Tuesday, February 25, 2014


To no one's surprise, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday that the U.S. military will undergo even more dramatic cuts in the years to come.  The proposed reductions include:

- Shrinking the Army to its smallest size since before World War II.  Under Hagel's plans, the number of soldiers on active duty would drop from 520,000 today, to between 440-450,000 by 2019.   That's a net reduction of 15%, and some experts believe the final cuts may be well over 100,000.

- Retiring entire fleets of USAF aircraft, including more than 340 A-10 close air support fighters and 32 U-2 reconnaissance platforms.  The service previously announced plans to get rid of 22,500 airmen this year alone, and elimination of the Warthog and Dragon Lady will permit even more cuts among operations and support personnel in the years to come.

- A reduction of 20,000 soldiers from the National Guard, reducing the number of troops in that component to 335,000.  Another 10,000 troops will exit the Army Reserve, reducing end strength to 195,000.

- Transferring all AH-64 Apache attack currently assigned to the Guard to active-duty units, in exchange for more UH-60 Blackhawks, deemed more "suitable" for disaster relief and other civil support missions.

- Reducing the Marine Corps by 8,000, leaving that service with a total of 182,000 personnel.

- Ending production of the Navy's troubled littoral combat ship program (LCS) at 32 vessels, rather than the 52 originally planned.

- "Laying up" 11 of the USN's 22 cruisers while they are modernized.  The move will allow the Navy to keep 11 active carriers.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared with Hagel at the announcement and said military leaders are "willing" to accept the proposed cuts over the sequestration process, which would mean even bigger reductions in personnel and hardware.

Describing the Hagel plan as deeply flawed would be an understatement.  For starters, there's the notion of gutting the Army, which will lose 10 combat brigades and even larger numbers of support troops.  That's roughly akin to an entire corps, plus all the equipment and personnel who keep the trigger pullers in action. The Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, has already warned the planned cuts will put his service dangerously close to levels where it cannot fight a major war overseas and sustain other operations (such as training) here at home.

Army commanders are also angry about the retirement of the A-10.  In truth, the USAF has been trying to get rid of the CAS platform for years, but it has never found another fighter that can deliver support to ground forces like the Warthog.  Surviving F-16s and some of the new F-35 stealth fighters are supposed to replace the A-10, but neither aircraft can carry the ordnance--or survive battle damage like the venerable "Hog."

The U-2 Dragon Lady has been around even longer than the A-10, but it has been constantly updated and still provides an impressive collection capability.  More importantly, the U-2 is much cheaper to operate than its designated replacement the RQ-4, Global Hawk.  Writing recently in Forbes, noted defense analyst Dr. Loren Thompson noted why the venerable Dragon Lady is a better choice than Global Hawk for many missions, including those in the Pacific region:

"For starters, U-2 could fly much higher — at 70,000 feet versus 55,000 feet — which meant sensors carried on the spy plane could see considerably farther. The U-2 could also carry 67% more payload (5,000 pounds versus 3,000 pounds), and had over twice as much space as Global Hawk in which to arrange its mission equipment. In addition, the U-2′s on-board power generation capacity was nearly twice that of Global Hawk, meaning its diverse sensors could be operated simultaneously to collect many types of intelligence
These differences help explain why U-2 has a much higher mission-success rate in the Pacific theater than Global Hawk does — 96% versus 55% — and is selected for missions much more frequently.  When an aircraft operates at 50,000-55,000 feet as Global Hawk does, it can’t fly above some of the storms encountered in the Pacific the way U-2 can. Global Hawk’s weather limitations are compounded by the absence of a de-icing system, which means it cannot fly through clouds for prolonged periods and thus is confined to operating in fair weather — unlike all the manned aircraft in the Air Force fleet."

Guess we'd better hope that the Chinese and North Koreans restrict their military activities to periods of good weather.  Never mind that the Korean peninsula is subject to frequent rain in the spring and summer, and lots of snow and ice in the winter.  Or that typhoons tend to frequent the western Pacific (including the Taiwan Strait) during the late summer and fall.  But that's the sort of logic behind the Hagel plan.

