5% Digest (week 09/03/15)

British MPs voted in favour of keeping defence spending at 2% of GDP. Just 40 MPs voted and the result carries no legal force.

Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border and chairman of the defence select committee, warned MPs that Britain could not continue to rely on the military might of America and be a “freeloader”. “This 2% is needed because the threats are real. The world is genuinely getting more dangerous,” he said.

The former head of the British army Gen Sir Peter Wall warned that Britain’s armed forces would be “hollowed out” if cuts continued. Luke Coffey, the former special adviser to former defence secretary Liam Fox, told BBC:

“When the Ministry of Defence received its final settlement in October 2010 it was very clear to Liam Fox and his ministers, Jock Stirrup [former chief of the defence staff] and his service chiefs that there would be a real-terms increase in the defence budget between 2015 and 2020. That is what made this difficult pill to swallow that much easier in terms of the defence cuts that the department received at the time.”

The YouGov poll this week finds that 53% of the general public think Britain should meet the NATO target of defence spending at 2% of GDP to “maintain a strong defence and meet our obligations.” However, the latest report from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) said it was inevitable the UK’s defence spending would drop below the Nato target of 2% of GDP. The combined strength of the Army, Navy and RAF could fall from 145,000 to 115,000 by 2020. Report author Malcolm Chalmers told BBC that a 2% commitment was unrealistic because it would involve giving defence a higher budget priority than the NHS and education.

Paul Ingram of BASIC asks “why does the UK’s ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ [Trident] appear to enjoy absolute protection from cuts, when it will soon take up 10% of the defence budget and around 35% of the procurement budget?” and argues that it is the elephant in the room that must be rigourously scrutinised like other government spending.

A recent report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation shows that the F-35 is still years away from being ready for initial operational capability. Below are some of the issues identified:

  • The Joint Program Office, led by Lt. Gen. Bogdan, is re-categorizing or failing to count aircraft failures to try to boost maintainability and reliability statistics.
  • Testing is continuing to reveal the need for more tests, but the majority of the fixes for capability deficiencies being discovered are being deferred to later blocks rather than being resolved.
  • The F-35 has a significant risk of fire due to extensive fuel tank vulnerability, lightning vulnerability, and an OBIGGS system unable to sufficiently reduce fire-sustaining oxygen, despite redesigns.
  • Wing drop concerns are still not resolved after six years, and may only be mitigated or solved at the expense of combat maneuverability and stealth.
  • The June engine problems are seriously impeding or preventing the completion of key test points, including ensuring that the F-35B delivered to the Marine Corps for IOC meets critical safety requirements—no redesign, schedule, or cost estimate for a long-term fix has been defined yet, thereby further impeding g-testing.
  • Even in its third iteration, the F-35’s helmet continues to show high false-alarm rates and computer stability concerns, seriously reducing pilots’ situational awareness and endangering their lives in combat.
  • The number of Block 2B’s already limited combat capabilities being deferred to later blocks means that the Marine Corps’ fiscal year 2015 IOC squadron will be even less combat capable than originally planned.
  • ALIS software failures continue to impede operation, mission planning, and maintenance of the F-35, forcing the services to be overly reliant on contractors and “unacceptable workarounds.”
  • Deficiencies in Block 2B software, and deferring those capabilities to later blocks, is undermining combat suitability for all three variants of the F-35.
  • The program’s attempts to save money now by reducing test points and deferring crucial combat capabilities will result in costly retrofits and fixes later down the line, creating a future unaffordable bow wave that, based on F-22 experience, will add at least an additional $67 billion in acquisition costs.
  • Low availability and reliability of the F-35 is driven by inherent design problems that are only becoming more obvious and difficult to fix.

And the problem-laden F-35 just had a new problem reported: its highly sensitive sensors are so sensitive and numerous – so much more data than the software can handle and analyse – that they generate unacceptable high rate of false alarms.

Saudi Arabia bought some $39 million in Swedish military equipment last year alone. The kingdom recently became the world’s biggest arms importer; it’s Sweden’s third-largest non-Western customer for weapons. The Swedish government this week decided to scrap an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, effectively bringing to an end a decade-old defence agreement with the kingdom.

China announced 10.1% increase in its defence budget. China’s neighbors have also started boosting defense spending. Russia’s defense budget is rising by 33%, while the Philippine proposed a 29% increase for 2015. Indonesia is set to rise this year by 14%, and India by 11%. Malaysia is boosting its military budget by 10%, and South Korea by 4.9%. Japan is spending 2% more on defense this year. The latest arms race is more likely due to China’s more assertive stance territorial claims recently, rather than the big increase in its defence budget, since this year’s rate of increase is actually quite normal for the last two decades.

In Heather Gray’s article ‘The Militarization of U.S. Police Departments‘, she discusses “low-intensity conflict”:

What is “Low-Intensity Conflict”? There are seemingly many definitions of the term. Regarding the impact of the U.S., however, I refer to it as “low-intensity” only for the U.S. military. In other words, the U.S. military does not get its hands dirty nor is it violently impacted but instead trains others for this insidious work. This is in contrast to those who are the recipients of it.

“Low Intensity Conflict” is simultaneously “high intensity” for those outside the U.S. who are victims of these U.S. international LIC policies. These victims are often under intimidating surveillance, sometimes suffer or are killed by summary execution, torture, displacement etc. by military or police in their own country who are trained philosophically and militarily by the U.S. In other words, it is a method employed to “police/militarize” the U.S. empire for U.S. political and economic interests. This could also be referred to as “war capitalism” (Beckert).

She cites Alex Kane’s article ‘11 Shocking Facts About America’s Militarized Police Forces,’ in which he writes:

The “war on terror” has come home–and it’s wreaking havoc on innocent American lives. The culprit is the militarization of the police….

A recent New York Times article by Matt Apuzzo reported that in the Obama era, “police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.”  The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what look like invading forces from an army. And military-style police raids have increased in recent years, with one count putting the number at 80,000 such raids last year (Kane).

In John Gray’s essay ‘Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war,’ he refutes the claim that the “civilising process” has made war/violence practically disappeared from the most modern parts of the world. Particularly, he commented:

In Europe, targeted killing of journalists, artists and Jews in Paris and Copenhagen embodies a type of warfare that refuses to recognise any distinction between combatants and civilians. Whether they accept the fact or not, advanced societies have become terrains of violent conflict. Rather than war declining, the difference between peace and war has been fatally blurred.

Deaths on the battlefield have fallen and may continue to fall. From one angle this can be seen as an advancing condition of peace. From another point of view that looks at the variety and intensity with which violence is being employed, the Long Peace can be described as a condition of perpetual conflict.