War and peace: Why we upgrade II, Electric Bugaloo…

Neptunuslex takes down another defense ‘reformer” who has crawled out form under the 9/10 rock: Time’s Mark Thompson

A new administration is in power, with new majorities in both houses of Congress. Which means that voices that had howled in the wilderness for years now yearn to influence the debate.

Time’s Mark Thompson takes up the mantle with vigor, channeling Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ challenge to re-balance the force in the face of a changed security and economic environment:

Mr. Thompson goes on to cite the economy and the costs of military hardware.
The usual arguments: it costs too much, we can’t afford it. It does not work.

Carriers replaced battleships at the center of U.S. naval power in World War II, but they’ve been losing ground, offensively and defensively, for years. Until the 1980s, the offensive punch of smaller warships was limited to short-range guns. But now these ships pack Tomahawk cruise missiles, giving every destroyer, cruiser and attack submarine the ability to destroy targets well beyond the reach of carrier-based planes–without risking pilots. Distributing that firepower across 120 warships instead of concentrating it on America’s 11 carriers makes sense. Then there’s the huge built-in cost of carriers. Much of a carrier group’s firepower–accompanying ships and subs and the airplanes on its deck–is dedicated to protecting the flattop itself…

Two recent Pentagon-funded reports have questioned the Navy’s carrier-centric strategy. The vessel’s huge cost and half-century life span give potential foes like China a “static target” to threaten, a 2007 report said. A smarter option, the study suggests, is to build a Navy of many smaller and simpler ships, which would complicate enemy targeting and give U.S. commanders better intelligence.

Now he goes on to extol unmanned drones and smart bombs. The same technology that his magazine lampooned for years. “Smart bombs are too expense”, “we target civilians” etc. Now he want’s more of them? How do the bombs get there? Not by magic. Drones are short range for a reason. They are small to have a smaller radar signature, they had to be scaled up to carry bombs and missiles.
. They are limited, they can attack fixed target, but for the fast-paced battle, pilots in jets are still needed. Far from being defenseless, the modern air craft carrier is a networked powerhouse. By moving with the battle group it can fight with it’s aircraft. The other ships add their power to the carrier. Their missiles, anti-sub warfare and resupply also boost the firepower of other U.S. ships in the region. Not knowing that is dumb for a journalist covering defense.

He hits my turf, the Army pretty hard:

he Army likes to argue that the FCS is a transformational approach to fighting wars, in part because it is giving up a lot of armor in favor of some 95 million lines of computer code designed to detect and avoid enemy fire. In theory, all this technology would give combat GIs the ability to destroy the enemy from far away.

That’s the idea, anyway. In fact, there are serious questions about the FCS. Only two of its 44 key technologies are mature enough to generate reliable cost estimates, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Army has so far spent $18 billion trying to get the FCS to work and plans on spending $21 billion more before it gets a formal green light for production in 2013, when key performance tests still will not have been done. And the FCS’s vaunted mobility has already been scrapped; the Army has abandoned plans to transport all those vehicles to the battlefield aboard C-130 cargo planes because they are too heavy. Costs are on the rise as well: the Army was able to keep the FCS’s total price tag at $160 billion only by killing four of the program’s 18 platforms in 2007–and is likely to continue cutting them to keep down the expense.

The bigger question is whether such a high-tech approach to war makes sense after the U.S. learned that getting soldiers out of their vehicles and mixing among the locals was a key to turning Iraq around. Weapons designed to kill from afar may not be best for counterinsurgencies, in which intelligence is most often gleaned only by personal contact.

Oh really? We get training constantly on dealing with civilians. That can be done with $0.00. It is mixing with the locals and talking. We have military intelligence and psy ops for that. The gear he is fuming over are the Future Combat System, the Army’s effort to get more firepower in smaller packages. The ground vehicle at the heart of the system may end up on the chopping block, but other technologies are still going strong. The non-line of sight cannon and missile systems promise to deliver tremendous firepower anywhere. Both are lighter than the systems we have now. The missiles can be launched remotely. They are similar to a missile defense remores loved back in the 1980’s.

The other technologies include robots , UAV’s and sensors that assist soldiers in the field. They are tested at Fort Bliss daily. The plan is a spiral model, each program “spinning out” to army. The cannon is expected in 2014. We can afford these programs. Perhaps not all of them, but many of the spirals will reap huge rewards for the army: lighter, strong forces fighting with our legacy heavy forces (who in turn get upgrades from the FCS spiral). But the meme of “too expensive/don’t work” is just too easy to get into print.

Lastly he bases the F-22 (zoomies get no respect):

Indeed, it is only a matter of time before combat pilots, like biplanes, become obsolete. Tail-mounted GPS kits have given even dumb bombs amazing accuracy once they are pushed out the door of a lumbering cargo plane. Missiles launched from ships or subs have further minimized the need for penetrating warplanes. Meanwhile, much of the Raptor’s sky-high price–and that of accompanying jammer planes and rescue helicopters–is driven by the need to get the pilot into harm’s way and then safely out. Even worse, while the Air Force wants more fighters from a bygone era, it has been underbuying the drones that will rule the skies in the future. Though the number of unmanned aircraft is soaring, it hasn’t kept pace with the demand in Afghanistan and Iraq, where requirements for full-motion video are growing 300% annually. For every F-22 that isn’t bought, the Air Force could add about a dozen desperately needed drones to its fleet.

Today’s weapons can be radically improved with new electronics, engines and other components without having to build whole new ships, planes or tanks. The F-16’s builder says the latest version of that warplane rolling off Lockheed Martin’s assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, yields “the most advanced multirole fighter available today.” In fact, the hottest F-16 now in the skies is flown not by the U.S. Air Force but by the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

Yes they can, to a point. Unlike tanks, aircraft have room for only so much electronics. Stealth is the name of the game these days. But without stealth F-16’s, even the newest one with the latest electronic warfare are severely outmatched when compared to the newer Russian and Chinese jets.

Made in China

Made in China.

I'm in your sky, shootin' at you.

I'm in your sky, shootin' at you.

In from the cold ( in a 2007 article) beats down another reformer:

If the Chinese threat evaporated tomorrow, I’d be the first to suggest an early termination of the F-22 program, and accelerated development of UCAV technology. But as Beijing continues its military modernization program, the F-22 remains a wise investment, not only for the defense of Taiwan, but for other regions as well. You see, there’s another element missing from Mr. Silverstein’s piece. China will aggressively market the F-10, just as Russia has done with the FLANKER. Advanced fighters from those countries will likely show up in Iran and Syria in the near future, providing a similar challenge to existing, fourth-generation fighters. And once again, the question becomes: do you want an absolute advantage, or just parity?

Ph34r MAI l33t air defense skillz

Ph34r MAI l33t air defense skillz

Couple that with the newer Russian surface to air missiles. Iran has purchased many, China bought several from Russia and produces their own. Against these systems, F-16’s and F-15’s are dogmeat. Give me an American PAC-3 or PAC-2 system and a certified crew, I guarantee that they will shoot any late model F-16 or F-15 out of the sky. Unfortunately, our enemies can do the same. It takes more effort for them, but they can do it. That is why we upgrade.

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