How To Turn It Around

A few days ago on Twitter, I was asked my thoughts on a new study by Rand entitled: Inflection Point: How to Reverse the Erosion of U.S. and Allied Military Power and Influence. Here’s my initial thoughts on it and what needs to be done.

Sadly, I don’t think highly of Rand and it’s products, and have not done so for several decades now. Growing up in the 1960s, research and documents from Rand were treated almost as holy writ in the science community. Fact is, they did some good and even amazing work back in the day. Somewhere along the way, however, in my opinion they became just another beltway bandit.

Case in point are the first nine bullet points presented under recommendations which with one exception are meaningless ritual gobbledygook that says you are a serious beltway player who knows the current buzzwords and is prepared to synergize existing resources so as to maximize potential for the advancement of improvement. The only honest part of the nine are those calling for research into multiple new weapons systems that will require lots of expensive studies (like those done by Rand), extensive and expensive R&D, and decades to produce. Yeah, I may have helped write stuff like this before…

Okay, that said, let me back up and take this more in order.

Key Finding One is that warfare has changed since the Cold War. No shit, Sherlock. It’s changed since Desert Storm. I will add that we are insolvent because our current GOFOs are far more interested in focusing on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) than in teaching our troops to fight and win, which is indeed going to cause them to DIE.

Key Finding Two is that our superiority in training, tech, people, etc. is gone. I agree, and it was squandered by feckless leadership and politicians. A good bit of that was/is intentional I think.

Key Finding Three is that we don’t need superiority to defeat peers and near-peers. In the words of Col. Sherman Potter, horsehocky! Yeah, trying to be polite and keep it more PG-13 than the XXX response this topic usually elicits.

Key Finding Four is that it has opened the eyes of NATO members. Snort. Chortle. Braying Laugh. The newer members of NATO have been meeting and even exceeding for a while, even as they have tried to point out the danger while being poo-poohed by the older members in the status quo lounge. Those members, such as Germany, still don’t get the danger that exists, being as they are more focused on the danger to their pockets and all the freebies they offer their people. I might point out that this has also been pointed out for a couple of decades by members of the milblog community and pointedly by the previous administration.

Key Finding Five is that the U.S. and Taiwan have differing ideas on how they should defend themselves, with a hefty slice of implication that Taiwan is wrong.

Now, to go back to Recommendations, with the remaining points being a rendition of buzzword bingo. Encourage meeting commitments, increase stocks, points deducted for saying NATO has an eastern flank (it doesn’t, it has an eastern front…), and the rest is pretty much blather. The points I mention are good, but are couched with caveats that appear to negate them. It is the typical beltway dance, so as not to alarm anyone overseas that we might really mean it this time on commitments or the need for them to increase stocks. This appears to be a solid entry in the status quo club library with some appropriate (condescending) nods to the newer members of NATO.

Now, before I go into my take on some issues, go read the good Commander who makes some hard and valid points. As I’ve pointed out before, all stocks are low to the point of criminally low. Bean-counters made the call, the stocks were reduced, the lines are gone in some cases, and when it comes to D+7, we are going to be Winchester on a lot more than 155. I will leave it to Sal to talk about the horrible state of maintenance in the Navy, and will note that the Air Force has issues of its own.

I will also note that there is a huge problem with retention, not just recruitment. If you can get them, take a look at the number of people coming out early on medical and related. Add in those choosing not to re-up, and we are losing a huge amount of institutional experience at key levels. There is only so much abuse and command toxicity that people are going to take. They are voting with their feet.

Now, I can turn the following into a proper beltway insomnia cure easily enough for the right cash under the table. Meantime, allow me to present a hopefully more entertaining and colorful version with solid proposal underneath. You really want to turn things around?

First: Change of Leadership. No meaningful changes are possible under the current administration or current probable successors within the same party. The attack on warfighters and warfighting capability begun in the Obama administration is a key component of the intentions and operations of current political leadership.

Should circumstances change such that all parties are forced to accept the need for change and the resurrection of an effective and efficient military that wants to and can win engagements and wars, I would argue for a blanket purge of all current GOFOs save any who have spoken out in public against current trends, practices and theories including DIE (and are vouched for by middle-rank enlisted as having kept focus on mission and people). We really do need a clean sweep.

