With unemployment nearing 10 percent, Congressional leaders are preparing a second economic stimulus package. Despite its massive $787 billion price tag, Economic Stimulus 1.0 failed miserably; and so the politicians are looking to “do something” to help create jobs for America’s growing mass of unemployed workers.
One reason Economic Stimulus 1.0 failed is because it conspicuously omitted defense spending, and specifically high-tech defense procurement spending. In fact, the Obama administration has enacted some of the most significant weapon systems cuts in more than 30 years.
But as important as the volume of dollars spent is what those dollars are spent on. Not all spending is economically beneficial. History shows that an effective stimulus package must be geared toward a country’s economic strengths and comparative advantages.
World War II and the military rearmament that preceded World War II constituted an effective economic stimulus package because it played to the central strength — private-sector industrial production — of the American economy in the mid-20th Century. Indeed, because of World War II, new and dormant American factories went to work producing iron, steel, vehicles, fabrics, clothes, ships, airplanes, and other crucial supplies for deploying troops.
Today, America and the world enjoy a very different high-tech, information age economy. Military procurement and private-sector defense production have shifted accordingly; and so, too, has the character of war. Conventional set-piece battles, after all, are largely a thing of the past. Conventional warfare has been supplanted by irregular asymmetric warfare in which information, or battlefield intelligence, is the coin of the realm.
Thus, what the military requires today are more and better intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). This to identify, monitor and track a hidden and elusive enemy who fights amid civilians. Too often, however, our troops must suffer the burden of 20th Century weapon systems and vehicles, which were designed for a different era and a different war: the 20th Century Cold War.
“We want the skill to find enemy combatants in the shadows and behind windows, so we can take the first shot and not be forced to rely just on our body armor,” Marine Corps Brigadier General Michael M. Brogan told Defense News. “Anything we can do to get our troops off the road certainly limits the enemies’ opportunity to target us with IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices].”
Because they are militarily crucial, ISR assets account for America’s most important weapons procurement initiatives. These initiatives included the Army’s now defunct Future Combat Systems (FCS) modernization program and related efforts to “network” U.S. ground forces with state-of-the-art communication capabilities.
“Information is power,” explains Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter W. Chiarelli. “We need to make sure we are pushing power down to the lowest levels on the battlefield, where it is most needed.
“It is no longer realistic,” he points out “to assume [that] all or even the majority of game-changing decisions will be made at senior levels of command. To the contrary,” says Chiarelli, “those decisions are more often made by the individual Soldier on the ground. We are committed to the network and to networking every Soldier.”
ISR assets play to the central strength of America’s economy in the 21st Century: our ability to harness computer processing power and other information technologies to create new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals, even individual soldiers. The nexus between the military and high-tech worlds has a long and storied pedigree. The Internet, remember, originated in the early 1960s as ARPANET, courtesy of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
That’s why the average weapon system today — including the 14 systems that composed FCS — is defined more by its lines of code than by its mass of steel. In the information age, information is power — and more than ever, information today can mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.
If America wants to do right by its troops and simultaneously jump-start its weak economy, then this time it needs a stimulus package that seriously finances new 21st Century weapon systems. This might not be politically correct — President Obama and congressional Democrats actually have cut crucial high-tech weapon systems — but it is certainly economically wise.
Unfortunately, the Republicans have proven that they are profoundly unwise, and that they deserve the moniker, “the stupid party.” This because they have failed to seriously champion an economic stimulus package centered around military modernization and defense procurement.
Senator McCain, in fact, has given the Obama administration tremendous political cover to cut defense spending. McCain, moreover, actually led the drive to cancel the Army’s only Top 10 weapon systems program, FCS.
The Obama administration has proven to be disappointing, but no more so perhaps than a McCain administration which, thankfully, was never conceived. The GOP needs new blood — leaders who recognize new 21st Century military and economic realities; and the GOP needs these young upstarts now.