Defense Industrialist

The Pentagon’s concerns over Chinese investment in the US should be considered carefully.

In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Daniel Michaels and his team write of how what’s “Driving U.S. Factories [is] Foreign Robotics.” All the best machine tools, it would seem, are made by the Germans and the Japanese. If that sounds like the 1980s, he asserts that it’s even more true now: their market share has increased considerably. The Web version of the article has a more alarming bit of click-bait for a title: “Foreign Robots Invade American Factory Floors.” Get past, for the moment, the peak-America obsession of the 1980s with the awesomeness of German industry, and drop your copy of George Freedman’s now absurd-sounding The Coming War With Japan (Saint Martin’s, 1991). More meaningfully, as Christopher Diamond wrote in Defense News last week, the Pentagon is increasingly “concerned with Chinese investments in US high-tech startups.”

Read More

Some industrial organization in cyber, and the organization of cyber forces

We are now seven months past what Nicholas Weaver called the National Security Agency’s “No Good, Very Bad Monday.” We may not know who the Shadow Brokers really are, but as Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai wrote on Motherboard, quoting Thomas Rid (“Cyber War Will Not Take Place”) of King’s College, they were probably very angry at Fort Meade. Back last August, they took the NSA’s website offline for almost a full day. In the big scheme of things, that’s not that scary. As Robert McMillan reported for the Wall Street Journal, their broken English—“how much you pay for enemies cyber weapons?”—was amusing. Their demand for one million bitcoin (about $568 million) was downright comical. Perhaps they might have settled for some sharks with lasers on their heads. At least that would have made for a novel organizational concept. More seriously, to cope with cyber problems, some novel organization may indeed be what’s needed, in both industry and the military.

Read More

Forthcoming developments in directed energy could bring tactical and geopolitical change.

About what topic did Congressmen Doug Lamborn of Colorado and Jim Langevin of Rhode Island ask Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during his first week on the job? “Lasers,” of course, for they run the Congressional Directed Energy Caucus. That’s a thing, apparently, for as one of us wrote in November 2013, “lasers will save us all—if they ever work.” Directed energy has been a fetching technological idea for decades, but as Sandra Irwin wrote in National Defense in July 2015, the technology seemingly “has perennially been on the cusp of a major breakthrough.” Last summer, though, Jason Ellis of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory wrote a report for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) about a coming “inflection point” in development. “Technically credible, operationally usable, and policy friendly directed energy weapons” could soon be available—if only the Congress would fund them, and the Pentagon would prioritize their adoption. So, if the congressmen get through to the secretary, what could be possible?

Read More

Advice to the Administration on Military Functions and Footprint

President Trump, the White House has announced, will announce the general outlines of his budget tomorrow: $54 billion more for the military, and an offsetting $54 billion less for everything else, except entitlements, which are not to be touched. Ring-fencing half the spending aims to fulfill the campaign promise to focus federal attention on national security and cash transfers, to which his supporters feel entitled. The move rather furthers the nature of the US government, as former Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher once quipped, as “a pension fund with an army.” The administration is also hoping for a Laffer Curve increase in tax receipts through the economic growth that should result from burning down vast sections of federal regulation. That’s not quite what happened in the 1980s, so even if the administration is punting the entitlement question until at least next year, it shouldn’t take a minor military buildup as an excuse to ignore opportunities for military savings. The work will be hard, but tens of billions are available for the taking. A vast back office sprawls within and beyond the Pentagon, and shifting money from tail to teeth requires tackling problems of footprint and function.

Read More

To save its aviation arm, the Marine Corps must destroy a part of it.

About 75 percent of the fighter and attack aircraft in the US Marine Corps—AV-8B Harriers, F-18A+/B/C Hornets, and EA-6B Prowlers—are out of service. The Marines are loving their F-35Bs so far, but the Lightning IIs are very expensive aircraft, particular when thrown against enemies who lack air forces—or even high-altitude air defense. As quotidian bomb trucks, they have far greater range than Hornets and Harriers, but that approach will put Marine Corps Aviation back into the same cycle of destruction it has experienced over the past 15 years. So what now? The alternative is to move towards a mix of attack aircraft tailored for two classes of enemy, in wars small and large. In the short term, that means buying fixed-wing gunships. In the mid-term, it means buying tilt-rotor gunships, including drones. Both aircraft types are better suited for the small wars in which the Marine Corps has been engaged for most of the post-Cold War era. For now, that might seem to destroy Marine Aviation, but to save it in the long term for the big wars.

Read More

It’s high time for a US Space Force.

“TRUMP LAUNCHES SPACE WAR,” intoned Politico Morning Defense last week. Journalist Greg Hallman was not-quite-quoting colleague Bryan Bender’s article “Trump advisers' space plan: to moon, Mars and beyond” in Politico itself of the same day. According to documents filched from the White House, he wrote, the administration is considering “a 'rapid and affordable' return to the moon by 2020, the construction of privately-operated space stations, and the redirection of NASA's mission to 'the large-scale economic development of space’.” In all fairness, that’s no war at all, and good on that. One needn’t watch a Sandra Bullock movie to understand how space wars could get out of hand quickly. But as Paul Shinkman recently wrote for US News & World Reportthose using space the most will have the most to lose. That lesson is not lost on the Russians and Chinese, so if the rest of us are using space, we’ll want to defend what we put there. Who should do that for us is another question—of whether the US needs a dedicated military force to defend its interests in space, and its use of space from here.

Read More

Advice to the administration on managing the headcount in defense

Ignore today’s mild weather, Washington. Winter is coming. The hiring freeze is in place, and only the uniformed military is really exempt. The Pentagon has just released details of how it will conduct its next reduction in force (RIF, they say), which means stand by for reduction in force. This round of civil service head-chopping may be different. In accordance with the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, who gets cut will be determined by relative performance, not longevity. Horrors—that’s just as with the contractors! Or as Raymond Stantz once said, “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.” So what next? Hopefully the hiring freeze will be brief, because the civilian workforce can’t be overhauled without bringing in fresh talent.

Read More

Lowering flight-hour costs later in the long war isn’t the main issue.

Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein agrees that Sen. John McCain’s recommendation for “300 low-cost, light-attack fighters” is a “great idea.” Analysts have noted several merits including stemming the decline in platform numbers, improving dwell times over target areaslower flight hour costs, and more stick time for USAF pilots. These are good things. But the real issue is the substantial ongoing attrition of 4th-generation airframes that will only partially be mitigated by the light-attack fighters after they’ve arrived in inventory. That’s why we need them now.

Read More

Anything could happen in defense policy under the Trump Administration

What does the Trump Administration portend for defense policy? Will it increase the defense budget? Will it change the size, structure, and disposition of military forces? Will it cancel important acquisition programs? For now, the best answer to these questions and all the others surrounding defense policy is, “Maybe”. After all, Mr. Trump’s campaign was largely bereft of careful policy prescriptions for defense, and the transition has done little to dampen the volatility of expectations.

Read More

Thoughts on Frank Kendall’s memoir, and for the Trump Administration, on the first stage of the business of defense

What does the Trump Administration have in mind for military procurement? We have been debating that question here at the Atlantic Council for weeks and months now. One tack that many Republicans around Washington DC have been advising can be described as a Reaganesque build-up. As the new administration did in 1981, they recommend, just buy more of the the stuff that the last administration was already planning to buy. This has two advantages. First, it adds force structure, which pretty much has been the Trump promise. Second, as I will explain, it makes your numbers look good. What it doesn’t bring is Third-Offsetting change at prices that fit within a sensible budget. That will require a thorough rethinking of how the military goes about selecting weapons, and at the start of the process.

Read More