On War and Money

Blog Post
We’ve been involved in a war since September 11, 2001 across the Middle East and into Afghanistan. The wars, much of which involved wasteful spending, cost the nation $6 trillion. The Iraq War was unnecessary then but under the theory, “you broke it, you bought it,” we’re still trying to balance out that part of the world which has never ever – ever – been balanced.
President Trump will ask Congress for a $54 billion increase in defense spending, some of which will go to the border wall. After eight years of gross negligence under Obama’s watch and heavy depletion during the prior Bush years, it’s not enough.  Those in the know feel that the entire Defense Dept. budget projected for 2018 of $608 billion is insufficient to fix the navy alone. I tend to agree. There are libertarians who read this blog who may wish to savage me for these sentiments, but simply ignoring the world does not keep us safe
The question of how much is enough is a recurring theme that I don’t have an answer to. Clearly finding a balance would be useful. How much longer will the B-52 Stratofortress have to remain in service? The aircraft went into service before I was born – and I’m old now. The USAF plans to replace the B-52 in a few years with the B-21 Raider (a follow-on to the B-2 Spirit, which rolled out at $2 billion per aircraft). Northrop Grumman assures us all that the new bomber can be built for $550 million each. Maybe President Trump can re-negotiate that price? Meanwhile, I’m sure that my grandsons will see B-52’s still in service when they’re adults. Billion dollar aircraft are absurd. We can’t afford to use them because we can’t afford to lose them. And they don’t work that often.

The B-52 had the highest mission capable rate of the three types of heavy bombers operated by the USAF in the 2000–2001 period. The B-1 averaged a 53.7% ready rate, the B-2  achieved 30.3%, while the B-52 averaged 80.5%. The B-52’s $72,000 cost per hour of flight is more than the B-1B’s $63,000 cost per hour, but less than the B-2’s $135,000 per hour.

Things are wearing out, though and a lot of it is critical.
          One Example (among many)
The Trident Missile arm of our triad nuclear defense ride on a fleet of SSBN’s (nuclear missile launching submarines). It’s deterrence and it’s a good idea. More than anything, the submarines provide a secure response to a nuclear attack. Even one submarine launching its missiles with their MRV warheads means that somebody, somewhere will be flattened. 
The U.S. Navy operates three kinds of submarines—nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs), nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines (SSGNs), and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).2 The SSNs and SSGNs are multi-mission ships that perform a variety of peacetime and wartime missions. They do not carry nuclear weapons.
The Navy currently operates 14 Ohio (SSBN-726) class SSBNs. The boats are commonly called Trident SSBNs or simply Tridents because they carry Trident SLBMs.
The first of the 14 Ohio-class SSBNs will reach the end of its 42-year service life in 2027. The remaining 13 will reach the ends of their service lives at a rate of roughly one ship per year thereafter, with the 14th reaching the end of its service life in 2040. The Navy has initiated a program to refurbish and extend the service lives of D-5 SLBMs to 2042 “to match the Ohio Class submarine service life.”
Unlike other services the Navy requires a long lead time to design and build platforms, most of which have planned obsolescence. The same is true of ordnance. The new Colombia Class SSBN will need to be designed, built and tested along with a new class of Trident missiles, which will replace the aging D-5.
More than any other submarine class, the SSBN’s must be undetectable in order to provide the deterrent strike that the nation requires. If you take them out of the equation, the capacity of the nation to retaliate against a nuclear strike on the US is called into question.

17 thoughts on “On War and Money

  1. Based on the delays, I'm not confident NG or anybody else can deliver a Trident replacement before 2037, if then… They needed to start in 2010, and didn't. Re the budget, that amount is 'close' to the amount of deferred maintenance the Navy currently has across all platforms. Just sayin' I think a minimum of 3 years just to get out of the maintenance hole we're in 'might' be realistic.

  2. The Navy's "deferred maintenance" is a nightmare as is its need for new air frames for the Marine Corps (maintenance notwithstanding). The F-35 was a successfully delivered hand job to Congress by Lockheed Martin. Now it's coming in at double the budget and very late. We will be lucky to have squadrons at 25% combat ready in a war environment. I'm sure that Lockheed's response to that is that we need to buy 4X as many as we think we need…

    They're going to stretch the SSBN's for another half a decade with old missiles. I don't see that they have much choice. Fixing the US Navy, bringing maintenance up to par, getting the ordnance stores back up in numbers and replacing worn out aircraft is going to take at least 4 years.

    Then there is the discontinuation of the disastrous Littoral Combat Ship, and the roll out of a new FFG and possibly as many as 8 or 10 CVL's while keeping up the DDG building program. It's a half trillion problem for starters with a trillion spent over 10 years in ship and submarine building.

    The argument is that we don't need a fleet in the Mediterranean, or that we don't need a fleet in East Asia — and we don't — until we do. Then it's a ten year building program to get one, crew it and keep it at sea.

