Sunday, May 27, 2012

"A Hollow Military"

Last Monday, I wrote that, in regards to the imbalance of obligations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Gov. Romney was quite correct to point out that, already stretched and strained from wars fought on several fronts, the United States military continued to bear far too much of the relative burden in NATO. Today, I would like to say something about an entirely different aspect of his op-ed in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune.
We have a military inventory composed of weapons designed 40 to 50 years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today. TheU.S. Navy, at 285 ships, is at levels not seen since 1916. Should our air, naval and ground forces continue to age and shrink, it will place the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies at risk. With the United States on a path to a hollow military, we are hardly in a position to exercise leadership in persuading our allies to spend more on security. And in fact the Obama administration has failed to exercise such leadership. Quite the contrary; a multiplier effect has set in: The administration's irresponsible defense cuts are clearing the way for our partners to do even less.
The website offers both a ranking list, from largest military on down, as well as relative comparisons between any two countries on that list. The United States has the largest military in the world.

The M1A1/2 Abrams Main Battle Tank is, arguably, the finest tank in the world. While later models, especially the German Leopard and Israeli Merkava, and the newer Russian T-90 have certain advantages including being designed more recently, the extensive field experience has improved the performance of the M1-class tanks. Even before the previous decade's wars demanded the most out of our tanks, the M1A2 had extensively modified and improved the original design.

While the bulk of the US fighter squadrons, both Naval and Air Force, continue with the F-series fighters introduced in the 1970's, various limitations and problems with subsequent designs - from the B-2 Bomber's many failings, through serious problems with the F-22 Raptor made public by the pilots that fly them - as well as improvements in technology (for example, this declassified USAF assessment of Operation Iraqi Freedom, includes many firsts for a variety of the weapons platforms designed originally for use during the Cold War; page 15 even mentions "wartime employment of a Laser Guided Bomb by a B-52"; the B-52 Stratofortress is a grandpa compared to the current F-series fighters).

Let us consider Gov. Romney's comments regarding our "285 ship navy". The United States floats eleven aircraft carriers.  The next 29 largest military's have a total of 9; six of those are in the inventories of our NATO allies.  The Virginia-class fast attack submarine is a post-Col War design, and according to the website, it is also a stealth naval vessel. The Ticonderoga-class Cruisers are, according to this website, "the 27 most expensive cruisers and the most powerful surface combatants in service in the world."

These are just some of those old weapons systems, leaving our military hollow.

Our military is overstretched, to be sure. A decade of war has strained our resources, the life-span of a variety of weapons systems, but it has also shown how durable, reliable, and capable a variety of our weapons platforms continue to be, even after ten years of service. It may be possible to have a discussion of the stresses and strains of war, combined with financial collapse, and what possible responses to these matters might be. To say the United States is on the way to "a hollow military", however, just ignores the facts.

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