Likewise, the idea of idling 11 Ticonderoga-class cruisers sounds like a good idea, since it allows the Navy to keep all of its current carriers.  But the cruisers play an important role in protecting the carriers at sea; with fewer cruisers available, that will mean more deployments for those that remain and for destroyers equipped with the Aegis air defense/battle management system.  More frequent deployments also means more money for maintenance and upkeep.  I'm hardly a math scholar, but I don't see how mothballing 11 cruisers frees up enough money to support a DDG force that will be more heavily taxed than ever AND keep our carriers in operation.  And if you believe that all of the "laid up" cruisers will eventually return to the fleet, we've got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.

Mr. Hagel's wishful thinking extends to other areas as well.  The planned down-sizing of the Marine Corps by 8,000 personnel?  The numbers we've seen suggest the Corps will absorb much larger cuts, with end strength closer to 150,000 and not 180,000.  Don't forget: there has been plenty of talk over the past year about the Corps and its "search for a mission" in today's environment.  If the Marine Corps is becoming strategically irrelevant (as some in the Pentagon would like to believe), then how do you justify the larger force?

There are also planned cuts in pay and benefits too, including virtual elimination of subsidy for military commissaries.  Did we mention that more than 5,000 military families are currently on food stamps, and without the full commissary benefit, they will find it more difficult to feed their spouses and children?  There will also be reductions in the monthly housing allowance for active-duty personnel, and higher fees and co-pays for everyone using the Tricare.

The impact of all of this is easy to predict: military readiness will drop precipitously, at a time when the world is becoming a more dangerous place.  Military members with marketable skills and career options will vote with their feet, taking valuable expertise (and years of experience) with them.  That will leave us with armed forces that are not only lacking equipment and training, but the skilled personnel that form the heart of an all-volunteer military.

Which brings us to Mr. Hagel's coup de grace, at least on the pay and benefits side.  During yesterday's speech, he indicated that future decisions on compensation will follow the lead of a Pentagon panel which recommended wholesale changes to the retirement system.  In other words, 20-year retirement (with pension) will soon be a thing of the past, replaced by a new, 401K-type scheme that will cover virtually everyone who serves, but you can't start collecting until the "normal" retirement age.

As we've noted before, the 20-year retirement program has been a foundation of the military recruiting and personnel system for decades.  There are literally thousands of NCOs and officers who joined the armed forces out of high school, with a goal of spending two decades in uniform, in exchange for a retirement check in their late 30s (or early 40s), and the opportunity to launch a second career.

Not only has the 20-year system provided a steady flow of exceptionally-qualified recruits, it has also helped us maintain a youthful force.  As Secretary Hagel may recall from his Vietnam days, you need young men (and women) in their early 20s to do most of the heavy lifting in a military.  The lure of 20-year retirement encourages young Americans to volunteer for those jobs, then move on to other endeavors as they reach middle age.  True, we are living longer as a society and there are many people in their 40s and 50s who are in better shape than youngsters 20 years their junior.  But it's equally true that you don't want an infantry company or a Marine platoon with a median age somewhere around 40.

Mr. Hagel maintains that something must be done to reduce personnel costs, which account for roughly half of the Pentagon's budget.  One option is replacing Tricare with on-base health care for retirees and dependents.  Even routine procedures (such as an appendectomy) may be 10 or 20 times more expensive at a civilian facility, in comparison to a base hospital.  Fully funding military health care and bringing retirees and dependents back on post could generate real savings.

A little perspective is also in order: Hagel and his bean counters rail against the "excessive" cost of military pensions but in reality, that program costs the taxpayers only $4 billion a year, or about 25% of our foreign aid budget.  Fact is: you can't balance the federal budget on the backs on men and women who served their country faithfully and honorably for more than 20 years, and now expect Uncle Sam to live up to his end of the bargain.  Hacking away at the military (while the big entitlement programs go untouched) is an exercise in fecklessness.  But it's about what you'd expect from Chuck Hagel and his boss--the same guy who could save us a cool trillion by giving up on his failed vision for national health care.                                            

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Military that Looks Like America

At this point in his tenure, you'd think that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would be preoccupied with budget cuts, force reductions, and the litany of threats our military must guard against every day.

