Three Recent Articles from Joint Forces Quarterly

As Supervisor of Shipbuilding, I get printed copies of Joint Forces Quarterly (JFQ), a publication of the JCS designed to inform and educate on joint and integrated operations; government contributions to national security policy and strategy; homeland security; and developments in training and joint military education.  It is a big change from ship repair and acquisition, but I blaze through the thick, glossy magazine to see if I can learn anything worth passing on to others. I have provided excerpts of three articles that might be of interest to critical thinkers: Real Acquisition Reform (no lasting reform possible until SecDef controls service budgets), MRAPs, Irregular Warfare, and Pentagon Reform (a case study of an acquisition program hobbled by failure to embrace the mission of irregular warfare), and Graying Panda, Shrinking Dragon (how coming demographics trends will lead to an aging, less powerful, and less belligerent China after the mid-2030s).

Real Acquisition Reform, Joint Forces Quarterly, by Jim Cooper and Russell Rumbaugh

BLUF: The authors argue that we will never reform military acquisition until the SECDEF builds the budget from start to finish with all resourcing staffs (those that prioritize programs and fight for the money) working directly for the SECDEF. They note that each service develops its budget separately and the Secretary of Defense has very little influence except at the macro level. Members of the Navy's Acquisition Corps should read the article and understand the points the authors are making and why.

There are many illusions in the Potomac Puzzle Palace, but some of the most profound involve the Pentagon’s massive acquisition system. This system has 50,000 private sector contractors just to oversee the activities of hundreds of thousands of other private sector contractors.  

First, we pretend that our acquisition decisions are made at the level of the Department of Defense (DOD). In reality, each Service buys what it wants, and the Secretary of Defense has only a handful of opportunities to influence its purchases.

Second, we pretend that the Secretary of Defense submits a single, unified budget when, in truth, he submits the three Services’ budgets cobbled together.  Until the Secretary is empowered to run the acquisition and budgeting process, he will only be able to exert decisive influence through high-risk, politically sensitive interventions.

Finally, we pretend that the Services’ interests are the same as our national interests. Although the Services are filled with patriotic men and women doing their best for their country, the Services are also bureaucracies—and bureaucracies have minds of their own.

... the fundamental political problem at the heart of the system … [is that] each Service places its own acquisition needs first, with few ways to resolve their disputes other than by preserving the status quo. Until we empower the Secretary of Defense to make procurement decisions and to arbitrate these disputes, we will keep getting the wrong weapons at the wrong price.

GAO personnel stated that “DOD sometimes authorized contractors to begin work before . . . ” and “DOD obligated nearly. . . .”1 But the Services themselves determined 95 percent of all procurement for fiscal year 2009. In other words, DOD did only 5 percent of what GAO described.

The effort to strengthen strategic guidance has resulted in a cacophony of voices. Besides internal guidance and the Quadrennial Defense Review, Congress mandated in 1986 that Presidents produce a National Security Strategy. Most critics agree these documents have done little to change fundamental military budget priorities.

… each [service] gets virtually the same share of the budget each year. … each Service’s share of the defense budget [is] nearly flat, with a standard deviation of less than 1.8 percent over a 40-year period. Moreover, the budget shares are nearly equally divided among the Army, Navy, and Air Force, each of which receives just under 30 percent of the defense budget each year.  …the Services adhere to their own organizational imperatives.

Even when a Service has no major weapons system to purchase, it can invent a “placeholder” category such as the Army did with the Future Combat System (FCS) in order to maintain its share. Never more than a sketch, or a series of sketches, the multibillion- dollar FCS budget plug took precedence over immediate warfighting needs, such as mine resistant ambush protected vehicles and up-armored Humvee procurement.

Instead of the Secretary of Defense nudging the Services’ budgets, his office should build the defense budget from start to finish.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act introduced jointness of operations to give officers an appreciation of what other Services bring to the fight, but had little impact on the resourcing process. By moving Service resourcing staffs to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, we could extend the success of Goldwater-Nichols from operations to resourcing.

MRAPs, Irregular Warfare, and Pentagon Reform, by Christopher J. Lamb, Matthew J. Schmidt, and Berit G. Fitzsimmons

BLUF: The authors aver that MRAPs offer a case study for understanding key issues in the current debate over the Pentagon’s emphasis on developing and fielding irregular warfare capabilities. The authors argue that the proximate cause of the failure to quickly field MRAPs is not the Pentagon’s acquisition system but rather the failure of the Pentagon  properly balance conventional and irregular warfare capabilities, suggesting that acquisition reform is the wrong target for advancing Secretary Gates’ objective of improving irregular warfare capabilities, and that achieving the objective will require more extensive reforms than many realize.

Mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles offer an excellent case study for investigating the current debate over the Pentagon’s emphasis on developing and fielding irregular warfare capabilities. The debate was highlighted by a series of recent articles in Joint Force Quarterly,1 including one by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who cited the slow fielding of MRAPs as a prime example of the Pentagon’s institutional resistance to investments in irregular warfare capabilities. He personally intervened to ensure more than 10,000 MRAPs were fielded quickly.

Almost 3 years after units in the field submitted their requests for MRAPs, the Pentagon requirements system had moved to the point where senior Service leadership would invite Congress to pay for a large number of the vehicles only if it was willing to do so over and above the Pentagon’s normal budget and its warfighting supplemental.

This suggests two key questions for critical thinkers. First, does the MRAP experience support the contention that the Pentagon is not sufficiently able to field irregular warfare capabilities? Second, what factors explain the MRAP failure?

By June 2003, 3 months after the initial coalition intervention in Iraq, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had emerged as the enemy’s weapon of choice. The threat evolved over time, but all major forms of IEDs were apparent early on—by 2004 or 2005 at the latest. … [as well as] a particularly lethal form of IED known as the explosively formed penetrator (EFP), better able to penetrate armor and spray elements of the weapon and the vehicle armor into the vehicle’s interior. … EFPs never amounted to more than 5 to 10 percent of the IEDs employed by insurgents, but they caused 40 percent of IED casualties. From spring into summer 2005, their use increased from about one per week to roughly one every other day.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) monitored these efforts and, pursuing a mandate from Representative Duncan Hunter (R–CA), were particularly incensed that in the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2005, the Army had categorized the up-armored Humvee and add-on armor kits as “unfunded” requirements.

Representative Gene Taylor (D–MS): “… we are getting back to that word requirement. And I have pointed out three instances where somebody tried to fight this war on the cheap [with needless casualties] because of body armor, because of Humvees and because of jammers. So the question is: Why do we go through this again? . . . If this vehicle is going to save lives, if Humvees, as we now know, are vulnerable to mines and a hugely disproportionate number of casualties are occurring in Humvees because of mines and we have a way to address that, why don’t we address it now?”

The overview of the Pentagon’s record on fielding MRAPs corrects some mistaken impressions and substantiates some popular concerns. The following points bear emphasis:

  • The Pentagon was poorly prepared for irregular warfare and the IED ambush tactics it encountered in Iraq.
  • The IED threat evolved, but all types of IED attacks—side, underbody, and EFP— were evident by 2004 or 2005 at the latest, so the need for better armored vehicles requested by commanders in the field was evident.
  • While the acquisition system had to be pushed to provide armor kits and up-armored Humvees faster, the Pentagon did make special efforts to address the IED problem.
  • Despite huge resources (for example, $12.4 billion for JIEDDO from 2006 to 2008), the new organizations did not have the authority to tackle the IED problem in a comprehensive manner—particularly where armoring vehicles was concerned—and instead focused on attacking the precursors to IED explosions.
  • Senior military leaders only validated better armored vehicle requirements under pressure from two Secretaries of Defense and Congress, despite the demonstrated effectiveness of better armored vehicles and early appeals from field commanders.
  • The acquisition system fielded effective MRAPs quickly once they were approved and funded not only because Congress and Secretary Gates made them a top priority but also because the system had already developed and tested MRAP prototypes.

Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) did not push for better armored vehicles for two reasons. First, the organization focused more on prevention than protection. … This orientation was so strong that some JIEDDO members were dismissive of field commanders for wanting to “place a cocoon around the soldier driving down the street in his vehicle” rather than “taking out the IEDs first.” Second, JIEDDO did not have responsibility for acquisition of better armored vehicles.

… it took more than 2 years, political pressure from Congress, and a determined intervention by the Secretary of Defense before the JROC validated a large purchase of MRAPs as a military requirement, but … just as the Services classified armor kits and up-armored Humvees as “unfunded requirements” in 2004, General Magnus (USMC) and General Cody (USA) explained to the dismayed HASC in the spring of 2007 that MRAPs were unfunded requirements.

… the evolution of the IED threat does not adequately explain the resistance to purchasing MRAPs for U.S. forces. First of all, the requirements system was slow to validate the need for the vehicles even after insurgents were using all the major types of IEDs. Moreover, Department of Defense (DOD) experts were advising the Iraq military early on that they needed MRAPs for counterinsurgency, so their value for irregular warfare was understood. The reality is that decision-makers in the Pentagon’s requirements system were not enthusiastic about any additional armor, much less heavy, expensive MRAPs. Decisions to provide additional armor were imposed on the system, first by Secretary Rumsfeld and then by Secretary Gates.

