Chuck Spinney: The Timeless Corrupt Defense Bow Wave — with Comment from Robert Steele on How to Cut Defense 30% AND Create a 450-Ship Navy, Long-Haul Air Force, and Air-Mobile Army

Government, Military
Chuck Spinney
Chuck Spinney

One of the real benefits of being in the defense business is that you can leave it for 20 or 30 or even 40 years and go fishing deep in the Canadian Rockies. But if you need a job when you return, you can easily restart your career. All you need to learn are a few new acronyms, like LRB for Long Range Bomber (instead of AMSA or B-1) or A2AD for Anti Access/Area Denial (instead of long range standoff and defense suppression) and you are back in business.

One acronym never changes, however: The Bow Wave. It is the Sun around which all defense decision making revolves. It provides the energy to keep the MICC spiraling upward to ever larger budgets.

I first learned the meaning of this timeless term of the defense ‘planners' art in 1973, when I worked in the Pentagon as a 27 year old Captain in the Air Force in 1973. Master the art of the Bow Wave, and neither age nor infirmity nor incompetence will ever make you obsolete, because it is always new news for some decision maker who needs to cover his ass because he did not do his job, not to mention naive reporters with no sense of history or context or even curiosity.

The following Reuters report is a case in point: That the Pentagon’s chief financial officer Robert Hale can call the LRB a “canary in the coal mine” says a lot about the incompetence or corruption or both now reigning in the Pentagon.

By the time the time Hale’s canary sings — i.e., when the real costs of the LRB become apparent, the LRB, like the F-35 today, will be unstoppable. He will be long gone and forgotten. That is because, like the F-35, the LRB will be politically engineered with thousands of subcontracts spreading dollars, jobs, and profits to hundreds of congressional districts spread over more than 40 states and Puerto Rico. The “cost caps” Hale is bragging about are just another front loading scam for the buy in. The idea of cost caps is even more primitive in its conception than the ‘design to cost’ scams that failed so miserably in the 1970s. The name of the the front loading game is to get a program approved today by downplaying the future consequences of today's decisions (i.e., by over promising on performance and lowballing future costs). Once the LRB is front-loaded, the political engineers can then build the LRB’s social safety net by spreading the sub-contracts around the country, or perhaps like the F-35, around the world.

In short, the goal of the Defense Power Games is to pack the defense program with tens, if not hundreds, of front-loaded and politically-engineered procurement programs and viola (see my 2002 Statement to Congress) — you have the unstoppable Bow Wave.

Chief Financial Officer Hale had his chance to do something about costs and the bow wave, but he chose to ride it instead. Now, as he exits stage right, he refers to the future decision makers who will follow him, “I hope more of them will have to courage to say, ‘Look this is going to be very expensive, maybe you ought to consider (something else),’”.

Mr. Hale, Sometimes your shit really does stink — perhaps that is why you are holding your nose.
Chuck Spinney

Pentagon eyes remedies as spending ‘bow wave' looms


WASHINGTON Tue Jun 24, 2014 7:19pm EDT

Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert Hale attends a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington October 17, 2013. CREDIT: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS
Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert Hale attends a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington October 17, 2013. CREDIT: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS

(Reuters) – U.S. weapons makers must focus on affordability and be more upfront about the cost of new, cutting-edge technologies given a large “bow wave” of increased spending facing the Pentagon in the 2020s, Comptroller Robert Hale told Reuters on Tuesday.

Hale, who will leave office soon after five years as the Pentagon's top financial officer, said he worried that constant increases in military requirements would undermine a range of efforts under way to drive down the cost of weapons systems.

He said efforts to develop a new long-range bomber would be the “canary in the coal mine” that showed whether budget caps would be effective in curbing runaway weapons costs. The department has said it plans to spend no more than $550 million apiece for 80 to 100 new bombers.

“That would be an enormous achievement,” Hale said in an interview, saying it would be a “struggle” for the Air Force to stay under the cost cap since it developed a new bomber only once every 30 years. Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp have joined forces to compete against Northrop Grumman Corp for the multibillion-dollar order.

Typically, new weapons wound up costing two to three times as much as the ones they replaced, Hale said.

He said the Pentagon faced a “bow wave” or large increase in weapons spending in the 2020s when it hopes to buy the new bomber, large numbers of new ground vehicles for the Army, and hundreds of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets.

The Navy is also working on a new submarine to replace the nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines, and the Air Force needs to replace the Minuteman nuclear ballistic missiles, he said.

Given those pressure to fund those new systems, he said it was critical for firms to find ways to cut costs, and to ensure that military leaders understood the true cost of new technologiesicon1.png.

“I hope more of them will have to courage to say, ‘Look this is going to be very expensive, maybe you ought to consider (something else),'” he said.

Companies could help government by “sounding an alarm” about the cost of new technologies. That would help firms in the long run, he said, because otherwise the military would simply buy fewer numbers of ships, planes and ground vehicles.

Hale said he hoped the Pentagon could still avoid breaking a multiyear procurement deal with Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, and Lockheed for new MH-60 helicopters, a Navy plan that has worried industry.

“But ultimately if we have to choose between readiness and multiyears, it would be a tough call,” he said.

Hale said companies needed to “sharpen their pencils” and cut costs, but the Pentagon understood that industry needed to make profits to keep shareholders happy. “They've got to make money or they can't stay in business,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Gunna Dickson)

ROBERT STEELE: The President has asked the Secretary of Defense to produce a 30% cut in the Pentagon budget over the next several years. At the same time, the public — and the President — should expect the Secretary to take the lead in converting a wasteful Cold War military — one built on a cost plus anything goes basis — into a multipolar agile military that I have defined as consisting of a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, and an air-mobile Army. None of this is difficult if one has access to proper intelligence (decision-support), 95% of which is not secret and also not known to the secret world, and the integrity to use that intelligence in the public interest. Defense acquisition is known to be 47% waste. In my view, the obvious solution, one advocated by a handful of earnest reformers since 1969, lies in a Defense-funded Open Source Agency under diplomatic auspices, providing unclassified decision support across Whole of Government — copied to Congress — across every mission area — at all four levels of governance: strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations. Such an agency would not only make government work better, it would be a legacy for the Secretary and the President, and a refreshing focal point for restoring public trust in government.

See Especially:

2014 Robert Steele Open Letter to Vice President of the United States of America Joe Biden, The White House

2013 Robert Steele: Reflections on Reform 2.3 Numbers for 30% DoD Cut over 2-4 Years

2012 Robert Steele: Reflections on the US Military — Redirection Essential — and a Prerequisite to Creating a 450-Ship Navy, a Long-Haul Air Force, and an Air-Liftable Army

See Also:

2014 Robert Steele – An Open Letter

2013 Story Board: Improving Decision-Support — Analytic Sources, Models, Tools, & Tradecraft

2013 Robert Steele Reflections on NATO 4.0 — Key Challenges AND Solutions [written for NATO ACT Innovation Hub]

2012 Robert Steele: Addressing the Seven Sins of Foreign Policy — Why Defense, Not State, Is the Linch Pin for Global Engagement

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