Readers Sound off on Recent Stories

Military Benefits Under Fire

In reference to your August 2011 Defense Watch, “Soon to Be Added to List of Pentagon’s Unaffordable Luxuries: People in Uniform,” whenever we use the term “entitlement,” I think we need to examine whether it was to fulfill a contract or was a give-away. Military recruiters have used the benefits to encourage talented young people to accept the risks associated with military service (which includes dying for their country) and still relatively low pay (compared to police and firefighters in most areas, whose benefits are also extremely good).  We have a contract with these people and the retired service members have earned the pay, health care and other costly benefits.

It is beyond me why we keep having these discussions about health care out of context. Health care should not be a military budget issue at all, any more than it should be a cost to commercial companies when competing with manufacturers in other developed countries. Defense organizations across the board opposed health care reform at the national level and held on to the cost as a military “entitlement” when we could have transferred the cost to the general pool.

Threatening to take away benefits, which is how my son on active duty with the Navy reads the press, hurts morale and provides a disincentive to continued service. While we may be required to reform elements of the cost, we need to be careful not to make the budget problem drive our forces to seek better career paths.

I also think we need to address common national costs at that level and most health care costs are elements of a national issue that needs to be addressed as part of the common discussion. The only military health care problems that are uniquely Defense Department issues are associated with delivering care to deployed service members and their dependants, and treatment of injuries associated with military service. The rest is purely providing health care to people in this country at an affordable cost, including service members on U.S. soil.

Rick Mochow
Sent via email

Energy Security

The article, “Defense Energy: Small, Incremental Steps Do Better Than Sweeping Reforms” (September 2011, p.18) addressed very broad and convoluted issues and presented the various positions rather well. However, the subject of “drop-in” biofuels sort of got glossed over and needs to be exposed for the boondoggle that it is.

As reported by Sandra Erwin, emerging biofuels cost several hundred if not thousands of dollars per gallon. Advocates suggest that a long-term commitment by the military combined with airlines and shipping could create a demand that would reduce prices. This is utter nonsense. The military has two problems concerning fuel–cost and transportation–and biofuel addresses neither.

Regarding costs, the Defense Department’s “green energy zealots” have lost sight of the obvious; fuel is fungible. The military, and all users for that matter, need it regardless of type (petroleum or alternate) and source (foreign or domestic). Whatever is consumed must be replaced, again regardless of source.

There is a global market for new sources and supplies of fuels. Once they become comparable in price with existing petroleum, they will be in great demand. But suggesting that Defense begin purchasing fuels at exorbitant prices just to set an example and send a signal is fiscally insane.

Regards transportation, whether the fuel comes from a petroleum refinery or an algae pond it must still be delivered in large quantities to the units in the field; the type of fuel is transparent and irrelevant. The only practical way to reduce transportation cost is to produce it locally in the field. Is anyone planning on building a major petroleum production field and refinery in war-torn Afghanistan? How about the algae processing conversion facility? I thought not, so none of this talk will come to anything worthwhile.

Chester A. Kojro
Rolla, MO

Military Acquisitions

The article by retired Air Force Gen. Lawrence Skantze (August 2011, p.6) is an excellent summary of the acquisition situation in the Pentagon. It is interesting that the USAF flag rank and top Defense Department civilians, along with Congress, permitted this situation to happen.

The last paragraph of the article gives a realistic approach to resolving the acquisition chaos in the Defense Department. I have proposed a reorganization of the Defense Department to implement an effective approach to resolving the acquisition problem with an in-house technical capability, or acquisition corps as stated by Skantze.

In order to make it independent of the Pentagon bureaucracy, Defense must be reorganized into two specific departments – the Department of Operations and the Department of Acquisition. The Department of Operations would comprise four operational services under the direction of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Acquisition Department is comprised of research, development, testing and evaluation resources from each military service integrated into specific technical centers under civilian direction. The department would be directed by a civilian. To ensure tactical applicability experienced operational officers from the respective services would be assigned to be integrated with the professional civilian scientists and engineers on each program. Each service in the Operational Department would retain responsibility for operation evaluation testing for acceptance of their respective system and training. Test facilities of the Acquisition Department would support the military operational evaluation tests conducted by the respective service.

The current in-house laboratory system would serve as the core structure to establish the Acquisition Department.

