The China Scenario and Defense Budgets

One reason progressives, historically, have found themselves on the losing side of defense budget debates is that, on the whole, progressives don’t spend enough time in engaging in strategy debates, focusing instead of programatic debates and/or macro budget debates. But for all the talk that defense spending is driven by domestic politics and the military-industrial complex, the reality is that substantive strategy decisions have a very profound impact as well.

I am not trying to suggest that the process is some sort of rational, objective analysis uncorrupted by greed and pork. It isn’t. But if you want to understand the defense budget, I think it is important to see it as a series of largely autonomous dynamics that interact periodically, but nevertheless significantly.

Strategic assessments of China are a good example of this, and there was a fascinating piece in the Washington Post yesterday about “Air Sea Battle,” and its implications for both U.S.-China relations and defense spending.

The article tracks the emergence of the following syllogism: China is a rising power and behaving aggressively towards its neighbors, particularly in the South China Sea. Responsible defense planning requires us to consider worst case scenarios, such as those which might require us to project power into the Western Pacific. Projecting power will require the capacity to defeat Chinese anti-access capabilities. The best way to do so is to develop and maintain systems capable of penetrating Chinese defenses, and neutralizing their anti-access systems, particularly new, modern anti-ship missiles.

But this argument is reinforced by a deterrence argument, namely, even you don’t believe a war with China is a plausible scenario, the best way to prevent it from occurring is by convincing the Chinese that they could not win this sort of conflict, and therefore we might not only deter them from aggressive actions in the South China Sea or against Taiwan, but we might also be able to divert them from the path of building anti-access capabilities in the first place.

It is these sorts of arguments that drive/drove acquisition of fifth generation fighters (F22 and F35); of expensive land-attack destroyers (DDG-1000); of new basing and forward deployment arrangements; and so on.

In the progressive community, we often dismiss these types of discussions are irrelevant. We tend to focus sequentially on either specific weapons program or debates about defense budget toplines. But in doing so, we ignore the dynamics that flow from strategy. I know this seems a little abstract… so let me give a concrete example:

In April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates made a decision to cap F22 purchases at 187. Progressives rejoiced, and immediately mobilized to support Gates’ decision. F22 was a big, expensive program, and a bit of  a poster child in progressive circles for an overpriced, unneccessary purchase. So far so good. But what was the strategic context of Gates’ decision? He wasn’t just saying the F22 isn’t worth it. He was saying, more F22s aren’t worth it in a era of grinding land wars and occupations.

As I tried to explain at the time, and no one listened, siding with Gates wasn’t just about killing the F22, it was also about prioritizing counter-insurgency. The F22 decision was not stand-alone, in short. Supporting it involving buying into (as a matter of practice if not of conviction) the idea that U.S. military power ought to be geared toward occupation and reconstuction of places like Iraq and Afghanistan rather than planning for high-tech war against China.

So, when Congress voted to support Gates and stop F22 production in July 2009, progressives all over the place popped open champagne. And then four months later, when Obama ordered yet another increase in troops for Afghanistan, bringing the total number of American forces to around 100,000, and committing us to several years of war at $100 billion a year in costs and thousands of lives… well, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, and a new commitment to end the war in Afghanistan. But, of course, we’d lost the strategy debate in early/mid-2009, although we were so busy celebrating our victory over the evil military-industrial complex in the F22 case that we didn’t notice the price.

Anyway, back to the article. There were clearly a lot of people with long knives contributing to it, and if you read it, it seems like just a weird story. A lot of people will take away that there are some crackpots in the Pentagon and think tank world pitching a wild scenario. The article even mentions Andrew Krepinevich’s salary in a way that makes him seem like a pure mercenrary. And the Pentagon’s head of the Office Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall, is noted to be 91, in a way that is designed to make him seem vaguely senile.

