I think the best description of Robert Gates is that he is a very smart bureaucrat who exemplifies the concept of go along to get along. He demonstrated this admirably in his farewell ‘warning’ as reported in the Wall Street Journal. This was a “guns or butter” speech designed to reassure the defense industrial complex that the safety of the U.S. will depend on the continued acquisition of pointless complex and expensive weapons systems.
Rather interestingly in this speech Gates ignored two pieces of information that might have caused him to reconsider his advocacy of super weapons systems.
In the Naval Institute Proceedings this month there was a rather courageous article titled “The Twilight of the Superfluous Carrier. “ The author of this article pointed out that the whole concept of the carrier battle group built around one super sized and increasingly expensive carrier was extremely foolish given that modern weapons technology has made such carriers extremely vulnerable. He argued that the loss of one such carrier because of its cost and the strategic dependence that the U.S. has in the carrier battle group would be catastrophic. He pointed out that three smaller carriers (escort carriers in WWII terminology) could be built for the cost of one super carrier and would be much better suited for a 21st Century Navy. The U.S. Navy senior hierarchy would say of carriers what the Japanese Admiral said of battleships just prior to his attack on Pearl Harbor, that they had “intangible political effects as a symbol of naval power.”
Then there is a study by the Institute of National Strategic Studies (INSS) of the National Defense University that advocates the effectiveness of using High-value Target Teams HTT). Based on extensive studies U.S. Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan the study has concluded that the best counter-insurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism military force is relatively small, inexpensive cross functional team consisting of a multi-agency intelligence component (military and civilian) combined with small combat team such as the Army Special Forces A Team. The authors of the study present the case that HTT type of organizations are much more effective at both COIN and counter-terrorism than conventional forces. Of course HTT organizations as described in this study have not and would not require a lot of special equipment or contractor vapor ware to carry out their missions. This is why the U.S. Military Establishment generally downplays HTT accomplishments and has demonstrated (according to the study) little interest in developing the HTT concept.
Secretary Gates is not the man to press anything that will stir up the national security establishment or their congressional allies. Neither will Leon Panetta.
Phi Beta Iota: All of the services, but the US Navy and US Air Force in particular, like to hallucinate large on the taxpayer dime (or the borrowed trillion as we now know) while ignoring counter-force reality. The second ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence, then the Deputy Director of the Marine Corps Intelligence Center, briefed the joint Navy Marine Corps future planning workshop in 1992 with the findings of the first Planning and Programming Factors for Expeditionary Operations in the Third World . The Navy response: an attempt to fire the messenger….a classic case of lapses in integrity seeking to destroy what little intelligence we could muster at the time. Strategic analytics are not rocket science–they just require integrity.