Monday Military Musings

The USS Gerald R. Ford: Giving new meaning to “teething pains”

W.J. Astore

Three news items caught my eye, courtesy of FP: Foreign Policy.  The first involves the U.S. Navy, which has “inked a $14.9 billion contract for two Ford-class aircraft carriers, according to Defense News. The service claims the purchase of two carriers at once will save $4 billion.”

All credit to the Navy: As the Trump administration throws money at the Pentagon, to the tune of $750 billion next year, the Navy is moving at flank speed to order two new aircraft carriers of the Ford class.  The problem is that first Ford-class carrier, which has been a $13 billion disaster: three years behind schedule, billions over budget, with catapults that don’t work, among other serious problems.  But no matter.  Let’s build another two of these mammoth ships while “saving” $4 billion in the process.

Three Ford-class carriers will cost at least $43 billion (despite the $4 billion “savings”), but you hear few dissenting voices in Congress.  Anchors Aweigh, my boys!

The Navy says it needs at least twelve large carriers to perform its mission, but no rival navy has more than one.  Carriers are all about imperial power projection across the globe; does the USA really need more of this for national “defense”?

The second news item comes from America’s endless Afghan war, in which the USA continues to throw billions of dollars at Afghan government security forces despite the always-disappointing results, as documented by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR):

“The size of Afghanistan’s armed forces is shrinking even as its military faces a sustained challenge from Taliban insurgents. The [SIGAR] report finds that ‘the [Afghan] army and police are at a combined total of just over 308,000, down from 312,000 a year earlier and nearly 316,000 in 2016,’ the AP reports. ‘The cost of arming, training, paying and sustaining those forces falls largely to the U.S. government at more than $4 billion a year.’”

To compensate for the poor performance of Afghan government security forces, the U.S. “has stepped up airstrikes and special operations raids in the country to the highest levels since 2014 in what Defense Department officials described as a coordinated series of attacks on Taliban leaders and fighters.  The surge, which began during the fall, is intended to give American negotiators leverage in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban, The New York Times reports.”

Just what we need: another American “surge” in Afghanistan.  This time, it’s not to win the war; it’s all about gaining “leverage” in ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.  This calls to mind all the bombing the Nixon administration did during its peace talks with North Vietnam in the early 1970s, also in the name of “leverage.”  Look at how well that worked out.

Finally, the third item mentions America’s ongoing and undeclared drone war in Somalia.  Citing a Nation report, FP: Foreign Policy notes that

Since Donald Trump took office, the U.S. military has approximately tripled the number of strikes that it conducts each year in Somalia, according to figures confirmed by the Pentagon, while such actions—and the reasons behind them—have become increasingly opaque.”

“An investigation by the magazine ‘identified strikes that went unreported until they were raised with AFRICOM, but also others that AFRICOM could not confirm—which suggests that another US agency may also be launching air attacks in the region. The investigation also tracked down evidence that AFRICOM’s claim of zero civilian casualties is almost certainly incorrect. And it found that the United States lacks a clear definition of terrorist, with neither AFRICOM, the Pentagon, nor the National Security Council willing to clarify the policies that underpin these strikes.’”

In other words, a war is being waged with no accountability to the American people.  One has to admire the chutzpah of the Pentagon, however, in declaring these drone attacks have only killed “terrorists,” even if that term hasn’t even been defined clearly.

Well, there you have it: Overpriced ships that enable imperialism, overpriced foreign militaries that require more U.S. bombing and special ops raids as a prop “for peace,” and finally a wider, undeclared, war in Africa.  Just another manic Monday in Empire America.

13 thoughts on “Monday Military Musings

  1. I didn’t know of the Ford-class* supercarrier’s issues until now, but this doesn’t surprise me. Another program that should be cancelled – you only need these things if you want to park off someone’s coast (who lacks modern anti-ship defenses) and bomb them for six months straight. In a real war with a peer-opponent, their size and power would make them ridiculously vulnerable.

