Rebuilding the Broken American Military
About half of all America’s federal income taxes are dumped on a bloated and incompetent military.
Half. Half! And what do all those trillions buy?
This is Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, almost twenty years after the United States began an occupation that wound up costing the lives of over 2,300 American and 1,100 allied soldiers:
A government backed by the United States for almost twenty years collapsed in about a week once the first rural district center was captured.
For the second time in a decade Americans have been treated to scenes of militants seizing American-made weapons captured in a lightning offensive.
The Taliban’s blitz in the wake of a hopelessly bungled withdrawal was actually faster than the US-backed blitz in 2001–2002 that overthrew them.
Thousands of American soldiers and marines are on the ground in Kabul International Airport amid scenes of total chaos America’s leaders were clearly unprepared for but had a duty to be.
This scarcely a month after President Joe Biden emphatically declared on July 8, 2021:
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan.”
The Taliban won.
Joe Biden can blame the people of Afghanistan for not fighting hard enough, trying to distract the American public from his administration’s criminal negligence, but regardless: history will forever remember him as the President who surrendered to the Taliban when there were other options than endless war.
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan — there is now a clear pattern.
Three epic, multi-year defeats with tens of thousands of young American lives forever changed, while their leaders get to wine and dine with celebrities for the rest of their lives.
America’s ruling elite lacks many things. Especially shame.
A bitter truth Americans must accept if we want to have any hope of keeping our democracy and Constitution alive is that the United States military isn’t very effective.
Americas political and military leaders lie about many things sometimes, but defense matters almost always.
They then cloak these lies by spinning facts to the public, relying on self-proclaimed experts to justify bad, unscientific, partisan decisions.
The greatest lie of all is that the United States is a superpower, globally indispensable and unbeatable.
This has been proven false not just once but twice in the past 10 years.
Years before the Taliban overthrew the US-backed Afghan government in Kabul, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria very nearly overthrew the US-backed Iraqi government in Baghdad.
The awful, bitter truth of the United States Armed Forces is that the services are all run pretty much the same way as most giant American companies.
That is to say, poorly — and with little concern for the long-term consequences of present day failures.
American society has been totally colonized by a careerist managerial culture. The military is no exception.
Hundreds of thousands of enlisted personnel do the real work while college educated officers function as a manager-caste who — provided they don’t rock the boat too much— can look forward to a full pension after 20 years of service and guaranteed gigs as a TV expert or consultant.
This class system is devastating for morale and unit cohesion. A silent rot caused by an anachronistic cultural holdover from the 19th century when combat was soldiers forming pretty lines and firing muskets into each other’s ranks.
The American military routinely fails to win wars in the modern world because it isn’t structured to.
The Pentagon is a perpetual pork project, a way for defense companies to gouge the public and elected officials to brag about how much cash they brought their district.
No true discipline, fiscal or operational, is ever imposed. So generation after generation its vaunted leaders with the shiny bling on their uniforms make the same mistakes, excusing them with the same bad arguments, soaking up $933 billion in 2021 — $2,800 per American.
And it’s way, way more for the majority of middle-income earners.
The military budget has more than doubled since 2003. Pretty much all of it is now part of the United States budget deficit, meaning taxpayers will be paying the cost for decades — and America’s veterans will bear the scars forever.
The bitter irony? The Pentagon can’t even pass an audit to account for where it all goes!
All we can say for certain is that some of what it bought it is now in the hands of the Taliban.
Many are rightly raising concerns about further increases to the country’s $29 trillion debt, which is approaching 150% of GDP — a major macroeconomic warning sign.
If you are a deficit hawk, if you dislike taxation and want to shrink the government, but you don’t favor substantial cuts in military spending, you are a total hypocrite.
Guess what, folks — America and its allies can be defended for much, much less than the country spends today.
Whether you would prefer tax money be spent on infrastructure, deficit reduction, or given back to the people as cuts, military reform is something you really should be able to get behind.
The Founders never intended the country to spend this much on its military — they actively feared a large standing military for very good reasons.
