Planning for Sequestration: Making the Marker Requires Clean Kills, and Why the B-1B Probably Won't Survive
Hasik Analytic LLC
Planning for Sequestration
Making the Marker Requires Clean Kills;
Why the B-1B Probably Won't Survive
Defense-Industrial Research Memorandum #2011-09, 26 September 2011
Politico writer Charles Hoskinson reported today on the HASC staff's analysis of the implications
for the Defense Department of possible sequestration. The news report is just ﬁne, but the
underlying staff report is rubbish. Using Hoskinson's words, I will cite just one example:
The Air Force ﬁghter force would drop from 1,990 to 1,512, and bombers from 135 to 101.
This sort of salami-slicing outcome is easy to predict, but this time highly unlikely to occur.
During the orderly Peace Dividend drawdown of the mid-1990s, the Pentagon had time to plan
for cuts, and could choose to chop a little here and a little there. Under sequestration, though,
the department would need to "go big" fast. Unless the Pentagon's planning apparatus has been
thinking deeper thoughts than I suspect, the leadership will lack the needed time to decide how
to trim—the process is too difﬁcult bureaucratically and too challenging analytically. Rather,
clean kills of excess and aging systems and structures will be required to make the marker.
Knowing what might go should be interesting to suppliers who have a stake in either the
systems under review or plausible alternatives. With some ideas about what is vulnerable,
contractors could then plan their marketing efforts more sharply. And even though the process in
the 1990s was orderly, the department's leadership still found places to excise whole segments
of the establishment. In each service I can think of salient, enthusiastic retirements:
The Army dumped all its heavy cannon artillery (the 203 mm howitzers) in favor of missiles.
The Marines shed all their self-propelled artillery as insufﬁciently expeditionary.
The Navy paid off all its steam-powered ships, oil- or nuclear-ﬁred, save its helicopter carriers.
The Air Force eliminated its entire F-111 and F-4 ﬂeets, including all its EW capacity.
I argue quite qualitatively here, but I will hazard to identify a pattern in the retirements, one that
can form a framework for thinking about the next round of cuts. If the services are told to offer
sacriﬁces, in rough order, they will pick systems that
Defense-Industrial Research Memorandum 2011-05 Hasik Analytic LLC
1. are expensive to operate—O&M costs are just eating the military's lunch, and through a
decade of congressional enthusiasm, personnel costs have increased dramatically.
2. are not essential to their preferred sense of corporate self—think about how the USAF has
repeatedly tried to eliminate the A-10 (though the leadership should know better now).
3. are easily reconstituted if mothballed or dispatched to the reserves—so that mistakes can be
undone inexpensively. Recall the decade-long drama of the Canadian Air Force's effort to
recover Chinooks helicopters, after selling the ﬂeet to the Netherlands in the early '90s.
4. are not deeply integrated in combined arms concepts—so that cutting one capability doesn't
have remarkable secondary effects elsewhere.
5. are excess to actual war-ﬁghting requirements—listed last because we don't usually expect
the bureaucracies to "do the right thing", as it were, and because there remains considerable
disagreement within the whole national security establishment as to just what these
requirements really are (China? Grumpy Fanatics in Caves? What?).
With this in mind, I offer one prediction of what will be jettisoned, and in speciﬁc relation to the
HASC staff's report. The USAF will not offer to trim its heavy bomber force by 24 unidentiﬁed
aircraft. Rather, I suspect that the service will offer the entire B-1B ﬂeet, all 66 aircraft.
Why's that? It ﬁts my model (which admittedly is not quite a calibrated model) quite nicely:
1. Ten years ago the GAO calculated the ﬂying costs at almost $16,000 per hour.
2. General Curtis Lemay is still dead. Heck, the current chief of staff is a transport pilot.
3. There's a place called Davis-Monthan for just that sort of thing.
4. If big bombers really are important for something, then the USAF has two other types on call.
5. Really long-range aircraft would be important in any ﬁght with the Chinese, and the Air Force
and Navy's new-found enthusiasm for the Air-Sea Battle concept shouldn't be discounted.
That said, the B-1Bs haven't been critical to the success of any recent campaign. They've
been used repeatedly, but even over Afghanistan in the early days, they ﬂew alongside the
B-52Hs, and there were more than enough B-52Hs available to take the B-1Bs' role.
In the balance, it really is remarkable that the older airplane costs so much less to operate—that
whole supersonic swing-wing thing just never panned out as a design concept.
If the B-1Bs are indeed sacked outright, then it's obvious who loses out. But remove an entire
ﬂeet of anything, and as ﬁnances (eventually) recover, money will be found for moving on. So
who wins? Who dares—who dares, that is, to offer a radically less costly way to undertake the
semi-penetrating long-range strike mission. Two candidates come to mind:
Speciﬁcally, Northrop Grumman, with its X-47B prototype and its X-47C concept. The -B
version is said to have an unrefueled carrier-launched range of 2,000 nautical miles.
Generally, anyone with a good long-range-but-stealthy cruise missile design. If those B-52Hs
can continue in service for another twenty years or more, they might merit a new missile.
Whether the B-1B will go remains to be seen, but someone should start making slides.
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