This should be followed by an elimination of TRADOC as it currently exists, and related organizations in other services. Since Vladimir is not likely to nuke Eustis as he wants to hurt us, if I were made ruler of the world even briefly, I would drop my own nuke in the form of enticing Col. Kratman back into service for the sole purpose of eliminating the current system, salting the Earth, and building a new system focused on mission, men, and winning. That truly is the key and it is not what we are currently doing in any service though the Marines seem to be doing better than most.

Finally, we need to stop the war on warfighters in the military. We desperately need to nurture any we find in any service, and even look to see if there is any way to entice proven wartime leadership to return to service.

Second: Procurement. We urgently need realistic warstocks. What a lot of people don’t get is that yes we are ramping up to app. 90,000 rounds of 155 a month. We need to get back to the days where we were producing more than 500,000 rounds a month. And, it’s not just 155. As Sal has pointed out, as I’ve pointed out before, there are a LOT of items where we don’t have the stockpiles and there is no way to rapidly procure more.

Restoring the industrial capacity needed is going to take time we really don’t have. Which means we need to really push to get things going now. If we wait until the ball drops…

We also need to gut and restructure procurement and R&D. Why? Take a look at any of the weapons development efforts by the Army in the last 10 years. Design by committee doesn’t work, and I honestly am not sure whether graft or incompetent micromanagement is the biggest danger to a weapons program. Think I’m joking? We’ve needed a new rifle for a while, where is it? Examine the efforts to develop such, and weep.

Drones, guns, whatever: open things up to a broader array of companies, run X-Prize operations, and find some way to stomp on the Not Invented Here (NIH) mentality that permeates military procurement. DoD is worse about COTS (unless it’s from the inner core of the usual suspects who know how to express gratitude) than NASA used to be about commercial products and operations, and that’s going some. Procurement badly needs to learn the lesson that perfect is the enemy of good enough, and that we don’t have decades to get things done. In fact, in some cases, I would say we have days instead of decades.

While I don’t mean to step on Sal’s or any of the naval bloggers toes, I will share something I saw somewhere on social media: naval leadership needs to look at real ships and readiness in 2025 instead of focusing on paper fleets for 2045. I would argue that the core principle applies to all services right now.

There is more, of course, but these are the two most critical parts of turning around the decline of our military.

On the subject of NATO, there is much that can be said and that needs to be discussed, from expansion to purpose. That said, we need to quit playing around in regards commitments. Given that I’ve discussed Germany (in particular) and others not meeting minimums before, I think we are at a point of fish or cut bait. There isn’t five to ten years for you to comfortably ramp up to the minimum you are obligated to do. You’re going to be lucky to get three. Figure it out, because the days of the U.S. being able to cover everything are done.

Taiwan is a subject for another day. I will simply say that to state or imply that the U.S. ideas on how the defense should be implemented are right and Taiwan’s is wrong is the height of hubris and incompetence. Given that our current leadership is incapable of organizing a drinking party in a distillery, we might should consider asking why they are doing certain things, study the details, and then make suggestions. I’ve already read a number of interesting reports and good suggestions from other milbloggers, so let’s not get too focused on the “experts” who haven’t been right on anything in years.

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12 thoughts on “How To Turn It Around”

  1. The obvious reason for opposition to x-prize or COTS or other-than-defense-conglomerate acquisition decisions is that no small innovative manufacturer of rifles or sights or drones or agile wireless networks or satellites or whatever is going to be able to hire retired GOFO at the income levels they expect after their years climbing the O- rank ladder. A fully documented safe bet procurement from LockBoeWhatever Inc will not only raise no ripples in the placid pond of the Pentagon, but will position the decision makers all the way up the chain for lucrative post-separation employment.

