Friday, February 19, 2010

Comments on the Belmont Club:
"Once in a Blue Moon"

This speaks to my comment on the last thread. Ever since WW-II the path to promotion has been through program management and not combat aptitude. There is nothing wrong with missiles. At one time I owned the world's worst surface to air missile system, BPDSMS. For engaging a small number of high performance, and therefor more fragile, aircraft at a distance missiles are the right answer. They are however expensive and carry a smaller warhead than guns do. For close in defense against massed attacks nothing is better than having many guns. There is nothing wrong with building lighter ships that burn less fuel and have greater endurance at sea. They are however less able to absorb damage than older ships that traveled slower and refueled more often.

What would the US do though if the Chinese built 50 diesel submarines and 500 B-25 bombers and 1000 P-51 fighters, and then proclaimed an ultimatum regarding Taiwan? The US Navy would be unable to intervene without employing nuclear weapons. The Naval surface and aviatian forces are no longer equiped to fight a nuclear battle. So they will serve no purpose in such a confrontation. They are now an enormous bluff and the Democrats will probably announce that they have discovered that and declare their intention to save money by chopping the fleet in half. As with what happened to the Royal Navy this debate over caabilities, threats and budgets becomes a self fulfilling race to the bottom. But we will be told that the new system to be bought with the savings from canceling current programs and mothballing or scrapping "antiquated" systems will be amazingly capable. Like the military inversion of "to big to fail" they will be declared to valuable to risk in combat. Once they have no combat role those programs can be canceled also. Rinse and repeat.

The Chinese and North Koreans have already developed surface to surface missiles that do not mimic the Western pattern of refined rarity but instead serve as long range artillery. While China has announced that they are developing a ballistic missile launched cruise missile for anti-carrier operations I think that the best use that has for them is as a distraction that encourages the Americans to focus on the most technically, as opposed to industrially, difficult threat.

What would change the game? We could in fact simply do differently, it remains only an act of will that is needed. We could cut all non-defense spending by 10% a year for 6 years. We could declare that no one is entitled to entitlements and that no person under 45 years old will receive benefits from Social Security as it exists. We could create a market based system similar to the federal employees Thrift Savings Plan to replace Social Security. We could announce that the only federal health programs will be through the VA or the Public Health Service. The later being for merchant seamen and Indians covered by treaties. Medicare and Medicaid should be phased out over a 20 year period. The immediate effects of such an announcement would be a dramatic inflow of capital into the American system and an explosion of wealth creation that would free up the resources for a military renewal program.

We can do that and the British can do the equivalent. We can build and maintain the forces that can engage and even better preclude a challenge from determined but less creative enemies. America cannot do that while feeding the patronage army of the Chicago graft machine and it's associated supporters in the teacher's unions, the trial lawyers associations and the media. The British cannot do it while paying for a stream of solidarity and feel good schemes from the likes of the "Comrades" of Islington Council.

BTW a gentleman who was I believe the Operations Officer of the Coventry came and talked to the our wardroom while I was the owner of that worthless SAM system on the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3). What he emphasized was the importance of training and good damage control equipment. The British wore flash hoods during General Quarters. Our gear was comparatively antiquated.

ships can be built

But can they be built in time?

Yes and no, that is to say in a manner of speaking, no. At the very best what has changed are two things Industrial Capacity and Lead Times. First, the United States and Britain no longer have the capacity to produce steel and construct ships and other devices in the quantities needed to duplicate the construction of the same weapons at the same level of technology produced between 1938 and 1944. Second, the weapons that are planned for now are so complex, largely in their electrical and data systems components that the design and testing phases now take decades. Some of this delay could be reduced by tearing up check lists and repealing environmental or other regulations but not only is there some cost to doing so, but the newer systems really are more complex.

If we wanted to build modern battleships bristling with multiple mag-lev guns that could both survive combat and rain destruction on any location within 100 miles of a seacoast, which is to say over 80% of humanity, and also be equipped with 155 mm Vertical Load guns for shore bombardment and anti-surface warfare, we would have to address both constraints. We would have to spend billions of dollars and several years building the industrial capacity to produce the steel needed and construct the ships. Our current labor force is less skilled for these tasks than were the workers of earlier generations. At both the high end of engineering and design and at the site of physical labor and construction we are not producing people who could do the work. To change that would mean a complete overhaul of the education and employment systems. In addition to design and test workable fire control, weapons and communications systems of the complexity envisioned would take at best over a decade.

This means that what is needed is not simply for the public to recognize a threat and elect politicians who will rally them to step into the breach during the time of combat. That test was faced by the nation in 1864 and it almost failed to meet it before the votes of the troops ensured the reelection of Lincoln. The repudiation of George Bush under relentless seditious assault while he attempted to rally the nation as the troops were engaged in combat proves how far we are from that minimal standard. What would be needed however is even more. We would need to recognize the threat and undertake those reforms needed to reconstruct the armed forces so that they would be ready to meet a threat beginning in 10 to 15 years.

Wisdom consists of planting a tree for future generations to enjoy. Where will we find either the citizens or the politicians with that quality?

Topic related, Dutch government falls over pressure to get out of Afghanistan. A declining Labor party is bringing down the government they are in, with the help of the really loony left, so they can make a show in local elections before the blow back from the Geert Wilders trial can push the far right past their center right coalition partners. The center right got so used to splitting the difference for so many years, with the US serving as both indulgent protector and whipping boy, that they have no idea how to respond to either a threat from their right flank or betrayal from the left.

It’ll be all right, Rome will get it together, we always have.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

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