Politicians might love the military (or at least say they do) but they certainly don’t like paying for it. Since the Berlin Wall came down, any period of relative peace has been marked by constant defense cuts, and even high-tempo operations just pause the decline for a while; they never reverse it. The official version is that shrinking numbers of troops, ships, planes and combat systems don’t matter, of course. We don’t need as many platforms because the ones we have are more deadly/more connected/bigger/shinier than the old ones, so we can do more with less.
Personally I think that’s dangerous nonsense.
There’s no doubt that modern weapons and platforms are far more capable than the older ones they replace. New artillery pieces like the British AS90 and German PzH2000, or the US Army’s updated M109A6, can fire so fast and accurately that each one can do as much damage as a dozen 1945 howitzers. A single Arleigh Burke-class destroyer can protect an entire fleet from air or even missile attacks. The destruction of a rail junction or factory, which needed hundreds of bombers in World War II, can now be achieved by a single F15E loaded with precision-guided weapons. The equipment an advanced nation can bring to bear is awesomely powerful. But it can’t be in two places at once.
There’s a serious problem with relying on a small number of advanced platforms and highly trained troops. Low numbers restrict the things you can do, both at the strategic and tactical levels. If a nation only has one aircraft carrier it can only project power in one place; at the same time if a company commander only has one reconnaissance vehicle he can only scout one route. There’s also attrition to think about. That F15E can demolish a strategic objective with a better than 95% chance of success – but if a lucky burst from a heavy machine gun brings it down, what’s going to hit the next target? RAF Bomber Command and the USAAF’s 8th Air Force could put hundreds – often over a thousand – of bombers in the air. They took casualties, but they could absorb them and fight on the next day.
“Low numbers restrict the things you can do, both at the strategic and tactical levels.”
I’m not for a moment suggesting that we adopt Stalin’s maxim about quantity having a quality all of its own, but it’s worth remembering that while the Red Army threw T34s into combat by the thousands, it was also the best tank of its generation. We need highly capable, advanced equipment to maintain our edge, but we also need it in sufficient numbers. That means smarter procurement.
The F35 debacle is a perfect example, and the billions wasted by the US military on new camouflage uniforms is another. Money is always going to be tight and we need to get the most from what we have. What’s more uncomfortable is considering that sometimes we might need to pass on the “perfect” in exchange for the “good enough.” The US Marine Corps lost six Harriers during the Bastion attack in 2012. The Harrier isn’t a state-of-the-art superjet by any means, but it’s still expensive overkill for most situations in Afghanistan; an armed prop-driven trainer would do CAS just as well, in much greater numbers and at a much lower cost. Yes, we need the fast jets for a conventional war; that goes without saying. But the money thrown away on developing ACU, ABU, MARPAT and NWU, instead of just buying MultiCam for everyone, could have bought a fleet of a hundred low-tech modern day Skyraiders that would have left the local Taliban so battered they’d never have dared attack Camp Bastion.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.