Providing for the Common Defense; Report of National Defense Strategy Commission, Part 1

With grave concern for the defense of the U.S., the purpose of this series is to constructively undermine the report (download (pdf): Providing for the Common Defense; The Assessment of the National Defense Strategy Commission.) The report contains substitutions of sentiment for reason. We will explore why the substitutions occur, consequences, and possible  remedies. By undermining, we stimulate  debate over optimization of limited resources.

Even before biologists discovered DNA,  they concluded that life is a process. This replaced the earlier belief that life was inhabited by some mysterious vital force that distinguished it from the inanimate. A high point of the report is the emphasis that war fighting is also a process, not merely a collection of assets arrayed for the destruction of those of the enemy. From page 42, (see also p68)

Throughout our work, we found that DOD struggled to link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs and resources. ...It hampers the Secretary’s ability to design, assess, and implement the NDS...

This   is seemingly the easiest to solve, with the highest likely ROI. The report correctly notes that it is only one facet of the problem, which depends upon many other capital-intensive factors.

Undermining the report of the Commission could have several basic strategies:

  • Contradiction the assertion of deficiencies.
  • Greater priorities in the non defense budget.
  • Priority of the national debt.
  • Errors of logic.
  • Recommendations are  non-actionable in form.

For simplicity, let’s start with just the last two points.  Simplicity is hard to find.

Contributor Andrew Krepinevich offers an opinion of dissent from certain aspects of the report, “Additional Views… “(p72-75), which include  errors of logic and non-actionable recommendations. Confusing “operational challenge” with “capability” may seem a small thing to the nonspecialist reader. But this fuzzy confusion is symptomatic of one of report’s several major defects. Without exception, every conceivable area of weapons technology and deployment is identified as requiring more investment.  The report possibly leaves out raincoats, rubbers, and umbrellas.

Since the report is a public document, and Krepinevich says it so well, there is no need to paraphrase. Quoting,

Simply put, the Commission would do well to follow its own advice before advancing recommendations regarding the size, structure, mix, and posture of U.S. forces and their capabilities. As the Commission states:

"Specifically, the Department needs a rigorous force development plan that connects its investment strategy with its key priorities of winning in conflict and competing effectively with China and Russia. That plan must have a clear force sizing construct to illuminate
the strategy’s ambition and risks. Such a force development architecture should provide answers to the following questions:"

Krepinevich quotes the Commission’s questions of page 42, about objectives, operational concepts, regional considerations, multi-theater (more than one war at a time), the meaning of deterrence, and how priorities relate. He goes on to write,

Other than stating the obvious—it’s better to have more military capability than less—no analytic support is presented as to why these particular forces and capabilities are more deserving of priority than others.

This is startling, given that the Commission criticizes the Department for its lack of analytic rigor. As the Commission states with respect to DOD’s ability to make informed decisions with respect to defense priorities.

In summary, it seems profoundly unhelpful for the Commission to state the analytic foundation required for DOD to make informed choices regarding defense priorities, and then proceed to ignore it in advancing priorities of its own.

Put another way, the recommendations of the report are mostly non-actionable, other than to throw money at the problem.

Since the authors of the report are intelligent people who hold advanced degrees, is there something special about the problem of defense that resists brainpower? David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest chronicles the failure of intellectual brilliance in the context of the Vietnam War. As a warning of historical reprise, it is invaluable. Of a land war in Asia, it is identical.

The astute reader will note that our undermining effort is so far completely secular. Without referral to any particular assertion, the authority of the report weakens. The report may remain entirely valid, but we are enabled to look for alternatives. Let’s continue to explore why intellect has failed so often. The report inspires fear. Why?

Since the 70’s, the use of computers in simulation has steadily grown. Physical gadgets, designed by computer, are simulated in the computer before they are made, predicting how they will perform before they are even built. For a system-in-a-box, such as a nuclear warhead, it works very well. In weather forecasting, moderately well. Other systems are inherently chaotic. For these, simulation works poorly.  For hypersonic vehicles, there is no substitute for flight. Simulations of the human body are so poor, doctors keep changing their minds about what we should eat.

This uncertainty affects our understanding of weapons systems. The performance of a weapon system:

  • may be very well known by future projection, but inexplicable to nonspecialists.  Example: the F-35 plane.
  •  against an adversary may be in question. Lacking information obtainable only by espionage, it may always be in question, regardless of the qualities of the weapon.
  • against an adversary may be well known, but impossible to explain to nonspecialists in a credible way, or revealing secrets that are the essence of superiority. “We know why it will prevail, but we can’t tell you.”
  • may be known to be deficient, with remedy available.
  • may be known to be deficient, with no possible remedy.

The above are distinguished by gaps,  unknowns, and what Donald Rumsfeld calls the “unknown unknowns.” The gaps are filled by fear.

Since the 1960’s, the press, Congress, the military, and even exalted think tanks such as RAND have miscategorized programs in both ways, successful as unsuccessful, and the reverse. I have a list in my head; it seems equally divided.  Public memory is short, but you may remember that the F-35 was originally pegged by some “authorities”, including RAND, as a failure.  A recent fly-off hints it may be comparable to the F-22. (Investors Business Daily)

The reasons an apparently inferior airplane could perform in a superior manner cannot be explained without reference to classified performance data. To release the data would destroy the advantage. The audience that could understand that data is small. Lawmakers are not significantly different from the general population unless they happen to have engineering degrees. Most do not. Government is, after all, a social endeavor, about people, not machines. This problem permeates debate about defense.

Since the intended audience is challenged by a problem that defeated the best and the brightest, the report resorts to the universal chord,  fear. This does not mean it is irrelevant. But as fear lacks authority, we might take Fichte/Hegel’s advice: call it a thesis. Think thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

The report stops short of antithesis.  To attempt synthesis here would be foolish. But by undermining, we open the way.

To be continued shortly.


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