Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Twilight time

Am I the only guy in the world who thought this story not so much cute and inspiring, but sad and depressing?

For the first time, the U.S. Air Force has resurrected a B-52 bomber that had been in long-term storage at the Boneyard, the portion of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona, where the military sends aircraft that have been retired from the fleet.

The 53-year-old Stratofortress, tail number 61-1007, nicknamed the “Ghost Rider” had been in storage at the desert in the care of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) since 2008. Thousands of aircraft are stored at the Boneyard, where the dry desert environment helps preserve them. Some are scavenged to supply parts to planes still in the fleet. Others are brought back into service. Ghost Rider, after upgrades, will become the first B-52 to return to duty from the Boneyard.

Though the dry desert air inhibits corrosion, the baking heat can have other adverse effects, including causing dry rot in the tires and fuel lines. The lines and fuel bladders in Ghost Rider were completely replaced, Tech. Sgt. Stephen Sorge, a fuels specialist from the 307th Maintenance Squadron, said in an Air Force report on the project.

Once that work was done, the plane’s engines were tested again in January. On February 13, Ghost Rider flew again, a three-hour flight from Davis-Monthan to its new home, Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. The resurrection process took 70 days, according to the Air Force report.

“I’ve been flying the B-52s since the ’80s and it surprised me that after almost seven years…she cranked up just fine and we had no issues with the flight control systems,” Col. Keith Schultz said in the Air Force report after piloting the eight-engine jet on the 1,000-mile flight.

So we’re now reduced to cobbling together parts from junked planes to keep our aging, decrepit fleet of sixty-year-old aircraft in the air. Great.

The nice thing, if you can call it that, is that we remain the world’s sole superpower–not because we’re all that powerful anymore, but because the other prospective contenders have so crippled themselves with big-government socialism as to place themselves completely out of the fray. Good thing we at least are smart enough to recognize the superiority of free-market capitalism and to not try to walk the same big-government…uhh…umm…

Oh, hell.

I define a bureaucracy as an organization that does not understand itself to be under competitive pressure. This applies to most government departments, as well as many large companies, and other organizations, like many parts of my own Catholic Church. The reason why militaries often have a reputation for efficiency that other government departments don’t is because they tend to get competitive pressure in the form of people who try to kill them.

But being a government body, a military’s “natural” status is of a bureaucracy: lumbering, impervious to change, inefficient. Efficiency is still the exception to the rule. Napoleon was able to conquer most of Europe because Europe’s militaries had become bureaucracies due to their feudal structure, which in France had been cut off (often literally) in the French Revolution.

As strange as it may seem today, in 1940, the French military had a similar aura of invincibility; it was the military that had led the Allied forces to victory in World War I, then the greatest war anybody had ever seen. Part of the impetus for appeasement in the 1930s came from the notion that Germany couldn’t do anything too crazy because then the French would crush them. But the French did not understand that they were competing, they got complacent and lazy, and got crushed by Germans who understood very well that they were competing.

Today, the U.S. military has fallen under the Bureaucracy Rule. The U.S. has no great power rivals, and thank God for that. Iraq and Afghanistan have not caused an identity crisis for the U.S. military because many senior commanders view these as “freakshow” wars — counterinsurgency wars, not the kind of “real” wars that militaries fight.

What are the signs that an organization has become a bureaucracy?

He lists a few telling ones, but there are plenty more he doesn’t go into; if you have family or friends in the military, most likely you’ve heard about at least some of them. And then there’s this:

The United States military does not currently have the ability to fight two major wars simultaneously, according to a new report, a significant reduction from the capacity enjoyed by defense officials for decades.

The Heritage Foundation’s “2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength” concludes that the armed forces “would be ill-equipped to handle two, near-simultaneous major regional contingencies (MRC).” The two-MRC goal was largely attained during the Cold War, when U.S. forces engaged in a conflict every 15 to 20 years while maintaining ground forces in other regions to ensure stability and deter aggressors.

That strategy enables the U.S. military to defeat one adversary in a conflict while preventing another aggressor—seeking to take advantage of the United States’ preoccupation with the first conflict—from defeating it in a separate theater.

But this strategy is no longer feasible, according to the report.

