14 February 2014


THE SPENDAGON and the military-industrial complex's campaign to keep the U.S. a warstate. Americans are quick to condemn and make fun of other countries because of the level of corruption in their governments, but this series of articles from Foreign Policy magazine shows just how corrupt and morally bankrupt Sec of Defense Chuck Hagel, the pentagon, congress and the military-industrial complex are. It is no wonder cheating on test, sexual assaults, and active duty suicides are on the rise in America's military. The system has been rotting from the top down, and is now on the verge of collapsing. We had high hopes for a new and fresh and honest leadership with the appointment of Sec Hagel. What a disappointment....

The Spendagon

The Men Who Really Run the Pentagon

Bob Gates wrestled the defense budget back from the Joint Chiefs. Chuck Hagel is handing it back.

Before Chuck Hagel was nominated to be secretary of defense about a year ago, he made a reputation for himself as a independent Republican politician who described Pentagon spending as "bloated." In office, however, the former Nebraska senator has argued that the Pentagon should be rescued from historically minor and appropriate reductions. In doing so, he seeks to reverse one of the few real reforms that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates before him enforced on high spenders inside the Pentagon and in Congress. 
Hagel and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Sylvia Mathews Burwell, say they want to revive the old "wish list" process in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff used to connive with each other and Congress, behind the back of secretaries of defense and OMB, to make additions that couldn't cut the mustard in the regular budget review process.
Hagel has shown himself to be the individual of lesser stature that many were stunned to observe at his infamous confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee last year. The Hagel-OMB undertaking also reveals who or what is really running the Pentagon these days: As with feckless secretaries of defense in the past, it's the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) that run the show.
Gates deserved some real praise for stopping the JCS from running behind the backs of defense secretaries (and presidents) to solicit spending above and beyond officially approved defense budgets. For years, the JCS had pre-arranged with high-spending members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees to be asked at hearings to submit lists of programs for extra spending. The JCS preferred to call these lists "unfunded requirements;" everyone else called them "wish lists."
As a national defense staffer in the Senate Budget Committee in the 1990s, I often listened to Armed Services Committee staffers boast about how they could supplant defense budgets -- defying the president, OMB, and even DOD -- with the help of eager members of the JCS. Either clueless or too weak to put a stop to the process, secretaries of defense simply stood by, making themselves into figurative pigmies on budget, hardware, and even political issues. Ships, planes, vehicles, and a host of other programs were either increased or started through this process -- all without consulting the secretary of defense or even the president. Politically, the JCS was making a monkey of them both.
The problem was so bad under William Cohen, secretary of defense at the end of the Clinton administration, that his staff had to call me at the Senate Budget Committee to find out what was on the lists the JCS had submitted at Armed Services Committee hearings. The secretary of defense had simply been cut out of the process. Even the blustering Donald Rumsfeld succumbed to the practice, despite having pledged early on to put an end to it. 
It would fall to Gates to finally eliminate the wish lists.
It would fall to Gates to finally eliminate the wish lists. An astute politician and skilled bureaucratic infighter, the Bush holdover began in 2009 to require the Joint Chiefs to show him the lists before they went anywhere. Then he simply told the chiefs to take almost everything -- and then everything -- off the lists. The duplicity stopped -- and everyone knew who was in charge in the Pentagon. But the wish list is making a comeback under Hagel. As Bloomberg reported last month, the defense secretary and OMB recently "directed" the Joint Chiefs to put together a $26 billion list of additions to the 2015 defense budget. They're calling it an "investment fund" that Congress could make possible with additional money, above and beyond the $498 billion the Pentagon has already been allotted in the budget that will be submitted on March 4. Pentagon wags almost immediately dubbed the fund a revival of the old wish lists, and people inside the building have made it known to me that the Joint Chiefs are already haggling among themselves over who gets how much and what goes on the list -- some of it clearly choreographed to provoke pleas of eager consent from specific program advocates on Capitol Hill. 
