Thursday, November 20, 2008

DoD Retirees Slam Waste, Errors

Read the stunning new book from the Center for Defense Information (CDI) on the budgeting weaknesses and strategic blunders of the DoD. It's a remarkably good read as well as offering a buffet of common-sense reforms for the new President and Congress.

Rep. Barney Frank has already called for a 25 percent cut in the military budget. That may be hard to do right away because of the overstretched troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the new book shows lots of ways that the out-of-control military budget can be reined in for more security at less cost.

The book, America's Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform for President Obama and the New Congress, is out just two weeks after the election, exemplifying one of the themes that runs through it, namely the importance of speed and the ponderous nature of our military organization, which is critiqued as stuck in the second generation of four generations of warfare. The eleven chapters of the book are written by 13 retired Pentagon insiders, retired military officers and defense specialists. The book is edited by Winslow T. Wheeler (photo at left), Director of CDI's Straus Military Reform Project. CDI has itself found a home in the World Security Institute. Wheeler worked for 31 years for U.S. Senators from both political parties and the Government Accountability Office. His earlier book, The Wastrels of Defense, was published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press.

The book (a 2.3 meg pdf file) can be read for time being online at I have been up most of the night reading it - it is fascinating.

The scope of the first chapter by Lt. Col. John Sayers (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.) is global and deeply rooted in history. He observes that for most of human history wars have been fought in first-generation mode, with independently assembled military units engaged in close order drills. The Thirty Years War, largely a battle between Catholics and Protestants, led to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which ushered in the era of the dominance of nation states.

The second generation of warfare began at the end of the 19th century with the rivalry between Germany and Britain. The industrialized states were able to raise their firepower and support large battalions. This was the mode of battle of World War I, a war of attrition in Europe that was disastrous for all the combatants (the United States came late to the war and still lost 250,000 troops in Europe - while the major powers in Europe lost many more).

Already at the end of World War I, with their forces depleted, the Germans were trying a third generation of warfare, decentralized and maneuverable. Sayers says that this approach was used by the Germans effectively in World War II and was imitated by the Chinese in Korea and by the Viet Cong.

Nowadays, we are engaged largely in a fourth-generation war. With a loss of nation-state controls in many parts of the world, independent paramilitary groups have arisen, such as FARC in Colombia, or al Qaeda, or the Chechen rebels in Russia. Parts of Iraq are controlled by independent Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish forces. It's a reversion to the days before the Treaty of Westphalia. The independent groups behave the way SPECTRE does in the Ian Fleming novels - they have specific objectives and they fight to achieve them.

Sayers says we should have moved a long time ago to third-generation and fourth-generation readiness - with smaller and more maneuverable forces. He does not think the large nations have any interest in another war of attrition of the size that the United States prepared for during the Cold War.

Why has the United States been stuck in a century-old military strategy, spending too much money for too little ability to wage a modern war? Here are some of the reasons he advances:

- Budget gaming - frontloading and political engineering of weapons systems (Gordon Adams wrote about this 30 years ago in The Iron Triangle), with the result that the weapons are too big, too complex and unreliable.
- U.S. military forces are led by officers who are inadequately trained to lead, contributing to tbe unpreparedness of the troops.
- Defense costs rise faster than defense budgets and have become "ruinously expensive." Sayers ends the chapter describing the U.S. military creature as a "weak-muscled elephant that cannot even deal effectively with mice."

The other ten chapters go on in the same vein, urging reassessment of the way that war-making decisions are made, the military personnel system, overdependence on foreign bases, lack of mobility of forces on sea and land, overdependence on technicians, excessive faith in the value of strategic bombing as opposed to air-to-air and close-support operations, misuse of the National Guard for overseas duty, excessive faith in technology and inadequate tracking of defense spending.

Read the book! Here's the link again to the free online file while it works: