At the time, I was a graduate student fresh out of a four year tour as an Army officer. What started out as a doctoral dissertation on how the United
States should restructure its military for the post-Cold War era quickly became something else.
A few months' research made it clear that the experts -- whether in academia or in uniform -- essentially agreed on the direction that was needed. Our
debacle in Somalia made it pretty clear that, despite having far and away the most capable, modern military force on the planet, we were woefully short of
strategic lift, civil affairs, military police, engineer, linguist, and similar assets required to sustain stabilization operations. A series of other
operations in Haiti, Iraq, Bosnia, and elsewhere pointed in the same direction.
Yet, despite this consensus, something else was obvious: We weren't going to adopt that force. Instead, we would short-change the missions we were sending
troops overseas to accomplish in order to preserve and even extend capabilities that were unlikely to be needed.
The interesting question, then, was why?
The answer is more complicated than a short essay can cover but, essentially, during times of tight budgets, bureaucratic institutions naturally fight to protect their core capabilities -- based on their deeply ingrained sense of
who they are -- regardless of the actual demands that they're called upon to meet.
The American military is both the archetypal bureaucracy and a special case. It's far and away the largest and most established government agency, having
interlocking institutional cultures with roots that, in some cases, predate the nation itself. But its relationship with the American public and the rest
of government is unique.
Most obviously, it is charged with safeguarding our security at the risk of life and limb. Because the stakes are so high, great deference is given to the
generals and admirals that make up the top echelon of the profession.
Additionally, the armed services have a symbiotic relationship with the Congress and the American public. Historically, this was a function of a tradition
where all able-bodied men were expected to put on the uniform in times of war, which created a special bond between those in harm's way and those back
home, including those on Capitol Hill. Forty years into an all-volunteer force, that shared experience has been replaced by a sense of obligation: those
risking everything in the service of our country deserve the very finest equipment, regardless of cost.
This is compounded by the fact that military procurement, and to a lesser extent basing, impacts all fifty states and virtually every one of the 435
A classic case is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been under development since the mid-1990s and currently seven years behind schedule and way
over cost. Designed as a muli-service, multi-national platform to replace several existing aircraft and save money, the program has instead become a
boondoggle. Among its other problems, pilots can't see behind them, which is rather inconvenient in a dogfight. Regardless, the United States is set to to
spend $8.4 billion in the next fiscal year on
what the DoD's Undersecretary for Acquisition Frank Kendall calls "acquisition malpractice."