23 June 2015

Flush With Cash, Running on Empty (I)

The High Cost of the Military Technical Revolution

One of the never ending claims made by proponents of the military technical revolution is that emerging complex weapons technologies create more combat power per unit of labor — that we are substituting capital for labor and technology-intensive capital goods are the key America’s competitive advantage, given America’s high cost labor.  This claim is bullshit pumped out by a sound-byte addicted Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex.
For readers who think my rhetoric excessive, consider please the following  series of graphics.  That the revolution in military affairs (RMA) continues with increasing intensity despite such evidence to the contrary, and without substantive critical debate, says a lot about the dominant values in Versailles on the Potomac.
If the claim made by the RMA evangelicals were true, then a percentage reduction in the size of combat forces would be accompanied by a greater percentage savings in defense budgets. But as this table shows, huge reductions in force size (ranging from 56% to 69%) from the spending peak of the Vietnam War (1968) to the spending peak of the so-called Global War on Terror or GWOT (2010) have been accompanied by a 34% increase in the defense budget, after removing the effects of inflation (using DoD deflators which are biased to reduce the size of this disconnect).
Table 1

Yet, as the next figure shows, compared to Vietnam, the GWOT is a tiny war, when compared in terms of troops deployed or operational tempos (e.g., total attack sorties).

Figure 1

Moreover, despite the GWOT's small size and low operating tempos, the next figure shows that, after removing the effects of inflation, the  GWOT is already by far the second most expensive war in U.S. history going back to the American Revolution — it already exceeds the cost of Viet Nam by a factor of 2, and because the GWOT has mutated into perpetual war, there is no end in sight, and like Viet Nam, there is also no light at the end of the GWOT’s victory tunnel.

Figure 2

The net result of  the economic impact of the ongoing military-technical revolution can be seen in the next figure, which places President Obama’s current budget plan in a historical perspective in both current dollars and two estimates of inflation adjusted dollars (the first assumes that inflation affects the Pentagon in the same way as it effects the entire economy and the second uses the Pentagon’s biased inflation index which conveniently makes current budgets look like a far smaller departure from past budgets):

Figure 3

One would think the end of a Cold War with a nuclear-armed superpower and the massive force structure reductions that have taken place over the long term would have some effect on the pattern of boom-bust Pentagon spending dynamics — but they did not, except to raise both the ceiling of the boom phase and the floor of the bust phase. 
The bottom line should be clear to even the most casual observer:  The claim that the ongoing military-technical revolution reduces costs by substituting capital for labor is fact-free claptrap.  Moreover the hype about this military-technical revolution, which has became ever more hysterical since the mid-to-late 1980s, has been accompanied by a dramatic worsening of the mismatch been promises and reality.

Perhaps the apotheosis of the cost and labor saving dimensions of the military-technical revolution has been the evangelical rhetoric surrounding the use of “labour saving” unmanned airplanes — drones — in the GWOT. I urge readers in denial about my bottom line to carefully study How America Broke Its Drone Force by David Axe in the Daily Beast (attached below for your reading convenience).  Axe describes how the high cost of labor-intensive drone operations has broken the back of the drone force to such a point that it had to cut back operating tempos in the face of the increasing intensity of the offensive campaign waged by ISIS.

Bear in mind, the pathetic misery in the drone force described by Axe coincides with Era IV of the boom bust cycle in the preceding chart of Defense Spending. 

09 June 2015


Long time readers of the Blaster are familiar with strategic theories of Colonel John Boyd (new readers will find a variety of references to them at this link).   I am pleased to announce that Marine Major PJ Tremblay’s thesis, Shaping and Adapting: Unblocking the Power of Colonel John Boyd's OODA Loop, has won the The Colonel F. Brooke Nihart Writing Award for 2015. 

This award is endowed by Colonel and Mrs. F. Brooke Nihart, USMC (ret), and presented in honor of the late Colonel Nihart to the Marine infantry officer at Command and Staff College whose Master of Military Studies paper demonstrates the greatest depth of scholarship, clarity and originality.  In my opinion, Major Tremblay has made a significant contribution to the growing corpus of analyses and writings aimed at fleshing out and evolving Colonel Boyd’s ideas.  