But here is the reality. Krepenivich (who is actually a thoughtful and careful analyst, even if he is wrong in this case) and Marshall are both tremendously well respected in the strategy community. Air Sea Battle and the China focus (embraced by Obama with his pivot to Asia), is an important factor in driving defense programs and budgets. Once the strategy is in place, all decisions on programs will need to be justified in terms of the strategy — which is why the Marines and Army are fighting it so hard.

Right now, it all seems abstract. I mean, who cares? We’re going to see either a flatline or a decrease in defense spending as a matter of general austerity. And most progressives I know are more interested in gaming out ways to see sequestration go through. And yet, sequestration is a temporary blip, with no strategic consequences. Debates like Air Sea are going to shape what we actually buy and how we actually conduct ourselves for years to come. Indeed, if the Asia pivot and Air Sea become dominant, that will create the intellectual foundation for arguing a need to increase spending. Why? Because as a matter of rigorous analysis, that strategy cannot be implemented without more resources. If we ignore the strategy debate now, then we’ll be fighting future battles over defense budget toplines at a fundamental disadvantage because while strategy is not the be all and end it, it does matter.

 






45 replies
  1. 1
    Steve says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s wrong to assume the defense budget is chock full of “waste, fraud and abuse” that we can just cull out without experiencing any adverse effects. But then again, the concept that we shouldn’t have to spend more on defense than the next 10 countries put together surely isn’t wrong either, is it? I don’t necessarily blame progressives for reacting to the F22 decision by saying, “OMG, finally something we’re allowed to cut.”

  2. 2
    WJS says:

    Debates like Air Sea are going to shape what we actually buy and how we actually conduct ourselves for years to come.

    Incorrect. Senators, with defense industries in their home states, will do whatever they want without regard to the defense needs of the United States.

    You may think there is a debate. There is not. If the Senator from Virginia wants another aircraft carrier, it will be built. It will not matter if that vessel is out of date, susceptible to a land-to-sea cruise missile system, or useless in an engagement with China’s fledgling blue water navy.

    There is no “debate.” There are constituents, there are industries, there are billions of dollars, and there is what works for the men and women who have the votes in the Senate. Nothing else matters beyond that fact.

  3. 3
    the Conster says:

    @WJS:

    This. Eisenhower was right about the military/industrial/congressional complex being the biggest threat to this country than any external threat.

  4. 4
    Ben Franklin says:

    Their concern is fueled by the steady growth in China’s defense spending, which has increased to as much as $180 billion a year, or about one-third of the Pentagon’s budget, and China’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.

    Clearly, the war-mpngering Chinese are preparing to get aggressive. Call me when their budget (healthier than our own) reaches Pentagon levels. Yes, they will probably nudge on Taiwan as they consider it their own. The real power is in their population combined with a fundamental disrespect for individual life. Waves of suicide bombers worries me more than their emerging tech advantages.

  5. 5
    Tom S says:

    A thoughtful piece. A declining superpower (sorry, but at least for the moment…), a rising regionally dominant power that has an agressive foreign policy in regard to disputed, potentially resource-rich maritime areas. This power also has a number of economic and societal issues that might feel the need for a “splendid little war,” to take people’s minds off their troubles. Taiwan, anyone?

  6. 6
    Mino says:

    If global warming proceeds apace, I would think a resource war with China would be the last thing we’d do. We would be looking north and south I would think. Sorry, Canada.

  7. 7
    MattF says:

    Somewhat on-topic, NYT article on how the Syrian government has a problem with military forces equipped for war with Israel and not for civil conflict:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08.....=2&hp

  8. 8
    NobodySpecial says:

    I think the key is to point out that we don’t need hundreds of bases in multiple theaters at the same time for any reason whatsoever, especially in Europe. With interoperability, rapid air travel, and instant communications everywhere, a world of insurgency/terrorism is not one that we need a massive projection of power in.

    Instead of having, say, 11 carriers split across 4 theaters/oceans, maybe we only need 9, and most of those can stay at home. After all, insurgency type wars tend to develop slowly enough that ships can get there. Same argument with aircraft.

