December 24, 2008

More Guns, More Jobs

Martin Feldstein, a Harvard economics professor and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, opines in the Wall Street Journal that an increase in defense spending would provide much-needed economic stimulus:

A temporary rise in DOD spending on supplies, equipment and manpower should be a significant part of that increase in overall government outlays. The same applies to the Department of Homeland Security, to the FBI, and to other parts of the national intelligence community.

The increase in government spending needs to be a short-term surge with greater outlays in 2009 and 2010 but then tailing off sharply in 2011 when the economy should be almost back to its prerecession level of activity. Buying military supplies and equipment, including a variety of off-the-shelf dual use items, can easily fit this surge pattern.

For the military, the increased spending will require an expanded supplemental budget for 2009 and an increased budget for 2010. A 10% increase in defense outlays for procurement and for research would contribute about $20 billion a year to the overall stimulus budget. A 5% rise in spending on operations and maintenance would add an additional $10 billion. That spending could create about 300,000 additional jobs. And raising the military's annual recruitment goal by 15% would provide jobs for an additional 30,000 young men and women in the first year.

Feldstein isn't pushing for the creation of radical complex new weapons systems with such a short-term spending increase, and so I'd encourage the incoming Obama Administration to use the proposal to stock up on upgrades in the small arms our frontline soldiers and Marines are using in the war against terrorism.

I'm not expert enough to try to sell any particular improvement as being any more important than another, but there are certainly several ideas worth considering one can come across without very much research at all.

In no particular order:

  • Upgrading rifle and carbine magazines. A common reason our existing M16/M4 rifles experience jams is because of of magazine-related failures. Perhaps purchasing existing "off the shelf" magazines will work, or perhaps funding new R&D in this area is needed, but this seems like a good short-term project in-line with Feldstein's proposal.
  • Upgrade the rifle and carbine operating systems. The M16/M4 has been knocked since it's inception for reliability issues due to its operating system, and multiple vendors have off-the-shelf upper receivers that are at least theoretically far more reliable, run cleaner, and cooler. While a program that is slated to end in 2011 won't (probably) give us enough time to make a revolutionary leap in small arms technology, such an evolutionary step seems warranted, could upgrade many front-line rifles, and be a good fit for the stimulus timeframe.
  • Upgrade small arms ammunition. Advancements in small arms ammunition design means that we can field ammunition with bullets far more effective that that presently fielded as general issue. Special forces are using this ammunition and seem to be very impressed with its performance, so retooling and expanding production lines to take advantage of more effective cartridges seems a very wise use of stimulus money.
  • R&D in news small arms systems. The M16/M4 design is older than the soldiers using it, and in this instance, older is not always better. Their is significant room for improvement creating a more compact, reliable, more accurate weapon with modular components that allow soldiers in the field to readily modify them for mission-specific requirements. The current 9mm M9 pistol simply bites, doing nothing well, so a more effective pistol is certainly needed. Non-frontline troops can become frontline troops in asymmetrical warfare in moments, so perhaps personal defensive weapon (PDW) systems with a rifle's range and armor-piercing capability and a submachinegun's compactness are certainly worthy looking at, and I can't believe existing first-generation MP7 and P90s are the only solution.

There are plenty of short-term small arms projects that can fit the proposal offered by Feldstein and serve as job-creating economic stimulus. Let's hope that incoming powers that be see the good-sense in his proposal.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 24, 2008 08:35 AM

There's a better chance of breathing in a vacuum, than Obama's administration increasing ANY spending in the defense field.

His known, vocal anti-gun stance, his videoed anti-defense spending speech all point exactly the other way with this idea.

Posted by: Conservative CBU at December 24, 2008 10:19 AM

A number of observers are equating Obama's attitude toward the military with that of Jimmy Carter's. Under Carter's administration, the military was allowed to languish--even atrophy--resulting in a significant decrease in capability and morale. It was only the coming of the Reagan administration that reinvigorated the service arms.

Provided he is true to his rhetoric--and this is questionable--Obama appears to be another Chamberlain, going the appeasement, let's talk, "peace in our time", route. Remember how well that worked out.

