Here’s some informed commentary on the Military-Industrial Complex

Pigs feeding at the trough of war

Ashley Smith reviews Jeffrey St. Clair’s Grand Theft Pentagon: How War Contractors Rip Off America and Threaten the World for Socialist Worker Online:

With Bush threatening war on the planet, the Pentagon got the useless and dangerous Star Wars Missile Defense, the unneeded B-767 tanker plane, the practically untested F-22 fighter and the Stryker armored personnel carrier that is almost useless in Iraq since it is vulnerable to improvised explosive devices.

You’ve got to give her credit. She worked so much ignorance of military hardware and programs into one sentence that even Legacy Media would take at least a two-page article to touch it. Nice to know that the Socialists have someone that clueless about military gear reviewing a book exposing corruption in the military gear-building business. Pretty informed stuff.


  1. Senseless weapons’? At this rate if we listened to all those naysayers about new military hardware, we’d be fighting the GWOT with vinatage 1960s equipment. This article echoes alot: They said the same thing about the M1 MBT. Its ‘untested’, ‘unproven’, a ‘gas hog’. Wouldnt stand a chance against ‘superior Russian T-72’s’. I figured after the Stryker’s success in Iraq got around, people would finally take a step back and give the military-industrial complex the benefit of the doubt in weapons developement. Sure, we gotta keep an eye on them and question things, but dont outright say theyre ripping off American taxpayers without any hard evidence to the contrary. Developement of these new 21st century weapons is going to be expensive and lengthy. But I have faith in them. Also, why is the military-industrial complex a ‘bad’ thing? Shouldnt we focus on the Politico-Legal-Media Complex (thx Crichton) that says all this crap and is ruining our country? Theyre the real probelm.

  2. I think the way the contractors get paid is a joke, there isn’t enough competition. But some of the recent weapons programs have gone quite well. I’m pretty impressed with the F-22. Skrip, it’s a bad thing (Eisenhower warned us) because it has the potential for corruption and monopolistic behaviour. It’s in the contractor’s interest to build weapon systems for the military no matter whether they’re needed, or whether they work. All that matters to them is how much money they make. Because the military is politicised, it’s to many members’ advantages to get money for THEIR branch of THEIR service and spend it on high-tech gadgets. If the gadget ends up being useless, or unnecessary, or overly expensive, they may be rewarded for it rather than punished. I don’t think it’s quite *that* bad but look at what happened with the F-18E. Was it selected because it was the best option? No – it was selected because Boeing had, for various reasons, strong advocates within the Navy and DOD who were able to basically destroy all alternatives. One of them may be that they believed it to be the best option, but who’s to say the ‘light fighter mafia’ weren’t biased? At least the Air Force’s light fighter mafia didn’t succeed in killing off the F-15 and the heavy bombers. Their Navy equivalents did. Your defence capabilities suffer for it. And look at the A-12 boondoggle. The F-18E was sold to congress on a lie (that it was a development of an existing aircraft and not a new aircraft, which it effectively is), and has anybody paid for that? I don’t think so. Why should the military be able to deceive your government and get away with it, especially when it’s an expensive deception?

  3. But the F/A-18E is a good aircraft, is it not? Its no failure, and is the Navy’s heavy aircraft to replace the F-14/A-6/etc. The A-12 was cancelled in hopes of finding a better design, like the NF-22, but ultimately the F-35. As for competition… some contracts are so large that no one company can handle the costs alone. Hence its usually a cooperative effort. I do agree however that these programs require oversight. Not just by Congress, but even people like Murdoc. But criticism should not be baseless like the article linked is. Programs to watch out for: FCS. IMO, the vehicle replacements shouldve been done under individual programs. DD(X) is costing alot. I have faith in its design, but i hope its not all BS.

  4. A12 was cancelled so next major jet would have been the JSF about 2 decades later, F-18E filled the gap before JSF arrived and was essential – look at the wear and tear on tomcat fleet – yes exactly they are retired/retiring and would have left a huge gap in USN capabilities if the 18E hadn’t replaced them, yes its not perfect esspecially in terms of its performance (earlier hornets were more exciting to fly i’ve heard and accelerate a bit faster and what not) but then they don’t have the E models capibilities in terms of weapons carrige and employment. I believe OIF and afghan has done for the 18E what it did for the stryker (OIF only i think) and what desert storm did for the M1, it proved its critics wrong. dont get me wrong i still wouldnt want to see 18E’s going up against SU27’s but even then i dont think it would be fruitless.