Tremblay's thesis was written in partial completion of a masters degree, and I think it  provides an excellent and readable introduction to the use of Boyd's OODA Loop as a frame of reference for examining the tactical level of combat.  Tremblay goes further, however: he introduces general frame of reference for incorporating Colonel Boyd’s ideas more effectively into the Marine Corps education system, from junior to senior levels and from the tactical to the strategic level of combat.  Tremblay actually used Boyd's ideas in both the planning and execution of a stunningly successful tactical assault by a reinforced infantry company in Afghanistan. 

05 June 2015

Cognitive Reality of Strategic Bombing

High Value Targets Exist in the Eye of the Beholder

Few people appreciate that the leadership liquidation strategy of the drone war is merely old wine in a new bottle.  It is a logical extension of the strategic bombing doctrine developed in the 1930s and first executed in WWII.  This doctrine posits that target analysts located far from the scene of action can identify the critical nodes in an adversary’s infrastructure which can then be taken out in a systematic program of precision attacks.  This central premise of strategic thinking has remained unchanged from the identification of ball bearing factories in Germany by the Combined Services Targeting Committee during WWII to the picking of individual terrorists to be killed by precision drone strikes in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), based on the analysis of the “signatures” emitted by these terrorists by the members of President Obama’s NSC kill list panel.  This CIA report will give the reader access to some of the banal considerations the CIA purports to use — or says it should use — in the thought process that identifies and picks the individual “high value targets” — i.e. those individual people who must be liquidated — in its targeted killing strategy.

Yet, the central feature of every strategic bombing campaign is that the number of targets in the master target lists purporting to map these critical nodes always grows wildly once the bombing begins; a phenomenon that suggests the node may not have been so critical to begin with.*  The target proliferation phenomenon has held true regardless of the level of precision in the bombardment. It can be seen in every so-called “strategic" bombing campaign to date, regardless of how the nodes have been defined:  WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, Gulf War I, Kosovo, and Gulf War II, and the GWOT (where the analysis of critical nodes reaches its reductio ad absurdum of indentifying those specific individuals who must be destroyed.)  

Attached below are excerpts from a recent report, Germany's Forgotten Victims, in the Guardian that reminds us of how this mentality can mutate into the blind butchery of carpet bombing, as happened in the case of the RAF’s night bombing of Germany in WWII** 
* One possible theoretical exception might have been the Single Integrated Operational Plan (or SIOP) which laid out the target base and weapons laydown for nuclear strikes on Soviet Union during the Cold War.  By the mid-70s, we had far more nuclear warheads than targets and there was no hope of growing the SIOP target list to the point that it was large enough to absorb all the weapons — consequently there was a lot of unnecessary double and triple targeting of even unimportant targets to use up the available nucs.  Fortunately, this possible exception to the target proliferation rule was never tested.

** The RAF night bombing campaign is certainly one of the three candidates for being the most imprecise, most pointless, and most murderous strategic bombing campaigns ever attempted.  The other contenders being the USAAF fire and atomic bombing of Japanese cities and its fire bombing of North Korea’s cities).

Germany's forgotten victims
Luke Harding explains why a new book on the allied bombing of German cities in the 1940s has created controversy
Luke Harding, Guardian, Wednesday 22 October 2003 20.03 BST
More than half a century on, the allied bombing of Germany's cities during the second world war remains a controversial topic.
On Wednesday, Britain's ambassador to Germany, Sir Peter Torry, travelled to the city of Kassel to mark the 60th anniversary of its destruction by British warplanes. Around 10,000 people died on the night of October 22 1943, when an immense firestorm swept the city. …
…  Last week, one of Germany's most controversial historians, Jörg Friedrich, published a new photo book about the issue. Called Brandstätten, or Fire Sites, it contains some of the most grisly images from the war ever to be published. None of them have been seen before. …
… In his book, Friedrich argues that the RAF's relentless campaign against Germany during the final months of the war served no military purpose. Instead, he says that Winston Churchill's decision to drop more bombs on a shattered Germany between January and May 1945, most of them on small German towns of little strategic value, was a war crime. …
…  Around 600,000 German civilians died during the allies' wartime raids on Germany, including 76,000 German children, Friedrich says. In July 1943, during a single night in Hamburg, 45,000 people perished in a vast firestorm. …
”If you destroy a landscape of 160 cities, most of medieval origin, you do something to the cultural identity of a people. All I do is describe it," he said. …
… His book recognises that Germany initiated the air war in the autumn of 1940, when 14,000 British civilians died in German raids launched from the French and Belgian coasts.
It was only in the summer of 1943 that Britain's air marshal Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris was able to respond. At first, RAF bombers were sent out in daylight to attack military targets, but a loss of aircraft forced a change in tactics.
The RAF began to bomb German cities during the night, an indiscriminate strategy causing huge civilian casualties. The attack on Hamburg, however terrible, could be justified on the grounds that the city was the centre of German submarine production, Friedrich concedes.
But, he argues, other raids on smaller, provincial towns could not. On February 16 1945, British bombers attacked the tiny town of Pforzheim, killing one-third of its 63,000 inhabitants.

