Marking My Beliefs About Weapons to Market (Military 2/N)

In this post, I criticize current US weapons policy. I have been doing this for over 40 years. I have been saying the same things for those 40 years. This means I can check on the hostages I have given to fortune and mark my beliefs to market.

My thoughts again

1) I think that the US should buy smart munitions to be fired from many cheap platforms (that is I take one side in a decades long debate).

2) I think there has been a pattern of planning to spend really huge amounts of money on a weapons system, followed by compromise leading to high spending to acquire a small number of weapons which do not satisfy the original perceived need at all.

3) I think that there has been much to little focus on shoulder fired munitions (roughly stingers and javelins) available to infantry.

4) I think stealth technology is over rated — it is just not as important as must be assumed to justify the current budget. F

5) I think that piloted military aircraft are heading off into the sunset with cavalry.

6) I would adjust the V-22 budget down to maintenance only (buy no more V-22s).

7) I do not support development of a new intercontinental strategic bomber. I have never supported development of a new incontinental strategic bomber. I think the airborn strategic force should consist of drones launched from planes which are not designed to penetrate modern air defences.

8) I would reduce F-22 program to maintanence only (no more F-22s) (I always opposed building the F-22 — again what has it ever done for us or anyone ?). I note that more is spent on it than all the drones put together.

OK so what have I said in the past on these topics. I have supported a focus on unmanned aircraft for over 40 years. Of course, this does not mean support for modern drones which didn’t exist. Back then the only drones were cruise missiles (classified as munitions not aircraft but they are drones). As I noted in my earlier post, I have never supported development of an intercontinental bomber. I did not support the development of the B-52, because I they were developed and built before I was born. I have opposed development of all the proposed replacements.

I opposed development of the B-1

In particular I recall a long debate I had about the B-1 in around 1980 (very tiresome for the other guy — you should feel lucky that you can surf away from my posts). I argued that better program would be to rely on cruise missiles launched from B-52s which then did not even try to penetrate Soviet air defences. I guess I didn’t get to the longer term solution which is to build a cheap airliner like plane to launch the cruise missiles (I certainly thought of buying airliners for the purpose although I am not sure I said so).

The unfortunate guy argued that the B-52s which were older than we were are totally obsolete. I quote from the FY 20, 21, 22 defence procurement budget

If they were obsolete in 1980, then why the hell are they still flying in 2022 ? They do not have current or 1980 level ability to penetrate air defences. 0 have been shot down since 1980.

In contrast, I opposed development of the B-1. The idea was that it could fly below radar using it’s own radar to avoid crashing. My view was that a cheaper and more reliable way to achieve the mission was to overwhelm air defences with a large number of cruise missiles. To my knowledge, the ground hugging feature of the B-1 has not actually been used yet, because the first thing the US has does in war has been to destroy the adversary’s air defences with cruise missiles. After that is done, B-52s work as well as B-1s except they have a much larger payload. I ask what did we get in exchange for the money spent on B-1s ?

One way to assess the value of flying under the radar is to compare combat losses of B-52s to combat losses of ground hugging aircraft. Ground hugging aircraft include the B-1 and the F-111. As of now there have been 15 combat losses of B-52s and 14 combat losses of ground hugging airplanes (all F-111s). As noted the B-52 has been around for longer than I have and B-52s have dropped a whole lot of bombs.

I score Robert 1 Pentagon 0 so far.

I also opposed development of the B-2.

At the moment there are 20 B-2s (there have been 21 — one crashed). It seems to me unlikely that 20 planes can make the difference in any war “The total program cost projected through 2004 was US$44.75 billion in 1997 dollars. This includes development, procurement, facilities, construction, and spare parts. The total program cost averaged US$2.13 billion per aircraft.[4] multiply by 1.6 to convert 1997 dollars to 2021 dollars using the GDP deflator. ALso note that spending continued after 2004.

I do not believe there is a mission which can be accomplished with the B-2s which could not be accomplished without them. Again most actual US attacks on targets protected by air defences have been done with cruise missiles.

I score Robert 2 Pentagon 0 so far.

Here the B-2 (like the F-22, the F-35, and the F-117) demonstrates the US military fixation with stealth technology. A quite different approach is to attempt to overwhelm defenses with large numbers of (relatively) cheap cruise missiles which cost about 1/1000th as much as a B-2 (and each have to be separately shot down). OK on cost, cruise missiles are committed either nuclear or conventional — it is much easier to replace the bombs in a bomber than the warhead in a cruise missile. Nuclear armed strategic cruise missiles must be launched from planes which don’t have to penetrate air defences but which do have to get away from the blast radius of an incoming nuclear warhead. So the cost per target challenging air defenses isn’t 0.1% as much, but it is very low. Very critically, the US is just not willing to say that we will accept that 90% of human pilots are shot down. When I argued for buying cheap effective old design planes I was accused of placing dollars above lives (again no link – it was at This accusation doesn’t work if aerial defences are saturated with cruise missiles (also cruise missiles are now made with stealth technology — AGM-129As cost $ 4.3 million each about two tomahawks or 2% of a B2.

There is a serious problem with stealth technology — it hides only from a limited range of frequencies. This reminds me of the fact that Donald Trump seems to be persistently convinced that Stealthy planes are invisible . Others are aware that stealth doesn’t hide from visible light, but neglect to mention that it also doesn’t hide from World War II era long wavelength radar. Now that doesn’t mean that to deal with stealth one only has to go back to long wavelength radar. Modern radar uses short wavelenghs to get a precise location (good enough for targetting). The old way, you just know that something roughly around over there is up in the air and moving fairly fast. However, I do think this means that stealth is not useful for strategic bombers which fly extremely long distances in a straight line. They have hot exhaust. They can be detected from close distances (even at night). I don’t think all 20 B2s would get through a swarm of drones with infrared sensors sent in the general direction indicated by low frequency radar.

