Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sequestration - Not Necessarily the End of the World

With the election behind us, let’s strip the politics out of the sequestration debate and look at facts surrounding this idea of reducing the defense budget.
  •  If implemented, the budget will be reduced annually from 2013 to 2023, not all at once.
  •  Assuming the cuts are fully implemented, sequestration only reduces defense spending to 2006 levels – which was the highest defense budget in the history of the world…until the defense budgets of 2007…2008…2009…2010…

In short; sufficient money is available for a robust military- the question lurking under sesquestration is: what will it realistically cost to defend America in the upcoming generation?

“National Security” is a broad term. Defending America can include attacking Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11 or hauling our citizens out of danger as the 24th MEU did in 4 days during July 2006 when they pulled 17,000 Americans out of Lebanon - or their standing off the Israeli coast two weeks ago in case Americans needed to be evacuated. It also includes the long-term positive effects of providing humanitarian and disaster relief in areas ranging from Haiti to Japan to Staten Island.

The electoral sniping over defense spending ignored the facts that both the Navy and Air Force quietly maintain a huge global superiority with the Navy’s battle tonnage exceeding the battle tonnage of the next 13 countries combined, while the Air Force has a similar advantage. Worth noting is that the last eleven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that unlimited firepower could not quell an low-tech insurgency; it took a Marine-led COIN strategy of boots-on-the-ground engagement that turned both Anbar and Helmand Provinces.

Lost in the rush to prove one’s patriotism by increasing the defense budget is that the Marines and Army have been ordered to reduce troop strength by 20,000 & 80,000 respectively by 2014; most of those discharged will be their experienced combat veterans – leaving America’s national defense at the mercy of inoperable hi-tech weapons systems years behind schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.

To Defend Against…??
Short Term: Iran
Longer Term: China
Wild-card Opponent: the next Bin Laden

Iran: They are proud of their heritage and will fight if attacked; in the 10-year war with Iraq they viewed the invasion by Saddam as a war of survival, and despite Saddam’s use of poison gas they fought the Iraqi’s to a stand-still. Sending troops into Iran will make 3rd Bn, 5th Marines fight in Sangin look easy, while bombing them from afar will turn the world against us.

They’re trying to develop nuclear bombs, but equally important is their homegrown defense industry developing weapons to be used regionally. They modified the Marine-Navy LCAC and made it a high-speed offensive weapon capable to launching missiles. Iran can temporarily block the Straits of Hormuz and halt oil shipments and the likelihood is that the Navy will lose some expensive ships re-opening it.

China: They’re funding the world’s 2nd largest defense budget in order to dominate the Asian seas. Energy-short China is embroiled in disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan over control of South China Sea and East China Sea islands whose waters are rich in natural gas.

They’re in the midst of a huge naval build-up targeted to projecting power and influence into Asian waters; two weeks ago outgoing President Hu made a pointed reference to strengthening China's naval forces, protecting maritime interests and the need to "win local war”- which is how they view the South China Sea.

The Navy needing a rail gun to shell Chinese ships from beyond the horizon is both a waste of money and a mis-guided strategy. However the effectiveness of the Marine Rotational Forces-Darwin, coupled with 31st MEU’s reputation in the Pacific Rim for HA-DR and multi-lateral exercises such as Cobra Gold, should make the planners take a very hard look at the dubious effectiveness of the rail gun and such overbudget programs as the Littoral Combat Ship and instead concentrate on bringing the Gator Navy back to its required strength.

The next Bin Laden: From Yemen? Somalia? Nigeria? The population in the developing countries is growing exponentially. In many of them the populace is over-educated, under-employed, and led by non-traditional sorts ranging from Hezbollah-like religious zealots to warlords. As Gen Amos said last year “There will be places where clean, potable water will be as valuable as a gallon of fuel. I believe the world will be full of these nasty, difficult, unclear conflicts that are energized by poverty, by stateless borders and by the proliferation of state-like weapons in the hands of organizations that are not states. These places will be the Marine Corps’ backyard for the next two decades.”

He's correct, and hi-tech drones operated from Nellis AFB aren't effective; it's Marines and sailor training local security forces, conducting med-caps, or helping open schools who are.

Sesquestration cuts the defense budget across the board; it’s the Pentagon who plans the specific strategies and procures the equipment necessary. While perhaps a harsh medicine, finite budgets provide the opportunity to plan for the wars that will likely occur instead of the wars they hope will occur.

The Navy and Chinese won’t be fighting a 2015 Battle of Midway so the Navy needs ships capable of effectively projecting presence into small, shallow Asian ports. The Air Force won’t be carpet-bombing Russia, instead they need to plan how to airlift Marines, Soldiers, and HA-DR supplies quickly into a hot zone.

Cutting 10% of the Marine and Army’s combat veterans might address costs tomorrow, but if the money is then spent on more hi-tech programs that take decades to perfect, how has national security been improved if the recent call to evacuate American citizens from Israel had been necessary and the ships and Marines were unavailable to respond?

Unlimited funding doesn’t build a military capable of defending the United States – but careful planning and honest threat assessment does

1 comment: