return to ICG Spaces home    ICG Risk Blog    discussions    newsletters    login    

ICG Risk Blog - [ The US needs a "No Nation Left Behind" program - for itself ]

The US needs a "No Nation Left Behind" program - for itself


The current state of this nation leaves me exceedingly cross. The implications of COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq confirm a blighted command structure while American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century "presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness" that is incapable of solving the nation's challenges.

I'll save those for later, preferring to focus first on the strategic implications of our having ignored our engineering and technical base. For a primmer, see my notes:

My attention was arrested by the gap - more a failure to address with no systemic solution in sight - between two reports by the Defense Science Board, Future Strategic Strike Forces, Feb 2004, and Future Strategic Strike Skills, March 2006. Both deal with US strategic strike force capabilities, the first being a statement of strategic strike needs out to 2030 and the second describing the systemic breach in human assets, commercial valuation that attracts those assets, and education capable of producing the skills needed in order to achieve those strike goals.

I take this gap as a metaphor of our failure to properly incent and educate an entire class of technologists be it for military or commercial applications. Considering that many of our weapons systems are aging, designed twenty or more years ago by engineers that graduated fifteen or more years earlier, we are increasingly unable to revise and extend existing systems or design future systems.

Trends in the availability of engineering personnel in the defense sector mirror the commercial sector, except that defense is worse. Strike Skills stated that:

In the early days of the Cold War, urgent national defense problems drew on the services of a significant percentage of U.S. professional engineers. Today most of the country’s engineering talent is concerned with civilian developments, and only a small fraction is devoted to DoD problems. Currently, work related to strategic strike systems is not considered to be a desirable career path by engineering personnel, particularly when exciting and potentially lucrative careers are available in new technological areas such as computer/internet systems, quantum communications and computation, nanotechnology, etc.

The result has been that in many strategic strike critical skill areas, experienced personnel are nearing retirement with few replacements. This situation could lead to the potential loss of critical strategic strike systems knowledge.

Strike Forces describes a spectrum of contingencies out to 2030 comprising "Urgent emerging threats" such as "rogues and terrorists" with and without WMD and "Future major power adversaries with WMD." A strategic response in return was defined as ""a military operation to decisively alter an adversary’s basic course of action within a relatively compact period of time" and can be either "an isolated event" or "part of a military campaign." DSB found that if the US was to provide effective strike options against these future threats "it must reorient its nuclear arsenal away from "large, high-fallout weapons delivered primarily by ballistic missiles" toward smaller, more precise nuclear weapons that can be used for a variety of special missions." Beyond nuclear weapons, DSB assertained that the US must address "non-nuclear weapons, the systems that are needed to deliver weapons of both kinds, and the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems required to identify targets."

In the intervening two years "relatively little additional action has taken place [in strategic strike systems], either with regard to next-generation (evolutionary) systems or in connection with new types of systems (revolutionary) for future objectives.

Strike Skills makes appalling reading, noting that the "personnel required for the development of such systems should be highly innovative [but that] attracting such individuals may be difficult due to the lack of financial incentives associated with civilian industry’s efforts." "[I]t appears that a serious loss of certain critical strategic strike skills may occur within the next decade." Whereas Strike Forces itemized "well known" deficiencies in command and control networks; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and battle damage assessment; delivery systems; and payloads, the five findings of Strike Skills paint the picture of a dwindling industrial base:

  1. The DoD has not provided specific direction regarding next-generation strategic strike systems. Consequently, the industry and government talent base:
    • Are already marginally thin in many of today’s current systems, and
    • May not be available for potential next-generation systems.
  2. The exploration of new concepts and technologies for strategic strike of challenging targets in the long-term is inadequate and will require access to a new talent base with different skills.
  3. The strategic strike area most at risk today is ballistic missiles:
    • Current skills may not be able to cope with unanticipated failures requiring analysis, testing, and redesign;
    • A large number of skilled military, civil service, and contractor personnel are nearing retirement;
    • Design skills are rapidly disappearing, both for major redesigns of current systems and for the design of new strategic systems; and
    • Applications programs are necessary, but not sufficient to maintain skills; moreover, they have never been funded at the required levels.
  4. DoD and industry have difficulty attracting and retaining the best and brightest students to the science and engineering disciplines relevant to maintaining current and future strategic strike capabilities. The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) program has the potential for attracting personnel to government; however, it currently does not have strategic strike element.
  5. Human capital management systems and strategies for identifying, tracking, and retaining critical skills are not being implemented effectively across all of the strategic strike constituent organizations.

The Strike Skills recommendations for these five broad systemic deficiencies demand attention, strategic vision, operational excellence and money. It is not clear that the current military posture and deployment permit any of this to occur.

While Russia can sit on its energy supplies, and China and India continue to industrialize, the US continues to overreach, and does so in a manner that squanders its assets, without the means and the economy to support its ambitions. I have already covered the trajectory of Pax America in this series:

Cobra II : The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq
by Michael R. Gordon, Bernard E. Trainor
Pantheon, March 2006
ISBN: 0375422625

American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.
By Kevin Phillips
Viking, March 2006
ISBN: 067003486X

Future Strategic Strike Skills
Defense Science Board (DSB)
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
March 2006

By Barry D. Watts
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
September 27, 2004

Defense Science Board report released
Defense AT&L
July-August, 2004

Future Strategic Strike Forces
Defense Science Board (DSB)
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
Washington, D.C. 20301-3140
February 2004

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Risk Containment and Pricing Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


  discuss this article

<<  |  April 2020  |  >>
view our rss feed