Procurement: April 22, 2003

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Donald Rumsfeld's Dilemma. Spoilsports are pointing out that the three week conquest of Iraq was not facilitated so much by high tech weapons, but largely by Cold War era gear using World War II tactics. The most crucial weapons were the decades old M-1 tank and M-2 infantry vehicle, with the 1960s vintage M-109 self-propelled artillery provided most of the artillery support. The 1950s era B-52 bomber was still the most cost effective way to deliver bomb attacks. 

And what was so unique about conquering Iraq in three weeks while outnumbered? The British did this in 1941, using only two divisions under similar circumstances (and with far fewer armored vehicles). Not only that, the 1941 Iraqis also had the support of Germany, France and Russia. Made no difference. 

Despite these reasonable doubts about high tech reforms in the military, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is thought to now have enough clout to make some progress in reforming the Department of Defense. Others have tried and failed for over four decades. But the real reforms have less to do with how much new technology is bought, but what technology is bought. Four decades ago, president Dwight Eisenhower, as we was leaving office, ominously warned of the "Military-Industrial" complex. It can more accurately be called the "Congressional-Industrial" complex, for it is the legislature that has the final word on what is bought. Military contractors have learned to spend most of their lobbying and marketing dollars on legislators, not generals. Rumsfeld may get some temporary opportunities to change spending priorities from those that emphasize getting congresscritters reelected to those that concentrate on what the troops need. For example, the troops need more long range air transports, fast sea transports and aerial tankers, as well as more money for training and base maintenance. There's a lot more, but the real military reformers will now be encouraged to come out of their bunkers and speak openly about what is really required to increase combat capability. But long term, the Defense Budget will always be mislabeled. It's really the largest single barrel of pork available to politicians. For a democracy to work, the people's representatives have to control the budget and tax rates. But there may be ways to make congressional interference a little more obvious, and thus more politically costly.

 


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