    Be better off partnering up with the UK, taking their most recent carrier design and tweaking it to handle full-deck air operations (dump the F35, of course). If I’m estimating the conversions from Pounds to Dollars correctly, the Brits are paying half as much per-carrier, while getting probably 70%-80% of the capabilities. You want a dozen carriers, downsize to a more affordable design.

    I suspect this story plays out across the entire Pentagon. Everything costs 2x what it does to other countries. Which is what you’d expect when you give huge companies effective monopolies with no oversight.

    The other night, my spouse and I (quite center-left in US terms) were having dinner with conservative Christian friends. It being tax-time in the Empire (need to get filing before the government shuts down again) I couldn’t help but point out my favorite figure, that half of every dollar paid to the Feds in income taxes goes to the Pentagon.

    Funny how quickly that brought out their own skepticism of America’s endless wars abroad – if any of the leading Dems had any damned sense, they would embrace rural reinvestment, commit to allowing conservative-majority areas more autonomy, and commit to ending the wars abroad. Conservatives in this country may publicly support the military, but they aren’t fools. They differentiate between the self-serving brass at the Pentagon and personnel.

    There is a tremendous opportunity for someone to break off a big chunk of Trump’s base, if they could figure out how to communicate with the right groups in the right way.

    *seriously USA, stop naming warships after mediocre politicians. You go from USS George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt to USS Gerald Ford, and people laugh. Stick with the classics – Enterprise, Hornet, Yorktown, Lexington, Essex, Midway…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I love those cost-plus contracts, AT, giving defense contractors a financial incentive to be over budget. Apparently, the elevators/catapults on the Ford still don’t work, and the arresting system is also flawed, meaning you can’t fly jets off it. Well, if we just throw more money at them, eventually these systems will work — I guess. Either that or it’s a very expensive way to disarm.


      1. That… might be a brilliant humorous novel. Aliens take over by making humanity spend all its resources on weapons systems that will never work. The twist is, it’s all a trick. Aliens don’t want anything from this backwater rock, but messing with the locals – pure entertainment!

        How can you screw up an arrestor system, I wonder? I though that tech has been solid since, oh, 1942.

        But then again, a few years ago it was revealed that a bunch of new, half billion dollar Navy ships were delivered with, well, kind of a serious flaw:

        I guess the defense industry has figured out what software companies like Microsoft learned in the early days of tech and Google/Apple happily embrace now. You can make a lot of $ with a never-ending development cycle and a captive market. Once people have bought in with that first penny, they tend to stay in for the rest of the pound – even if the end result is disappointing.

        But hey, failed expectations from round 1 makes for an obvious market in round 2! The F-35 replacement contract with Lockheed is probably already under negotiation.


  2. As for gaining leverage: in the closing weeks of the Korean War, we did it much cheaper. With a company or so of infantry. It was cheap, but not for the infantry. The Battle of Pork Chop Hill was a good example. Sorry to hear about the carrier problems. I’ve been paying too much attention to the Zumwalt class destroyers, which might capsize in choppy seas, and the F-35, which couldn’t take part in a London Air Show because nobody was sure it could make it across the Atlantic.


    1. With carriers that can’t launch planes, destroyers that can’t navigate rough seas, and jets that are less than reliable, maybe we are disarming ourselves!


      1. I’ve read books claiming that the US out-spent the Soviets (in fact, I think you loaned me one of them), and the Star Wars programme was a significant contributor to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Perhaps the same will happen to the US in return, since the Pentagon keeps spending more and more to build a bigger and bigger military to fight enemies that don’t exist. Bigger and better weapons, even if they DID work, are not going to fix the world’s problems. Oh, the delicious irony.


        1. I’ve run across enough good analysis over the past few years to be convinced that the USSR’s fundamental flaw was over-spending on its military. The Second World War forced the communist party to work with industry to produce equipment, and so the industry gained influence over the party.

          The Soviet Union never ramped down military production, and in fact made the entire economy dependent on it, with consumer goods coming a distant second in production priority. It also relied on oil exports to fuel its economy. When the oil price crash hit in the ’80s, matters had gone so far that there was little Gorbachev could do to hold the USSR together.

