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The Bunker: The Military’s Biggest Foes

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This week in The Bunker: the Navy’s resistance to change, lawmakers fostering fissures in the ranks, wish lists are back, & more.

INTER-SERVICE CHIVALRY

Maybe the Navy could learn from the Air Force

Fights among the Pentagon’s military services are legion, and they often lead to inefficiencies and duplication. Many revolve around “roles and missions,” that loaded Pentagon term that is supposed to detail the responsibilities of each service, but often fails. Four air forces, anyone? That’s because roles and missions translate into dollars. Too often—despite claims of “jointness”—it seems the biggest foe facing the Marines is the Army, or the Air Force’s top enemy is the Navy.

But ideas are just as important as money. The Bunker thinks the Pentagon could use less infighting, and more sharing. That notion arose recently when a pair of reports came flying through The Bunker’s transom and landed with two thuds on his desk. (Although, truth be told, such reports are now delivered digitally, and so land with a beep rather than a thud. And they land on his screen, rather than his desk. And who even knows what a transom is, anymore?)

The first, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study(PDF), detailed the Navy’s failure to address the exhaustion of sailors keeping its warships operating safely. “Sailors are not receiving adequate sleep,” said the May 27 report, NAVY READINESS: Additional Efforts Are Needed to Manage Fatigue, Reduce Crewing Shortfalls, and Implement Training. “GAO conducted a survey in 2020 and estimates that 14% of officers received the then-recommended 7 hours or more of sleep a day during their most recent deployment, while 67% received 5 hours or less.”

The Navy engages in a familiar Pentagon pastime—using yardsticks that are rarely 36 inches long—to make it appear that its crew shortages are not as bad as they actually are. In a nutshell, according to the GAO, the Navy doesn’t measure how close it gets to 100% manning of its ships by comparing the number of sailors aboard to what its own studies have shown is required. Instead, it compares the number of sailors aboard to the number of positions it has chosen to pay for. And even with this fuzzy math, the workload is increasing: the gap between the Navy’s requirement and the actual numbers of sailors aboard its ships grew from 8% in 2016 to 15% last year. Aircraft carriers, for example, went to sea with as little as 82% of their required enlisted crew, a 565-sailor shortfall, between 2017 and 2020. No wonder overworked and ill-trained crews were blamed for a pair of 2017 ship collisions that killed 17 sailors.

How the Navy can reduce this problem surfaced June 1, in a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study(PDF), into the Air Force’s increasing use of pilotless drones for spying and surveillance. “Annually, Unmanned Aerial Systems have flown about twice as many flying hours as manned Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance aircraft because they have flown longer sorties,” the CBO reported in Usage Patterns and Costs of Unmanned Aerial Systems. They have flown those longer flights because they are not constrained by the need for sleep and other demands required by human pilots.

The Navy’s falling short here, too. “Navy leaders insist they are fully committed to bringing the Navy into a future that incorporates unmanned ships, but sources both inside and outside the service, as well as analysts who spoke on the record, agreed the Navy has not come up with a convincing concept of operations for the ship,” Defense Newsreported in January. As a result, Congress slashed the Navy’s 2021 request for research and development on crewless ships by 80%, from $464 million to $94 million. The Navy fought replacing sails with steam engines. Now it appears to be fumbling the push to replace sailors, as well.

FOSTERING FISSURES IN THE RANKS

Lawmakers seek evidence of “woke ideology”

“Unity of command” is a sacrosanct tenet in the U.S. military. It means(PDF) that there’s “one responsible commander for every objective.” But lawmakers upset with the Pentagon’s push to diversify, and acknowledge racism, sexism, and extremism in the ranks are busy sowing disunity in the ranks.

“Enough is enough,” Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) tweeted June 2. “We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology.” Crenshaw, joined by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) are a pair of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans who disagree with the Pentagon’s efforts to remove vestiges of its white male privilege from the military. Crenshaw has posted a “Whistleblower Form” on his congressional website where troops can complain, anonymously if they prefer, about diversity efforts they think have gone too far. The lawmakers were roundly roasted for their efforts.

Peter Lucier, a Marine vet who served in Afghanistan and writes about civil-military relations, told the Washington Post that Crenshaw and Cotton have found a new way to refight old battles. “Anger over policies such as women in combat roles and gay and transgender people serving openly had typically been reserved for lawmakers and presidential administrations, he said,” reporter Alex Horton wrote. “Now Crenshaw and others, in a Trump-like populist move, have targeted commanders and defense officials, he said, dividing the military along partisan lines.”And that’s the real danger. If lawmakers don’t like what the Pentagon’s doing, they should order the brass to Capitol Hill to explain the effort, not seed the ranks with rancor.

On June 2, Cotton wrote a letter to the president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s biggest contractor, “demanding information regarding a three-day diversity training reportedly held for white male executives in June 2020.” (The Bunkertook note of the training last week). “Facilitators allegedly encouraged Lockheed executives to ‘free associate’ stereotypes about various groups. The stereotypes allegedly generated by your executives include that white men are ‘racist,’ ‘privileged,’ ‘set in their ways,’ and ‘KKK,’” Cotton said in his letter. “This training, if it occurred, appears to violate the principle of equal treatment that is the bedrock of American law, including civil-rights law.”

There’s something strange going on when the company responsible for the F-35 fighter gets in trouble over this.

