Buying for the Big War, or the Small One?

I’ve often written about the divide in the military over the focus of our mission: to fight and train for the next “big war” or to prepare to fight the many “small” wars (which we currently find ourselves in.) That is a bigger question than it seems, because the type of war you plan to fight trickles down to the equipment that is purchased by the Pentagon, the training that troops receive, and the strategic focus that force employment entails.

Here’s a relevant example of this debate in real time: The Osprey vs. the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, or the Marines’ new “swimming tank.”

The Marines have given the Osprey (haunted by past technical issues) a good report card from a successful tour in Iraq, and have deemed it the next primary air mover for the Corps. The Osprey is a great example of a “small war” acquisition, because it facilities a very COIN-centric task: moving a rifle platoon a large distance at high (safe) altitude very quickly.

The EFV was developed to do a more “traditional” Marine Corps task: a beach assault under fire. However, that task is very “big war,” and may have security repercussions with the proliferation of anti armor weapons and anti ship missiles. Also, it has had massive cost overruns:

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found that major development flaws have pushed up the cost of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program by 168 percent per tank and pushed the production deadline back by eight years.

The Defense Department says it will acquire 593 of the amphibious assault vehicles from General Dynamics at a total cost of $13.2 billion, compared with an earlier projection of 1,025 tanks for $8.4 billion, according to a House Oversight Committee report released on Tuesday.

So if you are the Marines (imagine that) what do you buy? Ospreys or EFVs? This is akin to the Army’s continuing issues with FCS, and how it is relevant to the COIN fight. One simple question (big or small) drives this entire process.

Comments

  1. LtCol P says:

    Dear Readers:

    The EFV's not a tank. Nor is it an APC or an IFV. It's something different. Nor, I must point out, it is a COIN purchase or a big war purchase. It's an acquisition to support the age-old Marine Corps mission of expeditionary operations from the sea. And we would prefer not to do beach assault under fire. Although we would certainly be able to.

    In the same way, the acquisition of the Osprey is part of the greater Marine Corps warfighting capabilities, especially expeditionary operations from the sea. It was not, I say again NOT, acquired for COIN or small wars or big wars.

    What then do we Marines buy? Why, we buy that which supports the wide range of general Marine Corps operations– large, small, and everything in between. We prefer, in all instances, to acquire that most powerful and versatile weapon, a trained and educated thinking fighting man, who can turn his talents from major combat to COIN to raids to noncombatant evacuation operations to, well, you get the picture.

    Semper Fidelis!

  2. Charlie says:

    LtCol P,

    1. Ok, the EFV isn’t a “tank,” got it.

    2. The stuff that the DoD buys, however, is tied to its overall strategic outlook, which includes the type of wars we fight now, and will fight in the future.

    Your statement about the Marines can easily be translated for the Army:

    What then do[es the Army] buy? Why, we buy that which supports the wide range of general [Army] operations– large, small, and everything in between. We prefer, in all instances, to acquire that most powerful and versatile weapon, a trained and educated thinking fighting man, who can turn his talents from major combat to COIN to raids to noncombatant evacuation operations to, well, you get the picture.

    So, yes, that makes sense, but in the larger scheme of things, systems are requested and cut based on the current operational needs, and projected future use, which is what I wanted to point out based off of the COIN/big war debate.

  3. MarkD says:

    The Osprey replaces the CH46, which was in service when I was in. The EFV is replacing a vehicle that entered service after I got out. That was over 30 years ago.

    A nation that would send its sons and daughters to war with equipment that is older than their fathers is in trouble. We're on track to expand the Marines ahead of schedule. It would be nice if they didn't have to walk or swim to get to the fight.

    Next, if they would just do something about that abomination they call a rifle… This is what we pay taxes for, not farm subsidies or the other 75% of the budget that is just waste.

  4. MJ says:

    To answer your closing question, the answer is both. The Osprey and EFV are (1) replacements for weapons systems that have outlived their service life and (2) weapon systems whose roles (transport of troops via air and water, respectively) are key components essential to the core USMC mission of expeditionary operations from the sea.

    We need to budget, train and equip for the full spectrum of military operations. COIN/small-scale conflicts will be one of our primary concerns for the foreseeable future (not to mention the related new focus on expanding small-scale TSC operations around the globe) but we still have to focus on also being ready for a potential big war. The question shouldn't be choosing one over the other, it should be how can we do both effectively?

  5. bullnav says:

    You buy for both.

    Just because we are embroiled in one type of conflict right now in one part of the world does not relieve us of our responsibilities for the overall defense of the nation.

    Just as we discussed training the other day, weapons platforms and capabilities fall in the same category. There are core missions which will atrophy and die if we do not keep procurement up.

    I am not saying to neglect the COIN mission (which I would argue was neglected for close on 30 years and is just now regaining prominence) but we need to strike a balance between our current needs and future requirements.

  6. Ed says:

    I am reminded of Newt's remarks last 9/10, where he asked, "What if we, on 9/12/01, had set a war-time defense budget of 5% of GDP?"

    This WWIV spending would still be half of peak Vietnam spending, less than peacetime Reagan defense spending, and a small fraction of WWII spending.

    The extra 100 billion might buy us some of what we need.

    Defense spending as a % of GDP

  7. Fooman says:

    I am about 90% percent sure that newest of the Marine amtracks are over 30 years old. For a change the Marines are getting something NEW and when it has teething problems (which coincidentally both the H-46 and LTVP series had) everybody blows a gasket?