France’s Strategic Vision — Planned Inadequacy

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Last week, the French government released its outline for future defense strategy and spending. The presentation made it clear that the Macron government wishes to cut its defense budget, concentrate on high-technology advancements, and reduce manpower. When questioned about the feasibility of the force reductions at a time when the French military seems to be busier than it has been in recent decades, a French military spokesman, on behalf of the French Ministry of Defense, stuck to a tightly-scripted play book.

Notably, he did not deny that the restructuring would be inadequate for France’s national security needs. Instead, in a rare instance of political honesty, he said that in the future, the French would rely on “more privileged countries like the UK and USA to provide the necessary manpower.”

French military parade on Bastille Day — soon to be outsourced?
Image US DOD, public domain

That statement was brief and seemed to slip right past the “privileged countries” that France says would have the privilege of sending their flesh and blood to defend France.

However, in spite of the lack of coverage by the US and UK media, it did not quite go completely unnoticed, as in, Piper and I noticed it. We get it. Everyone gets tired of adulting sometimes. These days, politicians commonly woo voters with promises of cradle-to-grave dependence on the “more privileged,” but it’s unusual that a country would actually admit that it expects cradle-to-grave dependence on other countries to provide its defense, so we believe it is worth examining France’s strategic vision more closely.

In a world controlled primarily by despotic nations that offer little freedom and little hope for the future, Western Europe matters. If France were surrounded by allies with more military power, then it would perhaps be less important that France is actively planning on a strategy of military inadequacy, as their neighbors could rush across the border to assist whenever needed. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. 

A country’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) is a standard measure for arguing military spending by NATO member nations, and while this article does not pertain directly to the ongoing NATO debate, percent of GDP spent on defense gives us a legitimate measure. We can optimistically claim that France’s commitment to its national security is backed up by defense spending in the neighborhood of 2.3% of its GDP. However, their allegedly powerful neighbors in Germany only have a defense budget on the order of 1.4% GDP. To France’s southwest, the Spanish have risen from a laughable 0.8% GDP to a still-pathetic 1.2% GDP spending on defense. While a nation’s defense spending as a percent of GDP cannot tell us everything about the quality of its military, it does tell us what that particular nation’s commitment is to national and, in the case of Western European nations, international security.

That said, the numbers change depending on who you ask and who is doing the asking. I am using the numbers that seem to me to be most reliable, based on a combination of what each country most frequently admits and what third-party analysis by groups such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute provide. In any case, everyone’s estimates indicate that France’s closest neighbors are in no position to substantially reinforce them.

In the case of Germany, the government and defense industries are partnering closely in hopes of completing more lucrative foreign sales while ignoring the Germany military’s own desperate need for parts, new equipment, and maintenance.

For example, the German Navy has accepted responsibility for submarine patrols in the Baltic Sea—a critical commitment to NATO and Western security in this age of Putin Imperialism. Germany designed and built six submarines optimized for operations in the relatively shallow waters of the Baltic and it allocated suitable manpower. That in itself was no small expense, as skilled submarine crews are so difficult to recruit and train. Unfortunately, Germany did not maintain those submarines due to lack of dry dock time and insufficient parts production. As a result, if the German submarine forces had to put to sea tomorrow, they likely could not keep a single submarine at sea for more than ten days.

You heard correctly—the Germans famous for the U-boats now are not capable of keeping even one submarine operational at sea for more than a handful of days.

Stranded German U-boat 1921 — Who knew this would be the standard in 98 years?

So why didn’t Germany allocate adequate dry dock time and produce parts for the critical maintenance of its submarines?

Because German shipyards were occupied with rushing through construction of new submarines for Israel. That was good news for the Israeli Navy and for German industrial giants. It was bad news for the German submarine force, for NATO, and for Germany’s self-defense.

The German Luftwaffe is in better condition, but it is still not in adequate condition. Due to a shortage in maintenance budget and parts, an undisclosed number of Germany’s planes are not operational at this time. All air forces have planes down for maintenance on any given day, but in the case of the German Luftwaffe, the numbers are so dismal to German taxpayers and NATO partners that Merkel’s government prefers not to announce them.

