David Ignatius has an article on defense spending in which he harkens back to Eisenhower’s ‘military-industrial complex’ Presidential farewell.
While Ignatius has totally missed the context of Ike’s speech, he makes up for it by getting lots of other major assertions wrong as well. For example:
Trimming the defense budget is one of the hardest tasks in Washington. Congress never met a weapons system it didn’t like.
The first sentence is a truism; the second needs a qualifier: Congress has met few weapons systems it didn’t like if the effort brought jobs to their district/state. Otherwise, we’d likely have a national missile defense system that included space-based elements. Ignatius continues:
Senior Pentagon officials recognize that new technologies make it possible to reshape the budget without putting the country at greater risk. But this transition will require an honest evaluation of the "legacy systems"– the squadrons of manned bombers and fighters, the fleets of aircraft carriers, cruisers and submarines…
Legacy systems are always in a state of continual improvement and evolution. Is Ignatius talking about truncating modifications and upgrades or ending the buys for systems being fielded or proposed new systems like the Air Force’s proposed next-generation bomber? (By the way, I’d love to see the cost-benefit-risk models those senior officials are using…)
The military loves these traditional instruments of American power, despite their immense cost. But as technologies change, they will gradually become as outmoded as a cannonball or a cavalry charge.
The military loves the ‘traditional instruments’ because they’re the best and because they work. And while there’s no doubt waste, duplication, and an intense defense bureaucracy, I don’t think we are buying any cannonballs or training for cavalry charges. Sigh: there’s more…
Defense analysts argue that the military needs to focus less on fancy platforms — its nuclear ships or supersonic jets. These systems will soon be vulnerable to attack from lasers and other directed-energy weapons.
Actually these systems are already vulnerable to lasers and directed-energy weapons; it’s just that our adversaries don’t have the technological readiness to operationally field these systems just yet (and there are still plenty of challenges that remain). What Ignatius is really describing is the measure/counter-measure/counter-counter-measure cycle that is continually happening.
And who are those ‘defense analysts’ anyway? I’m sure we could cherry-pick a ‘defense analyst’ who could come up with a quote or position to support just about anything to include the national security benefits of a switch-grass based economy. But I digress; back to David…
Space will become, metaphorically, a vulnerable "low ground" in this new environment. Powerful ground-based lasers will be able to blind or disable satellites, so redundant forms of communication will be needed.
Space, metaphorically has been a low ground for some time. Lasers are just one of many ways of blinding or disabling satellites and it’s already been reported as having happened. And how about old fashioned jamming and electronic interference which happens literally on a daily basis whether intentional or not?
Additionally, the unmanned systems Ignatius is particularly enamored with depend on space for command and control, data relay, and positioning.
Ignatius’ article is really about cutting defense funding regardless and as such is difficult to take very seriously. Remember, the entire DoD budget could cease to exist and the federal government would still be in a deficit situation.
Defense will have to share equitably in cuts but green-eye shade ‘senior Pentagon officials’ and ‘defense analysts’ will want the U.S. military to retain the capabilities that have made it great.