mm427: Obama’s restless summer

July 2, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Barack Obama, the black Will Smith, has been, is and will be in the news permanently, or at least until Nov. 5, 2008 should John McCain’s wet dream (of somehow overcoming the horrendous legacy of his good buddy, George III) become reality.

So there’s no shortage of worthwhile reading on all things Obama. Here are four of the most intriguing.

1) Fundraising expertise

David Brooks has spent some useful time poring over the campaign finance statements.

nytimes

Obama’s Money Class

Op-Ed Columnist | By DAVID BROOKS | Published: July 1, 2008

Barack Obama sells the Democratic Party short. He talks about his fund-raising success as if his donors were part of a spontaneous movement of small-money enthusiasts who cohered around himself. In fact, Democrats have spent years building their donor network. Obama’s fund-raising base is bigger than John Kerry’s, Howard Dean’s and Al Gore’s, but it’s not different.

As in other recent campaigns, lawyers account for the biggest chunk of Democratic donations. They have donated about $18 million to Obama, compared with about $5 million to John McCain, according to data released on June 2 and available at OpenSecrets.org.

People who work at securities and investment companies have given Obama about $8 million, compared with $4.5 for McCain. People who work in communications and electronics have given Obama about $10 million, compared with $2 million for McCain. Professors and other people who work in education have given Obama roughly $7 million, compared with $700,000 for McCain.

So, Senator Obama, as has every presidential candidate in history, a rhetoric/reality gap.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm398: Military intelligence — time to start using some

June 2, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

We have devoted a number of posts in this space to topics military. And why not? We are fighting wars in two far-away nations simultaneously, and have done so for nearly seven years.

That’s quite expensive, and it has been downright draining of our expensively trained manpower.

But, beyond the cost of prosecuting the “global war on terror,” we have been spending overwhelmingly on defense programs that, while lucrative to the home states of the military contractors and their congressional representatives, are impossible for a rational thinker to justify based on the nature of current and future threats.

Making this point most eloquently in an opinion piece in the LATimes was Robert Scheer, of truthdig.com.

latimes

Indefensible spending

America’s massive military budget is irrational, costly and dangerous. Why isn’t it a campaign issue?

By Robert Scheer |June 1, 2008

What should be the most important issue in this election is one that is rarely, if ever, addressed: Why is U.S. military spending at the highest point, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than at any time since the end of World War II? Why, without a sophisticated military opponent in sight, is the United States spending trillions of dollars on the development of high-tech weapons systems that lost their purpose with the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago?

You wouldn’t know it from the most-exhausting-ever presidential primary campaigns, but the 2009 defense budget commits the United States to spending more (again, in real dollars) to defeat a ragtag band of terrorists than it spent at the height of the Cold War fighting the Soviet superpower and what we alleged were its surrogates in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2008 set a post-World War II record at $625 billion, and that does not include more than $100 billion in other federal budget expenditures for homeland security, nuclear weapons and so-called black budget — or covert — operations.

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mm392: Memorial Day – so much more than sales and barbecues

May 26, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

dreamstime_5097742

© Sandra Henderson | Dreamstime.com

The last Monday of May in the U.S. is the Memorial Day holiday. Wikipedia says,

Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (in 2008 on May 26). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action.

As U.S. soldiers are fighting and dying daily, totaling much more than 4,000 to date, this opinion piece from today’s Washington Post is worth reflection. It’s author, William Troy, is a general.

washingtonpost

Funeral Duty

By William Troy | Monday, May 26, 2008; Page A17

Throughout this war, the Army has maintained the practice of assigning a general officer to attend the funeral of every soldier who falls in service to our country. I’ve had this duty many times. The intensity of each funeral leaves me struggling to understand the enormousness of the sacrifice to which I have been a witness.

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mm371: Ever wonder why the U.S. is using more robots?

May 6, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Well, most of our robotic forces are air forces these days, but we keep learning about “spiders” and the like that are meant to assist ground troops.

