Tag: strategic bombing

Offensive Goals, Defensive Tactics

Early Sunday, allied warplanes, including U.S. air force fighters, destroyed a column of Libyan tanks and other vehicles set to attack the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Monday the rebels drove forty miles down the coast to Ajdabiya, where they were pushed back by government forces employing rocket and tank fire. According to the New York Times, allied warplanes flew overhead but didn’t attack.

Why provide air support in one situation and not the other?

It appears that the coalition’s rules of engagement allow the former because it is seen as consistent with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973’s authorization of force to protect civilians. The latter counts as close air support, which is not authorized.

In essence, we are helping the rebels when they defend towns but not when they try to take them. It now seems unlikely that either side can win under those circumstances. So, rhetoric about ousting Gaddafi notwithstanding, our policy serves to stalemate the civil war, effectively severing Libya. That seems a recipe for a long stay.

This mismatch of means and ends results from the pretense that we are intervening to stop violence rather than taking a side in a civil war. The fact that coalition-building encouraged the pretense does not make it smart. The Secretary of State argues that our actions will pressure Qaddafi’s supporters in Tripoli to oust him. But it’s not clear why our rigorously defensive stance would embolden them. Having stayed loyal weeks ago, when the regime was shakier, they are unlikely to quit now.

I would have preferred for the United States to stay out of this civil war but for intelligence support and advice to the rebels. If we can disengage and leave the bombing to the Europeans, I hope we do so. But whoever is taking the lead should acknowledge that they are sponsoring rebels aiming to overthrow Qadaffi and adopt a policy that does more than defend them. The allies should give the rebels close air support and maybe strategic bombing. If that means abusing the words of the U.N. resolution, so be it. If it costs the support of the Arab League and whoever else supports air strikes based on the pretense that they are purely humanitarian, it’s probably a trade worth making.

I still naively hope for a Congress that at least would force public consideration of these issues through exercise of its constitutional powers.

Cooper vs. the Services

Congressman Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) has a fairly radical proposal for reforming defense acquisition in Politico.

Cooper wants to put the military services’ acquisition staffs under the direct control of the Secretary of Defense. The idea is to liberate the staffs from the parochial perspectives that cause various pathologies in acquisition programs.

The oped implicitly blames large and consistent cost overruns in weapons programs on the services’ interests, which manifest in excessive requirements for platforms. For example, the Air Force’s religious attachment to the over-designed and thus wildly expensive F-22 has its origin in a peculiar self-image, one that sees the establishment of air superiority for strategic bombing as the Air Force’s main mission. You can tell a similar story about another contender in the Pentagon’s biggest white elephant sweepstakes: the Marine’s amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

Cooper is rejecting the more popular view that the trouble in acquisition is the lack of independent cost estimates and other failures in the contracting process. That technocratic view underlies the acquisition bill that just became law. Cooper is saying that the trouble is more what we want than how we buy it, and what we want is a consequence of the services’ power. To deal with that, you must either change the services’ conception of their interests (and note that such efforts are arguably underway, especially in the Air Force) or take power from them. He’s pushing for the latter.

The weakness in the oped is a failure to explain how moving the military’s acquisition personnel to OSD would change the incentives that cause officers to do their service’s bidding. They would still work for a service, after all, and face its promotion board. A more radical proposal would be to hand more power over acquisition to the civilians in OSD and remove redundant positions from the services.

Cooper also takes (another) shot at constant service shares – the tradition, dating to the Kennedy Administration, where the Army, Navy and Air Force all get consistent shares of the budget each year. That tradition stifles interservice competition and therefore innovation. Giving the lion’s share of defense spending to the ground forces would be a sensible outgrowth of our current defense strategy, which is manpower-intensive. The Navy and Air Force might then be forced to scramble for relevance, causing them to initiate many of the reforms to their procurement programs that Secretary Gates has proposed. (An even better tact would be to cut the defense budget massively but give more of it to the Navy, given that our current strategy encourages dumb wars).

Note that the suggestion to enhance service competition relies on decentralized institutions competing, whereas the main suggestion of the oped is to heighten the centralized authority of the Secretary. Whether these are contradictory ideas is academic, for now, because at least one is not going to happen soon. The service’s would go the mattresses to protect their control of their acquisition programs, and there is a no sign of a political constituency willing to pick that fight.