Even with that $498 billion capped by current law -- based on Congress' recent modifications to the Budget Control Act of 2011 and its notorious sequestration process -- finding the extra $26 billion is child's play in the current budget and political environment. Not only can Congress rewrite the budget cap for 2015 -- just as it did for 2014, when it added $19.2 billion to the level the BCA would have required -- it also has a broad array of budgetary gimmicks to stuff the wished-for "investment fund" into 2015 appropriations. 
One easy way to skirt the cap is to magically convert non-war spending into "war" spending (also known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund). Last year, Congress used this method to add an additional $10.8 billion to the 2014 defense budget over and above the $19.2 billion they added by rewriting the Budget Control Act. If they added a total of $30 billion in 2014, adding $26 billion in 2015 will not be hard. All that will be needed is for the Joint Chiefs to say they want the money. Their eager facilitators on Capitol Hill will be all the more receptive in an election year.
Clearly,  the secretary of defense won't be calling these shots. That Hagel is reported to be "directing" the Pentagon to add this $26 billion "investment fund" is a bad joke. Having said that Pentagon spending is "bloated" and "needs to be pared down" prior to his confirmation hearing, Hagel has reinvented his DOD budget song and is looking for ways to push the numbers higher, not lower. Even without the wish-list additions, the 2015 budget is higher than the $450 billion in today's dollars the Pentagon averaged during the Cold War -- when the United States faced the existential threat of the Soviet Union and a dogmatically hostile Peoples Republic of China. With the wish-list, Hagel will have more to spend than most secretaries of defense since the end of World War II -- and that's according to the Pentagon's own budget records.
If you abandon the Pentagon's self-serving method of measuring inflation in its own budgets and use instead inflation as measured for the overall U.S. economy, the gigantic size of contemporary Pentagon spending becomes truly remarkable. Using OMB's gross domestic production (GDP) measure of inflation, the current $498 billion Pentagon budget is $150 billion above the Cold War average, not $50 billion above it. That means that Hagel will have more to spend than virtually any secretary of defense before the advent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (See Fig. 1).
Moreover, the new wish list begs the JCS and Congress to play games with the money to ensure it is spent.
Those games have already begun. In its daily summary of defense news, Politico has recounted how the $26 billion "investment" slush fund is being and will be misused. In one gambit, the Navy was reported to want to dangle the USS George Washington aircraft carrier before the sea power advocates in the House Armed Services Committee, offering to let it stay in the battlefleet if they fund an already scheduled  refurbishment of its nuclear power plant as a part of the "investment fund." The Navy might do the same with the P-8 surveillance aircraft, which recently flunked some testing, to help keep it alive. There is even talk of dangling a few F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the fund -- confronting Congress with the prospect of raising the unit cost, already astronomical, if it fails to agree. The gaming predicted by some is sufficiently rampant for Politico to flippantly ask its readers, "What would you buy if you had an extra $26 billion?...Please send along your ideas."
With his servile modification to the "wish list" process and his capitulation to budget expansion business as usual, Hagel has made apparent his basic nature: Formerly a critic of "bloated" Pentagon spending, he now makes himself an advocate of pumping up a DOD budget already at historically high levels. That is the politically safe turf, laid for him by the Joint Chiefs' assertions that only more money, piled on top of a historically high spending level, can save America from what they like to characterize as insufficient resources.
It is a sad end to the hope that Chuck Hagel would bring the toughness and skepticism of a former non-commissioned officer and a wily, independent politician to the top job in the Pentagon. Instead, like too many of his predecessors, he looks more like a facilitator for business as usual.
Spare us these pols who seek to impress but never make a dent.
Joerg Koch/Getty Images

