30+ years of US military bloat with some costs over ten times a reasonable level

War on the Rocks has an article about how the US is looking for home run technology that will provide long term military dominance. This is called the “Third Offset”.

The First Offset was nuclear weapons.
The second offset was precision weapons. Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, improvements in precision-guided weapons, stealth technology, and space-based military communications and navigation. These initiatives were guided by a long-range research and development plan for component technologies and systems led by DARPA.

The War on the Rocks article wants to focus on many smaller innovation projects. They are basically pitching a series of “singles” instead of the home run or the dominant future scenario.

Much of the futures literature and techniques used to produce it is reminiscent of alchemy. The search for certainty, like the quest for gold, crowds out better judgment when thinking about events 20 years away. Bold claims about fourth industrial revolutions, cyber doom, and rising hegemons provide practitioners with a false sense of certainty about still unfolding events. Worse still, these forecasts tend to intersect with inherent individual bias and group dynamics in large organizations under pressure to make bets about the deep future. Practitioners confuse rampant speculation with empirical fact and create a picture of the future prone to euphoria or damnation rather than the mundane middling distribution of events more likely to occur. It is easier in the board room or E-Ring to play on dreams of unproven disruptive technologies, “risk-free” swarm warfare, super tanks, or the fear of artificial intelligence run amuck.

The analysis is overly complex and ignores the obvious fact that the US is spending decades and failing to develop successful new military systems and costs are over ten times what they should be.

– $600 million bomber is not normal or acceptable
– $200+ million jets are not normal or acceptable
– $8 billion submarines are not normal or acceptable
– $15 billion aircraft carriers are not normal or acceptable

The US Military and its contractors have vert fat costs and are decades slow

The US military did not have real competition since the 1980s. The Soviet Union was still around but was in the process of collapsing.

New US military jets increased. The F-16C/D had a unit cost of US$18.8 million (1998). In 2011 Iraq was sold F16’s for about $165 million per aircraft.

F22 Raptors were produced from 1996-2011. F22’s cost $150 million a piece and the program was cancelled because they were too expensive.

F35s were costing $300 million each for the first 150 or so but now they are trimming the costs down to $100 million range using accounting tricks.

The F35 program started in 1992. The first F35A flew in 2006. The F35 jets are just being approved for limited military service. 25 years and over $100 billion before there is any use out of these “more advanced planes”.

Submarines should be $1 billion or less but costs went up to $2 billion a piece for the Ohio subs and are heading up to $7-8 billion for the Columbia submarines.

It should not take a decade or three to develop these major systems.

Iraq War 2 was originally scoped out as $200 billion on the high end of cost

The second Iraq War was pitched as costing $100-200 billion. Instead costs for Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are about $5-6 trillion and since the wars have been bought with borrowed money will cost about $8 trillion in increased interest costs on higher debt.

There is limited efforts to create a strategy where achievable objectives are set for the region and where costs are contained.

Drones, strategies, alliances and technology should be re-examined and experimented with to achieve breakthroughs in results and costs.

Bloated Space from the same contractors with bloated military costs

Spacex is taking over in launch from ULA, Ariane. ULA is Lockheed and Boeing who are the main military aerospace contractors as well.

The Space Shuttle program cost about $200 billion for about 130 launches.

The Delta II had a launch cost of $51 million in 1989 and could launch 13000 pounds to low earth orbit.

The Delta IV heavy cost $400 million per launch in 2017 and can launch 64000 pounds to low earth orbit.

A basic heavy launcher should have been able to perform the Space Shuttle missions for about $13 billion with $7 billion for development.

The US spent over $30 billion on the Constellation Space program and the Space Launch System programs. There were no useful launches from those programs.

Spacex took technologies that have mainly existed from the 1970s and 1980s and has been able to properly execute. The concept of reusability was one of the primary goals of the space shuttle. The idea was to get Space Shuttle launch costs down to $5 million per launch. Instead the government chose to focus on getting jobs and facilities for building the Space Shuttle into the state of every Senator who was voting for the program. Space Shuttle launch costs were about $400 million to 1.5 billion per launch.

Spacex is showing that the
* military contractor costs are 10-20 times too high
* the development costs are 100 times too high and
* the time to develop is ten times too long.

This is in the space launch area and clearly applies to the missiles and to the aviation areas. It also applies in the areas of tanks and Navy ships.

The US Army has failed to successfully develop replacements for the Abrams tank for more than 25 years despite several expensive attempts.

17 thoughts on “30+ years of US military bloat with some costs over ten times a reasonable level”

  1. You’re right. If they want it, SpaceX BFR/BFS System is handing them their Third Offset for minimal cost. Real dominance of Space would be more strategically significant than the first two and harder to compromise.

  2. Abelard Lindsey
    Having worked in defense industry in the 1980’s, I can tell you that the entirely contracting milieu is simply criminal parasitism. Much of it needs to be eliminated and many, many contractors, government bureaucrats, and politicians need to be imprisoned.
    The same is true for nearly all health care and education.

    Yup. And this is all foundationally ‘baked’ into our government system which is based on graft and patronage just as every bit as the old Roman Republic was. This is how it always has been, btw.

    Brian says costs are ‘too high’. No. They aren’t. They are just what Congress wants them to be. And the bureaucrat and contractor who doesn’t play ball sees his funding cut and his contracts not approved/cancelled.

