Those of us who have spent our lives leading soldiers and Marines in combat agree with President-elect Donald Trump on one major campaign issue: We are fed-up with the defense establishment paying for high-tech fighter-jet programs such as the F-35 that cost more than a trillion dollars when, after 15 years of ground warfare and thousands of dead soldiers and Marines, we still send these “intimate killers” into combat with inferior gear.
Take a closer look inside the Department of Defense’s weapons-buying cabal and you’ll see people mad at work cooking up still more Star Wars–type stuff — from magic electronic rail guns to plane-killing laser blasters to hypersonic space planes. All this future gear would make George Lucas proud. But this stuff is about as far out in space and time as Luke Skywalker.
Has anyone noticed that Vladimir Putin is spending his money on “little green men”? These men are infantrymen serving in Spetnaz, GRU, naval, special forces, and airborne units. They do Russia’s dirty work in Ukraine, Georgia, Crimea, and Syria. Putin’s military is poor by our standards. But Putin spends lavishly on his infantry. His “Ratnik” weapons-development program is uniquely tailored to give his infantry the cutting edge — yet inexpensive — equipment they need to succeed in close combat.
Maybe we should consider following Putin’s lead by buying affordable stuff for the guys who are doing most of the killing and dying in our contemporary wars. We need Popular Mechanics, not Star Wars. The Defense Department can order some of it on your Amazon Prime account today and skip its lugubrious and wasteful acquisition process. Here are some things to add to an infantryman’s Christmas shopping cart.
‐ Let’s start with the soldier’s best friend, his weapon: U.S. troops use the same lousy rifle I carried in Vietnam 50 years ago. It was crap then. It still is today. Russia’s newest rifle outranges ours by 40 percent, and the Russian operating system is far more reliable than ours. We could equip every close-combat soldier, Marine, and special operator in our military for the cost of a single F-35 fighter jet.
‐ Digital precision: The Taliban fire at our men from ranges beyond the reach of our soldiers’ M-4 rifle. Wouldn’t it be great if we could return that fire with greater precision? For about $500, today’s hunter can buy a digital rifle sight that allows an untrained marksmen to hit small targets out to a thousand meters or more with more than 90 percent probability of a hit.
SLIDESHOW: Defending America
‐ A new bullet: The standard military round was designed to kill varmints, not people. A new, heavier, more powerful, longer-ranging bullet is available at Bass Pro Shop. For a few dollars more, we could make the bullet cartridge out of plastic and lighten our soldiers’ ammunition load by 40 percent.
‐ Tactical Drones: I’m sure you’ve seen the small tactical drones that Tom Cruise used in the movie Minority Report. Well, we can buy simple hand-held drones today. Think of how many lives could be saved in urban fighting by giving every infantryman the ability to see inside buildings and under foliage.
We need Popular Mechanics, not Star Wars.
‐ Soldier sensors: a fancy name for body cameras such as those at Walmart. Even many police have them now. A body sensor would allow soldiers to look around corners and into buildings to detect hidden enemy and then pass vital digital information on to headquarters.
‐ Decision-making virtual-training devices: Samsung makes virtual-immersion devices that would give soldiers the ability to fight virtually — before experiencing the real thing.
‐ Soldier cell phones: A soldier’s greatest fear is to die alone in combat. Give every close-combat soldier a cell phone so he can remain in intimate communication with his buddies in the heat of battle.
‐ A Soldier’s ATV: Helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft fly hundreds of miles per hour. But once a soldier or Marine leaves the aircraft, he moves at a rate of two miles per hour, usually carrying a hundred-pound rucksack. The ground services could easily adapt a commercial all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to fit aboard small aircraft and carry close-combat soldiers and their equipment to the objective.
‐ Electricity generation: Ground fighters carry batteries to fit dozens of sensors, weapon sights, and radios. We could easily adapt commercial solar or lightweight chemical generators to keep the ground fighter well supplied with electricity.
‐ Active protection: Anti-tank missiles are the greatest killers of armored vehicles today. The Israelis and Russians are now equipping their tanks and infantry carriers with simple, bolt-on devices that sense an incoming anti-tank missile and destroy it short of impact. This technology is decades old. We could easily buy this gear and attach it to our fighting vehicles.
#related#The stuff described above is on the shelf today. Most of it is made in America.
By the way, anyone with reservations about the veracity of equipping our soldiers and Marines with “cheap and quick” gear should talk to General James Mattis, the soon-to-be secretary of defense. Mattis comes from a service, the U.S. Marine Corps, known for getting the most killing power for the dollar. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s passionately advocated increasing the combat effectiveness of close-combat soldiers and Marines. I suspect, if asked, Mattis will confirm the wisdom of this Christmas list and suggest additional inexpensive ways to get superior gear into the hands of the men we send into harm’s way.