Economy Needs a Defense Stimulus

October 21st, 2009 at 1:31 pm | 8 Comments |

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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.

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8 Comments so far ↓

  • ottovbvs

    …..Speak to secretary Gates who wants to cut spending on this sort of nonsense and spend it on armored vehicles that actually protect our guys who are in action in Afghanistan and Iraq now………and how does spending on speculative systems that are years in the future bolster aggregate demand in the economy now……it’s this sort of nuttiness that is causing the GOP to be dismissed as a party of fruitcakes.

  • Reason60

    The current two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) came abut because of the 9/11 attacks.
    The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by 19 men with…….boxcutters.

    Are we failing in either war due to a lack of weaponry? What sophisticated weaponry do our opponents have? Pretty low tech assault rifles and homemade explosives.

    Why is spending tax money on stuff that no American uses (bombs and surveillance stuff) better than if the government just spent this stuff on, say, rail lines and highways. Stuff that might actually help the economy in some way, not stuff that gets blown up.

    I am not advocating a new stimulus; just that spending on durable goods like infrastructure is much more helpful than pumping money into the economy for nothing that is useful to the consumers.

  • SFTor1

    In one word, no.

    Education initiative, health care, infrastructure, and civilian technologies, yes.

    We will be spending plenty on the military as it is.

  • rbottoms

    Want to do right be the troops, increase their pay, add more bodies, and more force protection. There’s plenty of cash for high tech. Soldiers would benefit more by not being sent overseas to be shot at every 12 months. Putting even more money into the pockets at Raytheon benefits the already fabulously wealthy defense establishment.

    Also, maybe you could encourage some the 20-something conservative pundits to go put on a frakking uniform for a few years like I did instead of sitting on the sidelines cheerleading our wonderful wars.

    I know that the typical GOP concept of helping the war effort is making piles of cash on Wall Street and grinding out conservative screeds against Obama, but you’re mostly just a bunch of REMF’s to the men and women over there in the sand.

  • midcon

    Investment in advanced systems research and development does pay dividends. An example is the critical missions that UAVs are providing. In fact, they are slowly changing the way the Air Force thinks about, trains, and uses pilots. This would not have been possible today had we not invested in the research years about (if memory serves as far back as 20 someodd years ago).

    Having said that —- the highest priority should be given to protecting our forces, especially boots on the ground. We have to send them in harms way. I get that, but there is no reason to send them without the best equipment and systems, such as armor vehicles. And it goes without saying that we should be judicious about why and where we send them.

    I have confidence that Gates and his staff are balancing the needs of our armed forces to meet those objectives – now and in the future.

  • sinz54

    rbottoms: Want to do right be the troops, increase their pay, add more bodies, and more force protection.
    I agree.

    But those “bodies” need to be elite counter-insurgency specialists–the Special Forces of all branches of the service. We need to double the size of the Special Forces. Kerry was right about that.

    An attack on America is more likely to be terrorist than ICBM these days. A suitcase nuke that was just big enough to blow a hole in Boulder Dam would send a torrential flood downstream where 100,000 Americans have built their homes. It would be comparable to the 2005 tsunami in devastation.

  • balconesfault

    A suitcase nuke that was just big enough to blow a hole in Boulder Dam would send a torrential flood downstream where 100,000 Americans have built their homes.

    Been to Boulder Dam lately?

    They’ve been building a massive highway overpass above the gorge just downstream of Boulder Dam, which will allow the diversion of traffic from across the dam, significantly simplifying the job of defending against your doomsday scenario.

    Often infrastructure and planning is a much better long-term strategy than going overseas to blow up stuff.

  • Reason60

    “Also, maybe you could encourage some the 20-something conservative pundits to go put on a frakking uniform for a few years like I did instead of sitting on the sidelines cheerleading our wonderful wars.”

    The mental image of Liz Cheney in cammies digging a foxhole made my morning….