Zbigniew Mazurak's Blog

A blog dedicated to defense issues

What’s wrong with Simpson-Bowles?

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on October 5, 2012


One of the deficit reduction plans currently being considered by Congress and the public is the failed Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction package authored by a commission co-chaired by former RINO Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former Clinton WH Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.

According to Politico, “Simpson-Bowles” was the most searched-for term on Google during the first Romney-Obama presidential debate.

What is wrong with the Simpson-Bowles plan from a defense/national security perspective?

To start with, EVERYTHING.

The Simpson-Bowles panel proposed, inter alia, to:

* End purchases of the V-22 Osprey.

This excellent, highly-capable VTOL plane, which can fly twice farther and twice faster than any helicopter, is absolutely necessary to replace the USMC’s obsolete, over-40-year-old fleet of CH-46 helicopters, the USN’s obsolete C-2 Greyhound COD aircraft, and the USAF’s obsolete fleet of MH-60 CSAR helicopters. It has proven itself in three different combat theaters – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya – during over 10 years of brutal war. It is less accident-prone than helicopters and even if it crashes, at least part of the crew is likely to survive.

It has served extensively in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It has amassed over 150,000 flight hours. Its problems have been solved long ago. Helicopters are no substitute for it.

Not only are they inferior to it (in terms of speed, range, and survivability), the H-60 is too small, too slow, and too light to do the V-22′s tasks (which include CSAR), while the CH-53K is too big and too heavy (indeed, when it enters service, it will be the US military’s heaviest helicopter ever). The CH-53 is also twice as expensive as the V-22 ($128 mn per copy, vs only $69 mn for a V-22), costs twice as much to operate as the Osprey ($20,000 vs $10,000 per flight hour), and it won’t be available until 2018. These 3 designs represent 3 completely different weight and duty classes of VTOL aircraft and are meant for different duties. Only a totally ignorant person would equate them and suggest they are interchangeable.

The Marines are, by the way, buying the CH-53K… but to replace their older CH-53 Sea Stallion heavy helos, not the V-22 or the CH-46 (the V-22′s predecessor). The CH-53K is designed for a totally different mission than the V-22.

The V-22 is an excellent, unmatched aircraft, as validated unanimously by all USMC leaders past and present, including the current Commandant, who is a Naval Aviator by trade. He, the expert, should be listened to – not anti-defense POGO hacks. It has proven itself in three wars in three different countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. (When an F-15E crashed in Libya, it was a pair of V-22s that rescued the pilots.) It underwent its baptism of fire in Iraq in 2007, during the fiercest fighting there. POGO’s claim that it is “neither cost- nor operationally-effective” is a blatant lie.

Most importantly, its primary users, Marine pilots, like it. Just listen to them. And watch this film about how the V-22 proved its mettle, proved itself to be far more capable and useful than any helicopter (its speed and service ceiling really matter in combat zones), and what the Marines say about it. Also listen to USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos, a Naval Aviator by trade, who has strongly praised the V-22 and urged its continued production. (Whom will you believe – a real Marine general or armchair generals?) Also listen to his predecessor, Gen. James Conway.

And as defense expert Dr. Robbin Laird writes:

“The beauty of the speed of the Osprey is that you can get the Special Operations forces where they need to be and to augment what the conventional forces were doing and thereby take pressure off of the conventional forces. And with the SAME assets, you could make multiple trips or make multiple hits, which allowed us to shape what the Taliban was trying to do.

“The Taliban has a very rudimentary but effective early warning system for counter-air. They spaced guys around their area of interest, their headquarters, etc. Then they would call in on cell or satellite phones to chat or track. It was very easy for them to track. They had names for our aircraft, like the CH-53s, which they called ‘Fat Cows.’

“But they did not talk much about the Osprey because they were so quick and lethal. And because of its speed and range, you did not have to come on the axis that would expect. You could go around, or behind them and then zip in.”

As Dr. Laird rightly writes, the V-22 isn’t just a great performer, it has revolutionized warfare and the way Marines think about it. (Please read his entire article. Also please read these studies of the V-22, based partially on Dr Laird’s article, here and here.)

As experts have stated, the V-22 is the most capable VTOL aircraft ever, and nothing provides even comparable capability. “It has the best characteristics of a helicopter and a conventional propeller-driven aircraft”, says Peter Caddick Adams of the Royal College of Military Science. “And because it can do both, it exceeds the capabilities of either. It’s so versatile, there is nothing in the world which can match its capability.” From a cold start, it can get to a flight configuration in just 11 seconds.
* Cut by half the planned purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and cancel its B and C variants. Buy F-16s and F/A-18 Super Hornets instead.

This would dramatically increase unit costs and total program costs for a program that can accept little of either, and also dramatically reduce its affordability (because of higher unit costs) for foreign partners, which would likely cause them to cancel their orders (thus spiking up unit costs even further) and cause a total cancellation of the program without replacement, leaving three American military services without any replacements for their obsolete, worn-out aircraft.

Although often (including in the Commission’s proposal) suggested as a substitute, the Super Bug has no such capabilities. Not turning capability, not thrust, not TTW ratio, not speed, not range and combat radius, not stealthiness (and thus survivability), and not weapons possible for integration (the F-35 can, for example, be fitted with Meteor A2A missiles; the Super Bug cannot). And the Super Bug’s combat radius (350 nmi) is DECISIVELY inferior to that of the F-35B (450-500 nmi) and F-35C (650 nmi, making the F-35C the longest-ranged of the 3 F-35 models and the second-longest-ranged combat aircraft in Navy history). Range and endurance are absolutely vital for strike aircraft, as is stealthiness, because it determines survivability, which is key to winning ANY war. If a plane is not survivable, it’s worthless – and that’s exactly true of the Super Bug. And as stated above, stealthiness is necessary for any aircraft due to the proliferation and sophistication of enemy air defense systems. As F-35 program executive officer MG Charles Davis has confirmed, the F-35 will be able to operate even in heavily defended airspace.