We know how to resolve the acquisition problem based on very successful experience in past years, but no one seems to want to listen. It’s time we used common sense rather than political influence to resolve the acquisition problem and ensure we have cost effective weapons for our military operations.

Frank Knemeyer
Ridgecrest, CA

Smartphones in the Army

Regarding your recent coverage of the Army’s activities in considering the acquisition of smartphones, while the usage of such devices is not new within the armed services, the approach taken with insertion of this technology should cause reflection on the risks and effects to war fighters and industry.

During a recent soldier technology conference in the United Kingdom, I listened keenly to a representative from the Army brief an overview of the current Army program to implement smartphone technology into the service. Listening to audience reaction during the Q&A session, and in the proceeding networking discussions, all of which served only to ratify my own concerns, I felt compelled to take a step in voicing what I believe is, in the very least, a precarious acquisition strategy.

The Army’s smartphone acquisition enterprise seemingly is trying to “rewrite” the rules of acquisition. I can only commend the vision as it is nothing less than a full frontal assault on tackling ever-increasing acquisition costs, equipment costs and shrinking defense budgets that plague us all in this line of business. However, the approach is also rewriting the very acquisition rules by which defense equipment has been bought and designed for decades, without any real justification or clarity other than the perceived immediate cost savings.

I understand that smartphones are fully integrated into young people’s lifestyles, are vastly cheaper communication tools than traditional systems employed by the military, and offer unmatchable function and application for the price paid. In that regard, it truly does make sense to buy something that is low cost and “disposable.”

But who decides that a smartphone does not have to be ruggedized? Who decides that the smartphone does not need to be submersible, survive altitude, withstand 12-foot drop onto concrete etc., when other items such as a radio or thermal sight have to pass all of these requirements? How do we determine that some pieces of equipment are more or less important than others when they are all operating from the same platform (the soldier), within the same environment on the same mission?

It appears that the allure of a “cheap” price tag, commercial-off-the-shelf availability and familiarity allows us to bypass the very requirements that exist to ensure that military equipment is fit for their purpose when a life depends on it.

Buying cheap and useful tools like an iPhone or Android may well seem like a great idea offering many benefits, and I certainly don’t deny this to be the case. Nonetheless, how do we know the thing that makes a soldier’s life easier 90 percent of the time is not going to cost him his life when that device fails? Is the commercial industry willing to stand that test?

Our military standards are there for a reason — to ensure that military equipment is robust enough to be used in the heat of battle. Military equipment is purposely designed to be superior to what the average person can buy in a local store, primarily to ensure we have the fighting advantage. If we rely too heavily on COTS for critical applications, we lose our overmatch advantage. The more that this COTS ideology proliferates, the more “inadequate” equipment filters into service men and women’s hands. A smartphone may be the best functional piece of equipment, but I personally do not believe that we should ever take away consideration to the full spectrum capability, and that means the smart phone needs to be rugged, waterproof, jamming resistant — all the same things the radio, thermal imager and other equipment need to be.

Where do we draw the line? We know our enemies are growing smarter every day and recent global events have demonstrated this. Do we really want to be sending our new recruits to Best Buy with a $1,000 gift card to equip themselves for war? We must protect our military advantage with the same basic tenants that have made the United States military the greatest force on the planet: through superior tactics, training, personnel and equipment. It is the very reason the Air Force built the F-22 — to ensure air superiority. If soldiers are using iPhones, our enemies will also, and we have therefore diminished our technology advantage.

A wider concern is the precedent that is being set in regards to acquisition rules. If the Army successfully changes the acquisition standard in that rules, requirements and best practice can be “done away with” as a convenience to implementing a cheaper and more preferred solution, the implications to the national defense industry are potentially grave.

In a period of declining defense investment, economic instability, and industry demographic and skills challenges, we must be very mindful of localized effects of individual programs and initiatives on the macro level of the defense industry as a whole and the military itself. Sacrificing superiority and standards that give our men and women the fighting edge, for affordability, in an attempt just to give them something, is not only a short term remedy that does not correct the underlying challenges industry faces, but rather serves to exacerbate the problems as this precedence is ultimately used to further justify buying cheap, insufficient, off-the-shelf equipment.

Andrew S. Buchan
Sent via email

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Science and Engineering Technology

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