  9. 9
    WJS says:

    @Tom S:

    potentially resource-rich maritime areas.

    Now, consider China’s record on environmentalism. How long do you think this “resource” will remain viable, given the pollution in this part of the world is about as toxic as it is pervasive? Why spend billions to fight for something that is no longer viable?

  10. 10
    Enhanced Voting Techniques says:

    @WJS:

    There is no “debate.” There are constituents, there are industries, there are billions of dollars, and there is what works for the men and women who have the votes in the Senate. Nothing else matters beyond that fact.

    Gee, almost like it’s a public works project that can get pass congress?

  11. 11
    Mino says:

    @MattF: Plus they’re using up all their bullets on their civilians.

  12. 12
    Seth Owen says:

    Suicide bombers? I don’t think so. This isn’t Mao’s China with human waves charging Pork Chop Hill.
    China’s vast human resources do mean there’s no chance of a successful land war in Asia against them, but there’s considerable evidence a continental sized country (including us) cant be defeated on land anyway.
    On the other hand, a maritime conflict could happen, but that won’t be affected by population size but by geography, technology and economic resources. These are running against China for now, but they may have se hope of becoming competitive.

  13. 13
    Dave says:

    @NobodySpecial:

    Instead of having, say, 11 carriers split across 4 theaters/oceans, maybe we only need 9, and most of those can stay at home.

    This has always been a pet peeve of mine ever since the Wasilla Wonder took Gates to task for mentioning a possible reduction in the carrier force.

    We have more super-carriers than the rest of the world combined (11 vs 10) And of those 10, only one is operated by a potential enemy (Russia). When China finishes their’s, it’ll be two.

    And that doesn’t include the Amphibious Assault Ships, some of which are as big as the other countries’ aircraft carriers. Which makes the real difference around 22 to 11. Or 31-2 if you choose up sides.

  14. 14
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Steve:

    But then again, the concept that we shouldn’t have to spend more on defense than the next 10 countries put together surely isn’t wrong either, is it?

    There are two ways we are going to have to solve this:

    1. Convince Americans that spending this much money on the military is wrong – it will have to be with the public, because the military industrial octopus has tentacles are everywhere.

    2. Get in on deciding what America’s defense interests actually are. This is where your concern has to be addressed.

  15. 15
    fuzz says:

    @MattF:

    What surprised me from that article was how many KIAs they’re having, you’ve got to figure most of the fighting is being done by the loyalist units like Maher Assad’s brigade and the Republican Guard, how much longer can they hold on with those kind of losses?

    PS: My first name is also Matt and my last initial starts with F, so I always get a kick out of seeing you here.

  16. 16
    PeakVT says:

    @WJS: It’s the (potential) oil and gas underneath all the fish that people want out of the South China Sea.

    @Dave: It’s more like 11-0 for supercarriers. Other carriers are substantially smaller. The carriers closest in size are still under construction… by our arch-enemy the UK.

  17. 17
    AnonPhenom says:

    In the progressive community, we often dismiss these types of discussions are irrelevant

    Not irrelevant, secondary.
    Discussions of China should be put in the proper perspective. China has a “Korean/Vietnam War” era military.
    The number one function of the Pentagon and military is to maintain the flow of oil globally. Americans pay for that indirect subsidy to the oil companies via income taxes. This is a distortion of The Markets. If 50% of the Defense budget came from a dedicated tax at the pump urban dweller would be freed from supporting the life style choices of their multi car owning suburban counterparts, global warming would be easier to address, and fuck the oil companies.

  18. 18
    Hoodie says:

    While it may be a good idea to engage in the strategy debate, it’s also important that the debate is not limited to military strategy such that certain underlying premises are left unexamined. Right now, we have a certain amount of leverage with China as a customer and bond issuer. With the growth of domestic consumption in Asia, however, that may decline and the issue will be our ability to trade with the peripheral countries like Korea and Viet Nam in the presence of increasing Chinese economic hegemony. Does beefing up naval and other capabilities in the Western Pacific really help achieve that goal, or is it a poor risk/benefit calculation considering the inherent advantages the Chinese will have and the risk of military confrontation if we try to throw our weight around? Maybe we should be thinking north and south, rather than east and west.

