Green Room

Sequestration, thermonuclear war, and the F-35 engine: an interview with SLD Forum’s Ed Timperlake

posted at 11:44 pm on June 21, 2012 by

Ed Timperlake is the Former Principal Director of Mobilization Planning and Requirements for President Ronald Reagan and a former Marine fighter pilot. He is currently the editor of SLD Forum, a website dedicated to a robust discussion of national security issues. We sat down earlier this week to discuss a myriad of pressing national security issues.


Dustin Siggins: What are your views on sequestration from a national security standpoint?

Ed Timperlake: Ignore it, it won’t happen. There’s no political will to gut the military. Nor should there be.


DS: Many people, including me, have supported some military cuts – mostly in efficiencies, prevention of fraud, etc. Related, the Government Accountability Office has said DoD is ripe for these kinds of wasteful uses of tax dollars. Do you agree with this assessment?

ET: No one can be in favor of corruption and inefficiency, ever. With that said, though, the future of the trend of military weapons and the buildup of enemies against America is murky. Consequently, the military appetite has to be insatiable for more and better. That is their job responsibility. It is up to civilian leaders in the American democratic system to understand and bring balance to the various competing weapon system initiatives. So, understanding full well that a military officer wants as much of the best as they can achieve to fight and win, the system has the legislative process of solid oversight and good judgment and appropriate authorization and appropriation bills to further the goal of always protecting America.


DS: When we talked the other day, you said the only real threat to change the American way of life is thermonuclear war. Can you please expound upon this a little?

ET: The number one threat to America which has the only potential to totally destroy or change our way of life is thermonuclear war. We can go bankrupt as a country – the Depression showed us that – and still get up and go about our business, but thermonuclear war is the only threat that can totally destroy America.

What does this mean in practical terms? Deterrence is everything. In order to have credible deterrents, you need the political will in our Commander-in-Chief to understand this; you need the sufficient forces to be real and credible; and below that threshold you need the conventional forces to preclude the only option, which is to have events spiral out of control into a nuclear exchange. So the American military has kept, since WWII, American citizens safe. We have spent national treasure on this, my old boss Ronald Reagan won the Cold War with this philosophy, and in my personal opinion it is still the most valid way to look at national security.


DS: Why is it the most valid way to look at national security?

ET: President Carter bequeathed a hollow military to the American people on his watch. President Reagan was elected and reversed that entire trend. President Obama’s administration came into power and took a page from the Ronald Reagan playbook in reverse – they plussed up the domestic side with failed make work jobs, incredible domestic spending…and then put the military and national security on a collision course with budget limitations. That’s what they did, and they did it quite successfully, thank you – because we’re having this debate [about cutting defense spending].


DS: Bush I, followed by Clinton, used the “peace dividend” to resize the military to the current challenges. After 9/11, many so-called “neo-cons” said that this resizing never should have happened, because it left us vulnerable to 9/11. Your thoughts on this, and your thoughts as we address the “murky” threats you referenced above?

ET: Osama bin Laden was a Saudi Arabian with a cell of terrorism who decided to take down the World Trade Center. His doing this was not related to the size of our military. It was much more about the size and capabilities of our intelligence agencies.

Related to the other part of your question, we’re coming out of a ten-year cycle of ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The force as it’s currently established is balanced in favor of land/ground combat. The world threat environment has now shifted again, so consequently one of the first focuses, coming out of Afghanistan, is to harvest the best and leave the rest. In other words, take what we learned from that experience and leave the rest behind.

Related to this and your question about cutting defense spending, we do have to spend smartly both dollars and tactics-wise. For example, the MRAP served its purpose in protecting troops from IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, after spending $45 billion on them and having the military possess 17,000…there is very limited use for the MRAP in the future, especially with the emerging air-sea battle Pacific doctrine [putting the assets afloat to deter China – basically, ships and aircrafts and satellites].

