Why should we continue spending on national defense?

I got an email from my USAF (US Air Force) buddy the other day. The email was a hilarious little jaunt down futility lane regarding the removal of Quicktime from all USAF computers. Apparently there are vulnerabilities in Quicktime that the USAF feels are too dangerous to have running. In the meantime, one can safely wager that 50% of those computers have adware of somekind tracking web visits all day long.

After a nice chuckle, it dawned on me that I haven’t asked my USAF buddy about his role, or more accuratley, the USAF’s role in the current Iraq conflict. I was also curious about how the war was being perceived by the folks that aren’t necessarily doing the house-to-house combat. He gave me permission to blog him, so here’s his reply, sanitized to protect the innocent:

The AF is completely involved in Iraq, although not as much when it comes to full-up urban warfare in a place like Baghdad, where the Marines and Army have to go house to house and bombs are a little inappropriate.

We do have some pretty cool newer, smaller bombs — do a search for the “Small Diameter Bomb.” It uses the most precise GPS-aided package ever made, and unfortunately I can’t give you the exact precision numbers, but it’s pretty darn good. If you wanted to take out just your neighbor’s car across the street, while limiting damage to the house, this bomb can do it. If you want to kill somebody in the northwest corner of a building, and make sure you don’t kill the POW in the southwest corner, this bomb could do it. If there was a tank hiding under a bridge, this bomb could be setup to penetrate the bridge first, and then blow up the tank under it, without doing too much damage to the bridge itself (besides the hole where it penetrated).

There’s other places where we can provide “close air support” to Marines and Army guys with bigger bombs and what not, like in some of the further-out areas where insurgents lurk. These also use GPS to hit whatever target the soldiers don’t want shooting at them anymore. The soldier pretty much just hits the target with a laser rangefinder to get the coordinates, relays them to the pilot (kinda like when they called in an air strike in old Vietnam movies), and then a plane (sometimes the big B-52s or B-1s even) just drops a single bomb right where the soldier wants it. After that, they go in and clean up the mess.

And, of course, there’s all the non-direct, supporting missions that the AF controls — GPS (yeah!), satellite communications, weather over the war zone (aka “theater”), basically all the space stuff outside of reconnaissance. I also have a buddy over there doing something a bit different — he’s in charge of setting up the Iraq Air Forces version of Officer Training School. It’s where all their pilots and other officers will go to “boot camp” prior to getting their commission as officers and moving on to pilot training or whatever else.

I’m sure there’s plenty of other miscellaneous tasks we’re doing over there, but I’m just not in the know.

As far as your second question of “how do we perceive the whole thing,” well, that’s a bit more of a quagmire (giggity). Some people believe very strongly on one side or the other, but most people are pretty moderate; many of the younger guys just know that “a war is going on” and that we’re providing support through accurate GPS. Although I should, I don’t think I have a strong opinion on the matter. I know what we did was great for the Iraqi people, and I hear stories about their thankfulness when guys come back. I know what we’re doing now is necessary for Iraq’s success as a democracy, otherwise they’ll end up potentially worse off than before. I know we can’t make a public “we’re going to pull troops out by xx date” statement, b/c that’s pretty much a ridiculous mistake that only tells the enemy how long they need to wait before they can attack and meet their objectives without opposition. But that’s about all I know or have thought about.

Did that answer your questions? There’s actually good info/stories on the http://www.af.mil page from overseas about what some guys are doing, and (I don’t know the link) there’s more in-depth stories in “Airman Magazine” somewhere within the af.mil domain.

I told him that we feel about the same way. The Iraq war is a nightmare on many levels, but we have to complete the mission or we will have made an even bigger mess than we already have. Timetabling the way to a specific date will definitely end the insurgency, because why waste anymore munitions? We’re leaving, so just wait. That can only be perceived by the enemy as a victory on their part. They finally beat us into submission, and we’re pulling out disgracefully.

The other thing I did was go research a bit on the stuff that was mentioned. These “Small Diameter Bombs” are very cool. Their accuracy over the distance they can be fired is amazing, and the description of hitting a car while minimizing damage to the house seems to be awfully accurate. The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb is some serious technology that is very versatile in what it can accomplish. If you don’t believe the claim about blowing up a tank under a bridge without heavy bridge damage, check this out. Here’s the aftermath. Sure enough, minimal damage, even through steel reinforced concrete, 3 feet of which is within operational specs of this particular munition.

