We have read repeatedly that most generals prefer to prepare for defense by refighting the last war rather than by anticipating the future. The occasional maverick who survives to lead armies often runs rampant over such generals. Famously, Nazi Germany threw Blitzkrieg at the French Maginot Line, defeating France early in WWII by simply using mobility to go around the entrenchments that channeled WWI. Mechanized war had arrived.
The U.S. Air Force and the Navy appear to face such existential challenges now and if either is standing up to them, it is less than obvious. See what you think:
The Navy provides numerous and vastly bulky targets for both submarines and missiles. Some of the latter may descend upon say, an aircraft carrier, at some 5,000 mph. The missiles can be fired from submerged submarines or, granted their ranges of thousands of miles, from over the horizon land or ships. With that, of what use is an aircraft carrier likely to be in wartime? Certainly, they are handy in peacetime for bullying foreigners. But in wartime? If one questions what the navy should now be, large numbers of relatively slow floating targets seems a questionable place to start. Add that the enormous sums of money spent upon acquiring and operating these extravaganzas has been wrapped in unrepaid debt of equally magnificent proportions.Going broke is as much a defeat as being blown up, if a bit less permanent.
At the top of this noisome heap sits the Air Force and its phantasmagorial F – 35 “Joint Strike Fighter.” Not especially nimble nor fast by today’s standards, it is touted as nearly invisible to today’s sensors; a triumph of stealth. If you can’t sense it, you can’t shoot it down, right? But the beast has become so costly and so difficult to design and produce that its reality is very much in question. Only one of six new Air Force F – 35 s could take off for testing recently; the others were grounded by software glitches. Nevertheless we are informed that the Air Force will declare the beast acceptable and order production later this year. Never mind that the cost has skyrocketed well beyond imagination at outset. And never mind that the touted stealth is likely a transient advantage as technology proceeds.
The Air Force now inhabits the same reality as McDonald’s fast food chain. Its people are being superseded by cheaper, more reliable machines. Drones are becoming a better investment than costly, risky manned aircraft when augmented by smart bombs, etc. Another aspect of manned aircraft is now replaced by satellites. If these sorts of tools were maximized, the revised Air Force would differ immensely from that f today. And would likely cost less and need fewer high priced managers. Politically unappealing, right?.
But it won’t need so many generals or pilots; it will need mechanics and computer operators. Sacrilege, to today’s generals. They demand the over budget and under specification F – 35 and after that, a new manned bomber at unspeakable cost. They are preparing to re-fight yesterday’s wars because it is the way to keep the costly wheels turning. Many people are heavily invested in the status quo; few are invested in an uncertain future by definition.
Whoever does invest in the future will likely prevail on future battle fields, but it is those who invest in the past who will prevail on today’s military budgets and promotions.
There is one slim hope: The same syndrome generally affects every government; only occasionally, for unusual reasons, does one rise above the pattern. Phillip of Macedon comes to mind. Frederick of Prussia. And of course, Adolf Hitler. And such are infrequent in history. Mostly, everyone wastes a lot of money wasting a lot of people in inefficient ways until someone stumbles to an exhausted halt. Rather like the U.S. Civil War, come to think of it. Or WWI or WWII or … Seems rather a waste, doesn’t it?