Washington Watch

July 1, 2006

Back to the Future Cold War

Russia’s weakened military status will invite other countries—specifically, the United States—to push it around, so a new arms buildup is warranted, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted in his seventh state-of-the-nation address on May 10.

“It is premature to speak of the end of the arms race,” Putin said, noting that the US spends 25 times as much on its military as Russia does. He called for sharp increases in the production of aircraft and ships and said Russia’s military revitalization is already under way.

“A few years ago,” Putin said, “the armed forces were no longer receiving any modern equipment.” He noted that no new ships were built between 1996 and 2000, that exercises were only carried out “on maps,” and that the war in Chechnya illustrated the woeful condition of Russian forces.

“It is our task today to make sure that this never happens again,” Putin said, adding that this year saw the start of mass defense equipment procurement for the Defense Ministry’s needs.

Taking a page from the US, he said that Russian forces must be able “to simultaneously fight in global, regional, and—if necessary—also in several local conflicts.”

The Russian military is moving away from conscription toward professional troops, and they will see better training, better housing and pay, and greater social prestige, Putin said. He pledged that by 2008, two-thirds of service members will be “professional” military people with service contracts. The Russian military will be reduced to just one million service members, with reductions to come from retirements. Any other cuts will come from the defense bureaucracy; combat units won’t be touched, he insisted.

However, while he promised a more aggressive program of developing top-quality weapons—Putin said half the Russian defense budget will go toward development—he has no intention of allowing a buildup to bankrupt the nation as it did under the Soviet Union.

“We should not repeat the mistakes made by the Soviet Union—the mistakes of the Cold War era—either in politics or defense strategy,” he said.

A military buildup won’t come “at the expense of economic and social development. This is a dead-end road that ultimately leaves a country’s reserves exhausted. There is no future in it. … We should not go after quantity and simply throw our money to the wind.”

Instead, Putin explained that Russia will pursue an “asymmetric” strategy to balance the might of the US, by emphasizing a modernized nuclear force.

He said that Russia will do its utmost to preserve its nuclear deterrent, noting that his country will field two new ballistic-missile submarines this year, the first since the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991. A new sub-based missile, called the Bulava, as well as a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, called the Topol-M, are equipped with warheads that can maneuver and defeat US strategic defenses, Putin claimed. Work also is under way on “creating unique high-precision weapons systems and maneuverable combat units that will have an unpredictable flight trajectory.”

“Along with the means for overcoming antimissile defenses that we already have, these new types of arms will enable us to maintain … the strategic balance of forces,” he asserted.

Putin also suggested that the arms race “has entered a new spiral today, with the achievement of new levels of technology that [create] the danger of the emergence of a whole arsenal of so-called destabilizing weapons.” Among these could be nuclear weapons based in space, he said. He noted that the US is considering mounting conventional warheads on some of its ICBMs to obtain an extremely fast precision global strike capability. He warned that such a system would pose a danger of confusion with dire consequences.

“The launch of such a missile could provoke an inappropriate response from one of the nuclear powers—[and that] could provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces,” Putin admonished.

Because of the threat of international terrorism, Putin said, the key issues of disarmament have virtually fallen off the global agenda.

Some of Putin’s speech was aimed at Russian women; he urged them to have more children to give the nation a sufficient pool of future soldiers. Russia’s population has been declining by almost 700,000 people a year.

While China Ramps Up

China is accelerating the development of its military power on almost every front, particularly in intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Pentagon said in May.

In its annual assessment of China’s military power, required by Congress, the Defense Department confessed to being “surprised” at “the pace and scope of [China’s] strategic forces modernization,” which features several new classes of missiles with ranges that can reach the United States.

Overall, “China’s military expansion is already such as to alter regional military balances. Long-term trends in China’s strategic nuclear forces modernization, land- and sea-based access denial capabilities, and emerging precision-strike weapons have the potential to pose credible threats to modern militaries operating in the region,” according to the report, prepared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The Pentagon said China is the one country that could reasonably “compete militarily with the United States.”

As the Pentagon has noted before, China continues to be secretive about its plans and ambitions and has “yet to adequately explain the purposes or desired end-states of [its] military expansion.” The Pentagon pegs China’s defense spending at between $70 billion and $105 billion in 2006, or up to three times China’s own stated figures. (See “Aerospace World: China Boosts Arms Budget,” May, p. 25.) China’s defense budget has continued to increase by double-digit percentage points annually since the early 1990s, and the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates China’s military budget will triple by 2025.

While its annual defense budget is substantially less than that spent by the US, China’s personnel pay and support costs are sharply lower than those of the US or other Western militaries, allowing most of the expenditure to go toward procurement of hardware.

In the document, DOD noted that China continues to pile up combat aircraft and tactical missiles directly across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan, which it continues to claim as part of its territory. China frequently practices a wide range of amphibious attack techniques in large-scale exercises, the Pentagon said.

“China’s military buildup appears focused on preparing for Taiwan Strait contingencies, including the possibility of US intervention,” according to the white paper. DOD noted that many of China’s military advances are aimed at being able to “interdict, at long ranges, aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike groups that might deploy to the western Pacific.”

However, the buildup also will give China wider options in “conflicts over resources or territory.” The Pentagon noted that China’s appetite for energy resources—oil and coal—is already voracious, and the military buildup may be aimed in part at “securing” either vital sea-lanes of supply or communication, “or key geostrategic terrain.”

In the Cold War-style showdown with Taiwan, the balance of forces is “shifting in the mainland’s favor,” the Pentagon said. China has deployed nearly 800 short-range tactical ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and adds about another 100 every year. China has deployed about 400,000 troops opposite Taiwan, or about 25,000 more than last year.

Its new strategic missiles, the DF-31 and DF-31A, are solid-fueled and road-mobile, making them more survivable against a first strike, and the latter missile can cover most of the US. A similar new submarine-based missile, called the JL-2, is in advanced development.

China has deployed more than 700 advanced combat aircraft in the region of Taiwan and is continuing to acquire advanced Su-27 Flanker derivative types from Russia, build its own versions under license, and develop its own indigenous combat aircraft.

DOD seemed to offer a re-assessment of the capabilities of China’s F-10 fighter, which it previously had compared to the F-16 Block 30. (See “Washington Watch: Chinese Military Is Catching Up—Fast,” September 2005, p. 12.) In this latest version of the annual China report, the Pentagon said the F-10 is probably more comparable to the Eurofighter Typhoon and French Rafale, considered among the top three fighters in the world today, after the US F-22A. The Pentagon expects more than 1,200 F-10s will be built, and improved versions—the F-10A and “Super-10”—are in advanced development.

China also is improving its night and all-weather maritime strike capability, although the Defense Department still is not sure if a Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier purchased from Russia in the 1990s will be fitted for naval use, used as a floating museum, or, as the Chinese claim, turned into a floating casino.

Besides the combat aircraft, China is proceeding with reconfiguring Russian airlifters into airborne warning and control platforms and intelligence collection sensor aircraft. Some 40 Il-76 transports are being bought from Russia, along with eight Il-78 Midas air refueling aircraft.

The first battalion of Russian-made S-300PMU-2 air defense systems, considered the most formidable in the world, will be operational in China this year, with “an advertised intercept range of 200 km.” Besides offering improved capability against tactical ballistic missiles, the S-300 has “more effective electronic countermeasures” than any previous types.

The People’s Liberation Army is downsizing, having cut 200,000 from its ranks in recent years. The PLA goal is to have a smaller but better-qualified military, the Pentagon said. The PLA will number about 2.3 million active forces when the downsizing is done, by China’s own accounting, but could expand to 4.6 million with active, reserve, and paramilitary units called up. China’s 2004 defense white paper boasted an ability to call up more than 10 million organized militia members.

A key issue coming to a head is whether the European Union will lift its embargo on selling military technology to China, the Pentagon said. If it does, DOD thinks China will move to establish joint ventures with military counterparts in Europe, toward acquiring “advanced space technology, radar systems, early warning aircraft, submarine technology, and advanced electronic components for precision guided weapons systems.”

DOD thinks the EU will lift the embargo, imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, because China offers a potentially lucrative military market, and the EU has stated that lifting the ban wouldn’t radically alter Beijing’s military capabilities. The Pentagon warned, however, that the EU might be defeating its own policies, because China’s history of third-party arms transfers could mean European weapons technology could go to Iran, Myanmar, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—all countries that China sells weapons to and that are themselves the subject of EU arms embargoes.

Requirements and “Big Box” Transformation

The regional combatant commanders should have a much bigger role in setting requirements, and there should be a new, broader organization to oversee buying and delivering all the things the military uses, according to the Defense Science Board.

In the DSB report “Transformation: A Progress Assessment,” released in May, study participants found that the process of setting requirements “continues to be dominated by the force providers and the Joint Staff, and is under-represented by the COCOM needs.”

The COCOMs have “marginal impact” on the acquisition process, as the services usually take over the process of translating capability requirements into programs and “usher them through the Joint, OSD, and Congressional gauntlet.”

Instead, the DSB wants the services to have only one-fourth of the duty of setting requirements, sharing it equally with the Joint Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the COCOMs. The regional chiefs need to have a bigger role, the DSB said, because only they “employ all the armed forces as a joint team” and have visibility into all their needs and the capabilities at their disposal.

Providing that increased say is part of the DSB’s recommendation that the Pentagon create a new “business plan.” It would require the COCOMs’ new requirements staffs to be involved with milestone and program reviews and to pass judgment on whether the program in question is performing at the level required to meet commander needs and whether it is still relevant in light of real-world operations and other choices.

The COCOMs would be co-equal with the services in helping the Secretary of Defense in formulating the annual Defense Planning Guidance, which sets budgetary priorities, under the DSB scheme. As it is now structured, the regional chiefs provide only “advice” during the requirements-setting process and at program reviews.

Even if the regional commanders focus too heavily on their immediate needs, at the expense of longer-term considerations, the DSB thinks that would be acceptable.

“Even an imperfect allocation [of resources] can serve the purpose of applying the combatant commanders’ special understanding to the trade-off of resources within their allocated resource set,” the DSB said.

The business plan should be assessed for its success every other year, and OSD already has the structure to do this, the panel found. The Pentagon needs to develop more metrics to assess performance, and OSD needs to exercise more discipline in taking corrective actions.

The US military must have a modern logistics system, patterned roughly on today’s “big box” retailers, which automatically records needed items and sets the process of meeting those requirements in motion, the DSB said. The Pentagon should merge the functions of today’s US Transportation Command and Defense Logistics Agency, and there should be a single person in charge of this Joint Logistics Command, the panel found.

Supporting this new mega-command would be service component logistics commands that would report to it. Even so, in wartime, a “joint theater logistics commander” would have the final word on supply.

The new commander would have responsibility for the end-to-end supply chain. He would oversee program managers, who would be responsible for their systems from development through sustainment. The new agency would create “total asset visibility” to be aware of everything it has, and where the materiel is, and apply an “on demand” business model. This new logistics czar also would oversee shipment of materiel by air, land, or sea.

Taking all these steps could enable the Pentagon to reduce its logistics manpower levels from 1.1 million today “to 600,000 or lower,” the DSB said. It also would save billions of dollars by sharply reducing the waste of lost or misdirected goods and by eliminating complexity in an accounting system whose books routinely come up billions of dollars short.

On F-22 Multiyear Buy, Congress Says, “No Way.”

Congress has turned down an Air Force request to set up a multiyear contract to buy the F-22 through 2012, even as it added money to buy the fighters.

The Senate and House authorization bills specifically declined the Air Force’s request to buy 60 F-22s under a multiyear contract for 20 per year. The two houses didn’t care much for the Air Force’s proposed method for funding the airplanes, especially after the Congressional Budget Office presented a report saying the plan hid the true cost of the program and created future obligations.

What the Air Force had in mind was to spread out the cost of the aircraft over a longer period of time, so that in the next few fiscal years, the service would be buying only major subassemblies of Raptors, not whole airplanes, with the balance to be paid later.

Still, the two houses voted to give USAF enough money to buy completed fighters in Fiscal 2007, without committing to future buys.

The Air Force’s approach would have saved up to $500 million over the rest of the F-22’s planned production of 183 aircraft, according to Lt. Gen. Donald J. Hoffman, USAF’s top uniformed acquisition officer. Hoffman told the Senate Armed Services Committee panel on March 28 that the unique multiyear plan would save five percent on the remaining program.

The approach was designed to add two years to the F-22 production line without incurring a huge cost. The service wants to keep the F-22 line open longer, just in case there are problems or delays in getting the F-35 into production. The Quadrennial Defense Review said USAF should maintain a warm manufacturing capability for a fifth generation fighter.

However, the pitch also required that Congress grant relief from a law that prohibits incremental buys, and Congress balked.

“Why would Congress agree to this?” asked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain said such a deal would hamstring Congress and commit it to buying things that haven’t been approved by appropriations legislation.

The CBO, in a report titled “The Air Force’s Proposal for Procuring F-22 Fighters,” dated March 28, said the service would not be asking for enough money each year to cover all its costs for the F-22 and “would have to seek additional appropriations in the future to obtain functional aircraft.” The plan would give USAF the chance to cancel production at the end of any given year, but demand that it still pay to finish the airplanes on which it had made a down payment.

The Air Force “is not requesting appropriations sufficient to cover the potential cancellation liability,” the CBO said.

Deferring the full cost of the aircraft “would understate the nature of the government’s obligations, potentially distorting budgetary choices by making the program appear less expensive than it is, and would constrain budgetary flexibility in subsequent years,” the CBO said.

Authorization language in both the House and Senate bills cited the CBO’s reasoning almost verbatim.