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Why Most US Weapons Systems Are Worse than Russia’s

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We first published this article in November of 2015, and are re-running it now in light of the dramatic advances Russia has recently made in weapons tech, rapidly outpacing the US. A lot of the problems the author identifies here explain why the US is falling behind.


In this fascinating analysis, our contributor explains why the US military is in serious trouble, unable to compete with Russia, and unlikely to change going forward.  He has experience in the military, civil service, Congress, and the lobbying and contracting sectors.  He lives in the Washington, DC area.


<figcaption>The F-35: Insanely expensive, its costs keep soaring - and it's worse than Russian planes which cost 20 times less</figcaption>
The F-35: Insanely expensive, its costs keep soaring – and it’s worse than Russian planes which cost 20 times less

Lately we have seen some good analysis on the limits and vulnerabilities of the American military in light of events in the former Ukraine and especially Russia’s demonstrated competence in Syria.  

So we have the “what” of the issue, but how about the “why”?  

As a U.S. Army veteran and a longtime resident of the Beltway—including four-and-a-half years living on Crystal Drive in Arlington, Virginia, which has probably the densest concentration of “defense” contractors anywhere in America—I think I understand what is fundamentally wrong with the U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC.)

First and foremost, the MIC has long been incapable of producing durable, efficient, versatile weapons.  

We don’t even have to look to the F-35 on this one.  

(America’s latest fighter which has turned into a spectacular technical failure and massive  ($1.5 trillion!) expense  – see our super-popular article about how this plane stacks up against the Russian competition- edit)   

Just consider the most basic item, the M-16. 

The M-16 Assault Rifle

My field experience with this piece of junk is that it runs into problems in the presence of even a small amount of sand. When enough sand gets in to the chamber and mixes with the lube oil on the bolt assembly, the grit thus formed results in up to every second round misloading.

God forbid you should brush an oiled open breach against the side of your foxhole—you are out of commission.  In the absence of air or artillery support or sheer overwhelming numbers on your side, you are dead meat against anyone with a gun that functions in a sandy environment.  And why?  Because, as I was told in boot camp (whether it’s true or not), this thing is perfectly built to have zero fault tolerance.  

Supposedly, just about every metal component in the M-16 is cast and/or machined to perfection rather than stamped.  Contrast this with Russian or Chinese weapons that are said to be built like can openers to spray lead under any conditions.  In other words, the M-16 is so sophisticated that it doesn’t work well.

It is now acknowledged that the M-16 with its 5.56mm rounds is insufficiently lethal beyond a couple of hundred meters, making it unsuited to long-distance firefights over open terrain (again those deserts, or perhaps shootouts between mountain ridges.)

The M-1 Abrams tank

Another great example – this can be a real dog.  The engine is a gas turbine, like with an aircraft, except that it is being driven around in deserts and even sandstorms, making it extremely finicky and high-maintenance.  (Would you fly your Boeing into a sandstorm?)  Of course, the Abrams was designed to fight in Germany where sand is not an issue.  But during the Iraq adventure, sand so tore up the turbine fans (or whatever) that over 1000 of these million-dollar “power packs” had to be removed and sent up for depot-level maintenance or refurbishment stateside.  

Yes, that’s right—these things cannot even be fixed in the field.  All you can do is pull them out with a crane and ship them back to the civilians at enormous expense.  At the height of the Iraq adventure, around 2007, the maintenance backlog was so bad that even the national media got wind of it.  

Of course, when you have the world’s reserve currency, you can afford all that and more—the entire world is paying for your wars.  

But the waste and inefficiency are a fact.

The Basic Problem :  Excessive Complexity

I think the problem here is that American war planners and logisticians prefer originality, complexity, and/or expense-for-the-hell-of-it over versatility and ease of use and maintenance.  This is no surprise given America’s wealth and the longtime generous funding of its armed forces.  After all, every military reflects its own society. 

Unfortunately for Uncle Sam, what he gets is equipment that may work very well in one environment but not another.

But so much for American equipment per se.  Let’s talk about Crystal Drive (a neighborhood in suburban Washington where many defense contractors have offices – edit.) —or more broadly, the MIC.

The Military Industrial Complex (MIC) is failing on a massive scale

It is clear now that the MIC cannot build anything for less than 200 percent of its original planned budget (and that’s being extremely conservative.)  Nor can anything it cranks out nowadays meet performance or survivability expectations.  Besides the never-ending supersonic train wreck known as the F-35, we have other boondoggle failures such as the Littoral Combat Ship, which by all accounts is less capable and more vulnerable than the 20 to 30 year-old vessels it was supposed to replace.