  19. 19
    slim's tuna provider says:

    @Dave: we use our carrier groups to make up for the fact that we can’t have lots of ground troops all over the world. the point is not a naval battle like in WWII, the point is to tie down a country’s whole military on its own turf for a signicficant amount of time and possible take out their key military installations. you can disagee with the policy of the US being responsible for both maintaining pax americana and waging the war on terror at the same time (god knows i support the former but not the latter) but if we’re gonna do both, we need MORE carrier groups not less.

  20. 20
    Dave says:

    @PeakVT:

    It’s more like 11-0 for supercarriers. Other carriers are substantially smaller. The carriers closest in size are still under construction… by our arch-enemy the UK.

    Yeah…bad wording on my part. “Primary Carriers”? “First-Line Carriers”?

  21. 21
    Ben Franklin says:

    Seth Owen Says:

    Suicide bombers? I don’t think so.

    My suggestion has little to do with any certainty. But it is a more likely scenario.

  22. 22
    PWL says:

    There is only one problem with this: often these scenarios are cooked up as a reason to justify defense spending. I notice that in fact the reason being currently bandied about for not cutting defense is “jobs,” which is at least a little more honest, although hardly a good reason for overkill in weapons making.

    The other question is whether America can afford to or ought to be preparing for, or fighting, endless wars. This is what exhausted Athens and Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, and what helped finish off the Roman Empire, among other examples. We appear to be making the same mistake….

    No one appointed us to be the world’s policeman, and even if that was that case, we might have to face the fact that that day is over now for us.

  23. 23
    Ben Franklin says:

    The other question is whether America can afford to or ought to be preparing for, or fighting, endless wars. This is what exhausted Athens and Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, and what helped finish off the Roman Empire,

    As well as Brittania, the tail end of the Roman Empire.

  24. 24
    slim's tuna provider says:

    @PWL: if we’re not going to be the world policeman, who is? europe apparently can’t even keep the frigging MEDITERRANEAN SEA under control.

  25. 25
    Bighorn Ordovican Dolomite says:

    I’d like to directly address Bernard’s original post. As long as we are considering a scuffle with China I’d think you’d have to examine both: what is the worst that might happen, as well as what is the most we can expect to accomplish?

    Clearly invading and conquering China is about as out of the question for us, as is China invading and conquiring the U.S.

    But we are both Maritime powers highly dependent on access to the Ocean for resources and transportm do you think it would be more productive to do a SEAD/DEAD type air campaign a la Desert Storm on a grand scale, or simply block their access to the outside world, via cotrolling the Oceans in their neighborhood?

    I assume that some of China’s critical imports come in over their landlocked Western border, but I think it falls far short of their needs, but I am not really up to date on this.

    Of course a Taiwan scenario really opens up some ugly possibilities, depending on how far we chose to go in stopping it in progress, as compared to responding to it after the fact.

  26. 26
    NotMax says:

    Continue to admire and be entranced by Prof. Finel’s sheer mastery of one of the best and most venerable tricks in the repertoire of academia.

    Namely, fitting 2 gallons of insipid drivel into a 1-gallon bucket.

  27. 27
    Daulnay says:

    Conservatives took and held the moral high ground on patriotism when many liberals turned reflexively anti-military. Yes, wars are bad and wasteful contracting is bad. Hate the sin (wars) and not the sinner (soldiers). But a knee-jerk anti-military stance weakens us politically.

    Pragmatically, the Dick Cheneys and Kim Il Sungs of the world will not going to sit down and sing Kumbaya. They’re going to stir up fear and, unless stopped by threat of a superior force, take their people to war. When you seemingly ignore the necessity of some level of military, most citizens won’t take you seriously. As Bernard points out, that means getting involved in strategy decisions.