National Security

Error Report II

GAO's defense of its F-35 investigation worries me even more.

It is important and proper that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) responded to my criticisms of its March 2013 report on the Defense Department's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Any watchdog agency should jealously defend its competence and independence, especially when the foundations of its oversight come under attack from those with experience, and sources, inside the agency.
The GAO took issue with my article, titled "Error Report," on three matters.
First, I am said to have ignored the "numerous quantitative indicators of development and production progress" that the GAO says substantiated its conclusion that "Overall, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is now moving in the right direction after a long, expensive, and arduous learning process." And yet, much of this "progress" "in the right direction" remains behind even the revised -- and much relaxed -- program schedule, and it is occurring just as the F-35 is entering the more strenuous part of its flight testing. More to the point, the favorable conclusion flies in the face of expert reports, such as that of the Defense Department's own director of operational test and evaluation, who has reported a growing, not diminishing, number of problems.
The GAO's implication that the F-35's more difficult years are behind it, not ahead, is, in effect, a recommendation to proceed with the F-35's highly "concurrent" (buy it before you finish testing it) acquisition schedule. Having criticized concurrency in the past, the GAO would surely protest it is doing no such thing now, but that is the effect. If you doubt my judgment, read the assessment of Lockheed Martin's hired consultant praising the GAO report. (Lockheed-Martin produces the F-35.)
Second, I am said to have mischaracterized the GAO's evidence of the F-35 program making "considerable progress" in resolving the serious problems in the all-important helmet-mounted display of essential flight and threat information for the pilot. The GAO's substantiation of the "progress" is the argument that "DOD is pursuing a dual-design approach, essentially creating an alternative to the display's original design." In others words, the fix for the failure in one design is to try a second ("while working to fix the first"). The "considerable progress" is not in the functioning of the helmet but in the management decision to try an alternate approach. However, nothing in the GAO report gives credence to material progress in either helmet. All we have is the assurance that "program and contractor officials told us that they have increased confidence that the helmet will be fixed." As I said in my article, when I worked in the GAO division specializing in program evaluation and methodology, we used to laugh derisively at such data-free "officials told us" reports.
Nonetheless, we are assured by the GAO that "Pursuing an alternative is an appropriate way to reduce risk." Indeed, if that is truly the case, and the GAO believes its own prescription, where is the alternative design for the ever-problematic F-35 itself, and where is the GAO recommendation that such a management approach should be imposed on DOD? The F-35 program is riddled with remaining risks (even according to GAO), and an alternative design for new, better, cheaper fighters and ground-attack aircraft would vastly inform the debate and give decision-makers real choices.
Finally, the GAO stoutly defends its independence and competence, saying that formal discussions with agency officials about the facts in a report "before a draft report is sent for official comments" are necessary and appropriate "to ensure that the facts are not in dispute." I could not agree more; that's not what I alleged.
The practice in certain defense-related sections of the GAO today is to go beyond holding formal discussions to ensure the accuracy of facts. Instead, they send a written draft-document to agency officials well before the formal submission of an officially approved draft report for official agency comments. This is done for the purpose of acquiring comments from DOD officials not just on the accuracy of facts but also on the overall content. When those various comments from DOD officials are provided, they are received in the context of a GAO management climate that warns staff that "non-concurs" from (that is to say, disputes with) DOD are very much discouraged. In short, at this early stage of a draft GAO report, DOD has the opportunity to modify or even scrub out any unwanted findings, and it is done before the formal exchange of an official draft report and receipt of official agency comments that are publicly recorded in GAO reports. This process is all done in the absence of public disclosure.
When GAO managers impress on staff their desire to reduce to an absolute minimum those "non-concurs" with DOD, a "love letter" like that I describe in my article -- stating "The Department will continue to be supportive of the annual GAO review of the F-35 program" -- can be the result. This is not a reassuring relationship of an executive branch agency under investigation with its legislative branch overseer; it has all the hallmarks of the students interacting with the professors to influence the grade on their final exam.
In arguing against my central accusation that DOD exercised an unseen influence on the GAO's March 2013 F-35 report, the GAO sought to prove the independence and quality of its work by stating "GAO's quality assurance processes have been assessed on three separate occasions by teams of international auditors -- most recently in 2010 -- and in each case those processes were found to be effective and reliable."
But that's not exactly the whole story. Not only did those three outside reviews not include the specific GAO report in question, at least one of them did not give GAO a complete bill of health, insiders tell me. I am informed that one of the international peer reviews critiqued the GAO on the selection of evaluation criteria (i.e., issues such as the standards by which assertions like "considerable progress" should be measured). In response, the GAO has started an in-house training course to address the deficiency. But you would never know that by reading the GAO's retort to my article. (The GAO did not even name the three separate international auditors.)
I further wonder what the peer reviewers would have to say if they were allowed access -- including to all staff and their work papers -- to a GAO report that conveyed its draft content to the agency under investigation before the official agency comments were formally requested. I further wonder what peer reviewers would think of a management climate that admonished staff to eliminate areas of non-concurrence with the agency under investigation. (When I was at the GAO, they called it "having good relations with the agency.") Is this the relationship we want a watchdog agency to have with the people and programs under investigation?
All is not well in the GAO. The agency's retort to my criticisms is flawed; it seems to validate my concerns, and actually, it increases them.
Readers of the GAO's reports should be asking, is the GAO telling me all the facts I need to know, and is this report coming from an agency that disciplines itself to be strictly independent and at arm's length from those under inquiry -- not currying favor with them?

National Security

Error Report

Is there a government conspiracy to save the F-35?