That’s why for most of American history, as soon as a major conflict ended the military was largely demobilized. The Army a citizen force raised only for a short time to avoid the dangers posed by a massive, perpetual military bureaucracy.
This reticence changed after 1945, and clearly it has been a tragic mistake. Having a large military has only emboldened politicians to abuse it.
And there is a rising threat lurking behind all that bloated Pentagon spending.
When 40% of Americans favor outright secession, when an ex-President who actively worked to overturn a democratic election and sent federal forces to attack American civilians has a fifty-fifty chance at worst of taking office again in 2025, having a powerful active military represents a clear and present danger to the Constitution.
For these reasons, the United States Armed Forces must be drastically reduced in size and reformed from the ground up.
Blueprint For the United States Defense Forces
As the Department of War was changed after World War Two to the Department of Defense, it is now time for the United States Armed Forces to become the United States Defense Forces.
The territory of the United States is protected by vast oceans except at the remote Bering Strait separating Alaska and Russia. The USA fields almost two thousand nuclear weapons at any moment, so any attacking enemy can be swiftly obliterated.
America could in fact almost do without any standing military at all — however, longstanding commitments to allies like South Korea, Japan, and the European Union and the unique capabilities organized defense forces bring to the table when it comes to disaster relief can’t be ignored.
What must be cut are the Overseas Contingency Operations — translated, that means fighting abroad — and the DoD Base Budget, which is split between the active-duty components of the three major services, Army, Navy (including the Marine Corps), and Air Force.
In 2022 (Congress may up it by $25 billion yet) the Army is set to get about $170 billion, the Air Force $170 billion, the Navy $210 billion, of which about $50 billion goes to the Marine Corps. The remaining $155 billion or so goes to shared DoD services.
This $705-$730 billion chunk of change needs to be slashed down to $400 billion, 2% of GDP. A swift $300+ billion dollar reduction can be phased in over three years, saving over $3 trillion every ten years thereafter.
The National Guard will have an annual budget of $80 billion. It will be formed by converting all active-duty Army and Marine formations into National Guard brigades and reorganizing the entire force to comprise a total of 72 brigades, each with 5,000–6,000 soldiers.
Each brigade will have an administrative support battalion with 1,000–1,200 soldiers on active duty to maintain facilities. It will have three Guard battalions, around 3,000 soldiers in total, who can be called to active duty in an emergency and equipped with trucks, excavation equipment, and light arms to handle disaster relief work, firefighting, and other protective tasks.
The brigades will be evenly spaced around the country, each serving 5–6 million people. Typically about ten percent of these soldiers will be serving their annual month of service at any given time, ensuring that in the event of a crisis uniformed Guards personnel can be on hand to assist. Each will be supported by a helicopter squadron and a drone surveillance squadron.
Because the United States may need to be able to deploy forces quickly to help manage crises or defend those it is sworn to, an expanded battalion equipped with heavy weapons will be maintained in each brigade.
Each of these 72 reinforced battalions will be structured as a coherent Battle Group capable of deploying as a self-sustaining unit onto a battlefield and defending the terrain it is best suited for.
Three Battle Groups of each type, enough to form a full combat brigade, will be on active duty at any given time.
This will give the United States a four-brigade intervention force capable of deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. Typically a single Battle Group from each will be forward deployed in places like Korea and Germany.
Battle Groups will go on active duty one year of every six, unless an international crisis forces a broader call-up. They will pull the best-performing recruits and Guard members to make sure the people going on active duty are cut out for it and volunteered to spend a year abroad.
The Air Guard, with a budget of $70 billion, will convert all existing active-duty Air Force squadrons to National Guard units. Instead of being expected to field a full 12–18 aircraft on short notice, squadrons will instead maintain only 2–4 active to ensure all American airspace is guarded.
The primary missions of the Air Guard will be control of the skies over and global surveillance. In American history, the idea that air power alone can win conflicts and that aircraft are best used for striking ground targets on a mass scale has caused more death and mayhem than any other form of military involvement without real long-term gain.
Only precision strikes directed by forces on the ground are accurate and effective, and these are now best be delivered by drones or cruise missiles. Indeed, in the very near future crewed aircraft may not be able to survive at all near hostile air defenses, whether stealthy or not, as stealth can be beaten with the right radars and tactics.