… force protection in irregular warfare is a strategic imperative because costs must be kept low in comparison with perceived interests and progress, and it is a tactical imperative because hit-and-run attacks at close quarters and from any direction are the norm.

DOD refused to invest in better armored vehicles such as the up-armored Humvee before Iraq and was slow to field the MRAPs during the conflict. This tendency to ignore irregular warfare requirements is not an aberration but a persistent trend.

Secretary Gates … made the case publicly that the Pentagon is unable to generate a proper balance of conventional and irregular warfare capabilities … [so he] issued a policy directive that declares irregular warfare is just as important as traditional warfare and that the military must be equally proficient at both.

Secretary Gates wants to “institutionalize procurement of [irregular] warfare capabilities” so they can be quickly fielded when needed. The source of resistance to this goal is not the Pentagon’s acquisition system. As acquisition professionals emphasize and the MRAP experience illustrates, it is impossible to procure anything without a validated requirement and congressional funding. …the long delay in fielding MRAPs is attributable first to the Pentagon’s force development or requirements system, second to Service cultures that generally undervalue irregular warfare capabilities, and finally to the Pentagon’s decision-making structure and processes, which typically favor specialization over integration of diverse areas of expertise to solve complex problems.

Graying Panda, Shrinking Dragon: The Impact of Chinese Demographic Changes on Northeast Asian,

China’s simultaneous industrialization and demographic transformation pose risks and opportunities for Northeast Asian security. While an aging population, shrinking workforce, and large gender imbalance threaten to undermine internal stability by inducing labor shortages, slowing economic growth, and increasing pressure for internal migration and immigration, continued U.S. demographic strength and increased Chinese risk aversion will constrain China’s belligerence and act to stabilize its demographic transformation. The net effect of these competing forces promises to be an aging, less powerful, and less belligerent China after the mid-2030s.

"China appears to be at the edge of an historic demographic transition, setting the country on a path to grow old before it becomes prosperous." —Global economist Cliff Waldman

Since 1980, China’s “one child” policy has successfully slowed its population growth and facilitated stable economic growth. By curtailing over 250 million births since its inception, however, the one child policy also induced significant long-term consequences. According to China’s National Committee of Population and Planned Birth, China faces three major demographic events during the next 30 years: a peak of workers entering the labor market, a reversal of population growth, and a rapid increase in the age of the Chinese population.

These demographic changes promise to undermine China’s long term stability by inducing labor shortages, slowing economic growth, and increasing pressure for internal migration and immigration.

... the one child policy will be decreasing numbers of laborers entering the workforce, which threatens to increase labor costs, constrain economic growth, and increase immigration pressures.  ... social benefits for migrant laborers are tied to their rural households, most lack insurance, and the government considers the displaced laborers the primary source of crime and a threat to public order.

... the simultaneous nature of China’s economic and demographic transitions presents a further source of internal instability. “Normal” demographic transitions generally follow a path from a high fertility rate, high mortality rate, and low income to a state of low fertility, low mortality, and high income characterized by industrialized nations. Contrary to such a normal demographic transition, China faces the challenges of economic growth, industrialization, and urban assimilation of a large rural populace simultaneous with its rapid demographic transitions in the age and size of its workforce.

Because these economic and demographic transitions will occur simultaneously, China “will face a developed country’s level of old-age dependency with only a developing country’s income,”18 and may face social instability beginning in the mid-2020s.

China’s sex ratio balance, the number of males per 100 females,20 grew from a healthy 106.3 in 1975 to an imbalanced 120.5 in 2005.21 The imbalance is worse in rural areas. This significant population (20–21 percent) of excess males will likely increase competition for the small pool of females, intensify internal migration pressures, foster demand for immigrant brides, fuel demand for criminal networks that recruit and traffic brides, ...and China could face increased levels of antisocial behavior and violence [that] will ultimately present a threat to long-term stability ...

While China’s demographics threaten to constrain its economic growth, American demographics promise to support long-term U.S. economic health. According to a 2008 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States “is the only developed nation whose population ranking among all nations—third—will remain unchanged from 1950 to 2050. . . . [The United States] is also the only developed economy whose aggregate economic size will nearly keep pace with that of the entire world’s economy.”

The net effect of these changes will be increased U.S. Influence that will constrain China’s dominance of Northeast Asia.

In addition to looming labor shortages and long-term economic challenges, the effects of China’s one child policy include long-term social consequences that will increase Beijing’s risk aversion and constrain regional belligerence. As the policy effectively curtailed the number of children in each family, it also increased the relative value of each child to the family (for supporting parents).
by Matt Isler