The big news today is Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed new budget for the US military. This has been eagerly anticipated throughout the milblogging community, even causing Abu Muqawama to give a minute-by-minute account of the proceedings on the floor of Congress. Zenpundit even went so far as to publish a post on the outcome, during which he awarded Secretary Robert Gates the award for the biggest cajones ever, due to the fact that he stood up to the military-industrial complex and axed a number of big-ticket items that have little place in 4th Generation Warfare. While defense spending is actually increasing, money is being drastically cut in a number of areas, hopefully allowing for better housing options for Soldiers and educational opportunities. With Soldiers leaving the Army in record numbers (nearly 2/3 of all officers who graduated in 2002 are no longer in the military), all the high-tech equipment in the world won't make a difference unless it's managed by competent individuals.
Among the changes (available on DefenseLink)
- Yes, the F-22 Raptor is being halted, with a grand total of 187 planes in service. I've complained about the uselessness of the F-22 so many times, it even has its own tag on this blog. Suffice to say, it might have been wise of the Air Force to actually use the F-22 to do something in Iraq or Afghanistan, and somehow demonstrate that it's useful in a counter-insurgency environment. As it stands, its only use would have been as an Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance vehicle, sort of like a really expensive, manned UAV. But even then, one story noted that, with all of the jammers used to disable roadside bombs, the F-22's sophisticated electronic warfare package would be all but useless. So yeah, don't think about using the F-22 in a country where people might have garage door openers and cell phones. It's kind of sad that the Air Force's efforts to sell this plane to the public as the Decepticon Starscream, and through PreserveRaptorJobs.com were a failure, but yeah, they were. It's a great fighter airplane, and can dominate the skies, but largely irrelevant when you're nation-building.
- Gates reportedly wanted more helicopter pilots and maintainers in order to increase the amount of rotary-wing aviation assets worldwide. While I applaud this effort, I have to say that we actually do need new helicopters as well. Some Army units are still using 25-year old A-model Black Hawks in the mountains of Afghanistan, where their ability to maintain level flight is severely limited, due to the heat and altitude. Furthermore, although Army Transformation claimed to give infantry units a more robust aviation package, it merely re-organized the military and shuffled the helicopters around—it didn't actually provide more helicopters. In order to actually construct additional combat aviation brigades, we need to buy more helicopters. Otherwise, we'll have five or six pilots fighting over who gets to fly a helicopter. Five pilots scrounging for flight hours on the same airframe isn't a good substitute for two pilots who are sufficiently trained.
- Cuts to the new VH-71 Presidential helicopter. It's pretty bad when the proposed presidential helicopter a Eurocopter and costs $13 billion.
- Cuts to the new Future Combat System, a family of Army vehicles expected to cost some $150 billion. Ah, I recall the old days (back in February), when some project manager for the Future Combat System posted an article on Small Wars Journal in an attempt to "sell" the FCS to the counter-insurgency crowd. Never did I see a colonel someone so ridiculed by captains before in my life. Maybe it was the Army's propensity for idiotic names like "Non-Line-of-Sight Mortar"—hey, guess what…ALL mortars are "non-line-of-sight"! That's like calling something "an airplane with wings". Or perhaps it was the colonel's trumpeting of the awesome combat power of the M-5 Tactical Segway, which brought up images of horny loser virgins riding those two-wheeled electric monstrosities and getting stuck in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. But I think that, worst of all, was his vignette of a Soldier who eliminates an enemy sniper due to the fact that he pulled out a pocket-sized helicopter UAV, flew it into a conveniently-left-open door in a building, expertly navigated the helicopter UAV through the hallways without hitting anything, (ever fly a remote-controlled helicopter? How is this possible?), didn't get the helicopter shot up, and placed it into position behind the enemy snipers—without them even knowing it was there, or better yet, throwing a $2 blanket over the $1 million helicopter and negate its effectiveness. Seriously, that's about as plausible as a 100-mile wide battle station with a small thermal exhaust port that leads directly to the main reactor--just large enough that a pilot strong in the Force might be able to shoot a proton torpedo into it and blow it up. But the latter scenario was at least entertaining.
All in all, it looks like the COINtras are having their way with the new military budget. To a certain extent, of course.