But Mr. Hagel's agenda has undergone a slight revision; near the top of his "to-do" list is re-instilling ethics in the armed forces.  Alarmed by a series of personal conduct scandals, Hagel is preparing to appoint a flag officer as an "ethics adviser," presumably with marching orders to implement new directives and training programs to fix the problem.

There is a certain irony in a career politician demanding ethical behavior from members of the armed forces.  But Secretary Hagel has little choice; the military is currently awash with incidents involving illegal, immoral or inexcusable behavior.  Here are just a few examples:

- Dozens of Air Force missile launch officers at Malmstrom AFB, Montana were suspended from their duties after it was discovered they cheated on a routine qualification exam.  Some of the officers reportedly texted correct answers to their colleagues, to avoid failing the test.  Investigators say cheating was rampant, encourage by superiors, and passing the exam with a perfect score was the only sure path to advancement.

- The Navy is investigating its own cheating scandal, involving enlisted instructors at its nuclear power school in Charleston, South Carolina.  At least 20 senior enlisted members are accused of cheating on tests that help them qualify to operate nuclear reactors on aircraft carriers and submarines.  It is the Navy's fifth cheating scandal in the past seven years; all have involved reactor technicians and their training and certification programs.  

- Air Force Major General Michael Carey was dismissed last fall as Commander of 20th Air Force--which oversees the service's ICBM wing--amid reports of misconduct during an official visit to Russia.  An official probe confirmed that Carey (among other things) drank heavily during the trip, offended his hosts and consorted with women who might be a security risk.  In fairness, we should point out that other sources identify the women as members at the British Embassy in Moscow.

- Another senior officer in the nuclear chain, Navy Vice Admiral Tim Giardina, was fired in October 2013 after it was discovered that he used counterfeit chips while gambling at an Indian casino in Iowa.  At the time, Giardina was Vice Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of the nation's nuclear forces.

- Three other Navy officers--including an NCIS agent--have been implicated in a bribery scandal.  They are accused of arranging port visits that benefited Glen Defense Marine, a long-time vendor in the Pacific Region.  In return, the company's CEO, Leonard Francis, provided cash, gifts, vacations and prostitutes for the officers.  At least two Navy admirals have been suspended in connection with the case, though they have not been charged with any wrong-doing.

- The Navy also relieved the command and master chief of a Florida-based missile unit after it was discovered their personnel had solicited adult-entertainment businesses in a fund-raising effort for a submarine ball.  The unit's commander, Captain John Heatherington, also received non-judicial punishment for failing to stop the fund-raising appeal, which included strip clubs and other seedy establishments.  

And if that's not bad enough, there are two new scandals involving lower-ranking personnel who engaged in behavior that is disgraceful and disrespectful, at best.

-A photo of Air Force Staff Sergeant Cherish Byers "tongue-kissing" the POW-MIA symbol went viral earlier this month, much to the embarrassment of her commanders at Fairchild AFB, Washington and the rest of the service.  James Cody, the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, said "appropriate action will be taken at the appropriate level." In a Facebook posting, Byers said the photo was three years old, and taken at a point when she "didn't care."  Now facing potential punishment, Sergeant Byers has apparently had a change of heart.       

- Then, there is the group of National Guard soldiers who decided to take a group photo surrounding a flag-draped casket used to train honor guard personnel.  Many of the soldiers are mugging for the camera and the shot--which was posted by a Wisconsin guard member--and is captioned "we put the fun in funeral."  The same solider, Specialist Terry Harrison, also posted a selfie with the comment, "It's so damn cold out...why have a funeral outside...someone's getting a jacked-up flag."    

Against that backdrop, it's tempting to say that Mr. Hagel needs to impose a month-long "stand down" for ethics training.  To be sure, the military has always had its share of scandals, but this recent barrage suggests that standards of conduct, discipline and integrity have slipped badly.