  5. The switch from A-6+F-14+F-18C to almost exclusive use of the F-18E has reduced the US Navy’s effectiveness. That’s not to say the US Navy is totally ineffective, nor that the correct solution was to do nothing until the F-35 showed up. But the carrier launched aircraft are now slower, have less range, lower speed, less maneuverability than they have in a long time. Plus, the F-18Es are very expensive considering that they’re not particularly good at anything. As long as there is no serious opposition for US airpower, they’ll be able to survive. But does it really make you comfortable to know that there are parts of the world where it’s no longer at all safe to place a carrier, and where carrier-based aircraft could not survive to operate effectively? As long as the only action they see until the F-35 comes along is going to be guerilla warfare where the planes are unchallenged and are basically just bomb trucks there will be no problem. But if major hosilities break out, I think it’s going to be the Air Force who does all the heavy lifting. They have better fighters (especially F-15C and F-22) and better attack/bombers (especially A-10, F-15E, B-1 and B-2). The F-18 is kind of the Navy’s version of the F-16, and the F-16 is a very useful Air Force plane. But I don’t think the US Air Force could be very effective if they ONLY had F-16s. Putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea, IMO! Anyway I could go on for ages but at this point I give up. For what those darn F-18Es cost I bet they could have built new, upgraded F-14s which would outperform them in just about every way. (The F-14Ds already had good speed, good bomb load carrying capability, long range and pretty reasonable strike capability. Improving the bringback and updating the electronics for improved performance and reliability would not have been as much of a stretch as turning the F-18 into a strike aircraft). But they didn’t even want to try. I think it’s just sad not to seriously investigate options when the outcome is so important. I think it was a political decision and I suspect congress are pretty upset about the way the Navy pulled the wool over their eyes.

  6. Oops, instead of ‘slower… and lower speed’ I meant to say ‘slower… and worse acceleration’. They also can’t carry as much of a warload and still be as effective.

  7. Just remember the F/A-18E can carry more bombs than the F-14. And it carries roughly half the bomb load of the A-6, but 2 times faster. Some additional things to consider about the F/A-18E: 1. Reduced RCS. 2. Less parts. 3. Far less maintenence. 4. Advanced avionics. 5. Will carry the AIM-120D, which will be a far more effective missile than the AIM-54 Phoenix.

  8. An F-14A can carry up to 14,500 pounds of external stores (bombs, missiles, fuel – not sure about the D model – possibly more) while carrying 16,000 pounds of internal fuel. The F-18E can carry up to 17,750 pounds of external stores while carrying 14400 pounds of internal fuel. So, to get the F-18E up to the same fuel load as the F-14 you already have to add 1,600 pounds of external fuel, bringing the useful carrying capacity down to 16,150 pounds, which is only 1,650 pounds more than the F-14 (and probably less since I don’t think there are symmetrical fuel tanks that small). Plus you add drag doing this. What’s more, because the F-18E doesn’t have swing wings and has thirstier turbojet rather than turbofan engines, and is a draggier airframe, if you load them up to the same level you reduce the F-18E’s range and speed a lot more than you do for the F-14. So this means, for similar range, the F-18E can carry LESS than the F-14. And since carriers operate offshore, their aircraft need decent range to get inland. Keep in mind, this is a heavily biased piece (i.e. the author things F-14s are good, like me), but I will trust what it presents as facts until shown otherwise:

    To avoid Silkworm-class missiles, the carrier battle group probably would not want to venture north of a line joining Masqat, Oman and Ahmadabad, Pakistan. Along this line, the group would be somewhat west of Karachi. Reaching Kabul would require a one-way flight of roughly 825 statute miles. Assuming the use of S-3 tankers, an F-14 strike, refueling somewhere between Quetta and Sukkur, Pakistan, wouldn’t have any trouble attacking targets in the northernmost parts of Afghanistan. If, however, an F/A-18E/F refuels in the same spot, it will barely make it to Kabul. The un-refueled radius of an F-14 carrying the normal strike load (four 2,000-pound LGBs, two HARM missiles and two Sidewinders plus 675 rounds of 20mm and two, 280-gallon external tanks) is at least 500 statute miles. Accompanying E/F Super Hornets have only a 350-statute-mile radius carrying about half the bomb load.

