How Bells, Whistles & Greed Blew Up the Imperial War Budget

When you go into combat you want to do it with a complex, unproven, hi-maintenance technology demonstrator

Even as the movement to think critically about cutting the Pentagon’s budget slowly gains ground, wrong-headed arguments in favor of boosting military spending without question still prevail.

Just take a recent column in Defense One from Dakota Wood of the Heritage Foundation, who attempted to make the case that the character of the modern military operations justify $740 billion Pentagon budgets. In it, he claims that cost reductions just aren’t possible since arms and personnel costs have exploded faster than inflation since World War II.

Yet, he failed in most cases to address why military costs have grown so much and how increased budgets exacerbate problematic weapons programs.

By simply shoveling money at the Pentagon, Congress actually hinders good military thinking. Free-flowing money provides service leaders license to pursue excessively complex weapons programs with the mistaken belief that wars can be won simply by having more technology than our adversaries.

The reality is, according to John Boyd, the legendary military thinker and central figure of the Reagan-era military reform movement, wars are won by good people using innovative ideas. The weapons they use are mere tools. As anyone who has tinkered around their garage knows, the best tools are the simple, reliable ones specifically engineered for the task at hand.

Sadly, the members of the military-industrial-congressional complex do not seem to understand this. They bought an aircraft carrier so loaded up with unproven technology that it is already five years behind schedule and still has at least three years of work to go before it can set sail. They will spend more than $400 billion to buy a fighter plane that can’t shoot straight.

The weapons the Pentagon buys are too often needlessly complex and thus unnecessarily expensive. While they are sold as vast improvements over earlier weapons, the new versions often provide only marginally improved capabilities in the best cases, but are way more expensive than their predecessors. Just as often, in the pursuit of new capabilities, the excessively complex weapons are actually less effective than what came before them.

And the increased logistics and maintenance burdens make the systems even more expensive while reducing the overall combat effectiveness.

These overly complex weapons often serve as a distraction on the battlefield because they force the troops to spend far too much time focused internally on what’s necessary to get the finicky contraptions to work. This distracts them from where their focus should be: on how to fight the enemy. Training becomes an issue as well because it takes far longer to teach someone how to use the new systems. For a force that is already burdened with more required training events than it has time to execute properly, the Pentagon should not further encumber troops with training on overly complicated weapons systems.

Defense contractors intentionally load up their products with as many gadgets as possible because by doing so they make more money. They receive money on the front end during the development process, and then make more money on the back end through lucrative long-term sustainment contracts.

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