Or, going back a few years, we see the Army’s “Commanche” helicopter, an intended replacement for the Apache, which blew through $6.9 billion—in 1983-2004 dollars, probably over $10 billion today—before the entire program was scrapped.  That’s right, over $10 billion for nothing—not one Commanche was ever delivered for permanent use to an Army operational unit!  

Where did that money go, if they didn’t actually manufacture anything besides a few prototypes?  Did they spend $10 billion on PowerPoint presentations?  

My brain cannot even wrap around this.  Can you imagine what Russia or China could do for $10 billion?  

However, even that pales before the Army’s cancelled Future Combat Systems program, which burned through an estimated (no one knows exactly) $20 billion from 2003 to somewhere between 2012 and 2014 (depending on what termination milestone you go by), with almost nothing to show beyond a few prototypes, a lot of concept art, and a 29-pound toy robot made by iRobot of “Roomba” vacuum cleaner fame.  In fact, I can’t think of one big new U.S. weapons system that has succeeded in the last 25 years, other than perhaps the Stryker armored car (though some have argued that point, and I just don’t know enough about it.)

As pointed out by many other observers, part of the blame lies with our political system, where MIC corporations buy politicians and then receive favors in the form of contracts, whether or not the contracts make any sense. However, I think this is not the only problem, nor even necessarily the biggest.  

Fundamentally what I think we have is systemic over-complexity resulting in nothing getting done, or done well anyway.

US intelligence agencies have the same problem

This is akin to the deep systemic crisis in Uncle Sam’s intelligence agencies, where from 9/11 to the Arab Spring to Crimea to the ISIS conquest of Mosul to Russia in Syria, the word is always “we didn’t expect…”  In this case, we have numerous agencies—some of them with overlapping functions—that are drowning in paperwork and garbage data (or too much data) and are almost totally useless.  

As some readers will remember, it got so bad that in April 2014 the State Department released a photo collage aiming to prove that (among other things) a bearded Chechen battalion commander going by the name Hamza, who appeared in Russian TV footage of the 2008 Olympic War, was none other than the bearded, overweight Slaviansk militiaman going by the call-sign “Babai”—in other words, Russian special forces have invaded the Donbass.  (The New York Times ran with this and was then oh-so-vaguely and gently reproached by its own ombudsman.)  

Shouldn’t this awful joke have been prevented by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is supposed to promote info-sharing among agencies and centrally vet all claims and conclusions—especially those being trumpeted on the State Department’s website or at its briefings?  Apparently not!

Bureaucratic bloat

On the other hand, what the U.S. lack-of-intelligence complex is very good at—besides hiring way too many buxom, flirty young things straight out of college and with no language skills or any experience at all (DIA and NGA, you know your ex-military managers like to beautify their offices)—is providing employment for tens of thousands of its own staff as well as tens of thousands of grotesquely-overpaid contractors, including those who build and run billion-dollar eavesdropping centers that have proven incapable of picking up anything useful, perhaps because when you try to listen to everything, you end up hearing nothing. 

The lesson here is that the more offices and agencies, the more managers and political appointees who will seek to justify and expand their turf and budgets by shoveling out as much money on as many contracts as possible, as quickly as possible, in many cases even paying contractors to do little more than just sit around (sometimes at home) waiting for the next contract.  (I have seen this many times in Washington.)  

Then you get so big that people simply trip over each other and the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

The US MIC worked great 50 years ago because less money and people were involved

So I think this is what’s going on not only in the intelligence apparatus, but in the MIC as a whole.  We have hundreds of thousands of staff and contractors as well as military officers assigned to liaise with them, all kinds of project managers and “six-sigma black belts” and other buzzwords, juggling millions of PowerPoints across the river from Washington and throughout the country, and they can’t field a helicopter after spending $10 billion on it. 

Really?  How did this great country ever defeat the Japanese Empire?

Go to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington; you will see the most amazing things—e.g. generators designed to operate on the surface of the Moon, drawing electricity from the heat of plutonium decay—that were developed when there was no Crystal Drive, no Tysons Corner, etc.  

Then go to the museum’s extension near Dulles airport and check out the SR-71 “Blackbird”, the fastest and highest-flying airplane ever built (this was about 50 years ago.)  

How did they do it?  

Although there were more men in uniform back then, the MIC itself (or should I say the Military-Industrial-Intelligence-Homeland-Insecurity-Complex (MIIHIC)) – had but a fraction of today’s civilian workforce.  Luckily, most of those paper-pushing “systems integrators” and PowerPoint rangers did not exist.  Blueprints were drafted with pencil and paper.  

Today, Uncle Sam can’t even build a heavy rocket engine, not to mention a good helmet or ejection seat for his F-35.

No hope for change going forward

So it seems that as a technical civilization we are degenerating.  