    Reflexive anti-militarism keeps many liberals out of the military, especially out of the officer corps. The right-wing evangelical Christians filled most of the Air Force officer corps over the last 40 years. Religious intolerance of non-evangelicals and especially non-Christians became a problem.

    In this era of bitter factionalism, I worry when one faction gains substantial control over a wing of the military, especially when that faction contains a lot of crazies. But that’s the result of our (liberal’s) anti-military culture.

    We hope that this bitter factionalism won’t get to the point of civil war, but the level of political polarization rose drastically over the last 30 years, to levels not seen since before World War I (yes, one). Factionalism killed republics before this one, so we must ask ourselves whether we value our faction’s positions more than our freedom — and we should get the other side to ask themselves the same question.

    We’re rolling towards the abyss. It’s time to stop and step back. Re-considering reflexive liberal anti-militarism is a good place to start.

  28. 28
    MikeJake says:

    My problem with the whole debate is that so many of our strategic commitments are taken as a given. Can anyone explain to me what we’re doing in the Horn of Africa region? Can anyone explain the real underlying strategic rationale for the second Iraq invasion (not the BS reason we were given)? If none of us have a real sense of what’s truly strategically important for the U.S., then worrying about the best way to address those strategic demands seems a bit pointless.

    Unless you’re telling us that it’s unrealistic for the citizenry to expect to have input on our strategic priorities and we just have to accept what the President, SecDef, and Joint Chiefs decide. In which case, fighting to turn off the money spigot to the whole M-I complex, rather than devoting ourselves to formulating wonky, esoteric arguments that will impress the VSPs that decide defense matters, seems like the better tactic.

  29. 29
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Can anyone explain the real underlying strategic rationale for the second Iraq invasion?

    Winning elections. Great presidents are always wartime presidents. Khaki elections always return conservative legislatures.

    And then you get to nominate the judges, appoint the deputy undersecretaries, write the tax code, craft the regulatory environment, steer the government appropriations, etc for the world’s largest economy for decades, if you do it right.

    The ROI is incalculable. At that scale, the oil is just lagniappe.

    Don’t think of Iraq as a ‘war’. Think of it as ‘the world’s most expensive campaign commercial’.

  30. 30
    Daulnay says:

    To understand the second Iraq invasion, you have to look at the Neocon philosophy, and their attitude that Americans have gotten too soft and had things too easy… The Neocons drove that bus, right into the lake, on purpose.

  31. 31
    J. Michael Neal says:

    @MikeJake:

    Can anyone explain to me what we’re doing in the Horn of Africa region?

    Take a look at the amount of the world’s shipping, especially but not just oil, that passes through the neighborhood. It’s fairly close to the entrance to the Persian Gulf and pretty much right on the entrance to the Red Sea.

  32. 32
    Daulnay says:

    @J. Michael Neal:
    It also doesn’t help that many poor Somalis on the Horn decided to turn to piracy.

  33. 33
    Captain C says:

    @Davis X. Machina: This. Though I’d argue that control of the oil (read: leverage over everyone else in the world) via a permanent large military presence right smack in the middle of the most important oil-producing area in the world was probably pretty high up in their thinking, too. Not to mention the huge profits available from no-bid contracts and various other war profiteering (cf. Halliburton and shower electrocutions, Blackwater, &c.).

  34. 34
    Soonergrunt says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    …………………………………..
    Can anyone explain the real underlying strategic rationale for the second Iraq invasion?
    ……………………………………
    Winning elections. Great presidents are always wartime presidents. Khaki elections always return conservative legislatures.

    Pretty much.
    I got threatened with court-martial for suggesting that we shouldn’t be fighting and dying to get Bush re-elected.

  35. 35
    gene108 says:

    @Daulnay:

    A lot of the world’s naval power is focused on the Horn of Africa, because of piracy.