Notably, the US has lost exactly one airplane in combat since 1973. If was a F-117 stealth fighter shot down by Serbians. It is a fighter bomber which is stealthy except when it bombs — it showed up on radar when the bomb bay was open. So the score over the past 49 years is non stealth 0 losses vs stealth 1 loss. But the doctrine is that stealth is the key to the 21st century.

The MX missile. 

I argued that there was no point in making MX missiles.  The program was presented as a way to close “the window of vulnerability” that being the alleged possibility that the USSR could destroy US minuteman III missiles in a first strike (this claim is implausible and it would leave the US defenseless except for the B-52s and Trident submarines which could send the USSR back into the stone age dozens or hundreds of times over). The idea was that MX missiles could be moved from one silo to another (well that was the second idea – the first was they would be in tunnels and break out carried by their break out of tunnel carrier).  My view was that this is an argument for new silo like things but not for a new missile, since we could put the minutemen we have in the new mobile deployment and save the cost of the MXs which would serve no useful purpose whatsoever. 

So then secretary of defence Harold Brown gave a talk and a friend of mine (Andrei Shleifer) asked him about the proposal to put Minutemen IIIs on the carrier thingies and not build MXs.  Quoting from memory secretary Brown said that would not save money and would speed deployment only by a year or two.  Note that when asked what was gained by making the MXs he did not mention any possible even theoretical advantage of making the MXs.

At the time Ronald Reagan was running for President.  IIRC His view was that the deployment system cost a lot and, while it was clear we needed the MX, maybe we should just put MXs in one silo each.  This makes no sense at all. There is no argument for a small number of new missiles in an equally small number of silos. There was no failure mode of the 1980 US nuclear forces which would not also be a failure mode of 1980 forces plus MXs in one silo each.  I argued to another friend (who voted for Reagan and so will be granted anonymity) that this showed that Reagan was not qualified to be President.  He replied “he isn’t going to build MX missiles and put them in silos.”

You know how this ends. The US built 50 MX missiles and put them in 50 silos (total).  This cost money and provided us with no advantage. 

The 50 MX missiles carry a total of 500 warheads. The, 1,000 Minuteman missiles which were deployed before the MX program carried 3,000 warheads and 1,000 not 50 silos had to be targetted. The MX program increased the number of hard targets which had to be knocked out to reduce the triad to a dyad by 5% and had no other strategic effect.

At the time the MX was proposed, I said it was a stupid waste of money.  I challenge anyone to contest my claim.

I score Robert 3 Pentagon 0

Notice the pattern. There is a perceived need or vulnerability (B-52s can be shot down, Minutemen can, in theory, be targetted). There is an extremely expensive proposed solution based on new technology, but also based on a new weapon system which is clearly related to the existing weapon system, so careers are not disrupted (the Strategic Air Command still commands bomber crews to penetrate and bomb, there is still a land based ICBM leg of the nuclear triad). A not so expensive but also doctrinally new weapon (cruise missiles) is also developed. No problem, there is room in the budget for everyone.

Then Congress gets upset and cuts the immensely costly program so that what is left does not address the preceived need or vulnerability. The US ends up with 20 new planes and 50 new missiles and a higher national debt (about which recall that I now say more debt no sweat, but that’s not what I said in the 80s and 90s when real interest rates were much higher).

The US army has conducted war games with (simulated) weapons mounted on small highly mobile unarmed vehicles vs conventional US armor for decades (sorry can’t find a link).  The highly mobile unarmored red team regularly wins.  See also Chad defeating Libya in the “Toyota War” in 1987.  The shocking fact that soldiers in unarmored vehicles armed with shoulder fired anti tank missiles can defeat tanks was demonstrated 35 years before war was transformed in 2022.  Notably Chad defeated Libya using MILAN wire guided missiles.  This is not a new feature of war caused by the new Javelin weapon.

During World War II it was decided that the best anti-tank weapon is another tank.  This remains US doctrine in spite of the fact that the claim was proven false 35 years ago.

Now it is true that T-90, T-80, and even T-72 tanks are not vulnerabile to MILANs, the Javelin or MLAW are needed.  This is normal. Weapons become obsolete.  However, so do doctrines. Obsolete weapons are replaced.  Obsolete doctrines have not been replaced.

Toyotas are cheap and tanks have been defeated with Toyotas. Expect the DOD to invest in Toyotas when hell freazes over.

I also opposed the F-22 raptor

I note “Of the 186 F-22 Raptors delivered to the Air Force, only about 130 were ever operational.” also “As production wound down in 2011, the total program cost is estimated to be about $67.3 billion, with $32.4 billion spent on Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) and $34.9 billion on procurement and military construction (MILCON) in then year dollars.

So unit cost lower than B2s anyway. Note *again* that the RDT&E cost is about equal to the procurement cost, because the program was essentially cancelled by Congress.

I score Robert 4 Pentagon 0.

I currently oppose the F-35 procurement program.

No score yet.

Naval procurement is incredibly expensive. If I had to guess what should be done, I would go for lots of low cost platforms for cruise missiles. Also, I would also not waste resources on deployment outside of the straights of Taiwan.

No clue how to score that one.