It’s not just about protecting precious lives, although heaven knows that should be a sufficient rationale for investing in this sci-fi like technology.

It’s about substituting for Army and Marine ground troops that simply aren’t available.

Fred Kaplan, who writes most cogently on military affairs for Slate.com, has an intriguing analysis.

slate

The Army’s Math Problem

We don’t have any more soldiers to send to Afghanistan unless we take some out of Iraq.

By Fred Kaplan | Posted Monday, May 5, 2008, at 4:56 PM ET

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wants to send 7,000 more U.S. troops—about two brigades—to Afghanistan, according to the May 3 New York Times. But there’s a problem, which the story underplays: We don’t have any more troops to send. The Army is in a zero-sum state: No more soldiers can be sent to Afghanistan without a one-for-one reduction of soldiers in Iraq.

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mm369: Help! Rescue that droning man!

May 4, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

lockheedvulture

The changing face of military aviation

tenth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

mm142

2

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

3

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

4

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

5

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

6

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

7

A shared obsession is a satisfying thing

mm225

8

Videogames. Real warfare. An unsettling

mm288

9

Go figure! Even our robot forces… mm326

Two of our most useful military news links in our blogroll are Danger Room and Early Warning. After all, we’re at war.

Faithful reader of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© will recall that the subject of UAVs, Unmanned Air Vehicles or drones, is one of those topics that has consistently intrigued us. Look no further than the linklist above.

Robot aircraft of all sizes and scales hit the military commentariat several times on April 30, and reminded us of a related story (see no. 1a below) we had been waiting for the right opportunity to surface.

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mm344: Welcome to interesting times

April 11, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

This is not the Navy related story I expected to write. But, as always, real life changed my plans.

More than many, the MUDGE household has been observing this past week’s American Airlines MD-80 debacle with more than passing interest.

There have been myriad news stories, in print and on line, much television (I’m told – I never watch TV news). It’s a topic that anyone who flies can relate to.

As it happens, we’re headed off on a much needed vacation next week to see the grandMUDGElets in L.A., and, as American most frequently protects that route with this disappointingly tiny (in the context of: traversing 2/3 of the continent), not to speak of disappointingly elderly (in the context of: acquired cheaply when American absorbed what was left of the once proud TWA many years ago), sardine can (in the context of: so small, there’s never been audio entertainment available, much less an in-flight movie. Not that this is much of a hardship, but, it is a 4-hour flight). It’s an awful flight, in the best of circumstances, especially for a somewhat larger than life person such as yr (justifiably) humble svt. You guessed it: we’ve got tickets on an MD-80 flight.

Q: What’s worse than flying an American Airlines MD-80 to Los Angeles?

A: NOT flying an American Airlines MD-80 to Los Angeles because the flight’s among 1,000 that they’ve been forced to cancel due to inadequate maintenance procedures finally catching up to them.

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mm215: A Maginot Line for the 21st Century?

December 8, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of the military

Fifth in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

2

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

3

Abolish the Air Force

mm183

4

Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

mm211

5

A Maginot Line for the 21st Century

mm215

The one where we get our boots muddy… but still can read about UAVs!

fcs1

As I begin to write, it is still December 7. Still lives in infamy, although those alive to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ringing phrases are leaving us every day.

But an altogether fitting day to write about the military (okay, we’re at war. Every day we should be remembering and writing about the military, supporting and honoring our citizen soldiers stuck, truly stuck in the [quick]sand of Iraq).

Guess the Washington Post thought so too.

armymakeover

washingtonpost

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover

March to Modernize Proves Ambitious and Controversial

By Alec Klein

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007; Page A01

EL PASO — A $200 billion plan to remake the largest war machine in history unfolds in one small way on a quiet country road in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Jack Hensley, one of a legion of contractors on the project, is hunkered in a slowly moving SUV, serving as target practice for a baby-faced soldier in a Humvee aiming a laser about 700 yards away. A moment later, another soldier in the Humvee punches commands into a computer transmitting data across an expanse of sand and mesquite to a site 2 1/2 miles away. On an actual battlefield, this is when a precision attack missile would be launched, killing Hensley almost instantly.