But you can say the same thing about the country they serve.  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was recently criticized when he mentioned Bill Clinton's infamous affair with Monica Lewinsky.  Then as now, we're being told that it was a "private matter," even if it did involve the Commander-in-Chief.  The same holds true for various other Clinton-era scandals, including Hillary's remarkable luck as a cattle futures trader; those missing records from her Little Rock law firm and the politically-fueled purge of the White House travel office.  Examples of inappropriate, shady or even illegal conduct now deemed "irrelevant."

Still, the Clintons don't have a monopoly on sleazy behavior.  Newt Gingrich has his own history of marital infidelity.  Former National Security Adviser Sandy Burger was caught smuggling classified documents out of the national archive (an act blamed on personal "sloppiness") and received a slap on the wrist--loss of his security clearance for only three years.

The list goes on.  Harry Reid has become a wealthy man at the public trough, engaging in questionable land deals along the way. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have claimed the job title of "activist" for much of their adult lives and become millionaires in the process.  Former Republican Congressman Randy Cunningham (a fighter ace in Vietnam) sold his soul for $2.4 million in bribes.  He was released from federal prison last year, but retains his military and congressional pensions. William Jefferson of Louisiana, who served in the House with Mr. Cunningham, is still in prison on 13-year sentence for corruption charges.  And just last week Mr. Jefferson's former mayor, Ray Nagin, was convicted of bribery.

How does this relate to the military?  It's simple; our armed forces are a reflection of the society they serve.  If America is doing its best impersonation of a dead fish and rotting from the head, it's inevitable that some military members will mimic their civilian counterparts. That doesn't excuse it and what's worse, the armed forces seem increasingly tolerant of bad behavior.  General Carey and Admiral Giardina will retire at flag rank and some of the cheaters at Charleston and Malmstrom will survive as well.  That doesn't speak well for a profession that has always held itself to the highest standards of conduct and integrity.

But, as we observed earlier, there is an element of hypocrisy in the current push for military ethics.  If Mr. Hagel is serious about the subject, he might start on the E-ring and the senior officers who populate those offices.  Many were on duty on the night of September 11, 2012, when four Americans died in Benghazi and the full might of the American military was never mustered to assist them.  Almost two years later, we know very little about the actions of our senior officers that night, along with those of the Commander-in-Chief.

In her latest blog post for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wonders what happens to a country where the decadent elites engage in all sorts of reprehensible behavior, openly mocking the people they supposedly serve.

We may soon find out.     



Friday, February 14, 2014

The Map

It's long been a point of conjecture: where were U.S. military forces on the night of September 11, 2012 (when our consulate in Benghazi came under attack), and could any of them have rendered assistance to the American diplomats and security contractors at that facility.

Members of the Obama Administration and senior defense officials have long claimed that our forces were poorly positioned to render assistance.  But determining the exact location of those assets--particularly Navy strike groups--has been nearly impossible.  Until now.

Responding to a FOIA request from retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Randall R. Schmidt (who is  investigating the military response to the attack), the Navy finally provided an unclassified graphic depicting the location of its ships in the Mediterranean and Middle East on the fateful day.  Colonel Schmidt, in turn, gave a copy of the map to Judicial Watch, which released it to various media outlets.  A reproduction of the map is provided below:

Disposition of U.S. Naval forces in the Med and the Middle East on the night of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya (Lieutenant Colonel Randall Schmidt via Judicial Watch)  

A look at the graphic seems to buttress both sides of the argument.  Yes, there were significant Navy assets on station from the Strait of Gilbratar to the Persian Gulf, but none were in close proximity to Benghazi, where waves of terrorists assaulted the consulate, killing four Americans.  This is particularly true of our carrier battle groups, which are often among the first assets tasked in response to any emergency.  When Al-Qaida-linked militants launched their attacks on the diplomatic facility, both the USS Eisenhower and the USS Enterprise, along with their escorts, were roughly three thousand miles away in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, respectively.  Navy public affairs officials told Colonel Schmidt that it would have taken as long as seven days for the "Ike" to make the transit to the central Med, with a slightly shorter transit time for the Enterprise.   