The “proven” Super Bug, like B-1s and B-52s, has “proven itself” only in permissive environments (Afghanistan and Iraq) where the only opponent is an insurgency unable to contest control of the air. It is useless for any war theaters in which the enemy is a country with advanced IADS and/or fighters. It’s not even fit for any real A2A combat (and has not partaken in any), because it’s not a real fighter, but rather an attack jet, and is decisively inferior against current and projected enemy fighters.

And it doesn’t have the STOVL capability required to take off from and land on amphib ships and primitive airfields, which is an absolute non-negotiable USMC requirementas confirmed by USMC Commandant Gen. Amos. Without the F-35B, the Marines won’t have their own air cover when disembarking from ships and the Nation will lose 50% of its carrier-based strike aircraft fleet when the Harrier retires. Furthermore, cancelling the F-35 would relegate Marine and Naval Aviation solely to COIN environments.

Put simply, the Super Bug is not an alternative to, or even a substitute for, the F-35. Neither is the F-16, suggested by the Commission as a substitute for the F-35A. It’s a facelifted model of an attack jet that first flew in the 1970s. The F-35 is a 21st century strike fighter. Both are strike aircraft with jet engines… and that’s where the similarities end.

* Reduce overseas deployments by one-third – $8.5 billion. Withdraw 1/3 of the troops stationed in Europe and Eastern Asia.

America’s military footprint abroad needs to be reduced, but not by that much, and such reductions should be made SOLELY according to military, not budgetary, considerations. Simpson and Bowles effectively propose to reduce Americas’ overseas response capabilities arbitrarily. Furthermore, withdrawing troops to the US would actually cost far more money than it would save.

Such policy would also deprive these units of close-in bases in Europe from where they can easily and quickly deploy wherever they may be needed – be it the Middle East, North Africa (as was the case in September 2011), or Eastern Europe to keep the region’s new democracies free of Moscow’s yoke. When American consulates in North Africa were attacked, reinforcements (Marines) came not from the CONUS but from Rota, Spain, only a couple of hours away from Benghazi by plane. As Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey rightly writes:

“forward basing U.S. troops in Europe is just as important today as it was during the Cold War, albeit for different reasons. U.S. military bases in Europe provide American leaders with increased flexibility, resilience, and options in a dangerous world. The garrisons of American service personnel in Europe are no longer the fortresses of the Cold War, but the forward operating bases of the 21st century.

The U.S. military presence in Europe deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests—the U.S. reduces the number of these troops at its peril. U.S. can project power and react to the unexpected because of its forward-based military capabilities in Europe. Reducing these capabilities will only weaken America on the world stage.”

So Simpson-Bowles’s proposals, if implemented, would “only weaken America on the world stage.” More on that by the Heritage Foundation here.

The threats to America’s and its allies’ security in the Pacific Rim are growing, not shrinking. Cutting the number of troops deployed in Eastern Asia will only aggravate them, be seen as a sign of weakness (which it would be), and reduce America’s ability to respond to aggression quickly and effectively. Out-of-theater units take too long to arrive on scene; there’s no substitute for troops deployed in-theater.

The troops deployed in Europe are likewise needed. When, for example, American diplomatic posts in Libya were attacked, the DOD sent a Marine counterterrorist team that came from Rota, Spain, not from the CONUS (from where it would take too much time to arrive in theater).

*Cancel the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and Ground Combat Vehicle programs, as well as the Joint Tactical Radio System without replacement.

This would practically mean cancelling the Army’s entire modernization program, depriving it of a new IFV to replace the M2 Bradley and a new, better protected truck to replace the Humvee. (The JTRS has already been cancelled without replacement.) The Commission Co-Chairs say in the details of their proposals they only want to “delay” these programs, so which is it? Do they want to cancel these programs or only delay them? Also, how would they provide for the Army’s needs without these two crucial vehicles? (To be fair, a lot could be said for delaying the GCV until its weight issues are resolved.)

*Cut DOD procurement funding by a whopping 15% and RDT&E funding by 10%.

Again, these would be arbitrary, unjust, damaging budget cuts directed solely because of budgetary considerations, not military ones. They would inevitably cut, or lead to the closure of, many needed weapon programs, thus leaving the US military underequipped and inferior to its competitors. The 15% cut in procurements would be achieved by the cancellation of the crucial weapon programs Simpson and Bowles have targeted.

*Devote the $28 bn annual savings devised by Secretary Gates in 2011 to deficit reduction rather than to defense priorities (including even the most necessary weapon programs).

This would deprive a host of necessary weapon programs, e.g. the Next Generation Bomber and upgrades for F-15s, of funding, unless that funding were found somewhere else in the defense budget and the reprogramming authorized by Congress.

When the Services and DOD agencies proposed and made these savings in 2011, they were promised that they would be allowed to reinvest these savings into high defense priorities, such the crucial equipment and upgrade programs, such as the NGB. Depriving them of this funding – of the savings they worked hard to find – and siphoning it away to pay for a huge budget deficit caused by entitlement programs is immoral and wrong. These savings should be devoted to high defense priorities.

In conclusion, while not all of the Simpson-Bowles panel’s recommendations would weaken America’s defense, the ones listed above – the most prominent ones – would’ve been deeply harmful to national security each by itself, and taken together, they would be downright destructive, gutting and emasculating the military, despite the co-chair’s denials. For that reason alone, they should be rejected.

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