Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ideas on Military Personnel Costs

These days, everybody is talking about military personnel costs, from Sec Bob Gates to the blogosphere. Recently, Bryan McGrath put forward two ideas on controlling retirement costs.

Commenter milprof passed along a paraphrase from the defense leadership: "Plan to take it out of force structure because it sure won't be coming out of pay and benefits". Indeed, we need to think critically about force structure, which directly relates to the personnel cost issue. As a primer for the discussion, I've found Dr. Cindy Williams's defense series to be illuminating. Holding the Line is a great book on alternative force structure and a discussion on the ideas.  Filling the Ranks is another great book on incentives and personnel policy.

I've touched on this topic before.

Here are a few more proposals. The way to control medical cost is to make the military responsible. If the brass has to make the budget choice between retiree medical care and weapon acquisition, perhaps they will be more sensible.

A couple of quick examples: Sit-ups are known to cause lower spinal injury and later disabilities, yet it is still the standard in the Army. With budgetary incentives the brass would be in a greater hurry to change that. Hearing loss: passing through Al Asad Air Base (Marine) in '07, I saw the junior Marines frequently worked without hearing protection on the flightlines. In the army infantry only used earplugs on the rifle range. Electronic ear muffs have been a proven technology for 20+ years, yet only the start of OIF did the military purchase Peltor and other muffs in significant quantities.

Soldier care is an empty slogan until we hold the brass budgetarily accountable.

Retirement benefits: With so many military retirees working in the federal government, we need to start "means-testing" military retiree benefits. For example, if you're drawing retirement and GS salary at the same time, you will lose retirement dollar for dollar until (a) you're getting total GS-13 lvl 1 pay or (b) only 50% of retirement pay [not counting GS], whichever is higher. And maybe we do the same to federal contractor employees, too.

Moreover, if we do away with the 20-year vesting, and start giving retirement at 10-yr mark [but who would have to wait until 62 or 65 to start drawing retirement], then many more people will opt to retire earlier, thus ending up saving Gov't money. [The present value of that 15-20 years of retirement pay (48 to 65) may worth more than the retirement pay of that 2nd replacement soldier.]

So there are plenty of ways to lower the personnel cost. The only worry is that the various Associations will not be courageous and farsighted enough to take this problem head on, and that Congress will wait until the last minute [when we're broke already] to start slashing programs willy-nilly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Force Symmetry Across Political Spectrum

NightWatch had an interesting comment for its July 16th 2010 report. Regarding the government of Pakistan vis-a-vis India, it said that, basically, both the military regime and the progressive governments are hostile toward India, but in different ways. For example, Musharraf dialed back the tension in Kashmir, but increased support for LeT. The civilian governments reduced state funding of LeT, but increased tension in Kashmir.

This symmetry of force across the political spectrum, where both ends employ force, but in different ways, is echoed today in Danger Room. Spencer Ackerman reported on the appointment of John Bennett to chief of NCS, and mentioned that the Obama administration has greatly increased the scale of the drone campaign in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater. At the same time, the United States is drawing down the human presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is similar to Bill Clinton's fondness for Tomahawk missiles and air strikes, juxtaposed against the Bush dynasty's multiple ground deployments (Panama, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan).

Governments have all found lethal force to be useful, regardless of their political stripes. The preference for conventional vs unconventional is shaped by domestic constituencies, but they all want to kill people. The Peace movement would do well to keep that in mind.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Apatheism, Agnostics, & Atheists

Prof. Somin over at Volokh is responding to Ron Rosenbaum of Slate on the topic of Agnostics vs Atheists. Rosenbaum portrays Atheism as being a faith, same as its Theist opponents, thus philosophically as vulnerable as theism. Somin, on the other hand, shows that Rosenbaum's argument is incomplete, that a rejection of god(s) does not require an alternate explanation/faith.

Here is a good opportunity to talk about Apatheism vs Agnosticism. Apatheism is another way of confronting the Theism vs Atheism divide, and a morally stronger one than Agnosticism. One criticism of Agnosticism is that it is morally wishy-washy, akin to post-modernism in not making up its mind. Apatheism, on the other hand, reject the whole debate as irrelevant in daily life, and therefore not worth spending time to think over. Essentially Apatheism is the Existentialist answer to the God debate.

The Apatheist ask himself, does the existence of the divine change his choices and actions? At all times, [or 99% of times], the existence of god does not change the outcome of our decision processes. Therefore, by not thinking about god, the Apatheist focuses his mind on more productive concerns.

So if you have a crisis of faith, here is an opportunity to ask yourself, "Do I care if God exists?" If God is there, He would be glad that you're thinking this through.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle: A Two-Stage Alternative

The US Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle is again in the news, following a Government Accountability Office report on the growing expense of the system. Basically, the EFV is getting as expensive, and complex, as a helicopter.