WISH LISTING ALIVE AND WELL

Like a Lieutenant Lazarus, they’re back from the dead

Like water in your basement, the U.S. military service’s unfunded priorities lists—“wish lists” to mere taxpayers—are back. Those are the rosters of goodies each service tells Congress they really, really, really need after those meanies running the Pentagon and White House have capped their desires in the Pentagon’s official budget submission. Congress doesn’t give the services all they’re seeking, but they get billions beyond what their bosses thought was needed to defend the country, every year.

It’s a lousy way to fund a military. Defense Secretary Bob Gates pretty much killed the practice a decade ago, whittling it down from $31 billion to $3.5 billion, nearly 90%, in a single year. “Not only did such haphazard add-ons represent tens of billions in needless spending, but funding such weapons outside normal channels was leading to an unbalanced military force, jeopardizing the never-ending quest for the military services to fight wars jointly instead of engaging in internal budgetary guerrilla warfare with one another,” The Bunkerreported four years ago. Gates’ success in turning off the congressional spigot, even temporarily, “highlighted a couple of rarely-acknowledged truths: just how malleable gold-braided generals and admirals are to strong civilian control, and just how flimsy supposed ironclad national-security requirements actually are.” But in recent years—aided by a 2017 order from Congress—they’re back.

In April, 16 organizations, including The Bunker’s own Project On Government Oversight, wrote(PDF) Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urging him to “significantly” cut this year’s wish lists. Last year’s wish lists totaled $18 billion. On June 1, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines dispatched Unfunded Priorities Lists seeking more than $17 billion for more F-15 and F-35 fighters, CH-47 helicopters, and an additional guided-missile destroyer. So much for significant cuts.

In contrast, Gates’ effort to drive the wish lists to extinction showed “real leadership” and was "hugely important" to restoring integrity to rational defense spending, John Hamre, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian during the Clinton administration, said at the time. The lists let the services “beg Congress” for weapons the Pentagon's civilian leaders wouldn't buy. “This broadly corrosive climate of indiscipline was created inside the department, enabled, and in many instances encouraged, by the Congress,” Hamre added.

Funny how indiscipline pops up. In the right-hand, left-hand, department, the Army is cutting some programs in its official budget request for which it also is seeking additional funding in its wish list. “When asked why Army officials are cutting funds from these programs in the 2022 budget while also asking Congress to provide additional money, a spokesman said they are not currently commenting on ‘the leaked documents’—i.e., the unfunded priorities list,” Defense One’s Caitlin M. Kenney reported.

In other words, shut up and keep paying.

WHAT WE'RE READING

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

Afghanistan agonistes

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, following the longest war in American history, is more than half done, the Associated Press reported June 8. Meanwhile, the Long War Journal reported two days earlier that the Taliban had seized eight more districts in the country the prior week. They appear to be growing ever closer to the Afghan capital of Kabul. Fingers crossed that they don’t take over completely before the U.S. withdraws completely.

No surprise here…

Pentagon contractors have quietly resumed making financial contributions to political campaigns following a halt after the January 6 assault on the Capitol, Defense News reported June 5. “If you’re Lockheed Martin and 94% of your revenue comes from the federal government, you don’t have a choice,” one lobbyist said. “You’re actually not serving your shareholders well if you stop making political contributions.”

MIC Check

An American Legion post in Ohio on May 31 muted the microphone of a 77-year-old white retired Army officer during a Memorial Day commemoration. He had been lauding the role that formerly-enslaved Blacks played in a South Carolina ceremony honoring Civil War veterans, a month after that war, when his microphone went silent for about two minutes in the middle of his 11-minute speech. Once he finished that portion, the mic was turned back up. The Ohio American Legion suspended the post.

The pits…

The Bunker recently recalled when a U.S. B-2 bomber mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, thinking it was a Serbian weapons site. The painful memory was triggered by a June 1 Army Times story on how the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade “seized and secured a working olive oil factory in Bulgaria as part of a large-scale NATO exercise aimed at deterring Russian military aggression in eastern Europe.” Predictably, the olive-oil oligarch has filed suit, and, just as predictably, the Army has pledged to “implement rigorous procedures to clearly define our training areas and prevent this type of incident in the future.”

Drafty

A young female Navy officer writes in the latest Proceedings, the Navy’s independent professional journal, that the U.S. should make young women like her register for the draft. “For both the foundations and protection of our democracy, it is past time women are included in the Selective Service,” Lieutenant (j.g.) Sydney Frankenberg (and apparent civilian Hallie Lucas) wrote. “Draft us too, America.” But on June 7, the Supreme Court declined to review a lawsuit challenging the male-only draft registration as unconstitutional. It’s up to Congress now.

Marine Cobras (and we’re not talking choppers)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wants Marines to stop biting off the heads of cobra snakes and slurping their blood. The gustatory survival training is something Marines routinely do when they train with the Thai military. In Thailand, of course. “In PETA’s view, it’s absolutely heinous that U.S. Marines have been photographed in recent years during a military exercise in Thailand drinking the blood of snakes, eating geckos, and chowing down on scorpions in the name of survival training,” Paul Szoldra reported June 7 at Task & Purpose. “Marines, however, will tell you it’s great training. Though PETA often points out that jungle survival can be learned in different ways, the practice of drinking Cobra blood taught by Thai special forces can actually keep Marines alive in a place where it’s possible to wind up dead from dehydration within days.” Seven PETA people protested the training outside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s $2.6 million abode in Washington’s wealthiest suburb.

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