Of course, the p.r. flacks don't make mention of the air wings embarked on both carriers, which could span that difference in a matter of hours.  But getting even a modest air package off the deck would have required diplomatic clearance/overflight rights, and enough tanker support to get F/A-18s from the Gulf to Benghazi, a flight that would take a minimum of six hours, with sufficient in-flight refueling and optimal routing.  Factoring in the time needed to plan and coordinate the flight, and it's readily apparent the carriers could not respond to events in Benghazi in a timely manner.  

Yet, the Navy was not without options on that fateful night.  By our count, there were at least five surface vessels (all destroyers) deployed across the Med that night; the USS McFaul (east of Gibraltar); the USS Laboon (in port at Souda Bay, Crete); the USS Forrest Sherman (underway northeast of the island), and the USS Cole and USS Jason Dunham, on ballistic missile defense patrol in the eastern Mediterranean. 

All of those vessels are equipped with variants of the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile.  Collectively, those five destroyers had dozens of Tomahawks that could be employed against the terrorists in Benghazi, including newer variants that can be rapidly retargeted.  And lest we forget, there was at least one UAV over the consulate during much of the attack, providing a potential source of coordinates.  

Would cruise missiles be an optimum choice for this scenario?  Hardly.  There was a risk of collateral damage, and given the flight time for the missiles (anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours), it is possible that some of the terrorists would disperse before the Tomahawks arrived.  However, since the attack lasted for hours, there is also a good chance that cruise missiles would have killed scores of bad guys, since information from the UAV could have been used to update target locations while the missiles were en route.  And, it's quite likely that targeting officers had previously identified terrorist facilities in the Beghazi which could have been targeted as well.  Even if the Tomahawks weren't an ideal weapon, they were the best option available. 

Of course, the launch order never came.  Much of what happened that night at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department has never been revealed, and for obvious reasons.  There is an ample body of evidence that suggests the Benghazi consulate was involved in arms smuggling to the Syrian rebels, a program that apparently began with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus.  The plan to funnel arms from Libya to Syria was the subject of at least two major articles in The New York Times, so the link is hardly the product of right-wing conspiracy theorists. 

Existence of the arms transfer operation--along with the purported "lack" of military assets--was enough to send our leaders scrambling for the tall grass as terrorists attacked our consulate.  We still don't know what President Obama was up to during much of that evening; he was at the White House, but save his late afternoon meeting with the SecDef and JCS Chairman--and a 10 pm phone call with Hillary Clinton--the Commander-in-Chief was off the radar.  Ms. Clinton was on a diplomatic mission to the Far East at the time, but she, too, was remarkably uninvolved.  The same might be said of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the nation's senior military officer.  Despite months of Congressional probing, we still don't know what they did after meeting with the President, and informing him of the attack on the consulate. 

The administration narrative from that night suggests that nothing could have been done to assist our diplomats and security contractors in Benghazi.  But that explanation doesn't wash; clearly there was time for a cruise missile strike (at a very minimum) and there have been other hints about military assets that were expected to arrive.  Why, for example, did former SEALs (who responded to the consulate attack) actively "paint" targets with their laser designators? From their training and combat experience, Ty Woods and Glen Doherty knew that jihadists use their cell phones to spot individuals employing laser designators.  So, Woods and Doherty would not have used those devices unless air assets were overhead, or expected very shortly.                                   
They never arrived, and the two men were later killed by accurate mortar fire.  Meanwhile, millions of dollars in cruise missiles remained in their launch tubes on Navy ships positioned around the Med, waiting for the launch command that never came.     

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Today's Reading Assignment

Prioritizing Patriot...a couple of opinion pieces on the need to continue upgrades to our venerable air defense system, from (Ret) Major General Richard Rowe, writing at The Hill, and Colonel John Venable (USAF, Ret) at National Review on-line.  Both acknowledge the current, austere military procurement environment (and that's an understatement).  But they also emphasize that--even in the sequestration era--keeping the Patriot system updated and viable in a necessity.