    …which is probably why F-14s were used for supporting ground forces in Afghanistan. This sort of thing is why I don’t buy into the F-18E hype. A lot of the fantastic claims they make may be true under certain circumstances (such as the increased range), from everything I know about jet aircraft I doubt they will be anywhere near as significant in actual usage. Less parts and less maintenance – those could both have been the case with an upgraded F-14. I’m *sure* F-14s with modern engines and modern avionics would require less maintenance then the old ’70s models. So I don’t see why that’s an argument in favour of upgrading the F-18, it’s merely an argument in favour of modern aircraft. Same with the advanced avionics. If India can put French avionics in Russian aircraft, then America can put advanced American avionics in older American aircraft. Otherwise, there’s something wrong there. Likewise the F-14 should have always been upgraded to carry the AIM-120. I can’t work out why it wasn’t, other than they were TRYING to make it obsolete so they could kill it off. That capability would have come along with the avioncs. It may be more effective, but I doubt it has anywhere near the actual, real range. Plus, for now it’s ‘vapourware’, right? I’m talking about what you could have now, rather than what you might have in future. As for the RCS, the F-18E is a pretty big plane, almost as big as an F-14, and I think it has a greater wingspan than the F-14 when the F-14’s wings are swept, so I can only imagine the F-14’s radar signature could have been reduced to a similar level with new materials and computer modelling and such. But I’m only guessing. I have no reason to promote the F-14D over the F-18E other than I simply think it’s a more capable aircraft. The F-14D is pretty old, but that’s the fault of the Navy who had many options to update it but never did, then bitched they had old planes. As I said I’m pretty sure this was a calculated attempt to get rid of them for political reasons, since the cost of upgrading them would have been less than developing a new plane, and would have resulted in what I think is a more capable aircraft. Maybe the people who made these decisions did look at all the facts, maybe some I don’t have available, and made a good decision – I don’t know. I think they’re pretty dim if they believed the ‘sales hype’ around the aircraft. I’m still not convinced by it.

  9. By the way.. about the Turbojet vs. Turbofan.. Here is GE’s website for their engines. I won’t make it a link since that enables comment moderation: The problem I have with the info GE presents is that, if the engine has an afterburner, they ONLY give information (thrust, fuel consumption) for when the engine is in full afterburner. For cruise, afterburner is not used, so this doesn’t give a good idea of what cruise fuel consumption is like. (I think ‘specific fuel consumption’ is given in units of pounds fuel per pounds thrust per hour). However, since the F118 engine (which powers the U2 and B2) is, like the F110 (which powers the F-14D) a derivative of the F101, it should have similar fuel consumption compared to the F110 at military power levels. If true, that means the F110 at full dry thrust will use 0.67lbs/lb/hr fuel. In comparison, the F404 versions without afterburner (F-18A/C engine) uses 0.80lbs/lb/hr. Presumably the F414 is similar, but because none of the F414 series lack an afterburner, there are no hard figures there. This illustrates the difference in efficiency between turbofans and turbojets. It’s not the only aspect – turbofans are typically bigger and therefore heavier – but specific fuel consumption and drag at cruise speed (which is related to aircraft weight as well as wing area and aerodynamics) are, I think, the major factors which determine an aircraft’s range with a given fuel load.

  10. I hope I don’t seem too much like an ogre or killjoy on this topic. I like F-18s. Really I do. The F-18E looks cool, and it’s not a piece of junk by any stretch. I just think the US Navy, and military in general, needs to think a bit differently. They need to start thinking about airframes seperately from electronics, and to some extent engines too. Pick the best airframe for your job and fit it with the best electronics. After spending billions on the planes, if you can keep them up to date with relatively small amounts of money, do it! Upgrade them! I realize new planes are shiny toys, but sometimes toys aren’t the smart way to spend money. It’s all about bang for your buck, hedging your bets and innovation. This is not the only issue I have. For Pete’s sake, let’s see some more competition! I like the way they did it 20 years ago. Distribute a list of specifications, see what designs people come up with, pay them a bit of money to make one or two prototypes and have a fly-off. That way you get a better solution with less boondoggles. I’m just a technology guy and I want to see the best planes, ships, etc. we humans can build getting made. Plus since you guys are our allies I’d like to see you have the best equipment (and maybe sell some of it to us). I don’t want to spoil your fun if you love the F-18E. But I do think it’s an example of the military/industrial complex and their politicking potentially getting in the way of military effectiveness – and they’re using your money to do it.

  11. F-22 is ‘practically untested?’ That’s going to come as a big surprise to everybody who’s been relentlessly testing that jet for the last ten years, including, uh, me, at least for the last five. Oh, wait, I didn’t see the name of the publication. ‘Socialist Worker.’ Never mind. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Hey, send a copy of this one to the Chinese. Maybe they’ll believe it. Can you say, ‘Duck shoot?’

  12. Hehe, good point Will. While you’re at it you can try to convince them you won’t cut and run before a future conflict has been won. Good luck with that one, after the way certain people have been behaving 🙁 (It’s a bad thing for deterrence if they don’t believe your country has the political will to see a conflict through, and therefore they can defeat you politically even if they can’t militarily).