Now, as to my title question. How does any of this justify the expense required to build/maintain/deploy it? For me, this is easy…

This is a graph of a concept known as Circular Error Probable (CEP). This graph is very important for many reasons, but let’s start with some basics. Circular Error Probable A simple definition of CEP is “The distance from a target in which 50% of munitions will hit.” Now, if you’re any kind of statistician, you already balk at the “50%” statistic. Obviously, if 50% hit within a certain distance, then 50% hit outside that distance, so it’s a bogus stat and might be easily written off. But, the graph clarifies this further, because CEP is the first distance “n” given all distances using a normal distribution of ordnance distances from targets. That means there is a “bell curve” that peaks at the target position and trails off very rapidly by 3 times the CEP.

Moreover, the CEP for precision guided ordnance doesn’t follow a normal distribution due to the very precise nature of the weaponry. That means that the CEP will more than likely contain a higher than 50% ratio of hits and nearly 100% of all munitions land within 2xCEP of target.

In the case of the SDB, the CEP is 5-8m. That’s 15-25 feet. Since the bomb is precision guided, that means that almost all ordnance will hit within 50ft of the target, even on the worst possible targeting effort. This also means that a majority of the ordnance will land within 20 feet of the target. If the weapon is fired from a closer range the accuracy increases still, and the more telemetry that can be leveraged, the more accurate still.

Basically, everything my USAF buddy claimed is correct. This bomb gives you the ability to hit very isolated targets and save lives. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t put a price on human life, not even an Iraqi citizen halfway around the world that I’ve never met. If spending more money on defense provides one piece of technology that can accomplish the mission with less collateral damage, then spend the money.

If we stopped all this high technology and went back to churning out high-explosive and incendiary bombs and revert to the carpet bombing days of WWII. Heck, we could even try to top the Soviet Tsar Bomba with a >50 Megaton nuclear bomb and just level Baghdad altogether. I’m sure that our defense costs would drop dramatically in the R&D areas and we would have a nice budgetary surplus thanks not only to the decrease in defense spending, but the lack of foreign aid as most all of the middle east would soon perish in the nuclear winter and fallout.

I realize that we need to spend money here for things like roads, schools, and life-enrichment, but I think Mother Teresa was onto something when she said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” If my daughter having a better education comes at the cost of lost lives in other parts of the world, then I’m home schooling her. The Bible (as usual) sums it up even better, “Anyone who sets himself up as ‘religious’ by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (Jam 1:27 MSG)”

We have a responsibility to protect all the people in the world from corruption, and a strong defense insures the old adage “Peace Through Strength”. Sun Tzu recognized that adage as an important part of maintaining peace in a world of war, and Ronald Reagan saw it as the same. If the USA can keep the peace by showing unwavering strength, we will be respected. If we can do that while simultaneously demonstrating a desire to preserve and enrich all human life, then we will be admired.

-Chris

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ken Larson says:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    Politicians make no difference.

    We have bought into the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). If you would like to read how this happens please see:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/03/spyagency200703

    Through a combination of public apathy and threats by the MIC we have let the SYSTEM get too large. It is now a SYSTEMIC problem and the SYSTEM is out of control. Government and industry are merging and that is very dangerous.

    There is no conspiracy. The SYSTEM has gotten so big that those who make it up and run it day to day in industry and government simply are perpetuating their existance.

    The politicians rely on them for details and recommendations because they cannot possibly grasp the nuances of the environment and the BIG SYSTEM.

    So, the system has to go bust and then be re-scaled, fixed and re-designed to run efficiently and prudently, just like any other big machine that runs poorly or becomes obsolete or dangerous.

    This situation will right itself through trauma. I see a government ENRON on the horizon, with an associated house cleaning.

    The next president will come and go along with his appointees and politicos. The event to watch is the collapse of the MIC.

    For more details see:

    http://rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com/2006/11/inside-pentagon-procurement-from.html

  2. Andrew says:

    Chris – well put. Thanks for double-checking your facts…you never know how shifty those military guys can be 😉

    Just FYI – I heard that these SDBs don’t miss their target very often, so the CEP that’s published on the web is probably on the “pessimistic” side.

    ~ae

  3. Chris says:

    /agree with regards to the CEP. Statistics rarely do a precise job of explaining the true nature of things, they are just there to cover those that might be liable for the behavior of the goods/services. I would guess that the majority of those munitions hit well within 3 feet of theri target.

    It’s kind of like bridges, they say “max weight 4 tons”, when the bridge is capable of holding double that.

    -Chris

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