“The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force are putting it under significant pressure,” the report said. “Essential maintenance is being deferred; fewer units (mostly the Navy’s platforms and the Special Operations Forces community) are being cycled through operational deployments more often and for longer periods; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are problematic.”

“The cumulative effect of such factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.”

Fortunately for us, one entire branch of the nation’s political uniparty–along with half the population–doesn’t recognize that we even have national interests that are either vital or legitimate, thereby obviating the need to worry about defending them. So we got that going for us, I suppose. As for that bit about “problematic” replacements…

According to the latest (2012) estimate from the Pentagon, the total cost to develop, buy and operate the F-35 will be $1.45 trillion—yes, trillion, with a “t”—over the next 50 years, up from a measly $1 trillion estimated in 2011. For those of you keeping score at home, this means that the F-35’s lifetime cost grew about $450 billion in one year. (Who says inflation is dead?)

The fighter system’s cost grew by approximately one Manhattan Project every three weeks between 2011 and 2012.

That number—$1.45 trillion—might be difficult to grasp, especially in the context of U.S. defense spending, so let me try to put it in perspective: the entire Manhattan Project, which took around three years and led to the development of the atom bomb, cost a total of $26 billion (2015), most of which went to “building factories and producing the fissile materials, with less than 10% for development and production of the weapons.” By contrast, the F-35 will cost $29 billion. Per year.

For the next 50 years.

Indeed, just the 12-month increase ($450 billion) in the F-35’s lifetime estimate means that the fighter system’s cost grew by approximately one Manhattan Project every three weeks between 2011 and 2012. Granted, A-bombs are far different from fighter jets—for example, bombs don’t need maintenance after use—but these differences shouldn’t obscure the F-35’s simply astounding impact on the U.S. federal budget.

These crazy numbers still might be justifiable if the F-35 were part of a near-flawless weapons system that is destined to guarantee U.S. air superiority for the next half-century. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

It all puts me in mind of a conversation I had whilst walking around NYC with my great good friend Chris Pfouts, now deceased. He said that if New York had to build the subway system now instead of back when it did, it would simply never actually get done. It would not, and it could not, because modern American society is simply not capable of seeing such a massive project through anymore, for all sorts of reasons.

This conversation took place about twenty years ago. He was right then, and is even more so now. But hey, as long as we’re fighting 10th-century barbarian fanatics on mule-back, we ought to be just about able to stay even, right?

All that said, though, it must be acknowledged that, however far we mighty may have fallen, we haven’t fallen quite this far…yet.

Germany, which has persistently failed to contribute its agreed share of the military budgets agreed by the NATO mutual defence organisation, has neglected its own military to such a point where they now lack basic equipment – such as guns.

This discrepancy was farcically illustrated at a NATO joint exercise last year, which was intended to train and test the supposedly elite rapid reaction force, a collection of NATO units ready to deploy anywhere in the world at short notice to respond to crises. Despite the exercise having been planned years in advance, the Germany contingent found they didn’t have enough machine guns, and resorted to using black-painted broom handles instead.

It is now known the battalion of Panzer Grenadiers were lacking nearly one third of their machine guns, almost half of their side-arms, and almost all of their night-vision goggles.

German authorities insisted mounting the broom handles on their armoured personal carriers was merely a matter of subterfuge, as the vehicles had the interior space taken up by radios and command equipment instead – but this appears rather to be the latest in a long line of German military mishaps caused by a chronic lack of money.

Significant underinvestment in military equipment, poor maintenance, and a lack of spare parts have led to a number of embarrassing failures for the German military in the past few months. After deciding to donate millions of euros worth of military equipment of Kurdish fighters, the German government found itself unable to deliver it, because every military transport plane they tried to ship it with broke down on the runway.

Looks like the EUrosocialists are finally running out of other people’s money. And remember, these are the guys the Greeks–and the other sick men of Europe–are looking to for their fiscal salvation.


1 thought on “Twilight time

  1. The F-35 vs. Manhattan Project simile is fairly idiotic. The Manhattan Project didn’t take 50 years to complete. Nor is it in any way comparable in scope or technology.

    Bottom line is we need the aircraft, and we need all the widgets developed as part of the process of making it. Period.

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"America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." – Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution

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