Defense Industrialist

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Unless troops live off the land again, energy efficiency can only yield so much.

Colonel Greg Douquet's views on the future of battlefield energy sound neat, and one can see how these might be able to mitigate the fuel needs of electrical generators. Perhaps it’s harder to imagine what “low signature” wind and solar generating systems are. Ultimately, the idea can just sound like more kit to haul around to power some radios and laptops, but ultimately, not save all that much fuel.

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Unless troops live off the land again, energy efficiency can only yield so much.

Colonel Greg Douquet's views on the future of battlefield energy sound neat, and one can see how these might be able to mitigate the fuel needs of electrical generators. Perhaps it’s harder to imagine what “low signature” wind and solar generating systems are. Ultimately, the idea can just sound like more kit to haul around to power some radios and laptops, but ultimately, not save all that much fuel.

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Innovation in energy can be a force multiplier on the battlefield.

In March 2003, the commander of the US Army’s Fifth Corps, General William Wallace, was again reminded of the timeless axiom that amateurs talk tactics, but professionals study logistics. His massive and powerful formation, the main effort against the Iraqi Republican Guard, was “operationally paused.” The general feared that his thinly protected lines of communication were compromised by deliberate targeting from Sadam Fedayeen, and that his troops would lose access to vital supplies coming from the Port of Kuwait. As the world watched, media and political leaders were starting to term the situation a “quagmire.”

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Nine recommendations to the Trump Administration on the People of Defense

I once wrote that the business of defense under President Donald J. Trump could start with “General, you’re fired.” The president-elect has noted that the US military has been attaining less-than-satisfying results in its campaigns since the end of the Cold War, and he expects that to change. The US has been massively outspending its enemies, but not getting stellar results. In large part, the spending is because Americans make very expensive warriors, so the military must ensure that its high-class labor is very well utilized. Its people are already highly educated and motivated. For decades, though, they have been constrained by almost bizarrely unhelpful personnel policies and practices. So what to do? As a business-minded force for change, the incoming administration can take nine steps:

  1. Continue to eliminate burdensome, value-detracting tasks.
  2. Maintain those institutions that guide service culture.
  3. Pave alternative paths for promotion.
  4. End the micro-magagement and the witch-hunts.
  5. Reduce the numbers of the most senior ranks.
  6. Hire term-limited, limited-duty experts.
  7. Sunset and otherwise discourage 20-year retirements.
  8. Repeal the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act.
  9. Put some real human capital gurus in charge.

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China's stealing an American ocean glider won’t stop the world from making a whole lot more.

In what Ankur Panda in The Diplomat termed an “exceptionally brazen and illegal move by Beijing,” the Chinese Navy this past week stole an American ocean glider. On Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook announced that the Defense Department had contacted the Chinese government to demand the glider back. After some nonsensical whining about American reconnaissance around its ships, the Chinese government agreed to return the little guy. After all, seizing another Navy’s boat on the high seas can be construed as an act of war. At the same time, seizing this one—indeed, almost any single one like it—provides no useful intelligence. While this particular stunt may not be soon repeated, incidents involving autonomous craft at sea may increase considerably, as robotic boats and subs proliferate quickly.

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