This -n- That

There’s been a lot going on this week.  While I haven’t had time to write a long-form post till now, here are a few scattered thoughts on recent developments:

It’s interesting that for a couple days it looked as though Trump were going squishy on demanding funding for border security (the wall).  But as with many issues in this administration, it often seems the news coverage greatly exaggerates the death of the president’s resolve on key issues (and this may the media’s intent).  It says something that within 24 hours the talk went from Trump being stymied by his own party in the House, to Speaker Ryan very publicly bending to the administration’s wishes.  In short, Trump comes out of this with a stronger hand, not a weaker one, even if the Senate fails to follow through.

Meanwhile, in the tradition of Tocqueville’s observations about Americans self-organizing, “we the people” are making a stab at ‘doing the jobs our government won’t do,’ to appropriate a phrase.  In less than 4 days, a private fundraising effort for the wall has drawn nearly 200,000 donors and, as of this writing, over $12.1 million.  While this large sum is dwarfed by the estimated $5 billion to build the wall, the enthusiasm being shown may well have tipped the balance for the actions in the House yesterday.  There is, after all, more than one way for the citizens to make their point, if they are determined to do so.

The departure of Secretary of Defense James Mattis set many tongues wagging yesterday.  Mattis was a highly regarded Marine general and military intellectual, known as the ‘warrior monk’ before putting on the suit and taking over as SECDEF.  But as others have pointed out, having operational and tactical savvy doesn’t necessarily translate into strategic acumen.  Regardless, it appears his resignation was predicated on disagreeing with Trump’s intent to disengage from Syria and greatly reduce our footprint in Afghanistan.  If they fundamentally disagreed on these policies, the honorable thing was for him to resign, not to backbite the president from the official perch at the Pentagon.  So regardless whether Trump’s policy proves wise or not, I respect Mattis for his action.  I also respect Trump for following through on a campaign promise to stop policing the world.  Unless someone can articulate a very clear, rational vision of what staying in Afghanistan can achieve, it’s time to recognize 17 years of occupation is long enough.  Let Syria and Afghanistan figure out their own destinies, and let’s free America to do the same by extricating ourselves from all these nebulous multilateral commitments.

That includes immigration.  The United Nations lived up to its reputation as wanting to be a global proto-government by creating a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”  In other words, facilitating the mass movement of peoples into alien lands.  The United States was one of only five nations who refused to sign onto the compact, correctly noting it was an attempt to create international “soft law” that would infringe on our national sovereignty.  The other four refusals came from Israel, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic — all of whom have been under pressure for months due to their refusal to allow open passage across their borders.  Instead, they are putting the needs of their own citizens first… and what’s so immoral about that?

The real immorality today is the utter lack of accountability shown by the leaders of these various nations to the aspirations of their people and the requirements of the law. Whether it’s Theresa May slow-rolling the Brexit process, Emmanuel Macron trying to tax his people in the name of dubious “climate change” fearmongering or former FBI Director James Comey showing his utter disregard for legal protocols, the attitude is the same.  The main question today is how much longer will these globalist charlatans escape consequences for their actions.

Sounding a Mayday

A new memoir by retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz revisits the decision by then-Secretary Robert Gates to shut down the F-22 Raptor production line well short of the service’s calculated minimum operational requirement.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been tremendously expensive for the United States, both in lives and money.  As time goes on, we may find the largest cost of those conflicts was to cause such an intense focus on counterinsurgency warfare that our higher-end capabilities were allowed to atrophy.  Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has considered Russia and China “near peer competitors” — in short, not quite the superpower America is.  That situation is changing more rapidly than many planners anticipated even a decade ago.  China fielded its first operational stealth aircraft years before expected.  While they are still having some growing pains, this development invalidated some of the reasoning behind shutting down the F-22 — that the U.S. Air Force was largely untouchable.

…Schwartz’s predecessor General Mike Moseley “never gave up in his principled attempts to get those 381 F-22s” the book states. That push ended up getting Moseley fired along with his civilian counterpart, Air Force Secretary Mike Wynn. After the culling, the brass thought that the new bomber was simply too important and that the chances of winning both the F-22 and bomber arguments with Gates, who was staunchly averse to building high-priced weapons that couldn’t be used in Iraq or Afghanistan, was next to zero.

Schwartz, in an attempt to see if a reduced F-22 production number would be palatable to the Defense Secretary, executed an independent assessment that ended up stating 243 F-22s was the absolute minimum the force could get by with. But Gates balked at that number as well.

