Johnny and the Warmongers Part III
Among John McCain's more preposterous campaign promises is that he'll reduce federal spending by cutting back on non-discretionary outlays except for defense and veterans benefits. That's about as pound-foolish as an American politician can get.
For starters, discretionary spending is less than 40 percent of the entire federal budget. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, interest on the national debt and other mandatory spending accounts for the rest. In fiscal year 2008, discretionary spending was $1.13 trillion, 38 percent of the total federal pie. $654 billion of that went for what the president's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calls "security spending," which includes money spent on the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and on the "war on terror."
The other $476 billion in discretionary funds went to Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, State, and Veterans Affairs. If you count the portions of all executive branch department budgets that also go toward security related items, and count all of Veteran's Affairs (about $40 billion in 2008) as payment on past wars, you have to conclude that "security" spending sucks up the lion's share of the available tax dollar. I've seen plausible estimates that say if you also figure in the interest we're paying on debt run up by deficit security spending, the real 2009 defense nut will come to almost $1.45 trillion, 54 percent of all federal spending.
McCain wants to cut health and housing and education and things that actually provide useful services to Americans. If you look at the way our security apparatus defended us on 9/11, and how well it's promoting our interests overseas, you have to wonder what kind of cost/benefit equation McCain's economic advisers are using.
Sticker Shock and Awe
Back in July 2008 McCain promised he would start "giving major speeches about the need for defense acquisition reform." It's nice, I guess, to hear McCain plans to get serious about the need to cut the lard out of the defense budget, but why is he just now getting around to it? He's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; he's been on the committee since 1987. McCain's web site says that "throughout his career," he "has fought pork-barrel defense spending," but it doesn't give any specific examples of how he did that. Maybe he got the cost of those $400 toilet seats knocked down to $385, but he sure hasn't put a dent in any of the big-ticket boondoggles.
It was John McCain's hand in the war till that delivered unto us the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which at $330 million a pop should have been nicknamed "The Rapture." The F-22's vaunted success in air-to-air exercises came not as a result of its high cost stealthy airframe, but from its sensors, communications systems and missiles, all of which can be fitted onto the $18 million per copy F-16 Viper. More importantly, the Viper is perfectly capable of performing the Raptor's primary mission, which involves shooting down airliners armed with suicidal lunatics.
The first "training" mishap of a $2 billion B-2 bomber finally occurred in Guam in February 2008. The two-man crew ejected safely, but the aircraft was a complete loss. The B-2's price tag was driven by its latest generation stealth technology designed to make it impervious to enemy air defenses. The Guam B-2 was shot down by moisture that gathered on one of its flight instrument sensors. The latest generation land attack cruise missiles, also designed to evade enemy air defenses, cost under $600,000 apiece. A fistful of cruise missiles can do the same amount of damage to a Muslim wedding as a B-2 can, and when a cruise missile crashes, it's okay. Cruise missiles are supposed to crash, every time they fly.
McCain also presided over the launch of a new class of nuclear aircraft carriers to be named after—no kidding, I promise—Gerald R. Ford. According to the Navy, Ford class carriers will cost about $8 billion per copy to make. That's as opposed to the $4.5 billion price tag of the old Nimitz class nuclear carriers. If you're wondering why the Navy needs a new class of $8 billion nuclear carriers to chase pirates around off the coast of Somalia, you're in good company. What do we do with them after they defeat the pirates? Sic them on evildoing mermaids? And if they can't beat the pirates, what do we do then? Build a class of $16 billion dollar carriers and name them after Warren G. Harding?
Buck for the Bang
A companion piece of humbuggery to the Ford class carriers is the Navy Unmanned Combat Airborne System (N-UCAS). As envisioned, the N-UCAS could launch from the deck of a carrier as it leaves its pier in San Diego, fly to the Formosa Strait, and drop bombs on China persons trying to invade Taiwan. There are a few flaws in all this gee wizardry. If the N-UCAS can take off from a carrier leaving Naval Air Station North Island, it can also just take off from Naval Air Station North Island and cut out the middleman. That would make it a land-based strategic bomber, though, and we already have the aforementioned B-2 Billion that can reach China all the way from Missouri.
Theoretically, the N-UCAS could eliminate the need for both the $2 billion bomber and the $8 billion aircraft carrier. As soon as somebody lets that out, the aerospace industry will shoot the N-UCAS out of the sky like a squadron of B-17s on a daylight raid over Germany. Don't feel bad for the N-UCAS contractor Northrop Grumman, though. According to a company official, the government has already sunk $1 billion into the project, which to date has yielded a prototype that has not flown yet and a 260-page point paper.
But a billion clams for a static display and a masters thesis is nothing compared to the more than $13 billion we've spilled into the program to come up with a countermeasure to improvised explosive devices, which cost about $100 each to make and are still killing our troops in Southwest Asia.
Perhaps the biggest piece of crack pottery in American arms acquisition is missile defense, a legacy we've been stuck with since Ronald Reagan could remember his middle name. Development cost during the young Mr. Bush administration alone will run to $62.9 billion, and it still doesn’t work. Critics of the system correctly call it "a theology, not a technology," and say it is no match for the deterrence inherent in America's existing nuclear arsenal. The conceptual, theoretical and practical weaknesses of the missile defense system are legion, but first among them is the system's reliance on surface-to-air missiles that are easy to decoy. Richard Garwin, a member of the National Commission on Ballistic Missile Proliferation headed by Donald Rumsfeld in 1998, told Congress recently that, "Should a state be so misguided as to attempt to deliver nuclear weapons by ICBM, they could be guaranteed against intercept in mid-course by the use of appropriate countermeasures."
Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, says otherwise. Sort of. "There's a misconception that we cannot handle countermeasures," Obering says. "We cannot handle very complex countermeasures. I won't go into what that means."
I'll go into exactly what that means. It means that any ICBM any misguided state might ever throw our way would contain the very complex kind of countermeasures that our interceptor missiles can't handle.
And what does Johnny "Defense Acquisition Reform" McCain have to say about all this? According to his web site, "John McCain strongly supports the development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses."
Next: Johnny and the Grand Illusion Strategy
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.