After 11 years of getting to know each other on an escalating level of contact and cooperation in the theaters of war that have been Iraq and then Afghanistan, it appears that the integration of contractor with the green-suited fraternity that has been so widely praised by both parties has largely remained on the battlefield, or at least those directly involved on a daily basis.
It was depressing to hear the majority of corporate industry speakers on the first day of AUSA ILW Aviation, the annual post New Year gathering of the aviation industry and the U.S. Army at National Harbor, Md., recite the pleas that have been heard at these type of gatherings for years, namely: “Please tell us what you want.” This is not to denigrate in any way the self-evident cooperation and support for existing aircraft conducting combat operations—even the new ones. The current fleet is well supported by an industry that has worked hard to get behind its warfighters, as well as an Army that genuinely recognizes and appreciates what industry has achieved, particularly in cases where an urgent need has been identified.
The problem lies between those decision-making monoliths above this daily teaming. While the fiscal budget issue did its best to introduce a Scrooge-like mentality pre-Christmas, the deeper issue is the mistrust that still exists deep within defense and industry of each other. Industry does not believe that those in defense really know what they want long term (which directly affects corporate strategic investment); conversely defense has been burned so many times by soaring industry costs and project overruns that they feel it is almost an inevitable consequence of any new procurement decision. We live in a blame culture where scapegoats must be found. Heck, the specter of the RAH-66 Comanche was raised yet again (the right time of year if slightly late). And nobody wants to create The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Maybe the answer is to take the consultation process higher up the chain—I mean to the very top. Perhaps the Captains of Industry need to face the Generals of Defense in a locked room for a little bit of straight shooting from the hip. It might go like this—Captains: “Make some procurement directional decisions soon or we will reinvest in other more profitable business areas. And remember, once we lose the experience to make what you need—relearning is a long and costly business.”
Generals: “So stop loading the dice that put us into a bind on every decision we make, which all end up prohibitively costly; and be honest with your design, manufacturing and certification capabilities before you offer us something you know has no guarantee of being delivered to the original spec.”
What is clear is that something does need to change—and fast.
Ok, I get it. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard about the military pivot away from Europe and toward Asia Pacific—and that nation that fills our stores with the majority of non-food items that we buy on a daily basis—I would be able to buy a lot more stuff with the label, Made in China.
What is currently unclear is how that force will be redeployed, both in long-term basing, and as a rapid reaction force, without escalating tension across the region leading to additional conflict.
We have already seen the reluctance of the Japanese military in Okinawa to accept V-22 Ospreys and of course, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from bases in the Philippines that began with the closure of Subic Bay Naval Base in 1991, may now be seen as an early contributing factor that has now encouraged China to escalate the intensity of its geographical territorial claims.
So with China’s neighbors cautious about any alignment with the U.S. and the possibility of a lack of bases large enough to hold a counterforce, many are beginning to understand requests for longer endurance and the need for speed.
The U.S. Marines might not the only force with sea-basing in their repertoire. With the British having recently demonstrated the Apache’s ability to operate in the maritime environment off the coast of Libya, perhaps the U.S. Army’s next budget request might be for a “green” helicopter assault ship (say, how many would you need to operate a Combat Aviation Brigade from the ocean anyway?)