In the end, the production line was shut down after only 188 Raptors were built.  The F-22 is designed to ensure air supremacy by sweeping adversaries’ aircraft from the skies.  For context, it is assuming that role from the 1970s-vintage F-15 Eagle, of which the Air Force procured nearly 900 over the decades since its debut.  That number does not include the 225 F-15E “Strike Eagles” specially designed with more focus on ground attack missions than air-to-air operations.  The F-15 production line continues to operate today, fielding orders from major U.S. allies more than a dozen years after the United States bought its last Eagle.

In short, the U.S. bought far too few Raptors, and now has no option to build more (the production line having been dismantled).  The Air Force was able to replenish its F-15 fleet over the years, purchasing newer aircraft and retiring older airframes.  This will not be an option for the F-22 design, as reopening production is cost-prohibitive.  As a result of this shortfall, the Air Force has kept a large number of F-15s in service as teammates to the Raptor.  But this generates the cost of maintaining four distinct fighter platforms: the F-22, the F-15, the smaller F-16 (most known for its use by the Thunderbird Demonstration Team), and the new F-35 attack aircraft.  The F-15 and F-16 were built concurrently as a “high-low” mix: a smaller number of highly capable F-15s to defeat enemy air forces, and considerably more of the less capable (and less expensive) F-16s to operate in a mostly “permissive” environment.  The same approach was intended for the F-22 and F-35.  With the premature closure of the F-22 line, the Air Force has to choose between keeping the F-15s around longer (adding to budget strain), or shifting some of their air superiority mission to the larger (but less capable) F-16 fleet until sufficient numbers of stealthy F-35s are flying.

This was not the first time the U.S. shot itself in the foot while buying a major aircraft system.  The B-2 bomber, which critics love to point out cost more per unit than any aircraft in history, was originally supposed to be a fleet of 100 aircraft.  Rattled by the program cost at a time the Cold War was winding down, Congress funding the Air Force for only 21 (of which only 19 are in operation today).  After 9/11 the system proved far more versatile than its original mission of nuclear combat with the Soviet Union, flying incredibly long missions non-stop from the U.S. to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.  Instead of 16 nuclear weapons, the aircraft can carry up to 80 satellite-guided 500-pound bombs, accurately hitting scores of targets on each mission.  Such capability creates high demand, but with such a small fleet these demands have worn out the B-2 force and the Air Force is scrambling to produce a replacement system as mentioned in the book excerpt above.  It’s arguable an original fleet of 100 aircraft would have reduced or eliminated the need for another design procurement this soon.

But such is the “penny-wise, pound-foolish” ways of government acquisition.  The F-22 and B-2 are arguably the most advanced and capable aircraft ever built — and no more of either can be produced because the facilities have shut down.  It has been 65 years since an American soldier was lost to enemy airpower — in 1953, during the Korean War.  Three generations of military planners have been able to reasonably assume the U.S. would control the skies in any conflict they foresaw.

Our investment decisions in recent years may soon call that assumption into serious question.  Penny-wise, pound-foolish is bad, but not nearly as bad as penny-wise, blood-foolish.

Should have been the first choice

After all the ado over the withdrawal of General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser, Team Trump has named in his stead Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who has been an influential, up-and-coming leader throughout the post-9/11 period, especially in Iraq.

I’ve heard McMaster give a public address on understanding the utility and limits of military force and the need for leaders to better understand the many human variables involved in that profession, and can vouch that his reputation for being a heavyweight military intellectual is well-deserved.  In an age where the military increasingly leans on impersonal technology and engineering, McMaster stands out with his PhD in History — and his emphasis on the many lessons a military leader can learn in that field. He is easily on par with the “Warrior Monk,” retired General James Mattis, who is now serving as the Secretary of Defense.

Flynn, on the other hand, is a documented loose cannon of sorts.  His is not the temperament you need in order to balance Trump’s tendency toward impulsiveness.  McMaster is far and away a better choice, and frankly should have been the original selection.

It’s my hope the current administration will stop involving the U.S. in an ever-increasing number of piddly half-hearted wars abroad.  But if the U.S. does have to face a major military challenge, or chooses to “go big” in the war on terror vice the constant inconclusive simmer of the last 15 years, two of the most qualified men available (Mattis and McMaster) will be at the helm.  Say what you will about Trump, but he’s not afraid to surround himself with smart, candid people.  To me, that’s the mark of a leader, whatever his personal flaws.