Until recently, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter had been having a pretty rough time.
In 2012, its estimated average "program acquisition unit cost" was reported to have doubled, from the $81 million per copy anticipated in 2001 to $161 million, flight tests revealed deficiencies in achieving the F-35's modest performance requirements, and scheduled full-rate production was delayed to 2019.
In 2013, the pace of negative events and reports has only increased. So far, the F-35 has been grounded not once but twice (with different components showing signs of failure). Also, not one but two reports from the Defense Department's director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) documented serious problems: Existing deficiencies, such as the inability to land safely on aircraft carriers, have not been resolved, and new issues, such as lower than predicted acceleration, are cropping up -- just as the more challenging flight tests are beginning.
Even the F-35 program manager, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, was quoted in Australia being volubly caustic toward the F-35's two largest contractors (Lockheed-Martin and Pratt & Whitney), saying they were trying to "squeeze every nickel" out of the program, not controlling their costs. Then this week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released this year's annual review of the program. It reported that the first four F-35 production contracts have overrun their targets by $1.2 billion; above that, the F-35s built before 2016 will need an additional $1.7 billion to fix the problems uncovered, so far, by testing. In addition, the amount needed to sustain the F-35 will climb to almost $14 billion in 2018, while the Pentagon is supposed to absorb cuts required by budget deals. As GAO also points out, the program faces a conundrum: Reducing production to save money will actually increase the unit cost of each F-35 built, thereby making the already unaffordable program that much more unsustainable.
And yet, it would seem that in other respects, the F-35 defenders are circling their wagons.
Lt. Gen. Bogdan is a more complicated personality in the F-35 saga than his highly quotable statements about greedy contractors might make him out to be. On inspection, he is an uncompromising defender of the F-35 -- he has trashed unwelcome reports on the F-35's ineffectiveness and, more importantly, tried to intimidate subordinates who have unflattering things to say about the plane.
Speaking at a conference of DOD bigwigs funded by Credit Suisse and McAleese & Associates, Bogdan dismissed one of the DOT&E reports as "premature," and then he went even further. One of the pilots quoted in the report had the strength of character and intellect (based on a few hundred hours of operational aircraft flight experience) to express concern that the design of the F-35 cockpit restricted pilots' ability to see threats to the rear, saying "aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time." The comment addressed a real flaw in the F-35's airframe design, and it came from an experienced operator. What was Bogdan's response? He told the press at the bankers' conference that "we can always put that pilot in a C-2 [cargo aircraft]...where [he] won't worry about getting gunned down."
Sure, general, that's just what DOD needs more of: Washington-based bureaucrats talking down to servicemen in the field with the character to express their experience-based concerns about defective equipment. Donald Rumsfeld did the same thing in 2004 when a reservist in Iraq had the gall to suggest that soldiers should not have to scrounge in scrap heaps to improvise "hillbilly armor" to survive in their vehicles in combat. Saying, "You go to war with the Army you have," Rumsfeld told the soldier to suck it up.
Lt. Gen. Bogdan, welcome to your own personal alcove in Donald Rumsfeld's hall of conceit.
However, beyond arrogance from "milicrats" at financiers' conferences in Washington, something else -- subtle, but perhaps more sinister -- has been going on.
For years, the GAO has been reporting on the F-35. While some of the reports have not probed as deeply or as completely as others, they have all been a valuable, informative resource. In some respects, the new March 11 report is no exception: F-35 costs continue to grow; capabilities are being achieved late or moved out of the program altogether; after 10 years, most capabilities are yet to be verified, or even tested; what some call the "death spiral" (smaller numbers of aircraft at increased cost) is a major threat to the program.
However, this new GAO report, titled "F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Current Outlook Is Improved, but Long-Term Affordability Is a Major Concern," makes certain optimistic statements that it does not substantiate, suggesting the Pentagon may have influenced its findings.
Twice in the report, GAO asserts that the F-35 program has made "considerable progress" addressing the problems the F-35's high-tech helmet-mounted display. DOT&E reported that pilots in training frequently saw misaligned horizons, inoperative or flickering displays, and double, unfocused, jittery, washed-out and/or latent images in the helmet display, but the GAO report did not explain the problems, let alone any solutions. Then, GAO stated that "program and contractor officials told us that they have increased confidence that the helmet deficiencies will be fixed." In other words, contractors and DOD officials told GAO the helmet was on the mend, and without meaningful evaluation or evidence, GAO simply regurgitated the assurance in its report.
In another section labeled "F-35 Program Met Most of Its 2012 Key Management Objectives," GAO presented a matrix supporting inferred progress: Seven of ten objectives were declared met. GAO failed to note that several of the achieved objectives were almost impossible to fail. For example, GAO gave the F-35 credit for passing the objective titled "Begin Lab Testing" of the problematic helmet display and for receiving a go-ahead decision for the entire program from DOD's Defense Acquisition Board. These "accomplishments" are tantamount to students giving themselves a passing grade for starting a course, not completing it -- let alone with a passing grade. Also, the F-35 was found to have passed the objective to "Begin F-35A and F-35B Pilot Training," even though the DOT&E report raised serious questions about whether the F-35A was qualified to begin such training.