  2. ANd bottom line on how to fix it: The story goes that Top Gun and Red Flag were the response to the finding that surviving the first five or ten missions meant fighter pilots survival chances, and concomitantly effectiveness in combat, rose dramatically. We need to replicate that once-the-war-gets-going command purge we normally go through in a shooting war for GOFO (at least – also lots of pruning fodder O-6 and below) but like the Top Gun/Red Flag model, manage to generate that stress on the system before the shooting starts.

    Note I am not talking about a reverse direction version of what the Sotoero administration did with flag rank promotions and lack thereof on grounds of ideological conformity starting right after the lightbringer’s inauguration. That was a political purge, and we do not need another of those in the other direction. What is needed is a purge of incompetence.

    1. That is a very good idea. Question is, how do we create it? This is an idea well worth exploring further.

  3. Speaking as someone who has never fired a rifle, I’m sort of wondering if the American armed forces actually >need< a new one.
    Has the state of the art actually advanced enough to warrant this?
    Or would ramping up production of the in-service rifle and its supply train (and concentrating replacement efforts on other more obvious areas) be a better use of money?

    1. This could be another long post, but the short version is that there are two key factors involved. First, the state-of-the-art has indeed improved. Second, we need a better round. Despite what is said by anti-gun politicians, 5.56 sucks at killing and has range issues. It was more or less forced on the services (and NATO) by McNamara, because it could be fired in a controlled manner on full auto (hobby horse of his) and more rounds could be carried for the same or less weight. A minor point was that it would not tend to over-penetrate, which was a “complaint” about the WWII M1 .30-06 Springfield round and the Korean War M14 .308/7.62×51. That lack of over-penetration presents some sliiiiiiiiiiiiggggggghhhhht issues in defeating body armor. Trying to keep it short, we really need something that has an effective range at least to 600 yards (5.56 max effective is about 400) and preferably out to at least 800 yards, and is more effective both in dealing with body armor and in terms of lethality. Personally, I lean towards 6.5 but there are good cases to be made for several rounds. Maybe more on this soon.

      1. Note the original round that the WWII M1 Garand was developed to fire was .276 Pedersen, and the reason Garand was told to switch it to 30-06 was that the Army had immense piles of WWI production 30-06 in war stocks plus little likelihood of getting any budget to buy similar piles of a new caliber.
        So now we are back around to “something around 6.5mm” – There seems to be a sort of gravitational attraction to the 6.5mm-7mm projectile diameter range for optimal ballistics, range, and penetration, with the only real downside being how much a full loadout of rifleman ammo weighs.

        1. *Grin* on the switch to 30-06, funny what drives things sometimes. And, yep, there does seem to be a bit of a sweet spot in the 6.5-7 range. As to the weight, that’s another area that needs work — the total load out of the average troop. My load out as an unarmed embed ran around 75 lbs. Regular troop, 100-125 easy. Some of the specialty jobs is was 150-200. And the chairborne brigade wants them to carry more. Yeah, no.

          1. This is kind of my point.
            Changing out the service rifle means restocking all the parts and ammunition, so there’s lots of money to be made there (probably why it’s taking so long).
            Changing the load out to somehow make it >lighter< sounds like it would be more useful. Admittedly this would be very hard – I'm not sure that load out weight has ever actually gone down before. Some of the components have probably been made lighter, but someone always says "Great! Here's what we can use with that extra capacity…"

          2. You’ve got a good point on the last part, as that is exactly what it seems like happens every time. I know at one point some bright rear echelon type looked at all the data on how many lives were saved by additional armor. So, they came up with yet more (and more weight), and I’m not sure that the fact that if they wore all the additional pieces of armor, the troops literally could not get a weapon up to shoot it, fazed the rear echelon person at all.

            As for the first, we really do need a new rifle/better round. We need it sooner rather than later too. 5.56 just does not meet the challenge in my opinion.

  4. Key Finding One is that warfare has changed since the Cold War. No shit, Sherlock. It’s changed since Desert Storm. I will add that we are insolvent because our current GOFOs are far more interested in focusing on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DIE) than in teaching our troops to fight and win, which is indeed going to cause them to DIE.

    You’d think that the Military would have learned it’s lessons from Vietnam. Guess not. I’d hate to see if we ever got attacked by China or Russia. We’d be fucked.

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