We Want Fighter Pilots, not Sky Pilots

AF Religion Memo up on Billboard Near Academy | Military.com.

As if the US Air Force didn’t have enough problems, the service continues to face challenges related to the overzealous evangelicals on the campus of the Air Force Academy.

The protestant chapel in the Air Force Academy...
The protestant chapel in the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. This occupies most of the top floor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are all for faith in the cockpit, in the foxhole, and on the deckplates. We just don’t think anyone should have faith foisted on them, especially in an environment where they could be under the mistaken (or correct) impression that their religious views could affect their career. That’s harassment.

The leadership of the Air Force needs to make it clear to everyone, especially at the Academy: America is a nation of many creeds, and the Air Force must reflect that.

Philippine Group Protests US-Filipino War Games

Maritime claims in the South China Sea
Maritime claims in the South China Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

U.S. Plays Philippines War Games | ASEAN Beat.

Fresh from a standoff with the Chinese in the South China Sea, the Philippine government is trying to figure out how to incorporate the US in its defensive shield.

Meanwhile, the Philippine left is playing games:

Renato Reyes of the leftist group Bayan summarized the opposition to the entry of U.S. soldiers in the Philippines: “The U.S. wants it known that it is still top dog in this region, to the great dismay of many peace-loving peoples in Southeast Asia. We do not want our country to be used as a U.S. outpost and playground. We are not a laboratory for U.S. drone wars. We do not want the U.S. meddling in our internal conflicts and regional issues. We do not want the Philippines acting like the U.S. troops’ doormat in the region. We do not want U.S. troops using our country as their Rest and Recreation destination of choice.”

We’ll see what tune Mr. Reyes is playing when Luzon becomes the 32nd province of China. Or maybe he’s already cut a deal with his future overlords?

The Navy Needs to Get Leaner and Meaner

An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destr...
An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer DDG 1000(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cutting Navy While Obama Pivots to Asia Does Not Add Up | Navy & Maritime Security News at DefenceTalk.

I came across this little tidbit from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) at DefenceTalk. The money quote, as it were, is this:

Perhaps the most troubling part of the new shipbuilding plan and the 2013 budget is that they simply build fewer ships. As little as five months ago, the administration said the Navy needed to construct 276 ships. Today: 268. While the difference seems slight, what it means is that with fewer new ships, the Navy will be forced to put increased stress and strain upon the rest of the fleet as older ships are kept in service past their intended retirement dates. Ships are already sitting out missions because of decreasing readiness, and with an increased emphasis on the Pacific combined with an older fleet, still more ships will be unable to meet their responsibilities at sea.

I cannot fault the AEIs logic. I can, however, fault the Pentagon.

The Navy’s problem is not that it has less money, but that it has forgotten how to buy ships. A cursory review of the procurement process around the Zumwalt-class destroyers and the new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) reveals a institutional breakdown. The Navy continues to buy vessels it cannot afford that lack the core capabilities that it needs.

I’m an advocate of a strong Navy, a member of the U.S. Naval Institute, and a past (and future) member of the Navy League. But I want a strong Navy that operates within financial disciplines, capable of procuring and fielding the force with equal eyes to effectiveness and efficiency.

We don’t need to write blank checks to sustain the most powerful armed force in the world. Indeed, I would argue that the opposite is true. Next to the U.S. Air Force, the Navy needs to learn that lesson most.

Defense: Fix or Kill

English: U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II join...
Image via Wikipedia

The Lockheed-Martin F-22, the U.S. Air Force’s primary air superiority fighter (read, shoots down airplanes, sometimes attacks ground targets) is on the verge of becoming the most expensive hangar queen in history because the Air Force cannot figure out why the $143 million plane’s oxygen system has killed one pilot and nearly asphyxiated a dozen more. Air Force Lt. General Herb Carlisle, in a commendable burst of candor, suggested that the aircraft’s oxygen system may need a complete redesign.

Meanwhile, Lockheed-Martin’s other major fighter aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is facing troubles simply getting into service with the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. On Wednesday, CBS reported:

The best fighter pilots from the Air Force, Marines and Navy arrived in the Florida Panhandle last year to learn to fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive, most advanced weapons program in U.S. history. They are still waiting.

Concerns about the stealth jets’ safety, cost overruns and questions about the entire program’s feasibility have delayed the training and left about 35 pilots mostly outside the cockpit. The most the pilots do with the nine F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base is occasionally taxi them and fire up the engines. Otherwise their training is limited to three F-35 flight simulators, classroom work and flights in older-model jets. Only a handful of test pilots get to fly the F-35s.

The day after that embarrassing report ran, the Air Force cleared the F-35 to fly on a very limited basis: clear weather, local area only, and for the first week only with experienced test pilots. For its part, the Navy is conducting its own, independent safety test program.

It gets worse. Japan, who has agreed to buy 42 F-35s for $122 million each, is now having second thoughts.

Japan may cancel orders for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets if the price rises or deliveries are delayed, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said on Wednesday, casting doubt on Tokyo’s choice of next-generation combat aircraft.

They are not alone. Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Turkey, Italy, and Denmark are all rethinking their commitment to the F-35 program.

