Review: National Defense

5 Star, Force Structure (Military), Military & Pentagon Power

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Still Relevant Because NOTHING HAS CHANGED,

January 19, 2003
James Fallows
I bought this book, used, after it was recommended as a key source to a just-published book by Robert Coram, “BOYD: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War,” which I recommend very strongly, together with this book for historical perspective.Although there may be a few inaccuracies (I did not notice anything substantial) what really matters about this book are two things: the author is a very serious critic with both Public Citizen and Atlantic Monthly credits, and the taxpayer’s best interests in mind; and NOTHING HAS CHANGED since this book was published in 1981. If anything, it has gotten worse. One page (43) really jumped out at me, as it contains a chart showing how many planes can be bought for the same amount of money (1000 F-5s, 500 F-4s, 250 F-15s) and then now many sorties per day they can do because of complex logistics and other constraints (2.5/day for F-5’s, 1.5 per day for F-4s, 1 per day for F-15s), finally concluding on the “real force” numbers: 2,500 for the F-5, 750 for the F-4, and 250 for the F-15.

As General Wes Clark noted in his book of lessons learned as NATO Commander during the Kosovo crisis (“Waging Modern War”), he found the new USAF airplanes so unresponsive that they needed a full 24 hours notice to shift from one pre-planned task to another.

The author is equally effective in criticizing the Navy for its obsession with carriers and other big ships; and the Army for complex helicopter systems that–as General Clark documents in his book–they are loath to actually use in combat because they might not work as advertised or might be blown out of the sky.

In this book, the author gets the “constants” right, and they are still with us. First, he focuses on the rapidly changing nature of external threats, and the importance of having a military–we do not–that is agile and able to surge in varied directions. The Cold War “one size fits all” military simply will not do….yet the current Administration continues to spend in that direction, with $7 billion for a lunatic anti-missile defense (we would be better off detecting cargo containers with nuclear bombs in them), and another $72 billion for ultra-modern (code for ultra-expensive) weapons systems that a) have not been defined, b) do not provide for the intelligence support needed to make them effective and c) have no connection to the real world of sub-state violence and instability.

The second thing he gets right is the importance of both oil, and instability, as the twin threats to American prosperity–with our over-dependence on cheap oil being a form of Achilles’ heel, and our ignorance and tolerance of Arab and other instability and repression being the other side of that same coin.

The third thing he gets right is the need for an independent test authority, because the US military services have proven over and over again that they are corrupt when it comes to weapon acquisition. Whether it is the Navy or the Air Force or the Army is irrelevant–they all fail to do proper requirements analysis and concept development before jumping into bigger more expensive weapons systems that are both not needed for the kinds of threats we have today (America spends as much on national security as the next *twenty* countries, including Russia and China, *combined*), and that do not work as advertised. The taxpayer needs and must demand an Independent Test Authority for all military as well as intelligence systems.

I found this book, and one other, by Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, “WAR: Ends and Means,” to be very helpful starting points in thinking about whether the taxpayer’s $500 billion a year that is spent on national defense, is spent wisely. The other two, mentioned above, are the four book beginning to a 100+ book list on making America safe that I will be reviewing here on Amazon over the next 18 months.

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