As for Spain, its current government is claiming that it intends to increase defense spending substantially over the next six years to address its many shortfalls in equipment and operational abilities. Also, in the last two years, Spain has been more willing to provide Spanish personnel to counterterror operations around the world. Like France, Spain, too, maintains garrisons of elite forces in North Africa in locations such as Ceuta and Melilla. However, the Spanish military currently lacks both sufficient financial and popular support to fulfill its strategic vision. The lack of popular support leaves us wondering if its current and next governments will actually complete Spain’s defense rebuilding goals. What we do know, though, is that in its current state, Spain can only minimally contribute to the defense of Europe.  

So then, how about those “more privileged” countries? As far as I know, neither the United Kingdom nor the United States were consulted about France’s new strategy of planned inadequacy. In fact, I am quite certain that they were not consulted. For that matter, the Macron government did not even do much consulting with its own military leaders.  

The Macron government operates on the assumption that everything that the French military needs to know about military matters is what Macron tells it. French military leaders can either support the government’s positions and fantasies, or they can find new careers. Macron and his ministers do not wish to waste their time by listening to the military opinions of generals and admirals.   

It’s not difficult to guess how the current US administration will respond to France’s cute little plan to let Americans provide the French with manpower for their defense. I do not represent the opinions of the US government. I assume that the US administration will respond quietly.

How the UK government responds, though, is of no great consequence. The United Kingdom currently spends only 1.8% of GDP on defense—an even worse defense spending record than France. Also, the United Kingdom, similar to Germany, has currently failed to provide its Navy with the ships that it will need to complete its missions.

I respect the sailors of the UK Royal Navy. They are excellent, but they can’t perform miracles. They need the ships and manpower to complete the missions that the UK government claims that it wishes its navy to complete. Also, while the UK Royal Air Force is in a much better condition than the German Luftwaffe, it has suffered funding cuts to programs that the UK government considered essential. As a result, the Royal Air Force has fewer planes and drones than the UK government agreed that it needs. 

However, a closer look at France’s military systems does offer a somewhat brighter picture.

France has been successful in small antiterror operations in Africa, even with a low budget and poorly-performing helicopters. Lacking helicopters when operating far from any major bases in rugged and remote areas is no easy task. War is easier with adequate airborne resupply and close air support. Enemy strongholds are not particularly bothersome once an air force has been kind enough to drop the proper ordnance on their locations. Without those advantages of adequate helicopters and air support, a country like Chad is a much more daunting theater of operations. The French Army deserves credit for succeeding there, and the French government deserves credit for sending its army there.

France has made good use of two critical advantages in their operations in Africa. First, France has enough personnel overall to enable a system that includes large numbers of forces that specialize in geographic areas. That allows the French to better prepare and shape operations in hostile environments. Second, having forces specialized in geographic areas allows France to pursue a tactic of what we might call “vertical intelligence delivery.” That is to say that the private on patrol is almost as well-informed of all useful available intelligence in his area of operations as is the regimental commander. This greatly minimizes the chance of small patrols unwittingly drifting into ambushes. It also helps the soldiers to establish better relationships with the locals. Both of these advantages will be impacted with force reductions, which will make it more difficult for France to maintain this regional expertise.

The one exception might be the French Foreign Legion. The Legion is excellent, and it will remain viable in the foreseeable future, though it is limited in size, equipment, and logistic support and can only do so much with what it has.  

So how do we form a reasonable view of what the future of Western European defense spending and strategy will look like? Understanding the money and politics might clarify things a bit. Let us glance at a few European cases.

France claims that it is emphasizing high-tech equipment upgrades because that will allow it to operate a smaller, but equally effective, military force. There is perhaps some truth to this, but the more obvious reason is that France wants to focus on foreign military sales rather than its own defense. In particular, the French government intends to quietly keep French defense industries successful and profitable by supplying Mideast and African nations with military equipment. Those French companies would be happy to sell their wares to just about anyone, but they have been most successful in recent years with sales to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Helping to build other nations’ defense forces is more profitable than building their own. 

Italy is more direct about its intentions to market its ships and other military equipment to any buyers with cash.

The Italian defense corporations make no secret that they intend to complete as many foreign sales as possible, and that their product designs are emphasizing foreign sales as opposed to the needs of the Italian military. As for the Italian government’s defense strategy and planning, those are easy to understand on any given day, but one might not wish to put in even that minimal effort to do so, as tomorrow they will change again.