    The U.S. isn’t the only nation with a naval presence there.

  36. 36
    MikeJake says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Well, there you go. I’m not going to argue Clausewitz and Mahan to a bunch of hacks and opportunists who aren’t to be trusted. I’m going to fight to slash their budgets.

  37. 37
    MikeJake says:

    @J. Michael Neal:

    That explains our naval presence. Our official reason for being there is to hunt Al Qaeda. You tell me whether our meddling in Somalia and Yemen is helping us make shipping on the Red Sea more secure.

  38. 38
    Chris says:

    @Daulnay:

    I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but I’m sorry, I see no evidence of liberal anti-militarism. Obama sent troops to Libya and escalated in Afghanistan. Clinton intervened more than Reagan did and with exactly the same kind of quick in-and-out not-quite-war operations. Carter was the one who started supplying the mujahadin and presided over the re-escalation of the Cold War in 1979. LBJ… well.

    Liberals are considered “soft on defense” because of good Republican agitprop and because ever since World War Two, the public seems to have gotten it into their heads that the U. S. military really can do anything given enough firepower, a delusion most liberals don’t share. But the notion that liberals as a whole are “reflexively” anti military is absurd: we’re certainly not shy about using the military when given the chance.

  39. 39
    KSE says:

    @slim’s tuna provider: If we’re just trying to enforce the peace and provide a launching platform to support smallish ground wars against enemies with no significant Navy or Air Force, I think 11 supercarriers is more than adequate… And on the flip side, the very second pax americana stops being so paxful, those carriers are going to be underwater before you can say “Otto von Bismarck”. Just speaking from the comfort of my armchair here, I’d much rather see our naval strategy emphasizing the (relatively) small, cheap, and fast – AEGIS cruisers, drone carriers, submarines and the like.

  40. 40
    red dog says:

    @WJS: Sadly you are absolutely right. The good of the district/state instead of the country all for the purpose of being re-elected to the cushiest job in the nation with life long retirement and benefits. Sure wish I had thrown my hat in the ring 40 years ago.

  41. 41
    mclaren says:

    A thoughtful piece by Dr. Finel, and he makes an excellent point that we ignore internal factional conflicts within the military-industrial-surveillance-prison-antiterror complex at our peril. The single most trenchant point Dr. Finel makes, I think, involves the profound path dependence of military spending. A wrong strategic decision early on can mean decades and trillions of dollars wasted.

    That said, let’s draw back and take a look at the big picture. Dr. Finel remarks:

    Krepenivich (who is actually a thoughtful and careful analyst, even if he is wrong in this case) and Marshall are both tremendously well respected in the strategy community. Air Sea Battle and the China focus (embraced by Obama with his pivot to Asia), is an important factor in driving defense programs and budgets.

    On the contrary: Krepenivich and Marshall are both ignorant incompetent fools. Their policy positions are so stupid that we need a whole new dictionary to adequately define the halfwitted self-destructive folly of their policies.

    Start with the basic reality that aircraft carriers and all surface ships in the U.S. Navy are giant white elephants today. All surface ships, especially aircraft carriers, have a battle lifetime of about 3 minutes in today’s military environment. This makes construction of and deployment of any aircraft carrier battle groups a strategic decision of stupidity equivalent to a strategic decision to base our land defense grand strategy on horse-drawn chariots.

    Look, here’s the reality, and every goddamn person in the American military knows it (but chooses to blindly and willfully ignore it): radar-stealthed pop-up cruise missiles are lethal to all surface ships today. You fire a radar-stealthed pop-up cruise missile at a U.S. aircraft carrier today, and it’s one shot/one kill. Thta aircraft carrier heaves up by the bow and slides into the ocean 2 minutes later.