Welcome to Future Combat Systems: warfare for the wireless era…

In the Army’s vision, the war of the future is increasingly combat by mouse clicks. It’s as networked as the Internet, as mobile as a cellphone, as intuitive as a video game. The Army has a name for this vision: Future Combat Systems, or FCS. The project involves creating a family of 14 weapons, drones, robots, sensors and hybrid-electric combat vehicles connected by a wireless network. It has turned into the most ambitious modernization of the Army since World War II and the most expensive Army weapons program ever, military officials say.

FCS was devised in the 90s in response to the Army’s recognition that its responsiveness to the new paradigm of asymmetric warfare was altogether too sluggish.

Of course, the government, especially its military, cannot plan to spend $200billions without controversy. Hugely ambitious, those plans have consistently, like every government program, delivered less than promised, later than promised.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The Army’s $200 Billion Makeover – washingtonpost.com

It probably is no surprise that every time FCS hits the news, its quoted costs rise, from $92billion when launched in the 90s, to $117billion in this interesting overview from 2004, to today’s $200billion and counting.

Danger Room, a member of L-HC‘s blogroll2 noted the Post’s story, and pointed to a most illuminating analysis published last May at a site, new to this writer, GovernmentExecutive.com.

Four years into the program, the Army still has not fully defined what the program’s vehicles, drones, robots and computer networks are required to do, GAO’s Francis says. Software needed to control FCS has doubled from initial estimates to a staggering 63 million lines of code, three times the amount being written for the Joint Strike Fighter. Of FCS’ 49 critical technologies, only one is fully mature. GAO noted that immature technologies are “markers for future cost growth.” The Army says 75 percent of FCS critical technologies have reached prototype stage. GAO disputed those claims, backed by an independent review team’s assessment that less than half the critical technologies were close to the prototype stage.

63 million lines of software… breathtaking. And, sure to grow. And then there’s the issue of component weight.

GAO pointed to the FCS vehicles’ burgeoning weight as signs of a program that remains poorly defined and predicated on technological breakthroughs that so far have failed to materialize. The Army originally wanted FCS vehicles to weigh less than 20 tons, and Boeing promised to meet that goal. But so far, engineers have failed to develop the high-tech, lightweight electromagnetic and composite armors required. Last year, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army acquisition deputy, said vehicles would weigh 24 tons. Army budget documents released this year said FCS vehicles would tip the scales at 27 tons. Weight growth of a vehicle meant to be rapidly deployable by air is not an immaterial concern.

The analysis does a most comprehensive job of illuminating the planning and design flaws of the system. The tilt-rotor heavy lifters, whoppingly expensive with insufficient cargo capacity, and fatal vulnerability to even today’s inexpensive ground and air defense systems. The remote sensor systems that even today are fragile and proving inadequate to the realities of Iraq and Afghanistan. Armored vehicles that, as designed, would be unable to prevent fatal damage from even today’s IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which have killed or maimed so many U.S. personnel and their transports, much less future weaponry an enemy would be expected to field such as automatic cannon.

And always the issue: however brave the intention, FCS is a response to past conditions that most certainly will again endorse the adage that generals are doomed always to prepare to fight the last war.

But this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©‘s fascination with UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was ratified with this illustration, encountered at HowStuffWorks.com while researching FCS.

And, it’s diesel-powered!

fcs2-uav

So as some of us reflect on warfare, and our preparedness to fight the next one, on this weekend where we remember the “day that will live in infamy” that found this country only semi-prepared to fight a world war that had started nearly 10 years before, one can only sigh.

FCS: A 21st century, mobile, high-tech version of the Maginot Line?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE