Thursday, May 17, 2012

Strategy First, Then Buy

I listened to the speech that Gen. James Cartwright, USMC(Ret), gave at the Joint Warfighter Conference in Virginia Beach, VA on 15-May-12.  During his talk he uttered a statement that was simultaneously the most profound and most obvious thing I've heard from a professional military man in quite a while.  He said,

"You really need strategy before you spend money."
Sadly, the statement, while profound by military standards, rises to that level only because the professional military leadership routinely operates on such a clueless level.  The rest of us see the statement as incredibly obvious.  Before you buy equipment for a job, you need to have an idea of what the job entails and what type of equipment you need to do it.

JSF - Platform Without a Strategy
Applied to military weapons procurement this means that you need to have an idea of what your strategy is for the likely scenarios you anticipate having to deal with.  Knowing that, you can then intelligently decide what weapons you need to buy.  If you don't have a strategy, you wind up purchasing whatever you can and hoping that something will be useful when the time comes.

Unfortunately, our current procurement is not based on well defined strategic and tactical needs.  I'm going to focus on the Navy now;  this is, after all, a Navy related blog.  Right or wrong, the Navy seems to have latched onto the AirSea Battle (ASB) as its "strategy" even though the ASB is not a strategy.  It is a collection of semi-operational and vague, disjointed strategic musings.  Nonetheless, given that ASB is the Navy's new guidance, ASB envisions a drawn out battle of attrition waged over extremely long distances (1000 nm or more).  Thus, the ASB strategy dictates that the Navy purchase very long range strike systems to deal with the ranges and lots of platforms to absorb the attrition losses.  What is the Navy actually purchasing?  The very short ranged JSF (F-35), Ford class carriers whose Air Wings can't reach any targets until the very end phase of the conflict, DDG-1000 Zumwalts that can't perform ballistic missile defense, the LCS which is simply useless in any scenario, and so on.

The point is that the Navy's procurement is not being guided by a coherent strategic vision but, rather, on a piecemeal basis based on whatever they can get Congressional approval for.  I do not believe that the Navy has actually bought into the AirSea Battle concept other than using it as the latest buzzword to obtain funding just as they did with the word "littoral" and the LCS.

We need a coherent strategy first, then we can buy intelligently.  Unfortunately, Gen. Cartwright is the only one who seems to understand that and he's retired!

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