We’ve had recent discussions about quantity versus quality, here and here, the supposed need for the F-35 because of the technological edge it provides, and so forth. The underlying, if unstated, question in all these discussions is, of course, how best to win a war. I won’t repeat the various points that were made. Instead, I’d like to offer my prioritized list of factors that are most important for winning a war.
We’ve already discussed the importance of numbers and looked at the historical precedent from WWII so I won’t belabor it further. Bear in mind that numbers refers not just to weapons and platforms but to men.
lost the war as much because it couldn’t replace the trained naval aviators as because it couldn’t replace the aircraft. The Soviets beat the Germans because of numbers, among other reasons. Numbers also refers to the ability to deal with combat attrition. Can you build enough weapons and platforms to compensate for losses. If you’re building B-2 bombers, the answer is no. If you’re building Japan tanks, the answer is yes. Sherman
A superbly trained man with a knife is more deadly and valuable than a man with a gun who has no idea how to use it. Training can make up for a LOT of technology. Sadly, training is one of the Navy’s weakest areas. As a general statement, our naval commanders have no idea how to get the best out of their ships because they don’t practice it. The Navy believes that the key to improvement is new technology and has relegated training to an afterthought. The reality is that training is a force multiplier. Again, we’ve covered this extensively so I won’t belabor it.
It’s of no use if it’s not available. That statement can apply to anything. We have ships that are barely able to deploy and many do so in a degraded state. Aegis, fleetwide, is degraded to the point that the Navy had to implement a remediation program. Ships are being retired early due to years of neglected maintenance. This includes carriers which, given their enormous cost and strategic/tactical usefulness, is an absolutely stunning occurrence. Likewise, individual weapon systems suffer all too frequent breakdowns.
Last on the list is technology. Sure, who doesn’t want superior technology? However, technology is only useful when it’s combined with numbers, training, and maintenance. Failing that, technology is a false comfort that will prove to be a failure in combat. Worse, technology costs LOTS of money and will take away from numbers, training, and maintenance. Think of all the programs across the entire military that are being sacrificed to pay for the JSF.
Consider the impact of all of the above. In Desert Storm, if
and the Iraq had completely switched weapons, meaning technology, the outcome would have been the same. The US had far superior maintenance and training as well as numbers and those factors were far more decisive than technology. Of course, when superior maintenance, training, and numbers are combined with superior technology, you get the overwhelming result that was Desert Storm. US
I’d rather go to war with a WWII Fletcher class destroyer that was superbly trained in conventional and unconventional tactics, benefited from impeccable maintenance with every system performing at peak capability, and was available in overwhelming numbers than to go to war with Burke class destroyers crewed by barely adequate commanders and sailors who have only a nodding command of their equipment, suffers from equipment breakdowns on a regular basis, and is available in insufficient numbers.
JSF is the prime example of the reversal of the war winning list. We are pursuing technology for its own sake at the expense of numbers, training, and maintenance. As we pump more and more money into the JSF black hole, existing air wings are sitting idled or flying only minimal hours to maintain flight certification. Our training is nearly non-existent and our aviation tactical expertise is evaporating before our eyes. The Marines are sacrificing amphibious assault vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and heavy lift among other needs so that the F-35B can be procured. JSF is directly reducing the numbers of all kinds of equipment and, ultimately, personnel as well. As we pour money into the JSF, our ship’s maintenance is being skipped or indefinitely deferred. When we go to war somewhere down the road, we’ll do so with insufficient numbers of everything, poorly trained soldiers and sailors, and inoperable or degraded equipment – but we’ll have the JSF. We’ll lose the war – but we’ll have the JSF.