In the official British history of the air war, Pforzheim merits only a footnote, despite the epic scale of the slaughter. "The RAF had run out of targets. The raid was most cruel," Friedrich says.

02 June 2015

Meet the New Israeli Government

After lurching to the right to “win” the parliamentary election in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has assembled the fruits of his victory: a new government with the smallest possible majority in Knesset (61 out of 120 seats). Just under half of the new government consists of Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party (30 seats).  The remainder is made up of the vaguely centrist Kulanu party and three fanatical or religious hard right parties (Jewish HomeShas  and United Torah , together with a hydra of competing domestic agendas that are shaping the competition to control the various ministries.  While the members of this coalition are loosely united on  the Palestinian Question (no 2-state solution), the incompatible domestic agendas are a prescription for paralysis, because a threat by even the smallest party to leave the coalition becomes a threat to the government’s existence.

This commentary by veteran Middle East reporter Jonathan Cooke’s paints a collective portrait of the kind of people who are winning the competition of power in Israel’s latest and greatest kludge of a government:  
  • Tzipi Hotovely: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - “The basic truth” … [is] … “All the  land is ours.”
  • Dore Gold: Shares oversight of Foreign Ministry - Deeply opposed to Palestinian statehood, close confidant of Netanyahu.
  • Moshe Yaalon: Defense Minister - planned to create separate buses for Jewish settlers and Palestinians (cancelled by Netanyahu); also suggested Israel should follow US example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuke Iran.
  • Sivan Shalom: Minister in charge of talks with Palestinians -- Publicly rejects 2-state solution and advocates aggressive settlement building
  • Eli Ben Dahan: Deputy Defense Minister - leading settler rabbi who has referred to Palestinians as being “sub-human.”
  • Ayelet Shked: Oversees justice system — spoke in genocidal terms against Palestinians in Gaza las summer.
Unlike Netanyahu's previous right wing governments, Cooke notes, the current one has no cosmetic moderate to soften the international image of Israel. 
Cook predicts that President Obama’s policy for dealing with Israel’s lurch to the right — i.e. to orally signal disquiet, while showering Israel with weapons, aid, and political cover in international fora — will continue with the new government.
The good news is that it is hard to imagine the new Israeli government lasting very long.  The bad news is that the new government reflects the deep seated nature of Israel’s lurch to the right, particularly with respect to the Palestinian Question.  Should it fall, the successor government, perhaps with a larger majority packaged as a government of national salvation, may be even more fanatical and self-righteous on the Palestinian Question than this one.  
Moreover, such a development would probably enjoy continued encouragement by the United States, because effete as it is, Obama's Israeli policy will be viewed as being too hard on Israel by all of the leading candidates for President of both parties during the run up to the US election in 2016.

Why Israel’s cabinet will be a headache for the US
Jonathan Cook, The National (UAE), May 28, 2015 
Only a few weeks into Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the intense strain of trying to square its members’ zealotry with Israel’s need to improve its international standing is already starkly evident.
The conundrum was laid out clearly by Tzipi Hotovely, a young political ally of Mr Netanyahu’s recently appointed to oversee the foreign ministry on his behalf.
She called together the country’s chief diplomats last week to cite rabbinical justifications for taking Palestinian land. Her broader message was that Israeli embassies abroad needed to stop worrying about being “smart” and concentrate instead on being “right”.
Urging the country’s envoys into a headlong confrontation with the world community, she told them the “basic truth” was: “All the land is ours. ... continued