The German government currently feels that it is important to give the appearance of being highly restrained in foreign military sales.

German corporations attempt to be less public about their foreign marketing efforts than the Italians or the French. The reality is that German ships, tanks, guns, and the occasional Eurofighter are all for sale to those who have the cash. The buyers just need to reassure the Germans that the armaments will not be used to kill anyone, because the German government likes to maintain the illusion that munitions are to be used for peace, not for war.

The underlying assumption in Western Europe is that it is not currently under threat by any peer or near-peer forces.

In the case of France, it will continue to rely on the bedrock of Gaullist military thinking, which is to maintain a viable nuclear force to deter Putin, Kim, or anyone else from conducting all-out military operations against them. Young readers might find that approach strange and a bit simpleminded, but France, along with the United Kingdom, sees its nuclear weapons as a viable national security insurance. This Gaullist approach is as ingrained in French military planning as it is in UK, US, and Russian military planning. Western European countries overall, however, assume that terrorist attacks will continue, and they intend to maintain adequate military forces to deal with that threat.  

From the US and UK points of view, there would be no benefit in reacting too strongly to France’s “let the United States and United Kingdom defend us” strategy. The Macron government is speaking to its voters rather than addressing strategic realities.

The Yellow Vests are on the verge of storming the Bastille in their opposition to Macron, and Macron and his handlers have to invent something that sounds like good news to the French working class voters while pretending to give a damn about them. France and NATO have weathered worse storms than the Macron wind storm. They will survive Macron, as well.

In reality, the only thing new in France’s strategy statement is that it is actually admitting to what we already knew—that France is unwilling to carry the burden of its own defense and instead is willfully dependent on its allies. Prepare for the status quo to continue, but maybe don’t stand between Macron and the Yellow Vests.

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The Military-Industrial Complex — Where Is The Money?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On January 17, 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower delivered his farewell speech. The retired five star general had served two presidential terms and was being replaced by his fellow military veteran, the newly elected John F. Kennedy.

 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss Image public domain.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives hydrogen bomb tests report from Lewis Strauss
Image public domain.

 

In that farewell address, Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.”

Left-wing radicals are always quick to oppose military spending, but Eisenhower could hardly be accused of being anything like a left-wing radical. At the peak of his long military career, he skillfully commanded the allied forces in Operation Torch, which was the 1943 Allied invasion of Northwest Africa, as well as the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Western Offensive against Nazi Germany and the European Axis powers.

After WW2, Eisenhower served as US Army Chief of Staff and then as Supreme Commander of European Forces. Few Americans could claim to have anything close to Eisenhower’s military experience or expertise.

Eisenhower was no “dove.”

He took the threat of Soviet expansion seriously. As US President, he oversaw the conclusion of the war in Korea in 1953 and approved funding for fledgling US space and satellite programs. Eisenhower also approved expensive Navy projects, such as the nuclear submarine program and the construction of the nuclear carrier, the USS Enterprise. He presided over the growth of expensive jet aircraft in the young US Air Force, and he approved funding for expensive new air defense systems for the US Army.

In spite of the large military budgets that President Eisenhower approved, some military and defense industry leaders saw him as being too frugal. Conversely, Eisenhower and his supporters felt that increasing military budgets threatened the economic health of the US.

Fifty-five years later, the arguments over defense spending continue.

Unlike during Eisenhower’s time, the arguments are now conducted against a backdrop of a frightening budget deficit and an eighteen trillion dollar national debt. The consequences of all government spending have a serious impact on the quality of life for the average American and on national security.

In Eisenhower’s time, the real threat posed by the Soviet Union impacted defense spending. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, but US and European citizens are justifiably concerned by threats from various radical Islamic groups, the increasingly nuclear-equipped North Korean despot Kim, a rapidly growing communist Chinese military capability, and a resurgent and belligerent Russia.

At a glance, it might seem as though a stable status quo has been in effect in military budgets.

In some senses, similar dynamics have remained in force. In 1961, Eisenhower was unable to convince Western allies to commit to adequate defense spending. The allies seemed happy to let the US military and taxpayers carry more than their fair share of the responsibility for the defense of Western Civilization. In 2016, that dynamic continues. US President Obama listens to nations like France, Canada, and the UK proclaim their increased commitment to defeating Islamic radicals, but then he watches as they reduce their defense programs. Eisenhower would recognize his frustration in dealing with NATO partners.