Interestingly, two of the objectives declared to have been failed were ones that are readily quantifiable: delivering the promised number of aircraft and achieving the Defense Contracting Management Agency's criteria for an audit. When pass or fail was quantifiable, there were problems.
Such vapid but positive findings gave one of the F-35's biggest boosters, Lockheed consultant Loren Thompson, license to author a paean to the GAO report, "GAO Gives F-35 Fighter Its Best Grades Ever," citing the above-mentioned and other supposed signs of progress.
Having worked in the GAO for nine years, I am familiar with some of the problems this GAO report contains.
In the lunch room in the GAO headquarters, we used to crack jokes about weak, "officials told us" reporting. It may be accurate that contractors and officials said the helmet would be fixed, but where is the empirical -- not rhetorical -- evidence of the "considerable progress"? What has actually been improved, what is the proof (from test data) of that, and why would anyone simply repeat the advocates' assurances as the primary evidence? How sad that such fluff suffices as evidence for managers in today's GAO.
While there are other examples in the report of poorly supported assertions, GAO's conclusion is the real stunner: "Overall, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is now moving in the right direction after a long, expensive, and arduous learning process." Other than the weak examples cited, there is no substantiation of this sweeping statement. Indeed, reporting from others, such as DOD's own DOT&E, would seem to indicate the problems in the F-35 program may be growing, especially as it enters the more difficult part of its flight testing.
One has to wonder where GAO got the idea to print such a reassuring, but vapid, conclusion. I think I might know the answer.
Every GAO report should be, and is widely assumed to be, completely independent of any influence from outsiders, especially those who are the subject of investigation. The way I saw GAO operate during my tenure there as an assistant director and as former colleagues and other GAO contacts continue to tell me, that essential independence is sometimes compromised.
A basic element of the GAO report process is to send a final, manager-approved draft of a report to the agency being investigated for its official comments. These comments are routinely published in the report, and any time the agency under investigation finds what it considers to be errors of fact or judgment, it states them -- publically and on the record. GAO has the option, on its own re-examination, to modify the report accordingly or to stick to its guns, citing its reasons why.
However, for many years this important process has been abused by some in GAO. Repeatedly, I would observe others at GAO providing early, not final, draft reports to DOD officials asking for their informal -- not publically recorded -- comments, plus any useful data to substantiate their claims. DOD would even edit report language. The agency's "suggestions" would always come back accompanied by the implication that "if you say it this way, we won't raise any serious objections to your report."
For reasons that always seemed bizarre -- at best -- to me, many top GAO managers preferred findings, conclusions, and recommendations that gave DOD only limited, if any, heartburn. (I devoted a chapter in my first book, The Wastrels of Defense, to these and other serious problems in GAO research. However, to its great credit, the GAO division in which I worked, which specialized in program evaluation and methodology, refused to engage in this under-the-table agency-editing and report-correcting process.)
This problematic behavior has apparently taken deeper root in GAO -- all of it unseen by the readers of GAO reports. DOD is now routinely given a written "statement of fact" that conveys the substantive parts of a report at an early, incomplete stage before the research is closed out. The DOD responses, including edits and other suggestions, are taken as a regular part of the report-writing process. Moreover, staff are admonished that a "good" report is one that DOD does not obstreperously object to: As few "non-concurs" as possible -- if any -- are highly desirable in the final, written agency comments that appear in the end of a published report.
In short, DOD appears to have an unseen hand in influencing the text of GAO reports, and the management guidance as perceived by the GAO staff is to accept the DOD guidance to reduce as much as possible any areas of disagreement. The differences may only be subtle in a final GAO report, or they could appear in the form of strangely unsubstantiated assertions and conclusions -- the sort of vapid statements that appear in GAO's new F-35 report.
Indeed, the only other explanation for the data-free assertions might be that the work at GAO, especially the review process, was sloppy and did not merit what used to be the highly prized declaration (known as the "GAGAS statement") that all the work for the report was performed "in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards," which -- justified or not -- appears on page two of the report.
My knowledge of this sort of practice led me to view as highly suspicious Appendix III in this latest GAO F-35 report: "Comments from the Department of Defense." It is a one-page letter stating, "The DOD values the GAO's analysis of the F-35 program. We agree with GAO's concluding observations and appreciate the recognition of the Department's responsiveness to previous recommendations. The Department will continue to be supportive of the annual GAO review of the F-35 program."
With a love letter like that from DOD to the agency that is supposed to be Congress's watchdog, it is time to worry how far self-interested interventions have penetrated a respected and heretofore sacrosanct agency. All may not be so well with the F-35 -- or with GAO.
Samuel King/DVIDS

