The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.
This week in The Bunker: Grim Fairy Tales all around as weapons costs rise and delays persist; U.S. military service is the most common trait among mass terror attack planners; China moves next door; and more.
THE PENTAGON’S LATEST REPORT CARD
Student plainly needs extra help
The Bunker just might as well hang up his helmet and call it a day. The Government Accountability Office’s 21st annual report (PDF) on Pentagon procurement reads like The Bunker’s Greatest Hits, echoing the lethargic inagility and bad decisions that have plagued U.S. defense procurement for decades. Sure, the GAO isn’t always right. But The Bunker relied on the General Accounting Office’s work for decades before it renamed itself in 2004 due to its expanding mission. “Moving beyond financial audits, GAO began conducting performance audits — examining how government programs were performing and whether they were meeting their objectives,” the agency says.
You can bet your bottom taxpayer dollar that the Defense Department wishes the GAO had stuck to its historical bean-counting, and didn’t worry its little green-eyeshaded head about what those beans were buying. Bottom line: Its often dire Generally Accurate Observations are routinely better than the Pentagon’s.
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The GAO’s latest 259-page opus says that between 2020 and 2022, the number of major weapons the Pentagon was buying dropped from 84 to 75, an 11% reduction. Nonetheless, that smaller number of programs’ total cost ticked up by 1%, and took 7% longer to deliver. Such numbers, compounded annually, mean the Pentagon is spending more to get less, later.
The study, issued June 8, says the costs of 35 major weapons programs surged by $37 billion (4%) (PDF) over the past year, after adjusting for inflation. “Rising modernization costs, production inefficiencies, and supply chain challenges drove the majority of costs,” the report said.
“Over half of the 26 major defense acquisition programs GAO assessed that had yet to deliver operational capability reported new delays,” it added. “Driving factors included supplier disruptions, software development delays, and quality control deficiencies.”
It’s worth pointing out that neither China nor Russia has its own GAO that regularly publicly publishes such warts-and-all reports on their military efforts. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Louis Brandeis wrote in 1913, three years before joining the Supreme Court. He was speaking of the power of disclosure “in the struggle against the Money Trust,” but such klieg lights are just as critical when it comes to U.S. national security.
The Bunker has never been able to understand the national security state’s fevered belief that weapons designed without such public and independent scrutiny are going to take the U.S. military to the cleaners. For you kiddos, the dictionary definition of being “taken to the cleaners” means “to deprive (someone) of a large amount of money.” Plainly the U.S. has the world’s cleanest taxpayers.
Military service common among those plotting mass attacks
Service in the U.S. military is the most common characteristic among Americans who tried or carried out mass violence over the last 32 years, a study published June 8 (PDF) concluded.
“A record of military service is more reliable for classifying mass casualty offenders … than factors that are more commonly discussed in the literature on mass casualty crimes, such as mental health concerns, offending alone or in a small group, and having a pre-radicalization criminal history,” said the report by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. “The rate of military service in the mass casualty offender population is more than three times that of military service in the general adult population.” The report examined more than 3,000 extremists who plotted to commit, or committed, attacks aimed at killing or wounding at least four people in the U.S. Police thwarted more than 70% of such plots over three decades.
“From 1990-2022, 170 individuals with United States military backgrounds plotted 144 unique mass casualty terrorist attacks in the United States,” the study said. “These subjects represent approximately 25% of all individuals who plotted mass casualty extremist crimes during this period” — more than three times the 8% share of military members and veterans in the U.S. adult population.
This is depressing news, but shouldn’t come as a surprise. Military service attracts, among others, those who like to fight, licitly or otherwise. That no doubt explains why plotters with military backgrounds succeeded in their attacks 55% more often than their civilian scum counterparts. The Army and Marines accounted for nearly 70% of plotters with military backgrounds; 22% were in the service when they were caught. Anti-government and white supremacist or nativist views were the most common motives for those plotters with military backgrounds.
There was one telling footnote: “Given the variation in the extent of the offenders’ premeditation and their criminal behaviors, the statistics provided in this brief do not include individuals charged in relation to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.”
THE FOG OF PRE-WAR WITH CHINA
First the balloon, now the base
China has been operating an eavesdropping station on Cuba, 90 miles off the U.S. coast, since 2019. Not so different from what the U.S. has been doing on Taiwan, 81 miles from China, pretty much since it broke away from the mainland in 1949. The acknowledgment follows February’s hysteria over a Chinese spy balloon drifting over the U.S. before an F-22 fighter shot it down.
Tensions between the world’s two biggest economies — and most powerful militaries — are on the rise. War is likely, the pessimists maintain, unless the U.S. spends untold billions more to deter China from invading Taiwan. Of course, any such war would cripple the world’s economy and could kill millions. Neither side would win.
That’s why Bunker colleague Dan Grazier’s realpolitik look at the issue is so refreshing. “If a direct military confrontation breaks out between China and the West, it is difficult to imagine how such a conflict would not cross the nuclear threshold,” he argued June 8, as he spelled out why such a war is in neither side’s interest. “Now more than ever, we need cooler heads to prevail.”
The U.S. national security establishment may call Grazier’s closely-reasoned argument wishful thinking. Rational security thinkers call it common sense.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently
There are at least $278 billion worth of nuclear weapons contracts around the world, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons reported in its latest annual report June 12. Of the $82.9 billion spent on nukes in 2022, the U.S. accounted for $43.7 billion, or 53%.
Top Pentagon officials are warning that anti-LGBTQ+ state laws are hurting the U.S. military, Lara Seligman reported June 7 in Politico.
Fighting a pilot shortage, the Air Force is offering $50,000 annual bonuses to aviators to keep them in Air Force cockpits, Chris Gordon reported June 5 in Air & Space Forces Magazine.
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