We might be tempted to assume that US defense spending itself is proportionate to what it was in 1961. Let us make some comparisons.

In 1961, US military personnel were badly underpaid. In 2016 this remains true. In 1961, the US defense budget was close to 10% of GDP. Today it is below 5% of GDP. In terms of GDP, the defense budget seems reasonable enough. But let us compare some specific defense project costs.

In 1961, the new Enterprise class nuclear aircraft carrier cost $451 million to build. Due to the escalated cost of construction, the additional three carriers of that class were cancelled. Today the new Ford class nuclear aircraft carrier is, so far, costing the taxpayers $12.8 billion to build, with an additional $4.7 billion in research costs. If we compare the two ships in inflation adjusted costs, then in today’s dollars, the Enterprise would have cost $3.4 billion to build. Where did the other $9.4 billion go?

When the Enterprise was built, it included many state of the art features, but its air defense system had been scaled back to save money. The Gerald Ford class carrier includes state of the art equipment and features, but the overall economics of the two programs are completely out of scale.

 

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA. Image public domain.

USS Gerald Ford under construction in Newport News, VA.
Image public domain.

 

My question is simple. What national defense value are we receiving for the disproportionately high cost of the USS Gerald Ford?

We could make similar comparisons with nuclear submarine programs, but let us instead apply the scrutiny to a broader defense project, the F-35 fighter program. The F-35 was developed as a low cost alternative to the F-22 Raptor. So what does “low cost alternative” mean in the defense industry?

The F-22 cost a frightening $150 million per plane. No wonder we wanted a “low cost alternative.” The F-35, so far, cost between $100 million for the basic model and $104 million for the VSTOL version. I’m grateful that we decided to pursue a “low cost” fighter plane.

Let’s compare the F-35 to the infamously expensive Republic F-105D fighter. In 1960, the year before Eisenhower’s farewell speech, the outlandishly expensive F-105D cost $2.1 million each. In 1960, it was the state of the art fighter, and it incorporated many new technologies. It was plagued by cost overruns, and its development was every bit as contentious as the F-35 development has become. In 2016 dollars the F-105D cost $17 million apiece. As with the Gerald Ford Carrier, the cost of the F-35 has wildly outpaced inflation.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

What defense benefit are we getting for the additional $80 million per each F-35? Is the F-35 going to bring us more security today than the F-105D brought us in 1960? I don’t see it.

The defense industry would counter my concerns with comforting catch phrases. They tell us that it is “stealth,” and that it employs more “net centric ability” than previously imagined. For less than $100 my house is “net centric.” So how does the marvelous net centric ability account for the cost of the F-35? From my point of view, it doesn’t.

Defense contractor PR players would likely question my patriotism. Am I not aware of all the real threats in the world? Do I not want the best possible defense for my family’s safety? In fact, I am very much aware of the many threats to our national security, and I do want the best possible defense capabilities for our nation. That’s precisely why I question our $100+ million fighters and our $13 billion aircraft carriers.

Every dollar wasted or overpaid is a dollar that does not help our national defense. At the same time, high costs work to erode our national defense by damaging our economy.

The F-35 and the Ford Carrier are only two of many defense projects that beg closer scrutiny. These high cost programs are being funded at the same time the US Marine Corps is undergoing a 30,000-man reduction in force. The Pentagon and the White House tell us that we are more committed than ever to fighting the increasing terrorist threats, so how is it that we justify large cuts in our premier expeditionary force? The numbers just don’t add up. In some cases, they don’t come close to adding up.

President Eisenhower’s words are even more appropriate today than they were in 1961. Think twice before you quietly accept every extravagant defense expenditure. Let your congressmen know you are watching.

Buyer Beware!

 

America’s Future Low-Budget Bomber–When $550M Just Isn’t Enough

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For the last six months American and foreign intelligence agencies have been reading about a new stealth bomber that is being developed for the US Air Force. Most of what has been published about the new plane has not been published by the Pentagon or the US Air Force, but rather by a variety of “defense experts” and “aviation writers.”

 

Canstock 2015 Aug Money going down the toilet

 

The US Air Force and Pentagon are suggesting a cost limit of $550,000,000 per new bomber.