Sure, there are constant advancements in microelectronics (a.k.a. integrated circuits) and the programs they allow, but in terms of heavy engineering—of which the MIIHIC and other government initiatives like the space program were at the forefront since WWII—it seems that the U.S. is tapped out.  

And you know what?  Throwing more money at it is just going to make it worse. 

The organizations with their budgets and their perfectly reasonable-sounding arguments for ever-greater budgets will grow, their workforces will grow, the contracting sector will grow, more shiny office buildings will go up, but the result will be an ever-increasingly-negative marginal return.  

John McCain and all the other broken records in and out of the Pentagon will say we still don’t have enough funds to counter a pointless Russian invasion of parasitic, inconsequential Lithuania (currently headed by a longtime communist) or any other 1990s-era speculative wargame training scenario that somehow carried over into the public consciousness and morphed into the Greatest Threat to World Peace.

Of course, as long as the U.S. has the money to send gazillion-dollar armies and armadas against illiterate natives armed with sharp sticks and coconuts, this may not visibly threaten its hegemony.  Almost any problem or mistake can be papered over with money, for a long time anyway.  

But eventually, even if the money spigot does not constrict, we will get to the point where the military really can’t be used as anything more than a façade or a gunboat road-show, hoping no one calls the bluff, because the stuff just doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or else is too vulnerable (witness the evacuation of the U.S. aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf after Uncle Sam found out that Russia has cruise missiles with a range of at least 1500km, or the ridiculous sail-around of China’s little islands which had the sense to infringe only very slightly and briefly on that country’s imaginary territorial waters), or the natives can devise their own countermeasures. 

In fact, I would say we are at that point already.  Not to mention, the U.S. Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs are still so tapped-out after Iraq and Afghanistan that another major ground operation is unthinkable.  (At this point, Washington is more likely to launch nukes at somebody than risk another ground war.)

So you can anticipate a lot of hand-wringing and a lot more money being thrown into the breach.  That’s simply what the machine does; there is no chance to reform it, nor will the Hegemony dissipate willingly (although lately it’s done a good job of dissipating unwillingly.)  

But all that money may as well be flushed down the can. 

The threshold has been reached and it’s all downhill from here.



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Travel agents experiencing increase in bookings since Covid-19 restrictions eased

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Travel agents are experiencing an increase in inquires and bookings since the government announced the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.

Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says there has been a “phenomenal” turn around in bookings, and travel agents are busy getting back to inquiries.

“We are looking at a healthy summer season, it’s the first time I’ve been positive in two years.”

He advised people to book their holidays early to avoid disappointment. “The longer you leave it, the dearer it will get. Mid-term break in February and Easter are almost full.”

Mr Dawson believes there is a pent-up demand. “There are some people who have money they haven’t spent, a big chunk of that will be spent on foreign holidays.”

John Spollen, director of Cassidy Travel in Dublin, says he has seen an increase in bookings over the weekend.

Popular destinations include Spain and Portugal, which have been Irish favourites for many years now, says Mr Spollen. There are also some bookings for the US, Jersey, Madeira and the Greek islands.

Peak travel

People should avoid peak travel times from mid June to the end of August and consider booking mid-week, early or late flights to get the best value, according to Mr Spollen.

“In May, September and October, the weather will be similar to summer weather.”

Mr Spollen added people should take out travel insurance and ensure their passport and driver’s licence are in date.

Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel in Cork said they have seen a huge increase in inquiries.

“We are not back to 2019 levels yet… the EU is a big destination. We have had a lot of inquires about mobile home holiday parks. Italy would be the most popular destination for this type of holiday, but Croatia is becoming almost as popular.”

There are also bookings for America coming in, as well as some couples celebrating their honeymoons belatedly, according to Mr Doorley.

It is important that people understand the restrictions in the country they are travelling to, he added, and they should check the Department of Foreign Affairs website regularly.

Aoife O’Donoghue is just one of the many Irish people who have not been on a holiday abroad in two years, and she is excited to be going to Barcelona at the end of March.

“A friend is moving over there in February, so myself and two other girls are going to visit her. It’s actually all our birthdays that weekend too,” she says.

The friends used to live together in Galway, and Ms O’Donoghue says it’s fantastic to have something to look forward to again.

The last time she went abroad was to Switzerland in January 2020. “Just as we were coming back there was news of the big Covid outbreak in Italy, so felt lucky to have gotten a holiday in before it all kicked off.”

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Property group clashes with council over Dundrum residential development

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The owners of Dundrum Town Centre have clashed with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council over demands for more large apartments as they advance fast-track plans for a major residential development in the south Dublin village.

Property group Hammerson and insurer Allianz, which operate the new shopping complex in the area, have been in talks with An Bord Pleanála to build up to 889 apartments on the site of the old Dundrum shopping centre.

