11 Dec 2006

US Army Running Out of Money

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The leftwing journalism side of the Wall Street Journal has a sob story today about the poor Army running out of money under the strain of expenses of combat operations in Iraq.

Would you just look at these examples?

It may seem hard to believe that a country which allocated $168 billion to the Army this year — more than twice the 2000 budget — can’t cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the two pillars of the Army, personnel and equipment — both built to wage high-tech, firepower-intensive wars — are under enormous stress:

The cost of basic equipment that soldiers carry into battle — helmets, rifles, body armor — has more than tripled to $25,000 from $7,000 in 1999.

The cost of a Humvee, with all the added armor, guns, electronic jammers and satellite-navigational systems, has grown seven-fold to about $225,000 a vehicle from $32,000 in 2001.

Those M4 carbines cost $1382 a piece! And before adding another $8800 worth of sights! Let’s drop those ugly suckers, and buy some nice new Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifles in the stainless steel synthetic stock configuration. We can get them retail for $600 a pop, and I bet if we buy a few hundred thousand we can probably get some kind of discount. These rifles shoot the same identical cartridge, and even come with useable sights.

True, they won’t each and every one have nearly nine thousand dollars worth of high-tech infrared shoot-them-in-the-dark sighting equipment, but we could probably get by well enough just purchasing that level of technology for a small number of snipers. Nobody had any of that kind of equipment in WWII and we still won.

If Ruger is not able to supply every Ranch Rifle we need tomorrow, we can just temporarily rough it with the same AK-47s we must have captured by the box car load from the Iraq Army, and which you can pick up cheap in any souk or bazaar in the Middle East. AK-47s are notoriously rugged and reliable.

$225,000 Humvees? It seems impossible to suppose that a large portion of the US Army could get by for basic vehicular transportation on lesser SUVs. How about some nice Ford Expeditions @$27,042 – $38,702. We can pull out all the stops, but the Eddie Bauer model with Convenience Package and power lift gate, add a terrific stereo and soup up the air conditioning, and still come out way ahead.

Looking at that picture of the contemporary soldier, tricked out with every high tech gee gaw anybody can think of. The thought inevitably comes to mind that we are not fighting technically advanced adversaries from Outer Space, or the German Army. We don’t have to achieve the absolute state of the art to be technically far ahead of our Islamic enemies. This conflict features us against people from the Middle Ages with guns. Kalashnikovs, RPGs, IEDs hooked up to washing machine timers are as high-tech as they get.

When you think about what the US Army is spending, we could probably just take out Mafia contracts on all our jihadi and insurgent adversaries on an individual basis, and still come out ahead.

And there is another obvious, and more realistic, alternative: just take all counter-insurgency operations away the Army (with its bloated and over-luxurious TO&E), and turn them over to the Marine Corps.

2 Feedbacks on "US Army Running Out of Money"

Dominique R. Poirier

That’s a funny point of view indeed, and I sincerely enjoyed the jokes in it. There are few things we cannot laugh about, indeed.
Now, since the WSJ takes it so seriously, I think that such military expenditures are not that questionable. It all depends under which angle one considers this question, actually. This I’m making allusion to is that those military expenditures fuel U.S. private business and so fuel and sustain economy in general.

My point here is not to advocate institutionalized and planned warfare as a mean to sustain civilian economy and to keep unemployment at a low rate, of course; but history taught us, for example, that truly the New Deal did much less for the U.S. economy and unemployment than the war effort beginning during the late 30’s. Concerning the side of aggregate demand, this concept has been linked to the concept of “military Keynesianism”, in which the government’s military budget stabilizes business cycles and fluctuations and/or is used to fight recessions.

Also, war, when waged on long term, spurs research and technology. On the supply side, it has been observed that wars exert strong influence upon the pace of technology and sciences, to such an extent that economy is greatly strengthened after a war; especially if it has avoided the war-related destruction. This was the case, for example, with the United States in World War I and World War II. In turn this technology drastically reduced the number of casualties – especially civilian casualties – during wartime. Let’s consider the example of laser guided bombs, invented during the Vietnam War due to the simple need a need to destroy a bridge allowing easier logistic supplies for the enemy. Until the breakthrough of the laser guided bombs numerous civilians were killed by air bombs. Today, in an overwhelming number of the cases, bombs kill fighters and military only.

Science, all discipline considered, did a great leap forward during and in the wake of WWII. From this period on we got the birth of the computer (due to an urging need to decipher coded messages), the mastering of nuclear energy, significant progresses in medicine, rockets that eventually opened us the door to space exploration and the launch of satellites for purpose as varied as useful for humanity, and many more.

This is a Hamiltonian way of seeing things, Alexander Hamilton having been the first to raise this point when he stressed that a military industry had to be sustained during peace time as a way to be permanently ready to defend the country against any unforeseen attack from foreign enemies.

Another great American politician who strongly influence U.S. policy and warfare during the first half of the XXth century (whose name obstinately escapes my mind while writing this comment. Sorry), furthered this Hamiltonian view on war and economy. Some of the man’s detractors attribute to him the said-to-be disputable invention of what they call the “military industrial complex.” Those same persons always miss to remember that similar views on economy were to be adopted by the Soviet Union too and where introduced by Stalin in the wake of the New Economic Policy.

Although totally unable to remember the name of this U.S., albeit well known, politician right now I am able, at least, to remember his theory on war and economy since I did read a book about (How elusive memory proves to be sometimes!). Actually, the man turned upside down the concept of supply and demand from previous experience and observation he made on economy during wartime and peacetime.
In other words, he said, here in substance, that supply could equally create demand, a fact oft noticed by experts nowadays; and totally unnoticed by consumers who, as if compulsively, want to buy the last stuff even when its performances and quality are obviously inferior to the older one they already own. The trick relies mostly on mimicking. But, on the other hand, it truly sustains and fuels good economy at the scale of a nation, and allows a given government the possibility to act usefully upon the drives and tastes of the society as a way to adapt it to new planned domestic market economy.

Such need and practice mainly occur when analysts foresee trends and upheavals to come at an international scale (example: a global rise of the cost of energy), or when a country undergoes strong political and ideological changes.
For example, In 1975 in United Sates, it was impossible to buy a brand new 350HP American car, no matter how rich you were at that time, and though such level of performance was easily available on the automobile market a few years earlier. In France, during the last five years, the motorbike industry collapsed because, all of a sudden and as if in a concert-like manner, all insurance companies raised the price of insurance for motorbikes and scooters to unbearable levels.

Today, in many industrialized countries, defense departments and ministries order to the civilian market always more sophisticated and costly weaponry, often just for the sake of maintaining the existence of a performing military industry, and so to sustain employment and keep research abreast. Numerous of those produced arms, vehicles, helicopters, planes, vessels, submarines, and else will never be used on battlefields; often because they are either to costly and stuffed with too sensible advanced technology to run the risk to lost some on a battlefield where such technology would fall into enemy’s hands; or because, yes, they are too fragile to be used during wartime (this applies especially to modern helicopters fighters, nowadays).
This phenomenon especially occurs in military airplane industry and gave birth to the “Law of Augustine,” named after the name of his discoverer Norman R. Augustine (former CEO of Lockheed Martin). The Law of Augustine, based upon observations of the constantly rising cost of military airplanes says that, given the rate of increase of the cost of production of military fighters and bombers noticed since WWII, by 2050 the whole budget of the U.S. DoD would be absorbed by a unique hyper sophisticated airplane fighter whose use would be shared along a weekly three days shift between the USAF, the Navy, and the Marine Corps.

Now, most, if not all, modern airliners benefit of “dual-use technologies,” a term often used in politics and diplomacy to refer to technology which can be used for both peaceful and military aims (usually in regard to the proliferation of nuclear weapons). It doesn’t apply only to high technology levels. M4 are produced by private companies, which also sale civilian firearms. For those companies, military contracts constitute a financial godsend which help them to innovate and hire, and so to fuel economy and innovation. It is the same for Hummers, a vehicle from which several civilian versions were introduced on the civilian market and made many people and families happy.

Last but not the least, all this costly technology drastically reduced the number of casualties underwent by the U.S. troops, gave those troops better confidence in themselves in the frame of their daily duty, and trust in the country they serve; let alone the number of lives spared by those costly armored jackets, helmets, night vision systems and else. Strikingly enough, this technology allowed U.S. soldiers in 1991 to free Kuwait from Iraqi troops while undergoing very few casualties. Now, it is true that United States defense has to adapt to a new forms of warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, and, doubtless, elsewhere in the future; namely: insurgency and terrorism. Here again, a sizeable part of this expensive technology will provide new and suited answers.

I’m aware that war is the less expected of all form of human activities, and I share this opinion. But war is part of human nature, regretfully. Iran is attempting to threat the whole world with nuclear stuffs it expects to master as soon as possible, and there are no room for letting the whole world, or the security of the Middle East, at least — a region in which million of people count on the will and strength of the United States, already — fulfilling such endeavors.

Thus taxes feed the government with money which, in turn, goes back to private economy, and so forth. I’m surprised the WSJ missed to see things under this angle (I’ll send my application to the WSJ too, even though chances for they hire me are slim, doubtless. LOL.)


Very nice piece. It seems we have become incapable of doing anything about a national problem, whether it be Iraqi insurgents or grade school education, except except to throw more money at it.

I keep hearing that our troops “were not prepared to face this type of irregular force.” So, Viet Nam has simply vanished as an object lesson.

Fancy sighting systems won’t defeat this enemy. Nor, to be blunt, will Ruger Ranch Rifles. What we need is intelligence, both the on-the-ground operative type and the kind that has disappeared from the command structure of our armed forces.


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