  3. Based on personal observations, if you want 2 F-22 Raptors to complete a mission you need to send at least 4 or 5 because they're down more often than they're up. Better to build something reliable like the F-15 even though it's not "invisible". It's important that combat aircraft fly.

    Which brings me back to the venerable A-10 Warthog. The USAF wants to replace it with F-35's at $100 million a copy. The Warthogs cost $19 million a copy and work better, fly in horrible conditions, etc. It's true that they are not designed to do deep penetration missions against the Russians — but the F-35 is not designed for close support, if you can get them into the air to fight. Ok, rant over.

  4. Maybe we should adopt the old Soviet philosophy of "good enough".

    Isn't a military truism, "quantity has a quality all of it's own"?

    Consider the Ma Duece. Designed in the 1930's and still serving.

  5. We could make a grand start at improving the military by getting of 3/4 of the generals and admiral's, their higher ranking staff, and reassigning everyone. Likewise, shitcan all of the various diversity programs and the useless people that populate them. Of course, the big money can only be saved in procurement and that takes Congress. It'll take a big stick to force them to do that, as well as reform the civil service. Maybe a lot of big sticks. I'don't pay to watch the beatings, though. Put in on PPV and we could buy a squadron of jets with the proceeds.

  6. I was going to mention all the deferred maintenance, but you guys beat me to it.

    It's a truism of all things mechanical that it's far better to keep them in good condition than to let them slide, and face five times the cost.

    It's like living with your car in the rust belt….car washes and under chassis cleaning costs far less than replacing sheet metal!

  7. Think you might have meant WWI.

  8. Too expensive to lose, too expensive to use. Of course Great Britain got rid of its navy, for the most part, being an island and all.

  9. Under Obama, the Navy was stretched and a lot of it has gone to pot. We need to maintain it or scrap it. And if we scrap it, since so much is undone, we have no Navy.

  10. A B-52 built today has a cost of $85 million. The B-2 has a cost of $2 billion and nobody knows how much the B-21 will cost, but you know that it will be insane. There has to be some rationality associated with these programs or you end up with 7 bombers total. There's not enough money to go around. As Abraham Lincoln put it, "not enough tits for the pigs".

  11. Too many chiefs, not enough indians. We tend to forget that the military is a government organization. It is not immune to the bureacratic bloat that infects all other government orgs.

    What to do about it? Let the civilians figure it out. Leave it to the admirals, and we'll double the number of chiefs in corner offices. With their staffs.

  12. Just for what it's worth, I think that B-52 bombers are obsolete. Putting a crew into an airplane and then sending them into harms' way to drop bombs is a tactic that has seen technology surpass its usefulness.

    We can send drones to drop bombs. Or more efficiently, we can simply aim surface to surface missiles at the bombing target from thousands of miles away, and get the same results. After all, what is a surface to surface missile but a really fast one-use drone.

    Big, beastly lumbering 70 year old jets still work wonders, don't get me wrong, and I would not want to be the target of a squadron of these B-52 killing machines. God forbid. But I think their day has come and gone.

    Much like the cross bow: lethal in its day, but that day is in the past.

  13. LL, You are way to harsh on the F-35. I follow it and so much absolute BS has been passed out by detractors it is unbelievable.

    Start with the ESTIMATED $1,000,000,000 total lifetime cost. That includes all estimated development cost, estimated cost of every aircraft,
    estimates for ALL sustainment cost to include spare parts, fuel and other consumables, munitions, modifications and personnel. The person(s) that developed that estimate did it to try to kill the program so they did every thing with the most liberal numbers they could come up with but staying just short of totally ridiculous. The value contains adjustments for inflation until the end of life which is to be around 2050. And this was to be for every aircraft both domestic and foreign (3000+). What would it cost to develop 3 completely different aircraft and sustain them for 30 years?

    There has been a great deal of misinformation on its performance. Like the F-16 pilot that could not fly it like an F-16. First the flight was to check parameters in the fly-by-wire system as it was so that it could be tuned up. His complaint about not being able to "check his 6" was because he couldn't use the Helmet Mounted Display instead of having to crank his head around. Yes they had a problem with the tailhook on the carrier version and Lockheed fixed it. That version passed initial sea trials. F-35A's from Hill AFB just completed a Red Flag Exercise with a 90% Mission Capable Rate and an extremely good "kill" rate. They were said to not have been seen by the targets in the Nellis ranges nor their "adversary" aircraft. Go to f35.com.

    I do agree that it will not replace the A-10. The A-10 is unique. But I would believe a close analog replacement for the A-10 would likely cost over $40,000,000 a copy in 2017 dollars. Nor will it be an interceptor for either the Air Force or the Navy. F-22 is the Air Force interceptor and I have seen some rumbling of studies for a new Fleet Interceptor.

    Oh BTW, 12 years active duty AF as a pilot (C-130) and 16 years as a reservist engineer at an AF depot. Plus I have been in the aerospace/defense industry for nearly 30 years.

    BillB LTC

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