Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fraud, Waste, and Standard Operating Procedure

20 Sep. 2011

By Jeff Huber

I’m not sure what made me think that taking time off to work on Sandbox Generals, (the sequel to Bathtub Admirals) would get me away from fixating on current headlines.  Last Saturday the thousands of days late and billions of dollars short New York Times editorial board ran an editorial excoriating  “Runaway Spending on War Contractors.” 

I owe it all to
Michael R. Gordon and
Judith Miller of the
New York Times.
“Tales of waste, fraud and mayhem by private contractors have been commonplace during 10 years of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the editorial they tell us.  “Now a Congressional study commission has put a ‘conservative’ estimate on waste of between $31 billion and $60 billion in the $206 billion paid to contractors since the start of the two wars.”  The rag-of-record’s editors also note that according to the study, “Excessive reliance on badly supervised private contractors indulging ‘vast amounts of spending for no benefit’ is the heart of the problem.”

Psst.  New York Times.  The heart of the problem is that Saddam Hussein wasn't trying to get yellowcake from Niger like you said he was back in 2002.  Are we supposed to get all het up by your editorial about contractors making big war bucks thanks to the propaganda you fed the country? 

Lamentably, we’ve been in a wartime economy since the Second World War on Evil, and even though that book-of-matches approach to fiscal policy is finally turning our fingers into Chicken McNuggets, there’s no alternative strategy that anyone is likely to implement.  Redirect all of that defense spending into domestic infrastructure project jobs that can’t be sent offshore because the workers have to be here to work on the infrastructure?  What for?  We’re still making money pig knuckle over ham hock on war.  Retooling an industry to make a new product when the old product is still profitable is a bad business decision.  Why do you think we’re still consuming oil and tobacco fumes? 

Here’s a sneak preview from this week’s labors on Generals, an Orwellian screed on how things got the way they are.  Be advised, this is a rough draft (!!!).    

The WWEIII (The Third World War on Evil, aka the Cold War on Evil aka the CWoE) everybody agreed to plan for but never have after everybody agreed not to blow up the world with nukes first centered on a WWEI style trench war with tanks in the middle of Europe.  But the action in the center ring was actually just a sideshow to justify the air and naval hootenannies that would break out like herpes everywhere else in the world. 
That was the war the Navy and the Air Force would fight, a peripheral war that actually had little to do with the stated Evil Empire objective of expanding its client state buffer to include Western Europe so as to ensure no more Hitlers or Napoleons would come along and destroy their armies and countries in a vain attempt to capture Moscow again.  Jack supposed that made the objective of us Americans and our little NATO (“Not A True Organization,” according to Jack) buddies was to ensure that another Hitler or Napoleon did come along and try to wreck the world in an attempt to capture Moscow.  That didn’t make any sense, Jack ceded, until you considered that the objective of global thermo nuclear-war between the ESSR (Empire of Semi-Socialist Republics) countries and the loose league of American customer states was to destroy the world before the other guys did. 
While the high-tech conventional war was peripheral to the opposing physical objectives of expanding or limiting Russia’s European real estate holdings, the war’s overall strategic objective quickly evolved into an economic one, a contest to which of the two diametrically smoke-and-mirror economic systems could outlast the other.  So seeing which economic system could develop and field and maintain the most outlandishly exorbitant air and sea weapon systems that would never actually be used for their designed purpose became the modus of combat in what Jack came to know of as “play war.”   
Both sides of the CWoE justified lavishing precious national wealth on extravagant weaponry by using it in the dirty little third world proxy wars they suckered each other into from time to time, in Korea and Vietnam and Bananastan and elsewhere, but pricey mayhem machines had little affect on the outcomes of these teakettle conflicts.  Third world wars were dumb soldier intensive affairs that mainly required low-dollar carbon-based air-breathing weapon systems largely procured from the lower and middle classes by means of conscription or the lure of stable employment with benefits. 
A key factor of top-drawer air and naval gizmology was not merely that it was expensive to produce, although it most certainly was.  The beauty part, the piece of resistance of all this, was that however much any given piece of this high-tech crap cost to make, it was boatloads more expensive to maintain, and the older it got, the more it cost to keep in operation.  Better yet was that the more a given gizmo cost to make and maintain, the longer it was expected to last, which made it even magnitudes more to make and oodles more to keep operating.  So if a flying submarine cost a butt-zillion Houdinis to make, it cost ten butt-zillion Houdinis to keep flying and diving for the thirty years it was supposed to last, at which time it would become eligible for a life extension overhaul that would screw it up so bad it would need two or three follow-on overhauls to fix the first one.  By the time the damn thing was finally turned into a museum in some coastal Podunk that needed a tourist attraction, the flying sub will have cost an amount roughly equivalent to what the Gross National Product was in the year it was built.
The Evil Empiricals followed the same general force strategy vector but in a somewhat different manner.  Their working class enlisted stiffs who maintained their gear weren’t nearly as well educated as our working class enlisted stiffs, so they built stuff three or four times as solid as it needed to be, realizing that when it broke it was broke-dick and nobody was going to fix it.  Hence, rather than spend more Carnacs trying to fix broke-dick stuff they just made new stuff. 
A by-product of that practice was that our intelligence weenies could say with a fair amount of accuracy (for a change) that they had a lot more stuff than we had, and we could turn that information around to justify building more expensive stuff to give ourselves the so called “technology edge” to bridge the “numerical superiority gap,” two buzz phrases that Flip often wished he’d been old enough to have originally stolen them from whoever their real originator had stolen them from.  It didn’t matter that their numerical superiority gap was a de facto hoax since more than 99 percent of their gear was rusting on the flight line, sinking at the pier, or burning in Chechnya. 
That’s not to say that our gear was all immaculate and purring like a fat tomcat getting its dick scratched.  Throughout our careers, when Jack and I went on play war deployments overseas, we were lucky if half of the jets in our air wing were fully mission capable (aka FMC)—i.e., they flew and all their radars and weapons and so on worked like they were supposed to—at any given time.  Squadron skippers typically reported a 75 percent FMC rate because reporting anything lower was like sinking the teeth of their careers into the chewy end of a shotgun barrel.  Maintenance supervisors knew this and ensured that by the end of any given day the paperwork would reflect a 75 percent FMC rate, even if the spare parts that would make a given aircraft FMC weren’t onboard the ship and wouldn’t arrive for weeks if ever. 
It must have been some time around the VWoE (Vietnam War on Evil) that air wing maintenance officers and ship supply corps gonifs cut the dope deal where as long as a part was on order everyone would pretend like it was on hand whether it was or not, thus making both the maintenance and supply pukes look good without actually having to do their jobs.  Squadron skippers looked the other way because phantom parting made them look good, and air wing commanders looked the other way because it made them look good too, and the same thing held true all the way up the chain of command.  And there was little fear that anyone would ever blow the whistle because everybody was in on the scam.