Now, with the rise of the People’s Republic of China, saber-rattling by Iran looking for a nuke and the craziness of North Korea, the focus of military technology is in a transition period, and the American way of war is evolving towards new, innovative systems like the F-35 linked to the Aegis surface ships and SSGNs [cruise missile submarines] and satellites. All are creating a Pacific honeycomb grid in which the American way of war will be “no platform fights alone.” Everything is interconnected.


DS: You mention the F-35. My old boss Representative Kenny Marchant (R-TX) is part of the “Save the F-35 Caucus,” but it and the F-35 engine get bashed daily in the media, in Congress, etc. as a waste of money. Are these fair criticisms of the fighter jet and engine?

ET: The F-35 has the potential to revolutionize the American strategic and tactical capability of deterring, and then winning, 21st-century war. The Congressman should be re-elected for his vision as long as he wants to serve the American people.

It has a fusioned cockpit that takes input from five independent sensors, which allows the airplane to command a 360-degree bubble that extends to 800 miles of processed information that is actionable intelligence in the pilot’s hand. It networks to every other F-35 at the speed of light.


DS: Your website looks to push for a robust discussion of national security and the U.S. military future. What takes place on the site?

ET: It’s not a church; we don’t have a doctrine, per se. Anyone can write for us, as long as their ideas are substantive and valuable. You want to cut defense? Put it up, and we’ll see what people like. Rock ‘em, sock ‘em.

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My greatest worry isn’t so much sequestration. Military hardware can be put into environmentally controlled storage as was done for years in Europe where pre-positioned equipment was stored for decades in case war broke out in Europe. The troops could be flown in and all the equipment they would need to fight could be drawn for storage. The equipment left behind would be used to equip follow-on forces as they were activated / recruited / trained. People cost money. A tank in storage doesn’t eat much. It eats some, but not much.

My problem is the loss of our industrial capability to replace combat losses, resupply ammunition, expand the size of the various forces. The factories that built the Bradley fighting vehicles do not exist anymore, they are completely gone. The factory that built the C-17 is a park in Long Beach. Our Navy yards are gone. Shipyards are gone. We don’t have the energy production capacity to get the steel mills running (if we still had the steel mills) to rapidly increase production of steel for ships, tanks, and vehicles. Our aluminum production is in serious decline, again ultimately due to energy production, to the point where we couldn’t surge production of aircraft even if we had the plants.

If we had to increase production it would take years to build the power plants, steel mills, factories, and shipyard facilities required to ramp up production.

An alternative approach would be slow, steady production to storage including tanks and other armored vehicles, trucks, ordinance, field pieces, planes, etc. We don’t have to keep it all flying all the time, but we can keep it in environmentally controlled conditions ready for use in an emergency. As equipment becomes obsolete, we can sell out of that inventory to allies as we replace the gear and recoup some of the investment.

But what really scares me is the fact that we do not have the capability to arm and equip a force in a hurry if we need one.

crosspatch on June 22, 2012 at 1:08 AM

You appreciate a straight conversation by a direct individual.

itsspideyman on June 22, 2012 at 2:03 AM

Those are good points crosspatch, also of concern is our lack of rare earth metals mined in this country.

Imrahil on June 22, 2012 at 8:48 AM

We have plenty of rare earths in this country, actually. In fact, I believe we have one of the largest if not THE largest deposits of rare earths in the world. Just that the EPA has shut the mines down.

crosspatch on June 22, 2012 at 12:51 PM

There is a book that is absolutely important that I believe people should read called Keep From All Thoughtful Men: How Economists Won World War II

The economists knew in 1939 (before Pearl Harbor!) that we would not be able to invade Europe until 1944. It was going to take until 1944 to get industrial capacity to the point where we could arm, equip, and keep supplied with ammunition a force large enough to invade Europe. It wasn’t a military decision, it was a logistics decision based on the simple ability to produce enough arms and ammunition. We started ramping up our production capacity in 1940 (again, before Pearl Harbor) and it took 4 years.

We these days aren’t going to have four years to ramp up production.

crosspatch on June 22, 2012 at 1:01 PM

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