel I read as a young man, during the white-knuckle Cold War days of Emperor Reagan. It was called Warday, and it described the aftermath of a limited nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Two (real-life) reporters travel through a fictional postwar landscape of America, and it isn’t pretty. The major premise of the book is that the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by nuclear detonations would fry the microchips that inhabit nearly all of our high-tech gadgets (even televisions, these days). This instantly plunges the U.S. into third-world status and removes it from the world stage.

    I remember it being a pretty good read, with contributions from many people. Particularly chilling was economist Walter Tevis’ description of what happens to our economy when all the digital money goes bye-bye (thanks to young Mr. Bush, though, we may be about to find out about that without the trouble and expense of having a nuclear war).

    I’m wondering, has anyone in China read Warday? Or even a Tom Clancy novel or two? How hard would it be for them to lift a few cheap “satellites” with the capability of putting out the U.S. military’s “eyes?” Did Al-Qaeda ever get around to reading that pre-9/11 article that suggested ways a terrorist could build an EMP bomb on the cheap? (Not that I’ve read it myself, you understand. Are you listening, NSA?).

    As someone with a background in computers and IT, I naturally found this to be fascinating. Does anyone else think that Abu-bin-Vendetta might possibly also find it to be a cracking good read?

    “Let’s see, America spent 623 billion dollars this year for defense? Hmm. I don’t think we can match that. All I’ve got is some used bubble gum wrappers and pocket lint. But I know a way we could get a lot of mileage out of a shovel and an axe! Forty bucks at Home Depot, tops! Allah be praised!

    I may go looking for a copy of Warday in the local library. I made the mistake of watching a large portion of that “debate” the other night, and I’m in serious need of some mental floss.

  16. JP,

    Warday came out on my first cruise, I think every officer on the Ranger read it.

  17. As long as I'm indulging in nostalgia here, another good post-apocalyptic novel of the same vintage is Down to a Sunless Sea. It occurred to writer David Graham to wonder what would happen to all the airliners in transit if nuclear war broke out. The result was a very good thriller, especially considering it was his first novel.

    I particularly remember the novel's opening, describing the circumstances that led to the war: the oil-exporting nations (even our buds in Canada and Mexico) quit shipping oil to America (I forget why). The European nations try to save us, shipping everything they can spare to help us out. And the Americans will just not stop consuming. I don't know if that qualifies as "prescient," but it sure sounds like us.

    And I still remember how disturbing the scene was where he describes astronauts trapped on the Moon after the war. Amazing what sticks with you after 20-25 years, when it makes an impression.

  18. Speaking of psy-ops and related suppression-repression tactics, I expect you've seen this: Iglesias: "I'm Astounded" By DOJ's ACORN Probe.

    Curious timing. Must be coincidence.

    And where's the annual Halloween-malls-terra alert fear-mongering...? It's behind schedule.

  19. Jeff,

    NOt sure when the terra stuff starts, but I'm already receiving the pre-election viral propaganda. I'd like to know how they fix it so that you can't reply.

    Jeff II

  20. Funny, a story about David Iglesias and vote fraud that doesn't mention Greg Palast. Or maybe not too surprising, given that Palast is persona non grata in the U.S. He's the go-to guy for the vote fraud stuff. He was the one who originally interviewed Iglesias in the wake of the "caging list" fraud that lost Kerry the 2004 election.

    It seems a bit hard to believe that Obama could lose given his huge lead in the polls and electoral college. But where there's a will, and a caging list, and a programmable voting machine, there's a way. McMaverick and the Republicans are sure to be pulling out all the stops...

  21. Anonymous9:23 AM


    To change the subject a bit, here's an article about the CRA lending boondoggle from a source not dedicated to civil war history.

    Once again, I am not against housing subsidies to the poor, per se, but there has to be a better way than crashing the stock market.

    I do not believe America's problems are one party or the other party, but rather how the country makes decisions.

  22. You're trying to palm off Howard Hussock of the right wing Manhattan Institute as a objective source in here?

    You're fired.


  23. Anonymous12:02 PM


    Rhetorical question, is it EVER possible to cut defense spending?

    Oh, and I never made it to Vieques, so the Navy's secrets are still secret. ;-)

  24. Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! had a discussion on the Northern Command business not too long ago. Even had somebody in charge up there, on the phone, to tell us all what they are not allowing all these folks, (who are Iraq war battle tested,) to learn, and to do. Somehow, hearing what he had to say didn't make me feel a bit better.

    Probably a transcript somewhere on the website at

    To follow up on the question asked about cutting defense spending - can't we just sell the whole damned Pentagon? I think we ought to break these military minds up into much smaller groups. Maybe let the Navy command relocate to Arizona, or New Mexico. The Army command could relocate to Wisconsin, or Minnesota. We could send the Air Force command to Brooklyn. The Marines' command could go to Utah. Scale down everywhere. Get them out of Washington, and make it harder for the lobbyists and Congress Critters to communicate, and "donate." Either sell, or Turn the building into a Veteran's Hospital to treat PTSD, and TBI, and other war-related injuries.

    Works for me.

  25. I very much like the idea of getting them out of DC. Very much. Very, very, very much.


  26. Ah yes.

    October 7, 2008.

    (Search the Archives.)


    Is Posse Comitatus Dead? U.S. Troops, on U.S. Streets.

    Worth the read.