Small Wars Journal

Can Mattis Make Peace Through Technology?

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 7:20pm

Can Mattis Make Peace Through Technology? By George F. Will, Washington Post

“To change anything in the Navy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching.”

-- Franklin Roosevelt, 1940

What the former assistant secretary of the Navy said is descriptive of the entire military. Each service’s culture, and interservice rivalries, and bureaucratic viscosity are resistant to reform. Which is why the next secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, has the most difficult management challenge in American government.

He comes from a service whose core mission, small-unit combat, involves conflict at its most granular. He will now rely on companies such as General Atomics here, whose business is leveraging technology to produce maximum potential military lethality with minimal costs.

The president-elect ardently advocated substantially increased defense spending, and just as ardently favors unrestrained entitlement spending. For about $500,000 in expenditures, the 9/11 attackers did more than $2 trillion in damage to the United States and the world economy. The linked physical and cyber infrastructures of complex societies are vulnerable to such asymmetries. General Atomics’ scientists toil to redress this imbalance with, for example, the Predator and other remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs).

But they bristle at the word “drone,” which they think falsely suggests mindlessness on the part of aircraft that perform three “ISR” missions — intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance. RPAs can hover for 40 hours over a Middle East target and deliver, with Hellfire missiles, a munitions payload equal to an F-16’s. The “fast movers” — F-16s and the like — must refuel coming and going from the Persian Gulf, and most have returned to their aircraft carriers without expending their ordnance. A Reaper, another type of RPA, can deliver what an F-35, the most expensive fighter aircraft, can. The Reaper is only half as fast, but is speed — aviation’s expensive goal since World War II — so important? An increasing amount of the Reaper’s and the F-35’s work, including sensing and jamming, is done at the speed of light, which is roughly 560,000 times faster than the F-35’s airspeed…

Read on.