I am as proud as any American of the outstanding quality of the U.S. arsenal, but as I learned at a young age, not every weapons system performs as advertised, and some prove inadequate or even lethal to their operators. This is a problem as old as warfare. What separates victors from vanquished, however, is the speed with which one’s logistics establishment can identify problems with a weapons system, rectify them, or kill the program and replace it.

The United States has produced its share of dog weapons in the past. The problem now is that we have fewer suppliers, fewer choices, and more political capital being spent on each system, making them increasingly difficult to kill even when they need to be eliminated. With all of the stalwart defense of both the F-22 and F-35 I have heard, I have never heard a congressman or an administration official draw a line and say “if things aren’t fixed by this time and this date, we’re going to cancel this system and buy something else.”

The DoD needs to learn to say these things, and to give itself the wherewithal to say them. A military equipped with white elephants is a plaything, not a combat force.

The Blackfive National Service Plan

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers march in "...
Image via Wikipedia

The Blackfive blog is one of my favorite military blogs because of how well it balances the “inside baseball” professional military chatter with an examination of larger issues. A superb example of the latter is in “The Obama/Uncle J National Service Plan.”

Despite the light-hearted title and tone, the post offers the basic outlines of a two-year program that would have every American young person giving back to his or her country. A sort of combination of military service, the Peace Corps, and Americorps, the “plan” has inspired us to dig deeper into the national service question. We will be addressing this in later posts, but it really gets our brainstorm clouds firing lightning.

Apart from offering options that appeal to those who object to wearing a uniform, we also like how the plan dovetails with the thinking of Thomas P.M. Barnett, who proposes an activist American foreign policy designed to preserve global stability not merely by force or threat of arms, but through a well-thought-out development focus.

Imagine extending the New GI Bill to cover outstanding participants in the program, making a college education a less daunting choice. Indeed, colleges could offer courses to national service members, and credit for participating in certain types of programs.

Imagine using the program to train medical and dental paraprofessionals for service with the National Health Service, giving that organization an non-commissioned corps of medical workers.

Imagine a professional military augmented by a corps of draftees trained to take on the more mundane aspects of military service, cutting costs but eliminating the need for pay competitive with the private sector for service support troops.

All this can be ours, and we have done it before: FDR’s alphabet soup programs like the WPA and CCC offer models.

All we need to do first is get our fiscal house in order. Any suggestions?

San Francisco Defanged

image

The S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien, one of San Francisco’s shrinking number of reminders of the city’s contributions to the defense of the United States.

The Navy has all but abandoned the San Francisco Bay area. Two naval shipyards, a naval base, two naval air stations, and a weapons station are all gone.

The sea service follows the Army, which closed the Presidio, Fort Mason, and Oakland Army Depot, and the Air Force, which closed Hamilton Air Force Base. San Francisco is BRAC* Central.

It’s a pity all around.

I am sure the armed forces would have been happy to stay, the Navy in particular, but the exigencies of BRAC and a local populace that is all but hostile to the military made their continued position in the region untenable.

In fact, California, which ended the Second World War at the heart of the nation’s ability to project power overseas, has been largely demilitarized, even as our need to project power overseas – especially to Asia and the Pacific – has grown. There are exceptions to the trend, like San Diego, Pendleton, Lemoore, Vandenberg, and Travis, but arguably the California Frontier is less defended now than it has been at any time since the end of the Civil War.

Many would suggest that this is a good thing, pointing to the money saved, and to a state of 40 million souls increasingly desperate for affordable living and working space. Others would argue that in this day and age, our frontiers no longer need be defended by a network of expensive physical installations.

Yet I cannot shake a vague foreboding, a feeling that we have somehow been too quick to disarm the Golden State. History teaches us that all too often, so-called “peace dividends” are false profits. As nauseated as I am by the effort to use the spectre of a China Rampant to justify gold-plated weapons programs, I do not believe that we are somehow on the cusp of an era free of conflict, nor do I believe that our oceanic moats offer the same level of protection that they did a century ago.

Prudence should dictate our defense, not hope, ideology, or an excess of fiscal over caution, and my fellow Californians (I am a Californian, albeit one living in China) should remember that to be effective a shield must sometimes be visible. And in a day where the threat gets closer to home than ever, the concentration of defenders in the fewest possible locations has become an outdated approach.

For their own sakes, San Franciscans had best be praying that America’s approach to defense – engage far from our shores – remains consistent and successful. Otherwise the day will come when they will regret their well-meaning but shortsighted ejection of those charged with their security.

* Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the Congressional entity formed at the end of the Cold War to shrink to the greatest extent possible the physical footprint of the U.S. Armed Forces.

How to Deal with China’s ASBM

The Chinese DongFeng 21 anti-ship ballistic missile is going to be a heaven-sent gift for the people at Lockheed Martin. In fact, I am betting that the U.S. Navy is currently tasking them to come up with a major upgrade to their AN/SPY-1 radar systems to allow detection and targeting of this new threat.

The DF-21 is also going to provoke a rush to buy countermeasures. All of which means good things for Navy budgets. Which is a bad thing.

The best countermeasure for this kind of weapon is more small, high-speed, inexpensive, and capable ships. Unfortunately, the US has twice proven itself totally incompetent at building such ships, first with the Legend-class National Security cutters for the US Coast Guard, and then for the Littoral Combat Ships for the Navy.