          It wasn’t Reagan and US spending that did the Soviets in, it was their own inability to gear down after the Second World War because of the power the Soviet military-industrial complex gained as a result of the war. The United States has done exactly the same thing – the USSR’s political economy was just more vulnerable to the shocks of the ’80s. In the 2020s, the USA will likely hit the same kind of wall.

          Organisms that cannot adapt to the resource constraints of their environment, die. Empires suck at adapting. So they fall.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. AT: Kaja has attempted to reply to your comment, but there’s a glitch in the matrix. So here is his reply, which he put on his blog:

            The following two paragraphs are meant to be a response to Andrew Tanner’s reply to my comment on Monday Military Musings, but it won’t show up. I tried posting it four times, twice as a response to him, once as a response to myself, and once as a new comment, but it never showed up. This seems to happen a lot when I try to leave comments on other people’s blogs, and I doubt it has anything to do with their settings.

            “I was joking, as I do almost every time I give my two units of currency on the subject of cartoonish military spending. I’m well aware that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a slow process. However, that reminds me of yet another book: The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, by Sir John Glubb. There’s a link to a .pdf of the book buried in the comments of this review video. It’s not available anywhere else, as far as I know.

            This reminds me of the “battleship vs. speed-boat” mentality that I learned about in one of my business classes. Basically, the speed-boat can change course easily, but the battleship must blow up whatever is in its way. If you can’t blow up the iceberg, tuck your head between your knees and kiss your arse goodbye.”

            Well, since I have to post this as an article, I have an opportunity to elaborate. Battleships are both symbols of and analogues for empires, both political and corporate. They are large and powerful, but slow and un-manoeuvrable. Obstacles to them must be either run over or blown up. Most obstacles will suffer this fate, but nothing is too big to fail. Eventually, the battleship will encounter an iceberg that is too large to avoid or destroy. What then?

            The analogy that my professor told the class about was purely to do with business, not history or politics. Speed-boats are analogues for small companies that have flexible business plans, and can change rapidly with the market. Icebergs are not a problem for speed-boats. Large corporations, mired in bureaucracy, cannot change course easily, and the larger they are, the worse it is. However, they have the power (or so they think) to force the market to change according to their pre-determined course. This, by the way, is the key difference between capitalism and corporatism. When capitalism goes too far, and the corporations are in control of the market, rather than the other way round, then it isn’t capitalism anymore. These days, speed-boats need to be fast enough to not only avoid the icebergs, but also the harpoons that battleships use to drag them in, especially when already sinking. It seems that when battleships go down, everything in their vicinity gets sucked into the vortex that is generated. Perhaps someone with a background in psychology can answer the following query: are empires malignant narcissists (“why should the world exist without me”)?

            While the world is probably going to see many more empires rise and fall even after the American Empire is long gone, I suspect that most will not live up to the 250-year average that Glubb mentioned. I’ve already seen it with the rise and fall of tech empires such as Fakebook and Twiddle. This is why I avoid large companies like the plague. Once upon a time, things moved slowly enough that empires provided a sense of security to their subjects, but no longer. There is a wall of ice on the horizon, and all the battleships are headed straight for it. I will not find myself aboard one when that collision happens. This is why I am trying to build my own business online. I’ll keep it small, so that I can keep adapting to new demands, just as I have done thus far on Shapeways. The only opportunities working for others that interest me are start-up companies.

            And now for something completely different. For those of you reading this who don’t already know, I’ve said my piece about aircraft carriers, so I will end with what I can tell you about the fall of the Soviet Union, and maybe that will give you some more insight into where I am coming from. This is adapted from a conversation that I had on BitChute with a Lithuanian communist, which you can view here. If you choose to read it, you should know that The Elder Millennial is also Russian.