Postscript: Monday morning the PPPP (Pentarchy’s Primary Propaganda Platform) trotted out the crown jewel of the information campaign to preserve the defense budget.  “Retiree Benefits for the Military Could Face Cuts” reads the headline of a Times story that says if the Pentagon has to face fiscal reductions, the burden will fall on retirees, whose benefits the bull feather merchant marines are now calling a “social program.” 

The military’s spin physicians’ main assumption is that we can keep our present and future wars going with “support the troops” brainwash while we cut back on the support we promised the troops of our past wars.  That won’t hurt recruiting as long as the economy makes joining the military our nation’s most attractive career option.  If irony were alive and with us it would smirk at the fact that the head-sex fiends who cook up this scare tactic strategy will themselves get screwed if retiree benefit cuts come to pass. 

Mind you now, if we cut retiree benefits we’ll still have flying submarines, and stealth airplanes that are too expensive to actually use in wartime because they’ll shoot themselves down over enemy territory due to design flaws, and multi-billion dollar bomber drones that fly halfway across the world from mega-billion dollar aircraft carriers that are already halfway across the world. 


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.


  1. Nice to have you back from your vacation.
    Good start to the new book.
    As to the cutting of benefits to military retirees, all one can say is WHAT? As in WTF!!!!!????? Just how is that bullshit "supporting the troops"?
    What is the new slogan then? Come fight our damn fool wars of choice so we can CUT your retirement pay? The only way they will get new recruits with that "strategy" is if the military is the only place that is hiring.
    Well, they are all set to cut Social Security and Medicare so why not cut military benefits. What is next, a pay cut for active duty military? Now THAT would really show how much (little) these damn jack asses who populate our congress care about "supporting the troops".
    America, what a country.
    semper fi........yeah sure thing.

  2. The infuriating part is that Uncle Bob and Moon Mullen have been actively participating in this black propaganda campaign from the get go, and nobody is calling them on it.

  3. Well, shit, Huber. We fucked up. We didn't make 07. Thanks to some nifty legerdemain they pulled off with the criminal Congress, the boys with stars no longer even live in the same world as the rest of us. They can do 40 years, retire at 100% and then suck off the contractor teat. Why in the world would Moon Mullen care about the likes of us?

    You know, they changed that retirement stuff because everybody knew how much we were hurting for generals and admirals. Thank God they did it. I mean, we might have really been fucking wars up or something if our government hadn't stepped in to take care of the head office guys.

    Next war, everybody's going to be a general or an admiral. New DOD directive coming out. Of course, that'll be the only ones left.

  4. The cost estimation part you have there, would have been a hoot to pass around, back when I was an operations research analyst at the engineering cost estimation and analysis dept of the Navy. There was plenty of estimation but not so much calibration based on actuals. We never saw any actuals feedback that I can remember, as long as I was there.

  5. Publius: maybe then they'll have to give huge bonuses to privates to keep them in the service.

    E&R:Yeah, a spread like 31-60 billion gives one pause to consider just how accurate the estimate can be. If your mechanic gave estimates like "somwheres about between $300 and $600" you wouldn't think much of him, would you?

  6. Along with the "big" front page story on The Huffington Post this morning about all the billions of dollars worth of military equipment we are leaving in Iraq, because we don't want to ship it home....... I found this link....

    I thought you might enjoy.