Sunday, May 07, 2017

What Money Buys

Yes, America spends a lot more than potential enemies. But our spending dominance conceals as much as it reveals.

Sure, the American military is clearly the most capable military force on the planet. But simple comparisons of spending don't reveal the true picture.

One, if that is the true picture, let's all recall how America easily defeated far smaller North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. No?

So already we know that simple comparisons of spending don't always tell the full story.

More important are factors that eat up our superior spending.

Much of our military is more expensive than our foes who spend far less on payroll and personnel expenses. Yes, we have better personnel capable of being turned into good troops. But we pay for that potential edge.

Much of our military is dedicated to moving combat forces overseas across vast oceans before the first combat troop has the ability to fire the first bullet; and then has to support those forces.

A good chunk of our military is the training base that churns out troops. This does give us the ability to sustain our military in combat, but they are troops who are not trigger pullers.

We also maintain the ability to sustain our allies who lack the same depth, like war reserve stocks and that logistics capability.

Distance forces certain realities. Our ships, for example, have to be larger just to sail overseas unlike some allies whose small combatants can leave port and pretty much be in their patrol area.

We have expensive nuclear forces and expensive space forces.

We have a lot of research and development to maintain a tech edge; which means our production costs are higher, too, forging a path to new weapons.

And we actually train our forces, making them more effective . That's expensive, too.

And once a war starts, we have a problem. Our forces are largely based in the United States. So when an enemy attacks, they will have the initial advantage while America mobilizes and sends forces abroad.

Because right now, American forces are an ocean away (From "AUSA's 5 Things" email):

Speed of deployment is becoming a closely watched measurement of Army readiness. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team from Fort Carson, Colo., moved to Poland in 76 days in January, and the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Drum, N.Y., moved to Greece in 62 days in February.

While America will gain the advantage as a war continues, an enemy will have an opportunity to take territory until we build up forces. (See Saddam's conquest of Kuwait in August 1990 and the American-led counter-offensive in January 1991.)

So we spend more. But we need to spend more. And we get a lot for it, including lower casualties for our troops we send into battle.

UPDATE: Some fear the scope of military spending creates a harmful military-industrial complex that warps American policy. But that spending on military equipment is really a small portion of our vast economy.

And you have to remember that Eisenhower actually said that we needed what the military-industrial complex produced in our dangerous world. People always forget that part of his address.

Or did the world get less threatening while I was watching hockey playoffs?