    And this can not be ‘reformed’ by simple policy changes, either. Because nobody who matters wants to enact them. Because the everyone who controls the system can not operate any other way. And even if a reform should slip through, it will be attacked and undone via the ‘auto-immune’ responses of said system, eventually.

    The only way to truly reform it is to introduce some radical amendments to the Constitution like the kind that re-introduces the limits on federal government activities that the courts ‘interpreted’ away starting in the 1930s or severely restricts the funding sources of the government (by at least 70%) AND completely eliminates its money creating powers. You have to starve the beast, period.

    Either that or we completely scrap our system replace it with a hyper-decentralized version of the Swiss Confederation model..and that includes forcing the most populous states to split up, too. The states would essentially run the federal government, like they did under the Articles of Confederation (which is still legally in effect, btw).

    None of which is ever going to happen w/o a huge existential crisis pushing it and probably only if the crisis is like government collapse or a civil war. And even then, things could go in an entirely different direction (dictatorship) instead of those types of reforms. Just ask the English (Cromwell), Germans (Hitler) and French (Napolean) all about that, as all three experience dictatorships after the collapse of their previous long-running government structures.

    This is why the various Anarchist, Green and still-extant Communists groups out there all pitch the mantra.”When the present system collapses…” when asked by outsiders of their little clubs ‘when can this [their new schemes] happen?’ BTW, I through the post-scarcity folks like Zeitgeist, Venus Project, PARECON and Copiosis into this bucket in particular. Even the Libertarians would need a total collapse to gain any real traction despite them not claiming to wait for The Fall.

  3. It’s the bureaucracy, the inconsistency of the military & the time delays the first two problems incur. Every procurement ‘problem’ has resulted in a new, bureaucratic solution, such as a Preliminary Design Review. Over 50 years, that adds up.
    Then there’s whistle that the military just has to have, halfway thru, & of course, every new whistle requires a new bell.

  4. This article is heavy on Contractor criticisms but light on the myriad of bureaucratic requirements flown-down. Like CPP, DFARS, CYBER, TAMPER, PPP, SBP, ISO, CMMI, TINA, and lets not forget diversity. Show me the difference in regulation count then versus now and then I may say you have a leg to stand on. Make sane requirements and maybe then small business can compete and bring prices down.

  5. Can’t understand why this article doesn’t even mention Cost and Cost Plus. Probably because author doesn’t know of the terms. There is a rationality to why government military spending bloats, and you miss an extraordinarily large piece of this puzzle by simply not understanding how defense acquisition works. Elon Musk understands it perfectly well. Despite their incredible technical success, it’s worth noting that SpaceX has a reputation for burning through engineers.

  6. “The US military did not have real competition since the 1980s. The Soviet Union was still around but was in the process of collapsing.”
    Except,of course,nobody knew about it.
    “Spacex is showing that”
    ….if you lose enormous sums on every launch,you can put on a good show.
    “the development costs are 100 times too high”
    SpaceX,being nobodies,pays FAR more for development than,say,ULA,because it has no development base established over decades.But of course,nobody sees it because SpaceX is not a public company.

    • Nope you are wrong

      Space X may be a private company. But they can’t magic money out of thin air

      Space X can’t raise money either without publically announcing their intentions to shareholders.

      And they can’t get funding without getting financial audits


      >SpaceX has raised more than $350 million in a new funding round that values the company at $21.2 billion, according to data obtained by a financial company.

      >Equidate, a San Francisco company that operates a market for trading shares in privately-held companies and publishes financial information about them, said that SpaceX had closed a $351 million funding round, designated Series H, in July.

      Elon Musk can’t just transfer millions into spacex or take millions out of spacex without numerous private equity trading firms being informed. These private equity trading firms are responsible to selling the stocks of private companies.

      SpaceX has received far less funding than ULA, and they are able to launch cheaper.

      • Phaeton thinks that the USA faked the moon landings. Obviously with the USSR going along with the story and not spilling the beans.

        Compared to that it is trivial to merely sneak some money around without outside people being aware.

  7. Did you ever stop to consider that some of these contractors are producing things that are FAR more advanced than the things they dangle in front of the media? Wouldn’t it then be prudent to figure out a source of quiet funding for these things? Perhaps inflated prices for conventional projects might be a good source ..

    • Like UFOs and underground tunnel networks? No they aren’t producing things far more advanced. There is an entire science and engineering culture necessary to make this stuff. It’s mostly very public and anybody can access it instantly via google. It’s not magic and there is zero possibility that there is some other world of STEM that ordinary students of science and engineering have no access to.

  8. Having worked in defense industry in the 1980’s, I can tell you that the entirely contracting milieu is simply criminal parasitism. Much of it needs to be eliminated and many, many contractors, government bureaucrats, and politicians need to be imprisoned.

    The same is true for nearly all health care and education.

    • Imprison nearly all health care and education, and much of the military?
      So, that’s 20% of the US population in prison then.

  9. To my knowledge the Army hasn’t been trying to develop an Abrams replacement for a couple decades. They came up with major upgrades and concepts in the 80’s but the cold war put an end to those ideas, and the last tank like vehicle was for the Future Combat Systems program but it was more like a light tank or light self propelled gun.

    Where the Army has failed is with a new AFV in which they had three attempts before the current one which finally seems to be going through due to being fairly off the shelf.

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