National Security

A Stampede of Hysterics

America's generals are just as morally bankrupt as Congress.

I read two critically important reports this week on the impact that sequestration would have on national defense. That possible reduction in military spending -- $48 billion, or 7.4 percent of the $645 billion currently appropriated for fiscal year 2013 -- is being characterized by the stampede of hysterics who run the Pentagon as the virtual end of national security as we know it. What these two reports show is that we should now consider the Pentagon as morally and mentally broken as Congress.
The first report, by Chuck Spinney, who spent a few decades inside the Department of Defense evaluating budgets, weapons, and bureaucratic behavior, was published at Counterpunch and Time's Battleland blog. The second was a Congressional Research Service report by Amy Belasco, who has spent the last few decades at CRS and the Congressional Budget Office parsing defense budgets and their implications.
Both authors indirectly address the testimony this week of the deputy secretary of defense and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff at the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. To a man, they lent all the rhetorical and substantive support they could muster to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's depiction of sequestration as "doomsday" and to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey's description of it as an "unprecedented crisis" -- a characterization he augmented by adding that he was "jumping up and down." He truly was.
Put simply, the chiefs and their ostensible civilian masters plan to implement the cuts mandated by law in the most destructive, negative way possible, which has the convenient effect -- for them -- of pushing Congress and the White House to cough up more money. According to their testimony, the Army will reduce training levels to such a low point that units cannot be sent to Afghanistan. The Navy plans to postpone, if not cancel, maintenance for ships in a fleet already at historic lows for upkeep and repair, and deployments to the Persian Gulf have already been postponed. The Air Force is going to further reduce its historically low training of pilots, and maintenance will also hit new lows. Throughout the services, civilian maintainers, auditors, and program overseers will be furloughed, aircraft will be grounded, and ships held in port.
However, there is no reason for this to be so. Had Spinney and Belasco also been testifying at these hearings -- had anyone in the committees been even slightly interested in a little balance or a few budget facts with cogent historic and objective perspective -- the chiefs would probably have experienced a bureaucratic form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Spinney might have told the committees can best be summarized by this graph from his article:
The essential point is that even under the dreaded sequester, President Obama will spend more on defense than most other postwar presidents (and without the sequester he will outspend all of them, including Reagan). Moreover, it's all in dollars adjusted for inflation.
That's quite some "doomsday." Surely, you will agree it's an "unprecedented crisis," no?
For its part, Belasco's CRS report looks into the weeds of sequestration and finds that the chiefs are proposing to cut about twice as much as they need to from the central military readiness account in the operations and maintenance part of the Pentagon budget. They plan to lop off 20 percent, instead of the 10 to 12 percent that they could limit themselves to. They could be obviating many of those horrendous readiness cuts by hitting up less readiness-critical operations and maintenance accounts. But, of course, they chose not to.
And -- not coincidentally I suspect -- after all the cutting is done as planned, the chiefs will find themselves with even more money than they requested for some of their favorite hardware items. After the sequester has taken a cut out of the Pentagon's (separate and legally distinct) procurement account, the Air Force funding for aircraft will increase by $829 million; Navy shipbuilding will have $155 million more than requested for 2013 waiting to be spent, and the weapons and tracked combat vehicles account in the Army budget will have $404 million too much. Only in the collective of mindlessly selfish and careerist politicos in today's Congress and Pentagon "leadership" can a budget doomsday result in more than was asked for in certain -- apparently covertly preferred -- categories. It's quite staggering, but it's laid out explicitly in Belasco's report.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Cater put the cherry on top of this pile of absurdity when he testified that, when he was offered the flexibility to cut where he deemed appropriate (rather than the across-the-board cuts mandated by Congress), he actually declined.
What we have here is the mother of all Washington Monument budget drills: A classic Beltway gambit where agencies warn that any budget cuts whatsoever will force them to end their core mission, rather than cut out the fat. (The head of the National Park Service was fabled to testify that any cuts in his agency budget would force him to close the highly popular Washington Monument to the public.)
Today, Congress professes itself all too eager to fall for the ruse. At the hearings this week, members railed on about the stupidity of the laws the vast majority of them voted to enact; several of them even purported that it was all the Pentagon's fault, which didn't exactly go over well with the money-grubbing Joint Chiefs.
The irony, however, is that the rancor, self-aggrandizement, and cowardice that dominates so thoroughly in Congress means that the dreaded sequester is almost sure to take place on March 1. While both parties in both the House and the Senate have prepared bills to divert it, each side has -- very consciously -- written legislation that they know the other side will enthusiastically reject: The Democrats want tax increases to pay off the sequester; the Republicans want to decimate the federal work force. More intended for fund-raising and election-maneuvering, the bills were not just dead on arrival; they were dead in procreation.
Thus, we have a freakishly large budget being characterized by the Pentagon's military and civilian leadership as so small that they must literally destroy the armed forces' ability to fight. We have a Congress of Republicans and Democrats who declare themselves near universally dedicated to fixing the problem -- with more money -- while at the same time they work feverishly to make sure nothing happens. And just to reinforce just how serious they are, their action in the immediate aftermath of the hearings is to go on vacation for a week.
The biggest loser -- and fall guy -- in all of this is Chuck Hagel, who is anxiously trying to squeak by in his effort to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. It comes after a profoundly depressing performance in his confirmation hearing, at which he inarticulately but effectively ate his own words on issue after issue in order to curry favor with even the most junior member of the Armed Services Committee. Eschewing also the opportunity to inject badly needed insight, information, and spine into the budget situation, Hagel also pandered eagerly to conventional wisdom, calling the sequester a "straightjacket" that would "devastate" the military and require DOD to "significantly revise the defense strategy."
In the final analysis, Congress will do something to accommodate the budget protection gambit being performed by the real masters of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, the new secretary of defense, who has pre-emptively capitulated to the chiefs' budget fancies, as he has to everyone else, has made it abundantly clear that he will sit on his hands as the Pentagon decimates military readiness.
Chuck Spinney has tracked for decades our military forces as they have shriveled -- counter-intuitively -- at ever-increasing cost, and Amy Belasco has reported to Congress time and time again opportunities for doing things smart, not ugly. Both will be foregone for the easier and politically remunerative way the current system prefers to do things: stupid, crooked, and ever-so expensive.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