Unfortunately, those ignorant of history (and Obama has provided numerous illustrations of his capacity in this regard) are doomed to repeat it. They just don't believe the axiom applies to them.

I wish the new president success, since we're all on this ship together and there aren't enough lifeboats to go around. If he would take time to temper hope and change with a few good history books (Churchill's History of the Second World War would be an excellent start) he might be a wiser and more successful president.

Here's "hoping".

Posted by: Just Askin' at December 24, 2008 11:01 AM

It looks like Obama is ready to throw anything under the bus that might hinder his winning a second term. The left can be taken for granted but he will need new friends to secure a 60 seat Senate and more power. So we can't rule out anything he might do. He may be more Clinton than the Clintons.

Posted by: Gary Ogletree at December 25, 2008 07:00 AM

I'm in agreement with all suggestions in the above list. I must, however, respectfully disagree with your assessment of the M9 pistol. I have the civilian version - Beretta 92 - and I find it to be a fine sidearm. Far better than the comparable Glock of the same era (late eighties) which I also own. I would advocate abandoning the 9mm cartridge in favor of the tried-and-true .45 caliber or the more modern 40mm round. Just don't make our soldiers use a Glock to fire it.

There's no accounting for taste, firearms-wise. It's like chocolate vs. vanilla. Or tase in women. Neither one is necessarily "Better" so much as just a matter of preference. Except when a chick has really big boobs. Nobody doesn't like that.

Posted by: Bryan Frymire at December 25, 2008 11:42 AM

"I would advocate abandoning the 9mm cartridge in favor of the tried-and-true .45 caliber or the more modern 40mm round. " 40mm ???

General timeline:
US adopts 9 mm. M9 pistol.
Later, government agencies adopt 10 mm/.40 calibers.
Still later, Special Ops adopts the "old fashioned" .45 caliber instead of the "more modern" 10 mm/.40 cal.

Posted by: jay stevens at December 25, 2008 01:08 PM

Regarding M4 magazines: just adopt the steel ones the Brits made and put on the surplus market some years back. I have eight of them, none of which has ever malfunctioned.

Posted by: Papa Whiskey at December 25, 2008 01:33 PM

I think a 40mm pistol would totally rock.

Nah. Not really. I just merged 10mm and .40 caliber rounds in my head and vomited forth the nonexistent "40mm pistol round". It is nonextistent - right?

Posted by: Bryan Frymire at December 25, 2008 04:44 PM

No, it exists, Bryan, it's just not generally available. I find mine an excellent backup for my phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range.

Posted by: Steve Skubinna at December 25, 2008 09:23 PM

I am thinking that R&D won't be much of a boost to the economy, but certainly purchasing a new model of the M-16, or better yet, replace it with the SCAR Light, or best, replace all 5.56 systems with a 6.8 SPC. That would keep factories humming. Also replace the M9 with a .45, double the size of the F-22 and F-35, a new GPMG as the M240 is just too heavy. The A4 model of the M60 is a great improvement over the older versions of the M60 and lighter than the 240. New M1A1 Abrams, an armored replacement for uparmoured M114, a Boeing replacement for the AF tanker; there are lots of pruchases that can be made quickly and efficiently. Much better than planning new roads or bridges, since they will be tied up in lawsuits for years.

Posted by: Federale at December 25, 2008 10:54 PM

A "new" military sidearm is an excellent idea. Last night after the kids left, I took apart my wife's grandfather's Colt Model 1911 - the one he was issued in world war one, serial No 259313. Complete disassembly requires no tools. The grip screw slots are concave rather than flat so that you can use the rim of a .45 caliber round to back them out. As you take parts off, they become tools! The hammer strut becomes a drift punch with which to remove the sear pin and mainspring housing pin. This 90 year old gun is accurate, simple, reliable and extremely effective.

I also have a Springfield Armory M1911-A1 Mil Spec that's fine except that they "improved" the design adding a kiddie lock in the back spring housing. I have parts on order to get rid of that annoyance. Fortunately, 1911 parts are pretty interchangeable.

John Moses Browning was a genius. If we gave the trigger pullers a choice between a Model 1911 and any 9 mm or .40 caliber handgun on the planet, I know what the smart ones would select.

Posted by: arch at December 26, 2008 01:38 PM