    Let’s be clear about the lethality of this technology. The radar stealth capability of pop-up cruise missiles means they cannot be detected by any known means. Not only are they radar-elided with shielding, the “pop-up” part means that these cruise missiles skim alon about 2 feet above the waves, where even very short-wave radar can’t distinguish ’em from the spume on the ocean’s surface. Then, a hundred yards before the target, these pop-up cruise missile suddenly do a vertical climb and then come straight down onto the aircraft carrier from above. Boom. Done. Gone. The aircraft carrier is history. Or the destroyer, the battleship, the frigate…whatever.

    Various ignorant incompetent commenters will now rush forward to explain that the U.S. Navy has wonderful defenses like the radar-operated gatling guns, blah-blah-blah. Bullshit. The U.S. Navy did an extensive two-year study of the prospects for defending against radar-stealthed pop-up cruise missiles. Their conclusion?

    There is no defense.

    None.

    Zero. Zip. Bupkiss. Nada. Diddly. The enemy fires a radar-stealthed pop-up cruise missile and it’s bybe-bye time for the American aircraft carrier.

    The War Nerd has written extensively about this. if you think the Exocet missile wsa bad, guess what, kiddies? It’s been 30 years since the Exocet, and the technology for these kinds of stealthed cruise missiles has only gotten better. See “U Sank My Carrier!” (2002) and “This is How the Carriers Will Die” (2009).

    I’ve been saying for a long time that aircraft carriers are just history’s most expensive floating targets, and that they were doomed.

    But now I can tell you exactly how they’re going to die. I’ve just read one of the most shocking stories in years. It comes from the US Naval Institute, not exactly an alarmist or anti-Navy source. And what it says is that the US carrier group is scrap metal.

    The Chinese military has developed a ballistic missile, Dong Feng 21, specifically designed to kill US aircraft carriers: “Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes.” That’s the US Naval Institute talking, remember. They’re understating the case when they say that, with speed, satellite guidance and maneuverability like that, “the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased.”

    You know why that’s an understatement? Because of a short little sentence I found farther on in the article—and before you read that sentence, I want all you trusting Pentagon groupies to promise me that you’ll think hard about what it implies. Here’s the sentence: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.”

    That’s right: no defense at all. The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I’ve argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they’re Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles. But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.

    So it doesn’t matter one god damn whether the people in the operations room of a targeted carrier could track the Dong Feng 21 as it lobbed itself at them. They might do a real hall-of-fame job of tracking it as it goes up and comes down. But so what? Let me repeat the key sentence here: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.”

    Source: “This Is How the Carriers Will Die” (2009)

    That should scare the hell out of everybody who cares about how well the US is prepared to fight its next war. (..) That means that the hundreds of trillions (yeah, trillions) of dollars we’ve invested in shipbuilding is wasted, worthless.

    A few years ago, a US submarine commander said, “There are two kinds of ship in the US Navy: subs and targets.” The fact that big surface ships are dinosaurs is something that’s gotten clearer every decade since 1921.

    Source: “U Sank My Carrier!” (2002)

    Oh, but wait…it gets worse. Turns out that the radar-stealthed pop-up cruise missile isn’t the deadliest anti-aircraft-carrier weapon out there. The Russian-made (and sold to just about everyone) Shkval-class supersonic cavitating torpedos is even more deadly.

    Now, you may read that previous sentence and say, “What the hell? Supersonic torpedo? That’s gotta be a misprint!”

    Nope.

    Current technology now allows torpedoes to travel 230 mph underwater.

    The technology that allows torpedoes to travel at 230 mph underwater involves spraying a sheath of bubbles around the torpedo’s surface. These bubbles drastically reduce water friction, allowing the torpedo to blast along at ridiculous fast speeds underwater. The process of spraying bubbles out is known as “supercavitation,” thus the “supersonic cavitating torpedo.”

    More about the Shkval torpedo here. Incidentally, the Shkval is now old technology. A German supercavitating torpedo travels at 800 kph (roughly 640 mph).

    So between the Chinese pop-up radar stealthed missile and supercavitating torpedos mean that if America sends a carrier battle group to the China sea and there’s a naval battle, every American aircraft carrier will wind up on the bottom of the ocean within five minutes.