National Security

Will Chuck Hagel Stand Up to the Drone Lobby?

Or will he be yet another victim of Pentagon operators?

U.S. Central Command has released some interesting numbers on the performance of modern air systems in Afghanistan; the data do not auger well for our defenses in the next decade, nor for the suitability of the man who appears likely to be the next secretary of defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel -- his admirable iconoclasm toward some national security dogmas notwithstanding.
With the Department of Defense budget looking at no real growth or even reductions in the next few years, there will be a clear need for defense systems that offer more performance for less cost. The data from Afghanistan on what drones are contributing to the war there show that we are getting little but paying a lot, the reverse of what we will need in the future. These data notwithstanding, drones are the embodiment of what conventional wisdom in Washington holds to be the wave of the future for air power -- the quintessence of the high tech cutting edge that the pundits want more and more of and just the kind of myth that politicians appointed to senior executive branch positions fall for time and time again.
The Pentagon's new leadership needs the wit to recognize that the conventional wisdom on these (and other) systems can be badly wrong, and it needs the moral courage and political dexterity to act, standing up to the embedded material and intellectual special interests in the Pentagon, Congress, and think tanks that leap to the defense of these systems time after time. Without such brains, guts, skill, and, especially, persistence in the next Pentagon leader, our defenses are in for a rough ride -- downhill -- in coming years. In short, we need real deeds from a tough, no-nonsense executive, not just interesting, sometimes iconoclastic words.
The Air Force component of CENTCOM (AFCENT) releases numbers to the public each month on Air Force and allied sorties and weapon releases in Operation Enduring Freedom (which mostly means the war in Afghanistan) for drones and manned aircraft. (Data on CIA drone activities in Pakistan and elsewhere are not included.)
The released data are bad news for drone advocates. They show that in the first eleven months of 2012, the U.S. and NATO forces involved in Afghanistan conducted 1,505 air-to-ground "strike sorties" -- i.e., those that involved the release of at least one weapon. A total of 3,886 weapons were released on those strike sorties -- 3,439 from manned aircraft and 447 from remotely piloted aircraft, or drones (namely, the MQ-1B Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper). In other words, the drones were responsible for just 11.5 percent of the air-to-ground weapons used in the war. Manned aircraft, such as the A-10, F-16, F-18, AV-8B and B-1B, were responsible for the other 88.5 percent. Put simply, in the air war in Afghanistan -- called by some "the Drone War" -- drones did little better than 10 percent of the weapons delivery.
Little as they did in the first eleven months of 2012, they did even less in 2011, when manned aircraft released 5,117 weapons and drones released just 294 -- or 5.4 percent of the total.
The AFCENT data is very sparse on allowing more meaningful comparisons between drones and manned aircraft in the Afghanistan war. AFCENT declined to provide this writer more detail, but it gave some useful data to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the United Kingdom. That data shows that in 2011, manned aircraft flew almost 24,000 of the total close air support sorties -- whether a weapon was released or not -- and they flew well over 17,000 in the first ten months of 2012. Drones flew 10,300 sorties in the same category in 2011 and 7,600 in 2012. Thus, the manned aircraft are responsible for about 70 percent of the total sorties in both years.
More importantly, manned aircraft are flying an even larger percentage of the strike sorties: aircraft performed 1,743 strike sorties, or 88 percent, in 2011 and over 1,100, or 82 percent, in the first ten months of 2012. Finally, for delivering numbers of weapons during a strike on a target, drones averaged 1.4 weapons per strike in 2012; aircraft averaged twice that.
Nor is there any basis to think that drones have been delivering weapons more accurately. According to DOD's weapons tester, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the Reaper, for example, is capable of employing only two types of munitions: the AGM-AGM-114 laser-guided "Hellfire" missile and the GBU-12 laser-guided bomb. Manned aircraft carry a far greater variety, and while CENTCOM has not released the data, anecdotally it appears that most manned aircraft munitions are GPS-guided JDAMs, which have fewer limitations from clouds and weather and other causes than do the drones' laser-guided munitions.
That the drones are responsible for such a small percentage of the air-to-ground war in Afghanistan is the natural result of their inherent limitations. Prominent among them is their tiny payload compared to manned aircraft: The "more capable" drone, the MQ-9 Reaper, carries roughly one-ninth to one-fourth the payload of an A-10 or an F-16.
