Defense Industrialist

The DND must ensure that the RCAF's replacement for the CF-18s can defend North America against emerging threats.

The Liberal Government of Canada has announced that it intends to swiftly sole-source 18 F/A-18E Super Hornets to fill a perceived capability gap. The need flows from Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s views of existing treaty obligations under NORAD and NATO. The Royal Canadian Air Force, however, has stated that its 77 existing CF-18s will last at least to 2025, even if the loss rate for the type has increased of late. Whoever is correct, and however the government proceeds in replacing the fighter fleet, missile threats to North America are rising. The incoming Trump administration in Washington will bring heightened expectations for what NORAD and NATO really mean. Thus, the Department of National Defence must find new planes that are at least upgradeable for directly addressing these emerging threats.

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Technological developments and actual financial constraints demand top-to-bottom rethinking of the business of defense.

As I wrote earlier this month, Donald Trump’s unpredicted electoral victory has brought the possibility for real change in the enterprise of national security. To borrow Paul Ryan’s phrase, thoroughly rethinking the business of defense could create a military that moves closer to the speed of broadband than the speed of bureaucracy. But if the Trump Administration will be rebuilding the military, it’s worth asking what it’s rebuilding it for. I argue that in the early 21st century, the means of warfare will be increasingly precise, autonomous, scalable, ubiquitous, and democratized. As the monies for responding to emerging threats are actually not limitless, the incoming administration will need to think through the implications of all five of these hallmarks, and consider how to get ahead of the problems. I further argue that the Trump Administration thus needs a little less Reagan, a little more Rumsfeld, and a strategy of payloads and productivity.

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Advice to the Trump Administration on bringing discipline to the defense enterprise

At the conclusion of an unconventional but brilliant campaign, Donald Trump has effected, in terms he might appreciate, a hostile takeover of the executive branch of the United States federal government. In that campaign, he repeatedly promised to move swiftly towards administrative change, perhaps in a hundred-day campaign. There is reason to move out smartly. As Paul Ryan wrote in A Better Way: Our Vision for a Confident America, enemies and adversaries are “moving at the speed of broadband, so we cannot move at the speed of bureaucracy.” Rather, as the Speaker said the day after the election, with majorities in both legislative houses, “the opportunity is to go big, go bold and to get things done.” For his part, Trump has promised to prioritize private-sector experience and thinking in installing leaders and formulating policies for all federal agencies. So, for Defense, what now?

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Focus on national productivity growth to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio.

The U.S. presidential election just ended was driven by identity politics—affinity by race, class, gender, etc.— rather than ideological competition or policy differences. As a result, resolution of the political contest will not unto itself unlock the calcified debate over fiscal policy that has left the nation’s military posture in a state of unsettled suspense. Although President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to “repeal the defense sequester,” the torrent of identity politics on which he rides into office also will generate cross-currents affecting taxes and domestic spending priorities that are arguably more important to his constituency.

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The US Navy has at least three options for fire support ashore, and should move out smartly with more than one.

As James Holmes of the Naval War College wrote on The National Interest last month, “the US Navy has an image problem.” Perhaps, as Steven Wills of Ohio University (a.k.a. Lazarus) argued in the comments, it’s merely that ships like the Zumwalt-class destroyers “are just popular bad news sources for defense journalists to sell magazines and get clicks for their web pages.” This week, however, the Navy produced its own clickbait, in announcing its intention to avoid buying cannon shells for its biggest cannons. This is more than an image problem; it’s a deadly serious problem that was eminently avoidable. Fortunately, there are at least three ways out of this mess now, and at least two should be pursued in parallel.

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The future of surface warfare requires cooperation across borders.

Sea control in the 20th century revolved around fleets based on battleships, then aircraft carriers.  Lesser vessels like destroyers and frigates were for constabulary duty during peacetime, and during wartime, for assisting the main battle fleet in defeating opposing navies to restore control of seas. In an age when the aircraft carrier strike group is increasingly vulnerable to long-range barrages of conventional precision weapons, vessels like destroyers, augmented by large numbers of on-board unmanned platforms, may become the principal surface combatants, alongside submarines. Given ongoing technological changes, lighter-armed and -equipped frigates, which presently dominate most navies as constables, may not be survivable against non-state actors, let alone great powers.

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Not every Third Offset choice will be this easy, but the Strategic Capabilities Office has found an excellent solution.

At the CSIS’s Third Offset Conference last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that Will Roper’s Strategic Capabilities Office has found a solution to the United States’ shortfall in coastal artillery. The simplicity is almost obvious: modify the Army’s existing Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) with a anti-ship seeker. This means, as Sydney Freedberg wrote for Breaking Defense, that “after at least two years of pressure from Congress and vague promises from Pentagon leaders, and for the first time since the Coast Artillery Corps was disbanded 66 years ago, the Army is officially back in the business of killing ships.” As I wrote two years ago on this issue, there were quite a few ways of reestablishing this capability, but Carter’s people might have found one of the best.

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The Pentagon’s drive for innovation is up against adversaries' efforts to “occupy leading positions” themselves.

Back at the beginning of August, I wrote an essay about how soon was too soon with new weapons. Some historical perspective, I thought, should inform the aims of the Pentagon’s Third Offset strategy. And yet, to focus a moment on a more mundane technology, the US Army has needed a light tank for twenty years. Today, the threat of new Russian tanks in inaccessible corners of Europe strongly suggests an immediate need. The Army is once again seeking ideas from would-be suppliers, and may finally launch a program. But is the Army already too far behind the curve? So here’s another general question about the timing of military innovations in materiel: how late is too late? 

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Some indications from history on how Philippine “separation” from the United States might affect military planning.

Back in March, as Military Times optimistically reported, the US military was planning to place “permanent logistics facilities” at five bases in the Philippines. In May, the Philippine presidential election put a quick end to that. Since then, new President Rodrigo Duterte's bluster on multiple matters has seemed to rival even the bombast coming from this year’s presidential election in the United States. His approval ratings are high, however, and even transcend demographic distinctions. So let’s consider the issue from a hard-nosed American perspective, drawing on some lessons of history. How did the nature of the Philippines affect American strategy prior to the Second World War, and how might a changing relationship with the Philippines affect materiel planning now?

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Who wins and who loses when the Pentagon prohibits exclusive dealing?

On 11 October, the US Air Force received prospective contractors’ proposals its its Ground-Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD) program, its effort to begin replacing its Boeing LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 2030. The USAF is sufficiently concerned about its choices for cost-effective replacement that the service’s request for proposals restricted its contractors from exclusive dealing. At least one of two subcontractors thus lost an opportunity for a one-time payout from a prime contractor, and it’s possible that both did. The idea is certainly at odds with the Total Package Procurement concept of the 1960s, and the equally unlamented Total System Program Responsibility concept of the 1990s. In contrast, using the government’s buying power in this way in the 2010s makes for quite a smart acquisition strategy.

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