In this new fiscal environment, everything overpriced is facing the budget axe. The Marines have not had their turn yet, and of their programs the EFV is the most vulnerable. [The super-jeep and EFSS are smaller and thus less endangered.] The requirement is valid, but the vehicles are too expensive. So it is time to look at possible replacements.

One way to maximize return on our technology investment, yet reduce technical complexity, is to split the EFV into two components: A landing craft, and A fighting vehicle. The landing craft can carry the vehicle to the beach at the 25kn required speed. The fighting vehicle can disembark and carry on the fighting. The landing craft can then ferry the next wave of follow-on forces. The fighting vehicle can be minimally amphibious to ford inland rivers and streams.

Most of the complexity of the EFV design comes from the 25 knot waterborne speed requirement. This requirement led to the retractable tracks to minimize the hull drag. The speed requirement also restricts weight, which led to a reduction in operational range. By splitting the design, we can re-use the waterborne-hull and waterjet design in building the fast landing craft, while keeping the vehicle chassis and tracks for a simpler assault vehicle. Without the waterborne speed requirement, the assault vehicle will be cheaper and more compact. We will also have more flexibility in extending the waterborne range of the overall system, depending on other design constraints.

The waterborne speed requirement is driving unnecessary complexity, because it is a distinct and separable phase of the EFV operational spectrum. Once it beaches, the EFV does not require that 25kn speed anymore. In traversing rivers and other brown-water obstacles, it does not have the room to accelrate fast enough to materially affect the crossing time. The seconds of crossing time reduction is an expensive investment, which may be better spent in smoke and other visual obscurants [that also are tactically useful on the ground]. If the EFV is working as a riverine gunboat, it can bring along the landing craft component for that part of the operation.

By splitting the EFV in two, we will require two power packs, one for the landing craft, and one for the tank. To achieve the 25kn assault speed, we can use a clutch to couple the tank powerpack to the landing craft, combining the power output of two engines to drive the landing craft. The landing craft can also use an autopilot after dropping off the tank, [to get home], to minimize the manpower requirement.

By de-coupling the blue water phase from the ground phase of the amphibious assault, we can dramatically reduce the technical complexity of the follow-on EFV-lite program, while preserving much of the technical investments we have made on the EFV program. It is a win-win for the taxpayers.

Friday, July 2, 2010

High School Math Important!

New York Times reports that factories are looking to hire CNC machinists and other craftsmen, but cannot find enough qualified or capable candidates. A pharmaceutical factory in Ohio is looking for 100 candidates who understand ninth-grade level math [Algebra 1], among other basic skills, but found only 47 people qualified out of 3,600 appliants.

That article is a sad indictment on the American primary and secondary education system. It is absolutely criminal that so many of our high school graduates cannot pass an Algebra I test. I can understand how some people might have problems with high school Geometry, since it involves some visualization ability, but Algebra 1 is just not that difficult conceptually. All Alg 1 requires is hard work: checking your answers, doing out every step instead of skipping around, etc. Some people might not like math; that's ok, I'm not a poetry afficionado myself, so we're even on that score. But everyone [who can graduate high school] should pass high school math. [Even though passing is such a low standard.]

Speaking of those CNC machinists, I read about CNC machining in my high school econ class, back in the mid-90s. [A laid-off automobile assembly line worker found a rewarding job as a CNC machinist.] So it's been at least 15 years that we know computer-numerical-control machining is a hot field. Yet we're still having problems filling CNC vacancies? That should be enough grounds for firing every community college presidents within 100 miles of a factory!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Russian Spies, and American Pop Culture

The Russian 11 has been a funny diversion on the daily news this week. Mowscow Center's inability to understand American culture continues to astound, but perhaps this inability is bureaucratically useful. Russia's political elites probably relate more to the mafia's secretiveness than the academia's openness.

Looking at the pictures of Anna Chapman, I was struck by a thought: It will be deliciously ironic, if Ms Chapman wins her trial, and then promptly becomes a media personality. She and her cohorts will get book deals, appear in reality TV competitions, commentate on CNN and Fox News, and maybe even start their own training school/consultancy on the Beltway circuit. This espionage arrest may be the biggest break of their lives, second only to getting assigned to the US. Christopher Mestos may well regret his bail-jumping in Cyprus.

SVR employees will fight for an American assignment, if only they can replicate the celebrity status that the Russian 11 are now enjoying. Being a foreign spy in America is now another path to Hollywood.

PS: I want to clarify that, even if Chapman, et al, got convicted, they may still have a celebrity career.  In fact, as known media personalities and registered foreign agents, they might get more recruiting leads/volunteers from their elevated social status.  So, like the Chinese idiom, this arrest may be the lost horse [apparent mishap] that is a blessing in disguise.  And I added links and labels.