Nor are the drones cheaper to buy and operate. Using the Air Force's definition for all the components in a Reaper unit, they cost about $120 million to buy, compared to about $20 million for the original A-10 and about $55 million for a modern F-16. A Reaper "CAP," or unit, costs about $20 million per year to operate, compared to $5.5 million for an A-10C for a year or $4.8 million for an F-16C.
In short, with drones like the iconic Reaper, our forces get less performance for more cost -- compared to 35-year-old aircraft designs such as the A-10 and F-16.
These data notwithstanding, drones continue to be the darling of opinion in much of DOD, journalism, and think tanks. Articles repeatedly label Afghanistan as "the drone war," and one think tank drone advocate even referred to the AFCENT information as a "powerful data point" in favor of drones being "here to stay." They may, indeed, be here to stay, but that will be based on politics and hype, not performance in Afghanistan -- and perhaps the affinity of some for what drones are doing in Pakistan and Yemen under CIA control.
Whoever is the next secretary of defense will face a choice. He or she can operate at the policy wonk level, as so many already have, ignoring these kinds of basic nuts and bolts data. When they do so, and are told by in-house advocates of drones (or F-35s, or Littoral Combat Ships, or C-130Js, or almost anything else) that the newest technology is cheap and effective, the secretaries of defense with policy wonk and/or political backgrounds have proven themselves to be undisposed to serious, informed questioning. They end up taking the advocates' assertions at face value and acting on them.
The next steps in this process are as predictable as the sunrise: when some outsider suggests a budget cut, the DOD bureaucracies easily convince the secretary that their "affordable" and "effective" weapon systems will no longer be available. Then, the secretary proclaims the idea of insufficient resources for these pet rocks to be a "doomsday." In doing so, facilitators of business as usual like Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta thoroughly isolate themselves from the fact that the additional cost and low performance of these systems is much of what is driving the budget beyond acceptable levels of spending.
It is easy for the in-house advocates to co-opt the secretary of defense when he or she comes from an institution like Congress, where rhetoric and appearances trump facts, especially if the words are articulated cleverly or forcefully.
Such superficiality is precisely the profile Senator Chuck Hagel had as a member of the Senate. He was frequently in the news saying something interesting, often against the dogma of the Republican Party or even American politics in general. But, quick, tell yourself something he actually did of consequence in the Senate -- legislation or other important actions, not just words. Draw a blank? So did I, and I was watching up close and personal as a Republican Senate staffer for many of Hagel's twelve years there. Beyond the rhetoric, his record is quite sparse.
At a time when its budget is declining and advocates, backed by generally accepted myths, press hard for their particular hobby horse to be protected while others go begging, the Pentagon needs someone with a demonstrated record as a tough, acutely well informed downsizer or as an accomplished infighter against the powerful bureaucracies that run free under politically oriented secretaries of defense. A talker, not a doer, Senator Hagel, no matter how much I may admire his politics, is not the right person.
This is not to say that the other publically mentioned candidates for the job would be better.
As a denizen of the think tank and policy world, Michelle Flournoy -- as intelligent as she seems to be -- has been operating in a world where soft-policy differences are the stock in trade, not bureaucratic fights down in the weeds over the quality of data on performance or costs. As the chief architect of DOD's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review as the Pentagon's under secretary of policy, she showed little interest in or understanding of how the building actually operates at the basic level.
As undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and then as deputy secretary of defense, Ashton Carter has shown little ability to master the bureaucracy. In fact, he let slide far more problems than he has done anything meaningful about. That is all too clearly the case with, for example, the Pentagon's most expensive program ever -- the F-35 -- which remains both unaffordable and a gigantic performance disappointment after four years of Carter's ministrations.
The vast chasm between conventional wisdom and reality on drones, their costs, and what is and is not working at the tactical level is replicated in myriad ways in the secretary of defense job portfolio -- from assault rifles to missile defenses to arms control and especially to questions of war and peace. What we need least is yet another dilettante who specializes in politics of the moment and fancy words.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images