I am not a bomber expert, so I am happy to disclose my limitations in assessing bomber development. I am not a bomber pilot or even a pilot at all. I have never served in the US Air Force or anyone else’s air force. I am not any type of aviation engineer, nor have I ever dated one. It’s fair to say that I am not an aviation expert.

My qualifications for having an opinion on the US Air Force’s new bomber program are thus:

  • I don’t have $550,000,000.00 to give the US Air Force to pay for each bomber, and I don’t know anyone that does.
  • I am a happy US taxpayer. I don’t mind paying taxes, but I want the money to be used efficiently.
  • In the past, I have been a casual consumer of valuable products and services offered by the US Air Force, along with Marine Corps and Naval Aviation groups.

So, from this limited perspective, I offer my response to the scarce actual information and abundant “expert” opinions that have been published about the next US Air Force bomber.

For ease of communication, let’s refer to the imaginary new bomber as the “FD”—short for Flying Deficit.

Aviation “experts” thus far all agree that the greatest challenge to producing FD bomber will be the unreasonably tight price limitation of $550,000,000 per plane. To mere mortals, the price tag sounds dizzyingly high. Count me with the mere mortals.

So what does it mean that so many “aviation experts” are in a state of “deep concern” over the $550,000,000 suggested retail value for each FD bomber?

Are all of us non-aviation experts confused about the value of cash? Do we all fail to understand how difficult it is to make something fly and drop stuff on people we don’t like? Perhaps we are not all that confused.

Let us first examine what is known about the FD bomber. We know next to nothing.

We know that it will be “stealth,” like the B-2 already is. We know that it will be built for both conventional and nuclear payloads, like the B-2 already is. And we know that it will include the defense industry’s most important buzzwords. Yes, it will be like my house and my car. It will be “net centric.” Let’s all cheer for “net centric.” It sounds so nice and must cost a bunch. Right?

 

B-2 Stealth Bomber Image by Dept. of Defense, public domain

B-2 Stealth Bomber
Image by Dept. of Defense, public domain

 

You might find it interesting that the “experts” that are concerned about the suggested budget limitation for the FD bomber have yet to review the US Air Force’s requirements for the FD. Without knowing what the US Air Force wants to buy, they are already certain that a $550,000,000 price tag means that the next bomber will not be the best technology on the best bomber. I’m heartbroken . . . Not really.

How can well educated, experienced aviation experts suggest that the FD bomber will be an underpriced failure when the US Air Force has yet to release the actual requirements for the project?

To understand the answer to that critical question we must first understand who these “experts” are. So far, as near as I have been able to determine, they are not “aviation experts” in the traditional sense. The “experts” publishing those articles are not aviation engineers, retired US Air Force bomber pilots, or US Air Force project managers. They are, in fact, people with degrees and expertise in marketing, communications, public relations, and sales.

I was not surprised to discover that members of the Chicken Little’s The Bomber is Falling Choral Group are not bomber experts.

They harmonize well, but they don’t appear to know much about aviation, the sky, or falling bombs. What I have not been able to determine is how many of these “experts” have received free pens, free lunches, free junkets, free prostitutes, jobs, etc., from corporations that are hoping to receive a share of the “bomber windfall.” Thus far, the two competing potential prime contractors are Northrup Grumman and a team comprised of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. As is always the case when we consider opinions on large government projects, we must consider the source.

As of the time of this article, the US is in debt to the tune of $18 trillion. That figure is increasing every day, but what’s a few hundred billion between friends?

So while we accumulate debt faster than teenagers can consume pizza or congressional aids can snort cocaine, we are being told that rather than questioning the high price tag for FD bomber, we should actually be apologizing to the defense industry for expecting them to produce an adequate bomber for a measly $550,000,000 each. Shame on us . . . Not really.

My best guess is that a bomber that costs $550,000,000 each leaves lots of cash for PR campaigns peddled as “expert opinions.” Before you are overcome by shame for making the US Air Force use such a low budget bomber, you might want to drop a line to your elected officials to ask them why this, and other future projects, and so many current projects, cost as much as they do. Efficiency in defense spending will not get better until we, the taxpayers, convince Congress that, unlike them, we are not so easily boondoggled.