Rebuttal of Guy Taylor’s newest anti-defense screed

The formerly-conservative, and now pseudoconservative, Washington Times newspaper has published yet another utter garbage article, written of course by the anti-defense hack Guy Taylor, whom the Washington Times has wrongly hired. (Why does this supposedly conservative newspaper publish his garbage?) In it, Taylor writes, inter alia:

“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the white whale of the Defense Department — a stealth jet designed to work for all branches of the armed forces — but at a total cost of $1.5 trillion, it’s also a program that analysts say is an epic boondoggle that neither President Obama nor his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, has a realistic plan to get under control.

What’s worse is that the F-35 is just the tip of the iceberg in what many describe as a sea of waste and mismanagement surrounding the weapons acquisition system at the Pentagon. Even the department’s inspector general says it simply cannot be audited.”

Firstly, no, the F-35 is NOT a boondoggle. It is a troubled weapon program to be sure, but it is no boondoggle. It is a crucial weapon program necessary to replace a very wide range of old, obsolete, worn-out, unsurvivable fighter and attack aircraft designed in the early 1970s and produced in the 1970s and 1980s (F-16s, A-10s, AV-8s, F/A-18s, and Marine EA-6s). When it enters service, it will provide far more capability than the aircraft it will replace and will be far more survivable and lethal – absolutely necessary attributes in the access-denial environments the US military will face in the future.

Secondly, the supposed $1.5 trillion cost figure is totally false. It refers to some people’s projection of owning, maintaining, and flying a fleet of 2,443 aircraft over a period of 50 years CUMULATIVELY and in projected 2065 dollars (i.e. in what dollars are projected to be worth in 2065). Of course, that figure is based on the assumption that its authors have a crystal ball allowing them to know what dollars will be worth, and how high or low inflation will be, over the entire period of the next 53 years in advance. And what is almost never mentioned is that operating and maintaining LEGACY aircraft over the next 53 years would cost 3-4 times as much.

Thirdly, even though the DOD’s IG says that the DOD’s acquisition system cannot be audited, the fact is that it can, and must, be audited. It’s the law. The DOD is required to do so by the end of FY2017, and Sec.Panetta has made achieving that goal a top priority. (The 2014 date refers to achieving an audit of the Statement of Budgetary Resources, a part of the DOD’s books, not all financial statements. But Taylor, as an ignorant hack, obviously doesn’t know that.) And contrary to Winslow Wheeler’s ignorant statement, achieving full audit readiness WILL mean (inter alia) producing auditible statements of expenses, because full audit readiness means auditibility of ALL financial statements, and the DOD is required to achieve that by the end of FY2017. It’s the law.

Zakheim will actually be a crucial partner in achieving this, because it was during his tenure that the DOD made progress towards auditibility. In 2001, when he took office, the DOD was completely unable to account for any of its assets or audit them. Now, some progress (although not enough) has been made with that: 75% of the DOD’s assets can be accounted for and are auditible.

Chuck Spinney (another leftist hack whom Taylor approvingly quotes) is also totally ignorant on this matter. And the claim that he “won fame by penning a report on reckless defense spending” during the 1980s is a lie; what he was criticizing during the 1980s was rightful defense spending by Ronald Reagan – specifically, Ronald Reagan’s attempt to rebuild the US military from the disastrous defense cuts of the 1980s. Spinney has been proven wrong, and proven to be blatantly lying, many times. For example, during the Clinton years, while US defense spending was, in real dollar terms, at its lowest ebb in decades, he was falsely claiming that the US was spending 4 times more on defense than during the height of the Vietnam War.

The claim that “peace through strength” is not a strategy but rather “a desire to continue to lead the world” is also a blatant lie. While Mitt Romney would like America to lead the world in positive ways, “peace through strength” is short-hand for Ronald Reagan’s chief defense and foreign policy strategy principle: that the US should have the strongest military in the world by far and that it did, no one would dare to commit aggression against the US and its allies and therefore, the US would win at the bargaining table by negotiating from a position of strength, not weakness. But of course, David Johnson, as an anti-defense political hack, doesn’t understand that.

Larry Korb’s mocking comment on Mitt Romney’s call for a larger Navy actually exposes Korb’s, not Romney’s, ignorance of defense issues. Firstly, no, the USN is not larger than the next 11 navies combined (Korb is deceptively using ship tonnage, which is completely irrelevant – ships more than make up with firepower for what they lack in raw tonnage). Secondly, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is actually larger than the USN, with 284 ships (and counting) to the USN’s 283 (and shrinking).

Thirdly, while today’s ships are more modern than those of 1917, the fact is that one ship – no matter how advanced – can be in only one place at any given time, not two places simoultaneously. Yet, today, threats to US security are far more numerous, far more lethal, and far more diverse and geographically distributed than in 1917, when the US was facing only one real threat, Imperial Germany.

Fourthly, two credible independent studies – one by the Hadley-Perry panel, and one by the Center for a New American Security – say that the USN actually needs 346 ships (a far cry from today’s Navy of just 283 ships) to protect the US and its interests and keep the world’s sealanes open. The two studies say that the USN needs 346 ships because of the threats of today, and the future.

Fifth, the USN is already so small and so overstretched that it’s currently able to meet only 59% of combatant commanders’ needs and requests. Not even 60%!

So yes, Mitt Romney is absolutely right: the US needs a larger Navy.

Last but not least, the DOD’s acquisition system CAN be fixed, although it would not be easy – doing the right thing never is. But it can be done with committed LEADERSHIP. Jim Talent, quoted in this article, has already laid out the basics of what needs to be done (a select few people should oversee acquisition programs and should be held fully accountable for them; requirements should be simple and firm; unit costs should not be reduced as that only increases unit costs); I have laid out the details of what needs to be done here in Chapter B: Acquisition Reform.

Here, I’ll say in short that the DOD and Congress need to, inter alia: define requirements precisely and hold firm to them; avoid requirements creep and goldplating requirements; use off the shelf tech whenever possible; buy as many weapons on a multi-year basis as possible; sign only fixed-price contracts with defect clauses, not cost-plus contracts; use mature technology wherever possible; and buy capabilities in batches, not in one bite at the apple. Defense budgets should be passed on a biennial, not annual, basis, and no single member of Congress should be allowed to insert into them items not requested by the President. The authorization and appropriations processes should be merged.

It can be done, and all it really requires is LEADERSHIP.

Guy Taylor’s article is utter garbage, as usual. Why the Washington Times continues to publish his ridiculous screeds is a mystery.


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