    So it’s entirely clear that both Krepenevich and Marshall are ignorant incompetent clowns. These people are utter fools. They’re talking about a grand strategy which will involve the immediate destruction of the entire American naval force.

    And it gets even worse…because anyone with even the slightest knowledge of Chinese history or culture recognizes instantly that Taiwan is becoming so economically intertwined and dependent upon the Chinese mainland that it’s only a matter of time before Taiwan effectively becomes a part of the Chinese mainland once again. The economic ties are now so close that Taiwan can’t exist on its own — the companies in Taiwan are too dependent on Chinese factories.

    So on an even higher level of abstraction, Krepenevich and Marshall are not just fools, but ignorant buffoons as well, because the last thing China is going to do is start threatening Taiwan militarily. China doesn’t have to threaten Taiwan. All they have to do is keep doing business with Taiwan. Eventually Taiwan will be so interdependent upon Chinese manufacturing and Chinese banks and Chinese component suppliers and Chinese purchasers of their products that most of the ranks of the biggest Taiwanese businesses will wind up getting filled by Chinese nationals.

    So in every possible way, from every possible perspective, the “highly respected defense analysts” Dr. Finel praises are clearly and obviously a pair of ignorant incompetent halfwits. These people shouldn’t be put in charge of a 7-11, much less U.S. defense policy in the far east.

    Contra Daulnay: the American military-industrial-prison-police-surveillance complex is currently destroying American society and bankrupting the U.S treasury with its 1.2-trillion-dollar-per-year spending. The American military has become an uncontrolled cancer that has to be cut out. And this isn’t “anti-military” sentiment, it’s pro-democracy. America in 2012 faces a stark choice — either we drastically cut the U.S. military and stop our endless unwinnable foreign wars (and our endless pointless internal surveillance of Americans) or America will cease to exist as a functioning democracy, and will instead turn into the kind of gray brutal senescent police state we saw in the final days of East Germany.

  42. 42
    mclaren says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Can anyone explain the real underlying strategic rationale for the second Iraq invasion?

    Winning elections. (..) The ROI is incalculable. At that scale, the oil is just lagniappe.

    Don’t think of Iraq as a ‘war’. Think of it as ‘the world’s most expensive campaign commercial’.

    Brilliant. Absolutely dead-on correct.

  43. 43
    Mike G says:

    @WJS:

    There are constituents, there are industries, there are billions of dollars, and there is what works for the men and women who have the votes in the Senate. Nothing else matters beyond that fact.

    But how can that be? Surely not the Teatard senators. They most vehemently insisted that “government spending never created a single job”, so they wouldn’t possibly be interested in lobbying for military-industrial projects in their state.

  44. 44
    Daulnay says:

    @Chris:
    Clinton and Obama are moderates at best, likewise Carter. With high political polarization, its easy to confuse liberal with Democrat. But arguably, the division between the parties now is more sane/nuts than liberal/conservative. (And if you want to argue, I’ll admit that the political spectrum has shifted. But then we’ll have to claim Richard Nixon as a liberal, and I’d rather not.)

    I didn’t say Democrats, but liberals for a reason. Over the last 40 years, the liberal wing of the Democratic party has been strongly anti-military. Democrats like Scoop Jackson (liberal in everything except being pro-military and fervently anti-communist) were opposed by the liberal wing of the party. A lot of the blue collar Democrats went to Reagan in part because of the feeling that pro-military patriots had no place in the Democratic party.

  45. 45
    Daulnay says:

    @mclaren:
    The liberal wing of the Democratic party have been calling the military-industrial complex a threat to American Democracy since the late 1960’s. For a long time, I was one of them. It’s been 50 years, and we’re still a functioning democracy (barely). The threats to democracy haven’t been the military, rather it’s certain factions in our society. Some of the military has become a threat because liberals self-selected ourselves out of military careers over the last four decades. I’ve come to see that as a mistake.

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