Bomber wings are expensive and needlessly threatening to other countries and will be eliminated. So will many older fighter wings.
The Air Guard will field 36 combat fighter squadrons — 9 F-22, 9 F-35, 18 F15E/EX and as many supporting squadrons with refueling, cargo, surveillance, and drone aircraft. As with the National Guard 1/6 will be on active duty at any given time.
This ensures that on short notice the United States can rapidly deploy six combat squadrons —three of F-22/F-35 and three F-15E/EX — plus two airborne refueling, two AWACS, and half a dozen cargo squadrons equipped with C-17, C-5, and C-130 transports.
For reference, that’s about the size of the force American bases in Guam or Alaska can support at once — and is more than enough to defend American and allied airspace. Further, drone squadrons can be fully staffed at relatively low cost, so adding those to fill gaps and to accompany crewed fighters would expand the Air Guard’s capabilities.
The Navy, as befits a country protected by giant natural moats, will have the lion’s share of the budget at $160 billion. In fact the Navy’s capabilities need to be expanded and the force completely rebuilt in the coming decades.
Like the Air Guard, the Navy has to shift its approach given changes in technology since the Cold War, when most of its ships and aircraft were designed. No longer can it expect to park supercarriers off the coast and launch air strikes against ground targets as it has since 1944 — even then the threat of mass attacks by shore-based aircraft on one-way missions showed what the future would hold.
The role of the Navy is to protect sea lines of communication — a fancy way of saying that it must make sure ships can get their cargo to port. The entire global economy relies on shipping stuff across oceans, and even a single sinking of a cargo ship by a submarine in a conflict would likely upend the global economy as shipping insurance rate markets forces entire areas to be abandoned by commercial shipping.
China’s naval growth is far less of a threat than made out to be — yet it is still essential to be able to challenge it in the future, given that Guam is only a few thousand miles from the Chinese coast and unlike most of United States territory has been successfully invaded before.
So the Navy needs to remain fully equipped — just differently equipped than it is now.
The days of the supercarrier and the amphibious assault ship are almost done — it is too easy to find and destroy large vessels operating close to shore.
The Navy will maintain twelve carrier battle groups as its primary striking force, with three deployed at any given time and three more ready to go. At present the United States has one Ford-class and ten Nimitz-class supercarriers, with the twelfth being established by rotating in one of the two (soon to be three) America-class amphibious warfare ships operating in sea control mode with two dozen F-35B stealth fighters.
Each carrier group will be assigned eight escorts — one cruiser and seven destroyers at first, with some older ships replaced by the new Constellation-class frigate. They will also sail with fast resupply ship and typically a nuclear powered fast-attack submarine for good measure.
Each carrier will carry a slightly reduced air wing as compared to present, fielding two F-18E/F squadrons of twelve aircraft, one EA-18G with ten, and one F-35C with ten, plus a combat drone squadron.
In the unlikely case of a confrontation with China in the West Pacific, a fleet of this size plus the active component of the Air Guard will allow America to swiftly mass in and around Guam sixteen combat squadrons with a total of around 200 aircraft, not including drones.
Further, that’s just the surface fleet and air support. The Navy also operates over seventy nuclear-powered attack submarines of the Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia classes. Each is nearly impossible to detect in the deep sea and can launch up to a dozen long-range cruise missiles against targets on land and sea.
In fact, the only nuclear deterrent the United States will retain is twelve submarines with twenty-four Trident II missiles each, three independently targeted warheads on each weapon for a total of 864 active nuclear weapons.
This allows for the retirement of all bomber and ICBM systems, ideally in exchange for limits on Russian and Chinese nuclear forces.
The Navy will sustain material cuts, mostly come in the form of retiring, mothballing, or selling of most of the amphibious ships normally used to transport Marines. A company or two of Marines and their helicopters will routinely deploy aboard each aircraft carrier, but from there they’ll travel by helicopter as special forces, not the beach-stormers of yore.
