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  • Planning? Don't. Strategy? It Would Be Good To Have One
    Posted by Bill Sweetman 10:53 AM on Nov 01, 2011

    We've all heard about the "military-industrial complex". If you've heard of procurement dissidents like Chuck Spinney and Ernie Fitzgerald, you will also have heard of the "military-industrial-Congressional complex" or MICC. And like me, you thought it was coined by the dissidents.

    Wrong. In the 1961 farewell speech where President Eisenhower made the "military-industrial complex" famous, Ike was going to add "Congressional" and struck it out minutes before he spoke, according to his military aide, Brig Gen Andrew Goodpaster.

    Goodpaster, who died in 2005, made the observation in a 1993 interview, according to a new report by Barry Watts and Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "Sustaining Critical Sectors of the US Defense Industrial Base".

    There's been a lot of think-tanky and opinion traffic lately, focused on or close to the issues of affordability and defense industrial strategy. That's also the theme of my November DTI editorial, but I'll focus here on two new reports.

    Watts and Harrison's main conclusion concerns strategy, and is as follows: It would be nice to have one. The problem, they argue, is that since the birth of the US defense industry after World War 2, the US has been disposed to regard the defense business as a free-market institution, and they quote recent leaders to show how those views survive.

    But defense is not a free market, and never will be, because there is one customer who is also its regulator -- via rigid acquisition and bidding rules, regimes such as ITAR and MTCR, and above all through Congress, which controls the money supply and hands out rewards and punishments. 

    It's hard to argue with that conclusion -- or with what follows, which is the last 20 years or so of defense planning has been based on the assumption that free-market forces would manage a contraction in R&D and the number of programs. Not necessarily so, the authors say, noting that when the UK stopped buying nuclear submarines, its contractors did not retain the ability to build them. GE Electric Boat stepped in to help with the Astute class -- but who would help the US?

    So, Watts and Harrison argue, the US needs to identify six-to-nine technological and industrial capabilities that need to be protected -- because a strategy that protects everything protects nothing.

    What they don't do is identify those capabilities, perhaps wisely -- recalling the fate of a similar study conducted by Andrew Marshall's Office of Net Assessment for SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. The study came to an abrupt halt when the authors found themselves in the office of Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki, explaining why heavy armored and mechanized ground forces were missing from the list of critical capabilities.

    The report kicked off a lively debate at the Air Force Association last week about how those capabilities would be defined. Watts himself noted that "the incentive is to cheat and stay at an amorphous level". My view was that the Astute situation was a pretty good model:  Nuclear submarines require a deep, specialized technology base, very large in relation to the number of products and programs. Other technologies, like guided weapons, may thrive with less intervention because there are more program opportunities, and others -- like land vehicles or transport aircraft -- can draw on commercial industry.

    Another new publication is from former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, chair of the Center for a New American Security. "Driving in the Dark" has a fascinating theme: Predicting what kind of military we will need in 20 years is doomed to failure. Everyone wants to know the future, Danzig says, and the Pentagon particularly so, because bureaucrats thrive on the stable and predictable. Danzig points out that the tendency became even more entrenched in the McNamara era, because prediction underlay Strange Bob's "realistic" planning. The only thing that saved the Pentagon in this era, Danzig observes, was that its adversary was equally bureaucratic.

    Planning for a number of scenarios, Danzig says, is a palliative, but the real answer is to create a responsive military and industry, and build for adaptability -- "more weapon systems like B-52s and fewer like F-22s". And, he adds, "resilience over time is as important as resilience over a range of capabilities and conditions." Which I will endorse heartily, because that's what I have been briefing to tactical airpower conferences and workshops for years.

    Tags: ar99, planning, csba

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