The Bunker: The House Wages War on the Pentagon

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This week in The Bunker: lawmakers pass a defense bill crammed with partisan hand grenades; nearly 40% of the Navy’s attack sub fleet is out of commission; Pentagon bureaucracy swells with yet another new office; and more.


GOP wages cultural warfare on the Pentagon

Long ago on Capitol Hill, they said politics stopped at the water’s edge. They also believed the nation’s defense was critical enough to pass the annual defense authorization bill for the past 62 years in a row. But suddenly, that Pentagon policy bill has become a badminton shuttlecock, bouncing back and forth among domestic political issues. For what it’s worth — and it’s surely worth something — the military House and Senate bottlenecks are both the handiwork of Republicans. Their internecine battles are bloodying both their party and U.S. national security and shred any claims that they support a strong military.

In the House, the 52-member GOP Freedom Caucus pushed through a 2024 bill larded with right-wing IEDs on abortion, diversity, LBGTQ+ issues, and other topics that have little to do with national defense. “A military cannot defend themselves if you train them in woke,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said after the vote. “We don’t want Disneyland to train our military.” The House Armed Services Committee, responsible for drafting the bill, included none of the controversial amendments when it approved its version by a 58-1 vote. McCarthy allowed “extremists to load up this bill with their wish list of extremist agenda items” to get their votes, Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), a military veteran, said after the all-but-straight party-line 219-210 vote (four members of each party switched sides). The Senate is working to pass a more traditional authorization bill. Differences between the two will be hammered out by lawmakers before a compromise becomes law with a presidential signature.

Meanwhile, Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has used his legislative prerogative to halt Pentagon promotions because he doesn’t like the military’s workaround that enables people to get abortions after they lost that right in some states after the Supreme Court decided 13 months ago to scrap Roe v. Wade. Half of the eight members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could soon be holding those top U.S. military jobs in an acting capacity. Tuberville’s brass blockade is “reprehensible, irresponsible and dangerous,” a three-star Army general said.

“Both sides should agree to give the uniformed military noncombatant immunity status in the culture wars,” Peter Feaver, a civil-military relations expert at Duke University, told the Washington Post. “Targeting the uniformed military and undermining public confidence in this key institution crosses the line into a different kind of dysfunction.”

The Bunker recalls dealing with GOP defense heavyweights like Barry Goldwater 40 years ago. The Arizona senator and his colleagues were hardly perfect. But they would hang their heads in shame over a GOP that has morphed into a Grotesquely Obstructionist Party when it comes to national defense. The Defense Department is seriously in need of major reforms. But this is not its fight. The Pentagon cannot win this culture war. It should not be drafted into it.


The Navy’s undersea mess

Turns out the Pentagon is no better at keeping its submarine fleet afloat(PDF), so to speak, than it is at keeping its F-35s flying(PDF). Nearly 40% of the Navy’s 49 attack submarines aren’t ready for war because of bottlenecks at naval shipyards. “The number of [attack subs] either in depot maintenance or idle (i.e., awaiting depot maintenance) has increased from 11 boats (about 21% of the [attack sub] force) in FY2012 to 18 boats (about 37% of the [attack sub] force) in FY2023,” the Congressional Research Service reported July 6(PDF). “The Navy states that industry best practice would call for about 20% of the [attack sub] force to be in depot maintenance (and for none to be idle) at any given moment.”

The Navy’s nuclear-powered attack subs prowl the world’s oceans, keeping a wary eye on possible foes. Outfitted with torpedoes and cruise missiles, they’re smaller, and more numerous, than the “boomer” submarines that carry long-range nuclear-tipped missiles. Their readiness rot is especially striking given the U.S. Navy’s key role in checking China’s ambitions in the western Pacific.

The backlog is due to too few workers and space at the four government-operated naval shipyards. It’s another example of the Pentagon’s tilt toward buying new weapons rather than keeping those it already has primed for action.


Yet another shiny Pentagon office

The Department of Defense has never been agile(PDF), despite decades of declaring it’s getting there. One reason is its constant creation of new offices to do things that its immense institutional infrastructure should have been doing all along. It might help to think of the Pentagon as an 80-year-old battleship, slipping through the seas of national security since 1943. But these new offices accumulate like barnacles on its hull, slowing it down, making it less maneuverable, and more costly.

The latest is the July 11 announcement of the creation of the Pentagon’s Force Development and Emerging Capabilities office. Its mission: “The Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development and Emerging Capabilities helps advance the force development priorities of the Secretary of Defense for implementing the defense strategy, including by devising, facilitating issuance of, and overseeing DoD Component compliance with force planning and programming guidance to balance Joint Force capability, capacity, and readiness for DoD's primary defense missions and emerging security challenges.‎” The Bunker can’t figure out what that means — but is shocked, shocked, that whatever the new office is planning on doing apparently hasn’t been done adequately in the past.

Its creation comes on the heels of new Pentagon outfits set up to deal with insider threats, one to match (Oxymoron Alert!) defense-contractor startups with people with lots of money, a Pentagon IT help desk, another to align command and control systems, and one to investigate UFOs. While some may have narrowly focused merit, their accretion is bureaucratic slag that contributes to a too top-heavy, and too costly, military force that has become more lethargic than lethal. 


Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

OK Boomers

Under current plans, the U.S. will spend $756 billion on its nuclear forces between 2023 and 2032, the Congressional Budget Office reported July 14, 19% more than the $634 billion it estimated for the 2021 to 2030 period.

Thinking the unthinkable

Francis P. Sempa pondered the wisdom of extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Taiwan July 7 in Real Clear Defense.

What did you do in the war, Granddad?

A granddaughter grapples with the legacy of her grandfather, who played a key role in the development of nuclear weapons, The Bitter Southerner reported July 11.

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