But the Navy budget overall will not be substantially cut because the time has come to quickly rebuild much of the fleet while bringing the global shipbuilding industry back to American shores. This means spending more than the force needs to simply maintain itself — naval readiness has taken a bad hit, with an entire amphibious assault ship, the Bonhomme Richard, burning up in 2020.
A new class of aircraft carrier will be developed and fielded by 2026, the Ford-class line of four ships ending with the Doris Miller, carrying two crewed combat fighter wings equipped with a clean-sheet design emphasizing range, frontal-aspect stealth, and electronic warfare and integrate drones to handle long-range attack, refueling, and anti-submarine operations.
Twenty-four cruisers of a new type will be built and fielded, focused on air warfare and missile defense. Forty-eight of the Burke-class destroyers will act as all-rounder escorts and a full forty-eight of the Constellation-class frigates will be built to help patrol coastlines and hunt submarines.
Production of the Virgina and follow-on submarine classes will be accelerated to switly replace the older Los Angeles models, ensuring that the United States can maintain no fewer than 18 modern attack submarines on patrol around the world at any given time.
Any country that makes mischief will face potential sudden retaliation in the form of a swarm of cruise missiles even without the US sending a full carrier group to the area.
DoD shared services can then be reduced proportionally by substantially shrinking the size of the active-duty forces. A 50% overall reduction, or $80 billion annually, paired with a $40 billion reduction in the Marine Corps, $90 decrease in the Army, and $100 billion cut to the Air Force gives $310 billion saved.
That is how you defend America on a budget.
But there is one final step to building a sustainable, effective military: reforming the personnel system.
To minimize inter-branch squabbles and produce a truly integrated United State Defense Forces, the officer-enlisted distinction must be eliminated and a common promotion system established.
All recruits upon enlistment will spend a full year on active duty at the E-1 level, six months in intensive training and six months on duty with a National Guard unit. There they will act as apprentices, learning basic combat and survival skills and how to work as a member of a team. At the end of the year if they did not already have a high school degree they will be awarded one.
After this introductory year recruits who perform well enough will be invited to re-enlist for a three-year term. They will choose a branch and serve on active duty for three years where their time will be split between work and training. Starting at E-2, at the end of the first year they will be promoted to E-3 and then to E-4 at the conclusion of the second, assuming good performance.
By the end of this three-year enlistment all Defense Forces personnel will have earned an associates degree and be granted new promotion options following personalized pathways:
- Those who wish to serve part-time may join a National Guard unit and go about their civilian lives save for their one-month annual service obligation and any emergencies
- Any who are happy with their current responsibilities may compete to stay in an active-duty unit at their current E-4 rating on a new three-year contract
- Those interested in further advancement may choose a five-year professional re-enlistment in the branch of their choice
Continuing personnel will go through two years of intensive training in leadership and organization in the branch specialty of their choice (Marine, Ranger, Aviation, Naval Engineering, so on) with Command being one option. Upon successful conclusion they will also have earned a four-year degree, core university lessons being incorporated directly into the training curriculum.
The next three years are spent in active service where they will be expected to organize and oversee the efforts of others — the essential tasks of sergeants and chiefs and other non-commissioned officers in any modern military. They will train and attend schools as well to become experts in their specialty.
Those in the Command specialty will spend these years in an apprenticeship period that closely reflects current officer training courses in the American military. They will be granted the title of Lieutenant and function as entry-level staff officers in headquarters units where they will gain experience in how the military organism functions, top to bottom.
At the end of their five-year professional enlistment service members may elect to re-enlist again with a promotion to E-6 or continue on as E-5s on full or part-time contracts. At this point all options are open to personnel provided their training qualifies them to fill a role — including changing specialties or adding another. Command-qualified personnel will go on to lead active-duty units.
Subequent contracts follow the same promotion logic and greater levels of responsibility, going all the way to E-9 and retirement with a full pension.
Getting spending under control and rebuilding the personnel system — these are the two key, utterly fundamental reforms that must happen whenever an organization is forced to adapt to a new landscape.
The time has come to dramatically reshape the American military into the United States Defense Forces. To build it back better.
There can never be another Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam.
Never, ever again.