April 09, 2008

Technological Fetishism

Strategic culture is here taken to mean beliefs about the use of force shared by a national community of military and civilian leaders. U.S. strategic culture may be said to contain three biases that inform U.S. military practices: technological fetishism, casualty aversion and legal pragmatism.

Abu Muqawama was thinking, yesterday, about Theo Farrell's argument that the introduction of electronics into "land-based weapons platforms" in the 1970s made the U.S. Army just as obsessed with and slavish to technology as the U.S. Air Force has traditionally been. (The Air Force has an excuse for such fetishism -- they are a branch of service, after all, whose very existence starts with a 20th-Century technological advancement.) Did everyone see this article in the Washington Post yesterday on the problems with the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems or did this article get lost in all the hoopla surrounding the Petraeus/Crocker testimonies? What a goat rodeo this system is. If the U.S. military has a cultural aversion to casualties, Abu Muqawama is developing a personal aversion to Boeing and the rest of the military-industrial complex.

The U.S. Army is in the early stages of developing the most expensive weapons program in its history, but the project could already be in jeopardy because it largely depends on three separate military programs that have been plagued by cost overruns, immature technologies and timetable delays. ...

It's a costly vision: In the complicated math of the military, the Army said the program will cost $124 billion, or $162 billion including inflation. Independent estimates from the office of the Secretary of Defense price the project at $203 billion to $234 billion.

But none of those figures takes into account the expense of three complementary military programs that are supposed to serve as a critical communications network for Future Combat Systems. The three projects -- the development of high-speed radios, a wireless network and satellites -- are expected to be used by different parts of the military and cost about $80 billion combined, a figure that has risen by about $29 billion in recent years.

The military and its contractors concede past problems but say they have corrected each program so that they are on schedule, close to budget and developing technologies as expected. Dennis A. Muilenburg, until early February the program manager of Future Combat Systems at Boeing, the lead contractor, said he expects the high-speed radios and the wireless network to be finished on time and to "dovetail very nicely with" Future Combat Systems. Muilenburg, since promoted to president of a Boeing support systems business, said the third program, a new constellation of satellites, is "not required."

Other defense experts disagree, saying that the new, faster satellites are crucial to make Future Combat Systems work. Congressional investigators also question whether the trio of complementary programs will be ready in time to be incorporated into the Army project, which also has been restructured in the face of immature technologies, rising costs and timetable problems. After all, the three programs involve complex technologies and an alphabet of acronyms across military services with development stretching years into the future. And congressional investigators wonder whether the three programs -- all of which have been restructured in light of their problems -- will work as intended.

It's a good thing we're not engaged in two very costly but decidedly low-tech wars abroad. Ten bucks says these clowns will figure out some way to use Israel's 2006 war with Hizballah as reason why we need to continue sinking money into this weapons system.