            Marxism/Leninism is not sustainable, hence the need for a police state in order to maintain it. This is how Stalinism came to be. Then along came Trofim Lysenko, who tried bringing the joys of socialism to plants – which didn’t work. I’ve mentioned in the past (though I can’t remember where) that science is the enemy of all ideology. Politicians will occasionally use science to prop up their agenda, but more frequently will silence it. Charles Darwin’s books were banned in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for this reason.

            As if the widespread famines that resulted from Lysenko’s idiocy weren’t bad enough, during the Great Patriotic War, Stalin had to face the reality that merit was more important that holding to Marxist ideals. Model party members and close personal friends, such as Kliment Voroshilov, ended up getting shoved aside in favour of more capable (but less politically interested) military leaders. Lysenko himself got shut into a proverbial broom closet for most of the war, but he was let out and didn’t get the sack until after Stalin’s death. His brand of Lamarckism was finally disposed of in the 1960s, and Darwin’s books were un-banned shortly thereafter. Then there was the decentralisation of the economy in 1965, known as the Kosygin Reform, re-introducing the idea of profitability. The final nail in the coffin was Perestroika, the restructuring of the economy in order to make socialism work better for the Soviet citizens. The ownership of private business was even made legal in 1988. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union also gave up its monopoly on political power, only to lose the next election. You know the rest, the USSR and CPSU were both dissolved in 1991, and socialism/communism remains almost universally unpopular in Russia to this day. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of Russians who can’t function without the nanny state – in fact, I know one personally.

            So there you have it, the long process of chipping away at Marxist ideology until there was nothing left. I still like to joke about single events toppling the Soviet Union, of course. Much like everything else in this farce that we call politics, I can’t help but make fun of it.


  3. Why is it wrong to conclude that this supposed incompetence is simply just another a good way to make extra money. A lovely legal scam called “cost plus” made extra millions. Is this Ford scam any different than the F-35 scam that has been going on since its inception? It still doesn’t work “yet” either, and the money keeps rolling in. Lesson learned? Let’s make some more aircraft carriers. It’s working with the Ford, let’s make more on this proven system.

    All set up and approved by the biggest scam of all…national security. Create a spurious need, spawning a lot of weapons making corporations who manufacture needless weapons which can only be used up in war.

    (“Hey look! we are overstocked! We need a war to reduce our inventory!…That makes good “business sense” doesn’t it? I mean, how else can we use up our bombs and bullets?… What? You don’t like that?? Hey, man! Stop being so cynical! Look at all the jobs we’re creating, and we have thoughtfully created them all over the country, not in just one location. Hundreds of legislators…er companies and their workers are benefitting every day from our benevolence. And you think this is about corporate security and making money? This is all about protecting us from invasion! This is “national security!”)

    Paul 🙂


  4. I think the lack of a concise definition for “terrorist” and “zero civilian casualties” may go hand in hand. In “A Rumor of War,” Philip Caputo describes the process used to determine whether someone is a member of the Viet Cong. He was told, “If they’re running, they’re VC. If they’re dead and Vietnamese, they’re VC.”
    Swap out “Vietnamese” and “VC” with the appropriate nationality and organization et voila! Zero civilian casualties because they are all terrorists. What other reason could they possibly have for having been in the target area?


    1. In the first few weeks of Army basic training when the occupation of Iraq was in full swing, the drill instructors at the live-fire range pulled out a stack of cardboard cutouts of generic Muslims. We then went through the exercise of, as a company, calling out which was a legit target, and which wasn’t.

      Yeah, about that. We were encouraged to see every woman and child as a *potential* threat – and potential threats were legitimate targets.

      We were also quietly told, whenever anyone asked the question “what if we get it wrong?” That everyone carried a couple AKs in the back of the truck (Humvee) to leave next to a body. No one wanted to go jail, or cause a scandal, so that was the best possible solution from the soldier’s perspective.

      Cut to every Pentagon briefing ever where they list off the number of “combatant” casualties stemming from a given operation. American policy with regard to civilians has been the same since Dresden: If they get caught under the bomb-shower, it was their fault.


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