June 1, 2000

Comment: #361

[1] Elaine M. Grossman, “DOD Civilians Crafting Force Options As Military Efforts Are Slowed,” Inside The Pentagon, June 1, 2000. Pg. 1

[2] Franklin C. Spinney, “Quadrenniel Defense Review: What Went Wrong? – How to Fix It? September 1997.

In Reference 1, Elaine Grossman describes how the courtiers of the competing factions in Versailles are feverishly preparing for the arrival of a new imperial court and why, if this behavior is allowed to continue, it will not matter whether King George or Prince Albert ascends throne of the world’s only indispensable power. If all goes well, the courtiers plan for the incoming emperor to have only one set of defense clothes, all neatly laid out for him on a beautiful PowerPoint festooned bed. When he puts them on, however, he will learn to envy the emperor who had no clothes, because he will find he has donned a straightjacket, which is, after all, the appropriate uniform for an asylum.

The changes implicit in the upcoming presidential election, the requirement to produce the second Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR II) by September 31, 2001, and the tightening noose of the Defense Death Spiral are the proximate causes of the current madness in Versailles.
As readers of this list know, the military is in a Death Spiral [New readers can download the Death Spiral analysis here.

The Death Spiral is powered by the mutually reinforcing effects of three problems: (1) a modernization plan that can not modernize the force, even if it is executed perfectly, because the rapidly rising cost of new weapons makes it impossible to replace existing weapons on a timely basis, even if future budgets increase rapidly. Consequently forces will get older and smaller over time. (2) A rapidly deteriorating readiness posture driven by the rising cost of low readiness, which is in part a consequence of the aging inventories and in part a consequence of the higher costs of operating increasingly complex weapons – both of which are the end product of the high cost modernization program. (3) A corrupt accounting system that renders it impossible to assemble the detailed information needed to understand and fix the first two problems and makes a mockery of the principle of accountability and, by extension, the checks and balances of the Constitution, which every member of the Pentagon has sworn to uphold. See Attachment 2, Comment #169]

The first Quadrennial Defense Review, published in the Spring of 1997, did nothing to fix these problems, and in fact, actually made some of them worse. [see Attachment 2 to this message, my report on QDR ]

Now, after doing nothing to correct matters since QDR I, the looming Presidential transition and the upcoming QDR II have induced the courtiers to move into action.

First, Ms. Grossman reports that my own organization in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) is secretly preparing different sets of defense options (i.e., significant changes to the force structures and modernization plans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps) so that they can prove their usefulness by dialing up the budget or dialing down the budget depending on who takes office. But this opportunism will have no credibility, because no one can be confident about the budget numbers, and the increases and decreases represent childish salami slicing rather than nuance thinking about real problems or strategic thinking.

Second, Grossman reports that the Joint Staff is trying to build a QDR steamroller to lock in decisions with another series resource-free “dynamic commitment” wargames – like the OSD effort, a data free analysis. She says these games are being slowed down by the civilians in OSD, who are afraid of being dominated by the Joint Staff (who resents being cut out of the OSD salami slicing exercise).

Third, she reports that the Summer program review is being delayed by OSD, because the military services, particularly the Navy, can not stuff their programmatic wish list into their budget guidance and thus can not produce the first draft of the new Future Years Defense Plan (aka the Program Objective Memorandum or POM), which is the subject of the review. As a practical matter, the fact that we have not even begun to seriously prepare for the summer review makes it virtually certain that there will be little or no debate over how to solve the three problems underpinning the Death Spiral before the next election.

The bottom line implied by Ms. Grossman’s report, which I urge you to read carefully, is that the courtiers are fiddling while Rome burns. This does not have to be the case. The Pentagon has 16 months to prepare a serious Quadrennial Defense Review, one that would put our military on a glide path to better health in the real world. That gives us enough time to do it right.

Moreover, as a practical matter, the political pressures of this election year have made it impossible for anyone to make serious policy changes before a new President is elected, assuming one were able to assemble the information needed to make rational decisions.

But the harsh fact is that the broken accounting system renders the assembly of this information impossible in the short term. On the other hand, the interregnum provides a window of opportunity to begin to assemble a foundation of reliable information, which is a necessary pre-condition to any serious QDR by any administration.

RECOMMENDATION: Rather than waste more time in the kind of decadent maneuvering described by Ms. Grossman, why not use the window of opportunity to begin cleaning up the accounting system, so that when we are in a position to make real decisions, we will have the information needed to put the military, not to mention the accountability clause of the Constitution, on a glide path to better health. 
A general scheme for doing a QDR right is contained in the last section of my September 1967 report [Reference 2, beginning on page 12].
Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]