Their company, Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership, has told the council it should scrap new requirements for “a minimum of three-plus bedroom units” in large apartment blocks that are included among proposed amendments to its draft county development plan.

In a submission last week to the council, the company said the new guidelines were in conflict with official rules that said there should be no minimum requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms.

According to the company, the justification for the guidelines was based on fast-track strategic housing development permissions in the council area and “evidence” from certain boroughs in London.

“[Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership] submit that the logic underpinning the policy is flawed and is not a basis for imposing prescriptive unit mix ratios on a countywide basis,” it said.

“The draft development plan needs to be amended to remove the very prescriptive requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms and to allow applicants to make the case for a particular unit mix based on the particular attributes of local areas where a different mix might be appropriate.”

The company also told the council that proposed amendments to the development plan presented “contradictory or ambiguous objectives” in relation to proposals for a community, cultural and civic centre in the area.

Such objections were included among 106 submissions on the draft plan in a public consultation which closed last week. Numerous other developers and the Irish Home Builders Association lobby group also opposed the measures, some saying they would delay or prevent the delivery of new homes.

Asked about the submissions, the council said the response to any issues raised would be set out in a report by its chief executive to elected members which would be published. “It will be a decision of the elected members to adopt the plan and it is anticipated that this will take place in early March 2022. The plan will then come into effect six weeks later,” the council said.

Cost increase

In its submission, the Irish Home Builders Association said its members were concerned that the introduction of “further onerous standards” would increase the cost of delivering new homes and their price.

“This at a time when construction costs are already under huge inflationary pressure and affordability is a major issues for most home buyers,” said James Benson, director of the association.

“A key concern of the home-building sector in respect of the new plan is a lack of consistency with national planning guidelines/standards, which may be considered to be contrary to recent Government policy which sought to bring a greater extent of standardisation to national planning standards.”

The submission added: “The key concerns relate to the locational restriction and unit mix requirements for [build-to-rent] schemes, other standards for apartment developments which are more onerous/restrictive than the Government’s… guidelines, and the requirement for early delivery of childcare facilities in residential developments, all of which have the potential to impact adversely on the viability and affordability of housing in the county.”

Another builder, Park Developments, said in a submission the draft sought “more onerous policies, objectives and standards” that would have a direct effect on housing supply. “We are already seeing the impact of the chronic shortage in the supply of housing on the affordability of rental accommodation and homeownership.”

Castlethorn Construction said the blanket imposition of three-bedroom requirements “can only serve to militate against development of apartments” in the council area. It said the cost of delivering three-bed apartments was “very significant”, adding that demand was “not evident by reference to market sentiment, estate agents’ advice” and national policy imperatives.

Developer Hines, which has major interests in the Cherrywood strategic development zone, said in its submission that the logic underpinning requirements for more three-bedroom units was flawed.

“While making the case that recent development has been weighted towards one- and two-bed units, it fails to recognise that three-bed semi-detached and detached houses remain the predominant typology within [Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown] and that the [strategic housing development] permissions provide a much-needed mix of housing types within the county to redress this balance within the county.”


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Laicisation of Catholic priest in Tipperary causes disappointment and anger in parish

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Standing in the family’s hardware store on Main Street in Carrick-on-Suir, Fiona Hearn remembers how Fr Richard Geoghegan gave her son First Holy Communion 15 years ago.

Today, Geoghegan is no longer a priest, following the Vatican’s decision to issue a laicisation order, with the history of the story up to that point a subject of disagreement.

The former parish priest at Ballyneale and past curate at St Nicholas Parish in Carrick-On-Suir announced on Twitter last week that he had been officially “dismissed by Rome” on January 7th.

“My Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations,” said Geoghegan, who entered the seminary in 1987 aged just 19, and he was ordained six years later.

The Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Phonsie Cullinan, whose diocese extends over both the borders of Tipperary and Cork, has rejected Geoghegan’s charges.

Fr Richard Geoghegan
Fr Richard Geoghegan

Geoghegan had petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation last March and it was granted on December 15th, said the bishop: “I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for the future.”

Geoghegan came under fire from conservative Catholics following an appearance on hotelier Francis Brennan’s RTÉ show Grand Tour of Vietnam in 2017, wherein he performed in drag as singer Shirley Bassey, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick.

The TV appearance might not have done him any favours, Hearn accepts. “He is only human at the end of the day. He is well loved here in town. We’d love to have him back. I’d have nothing but deep respect for him,” she says.

“He is a real people’s person. Some older priests could be aloof. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more down to earth man. I think he has been pretty hard done by the Pope and the bishop.”

Hearn is not alone in her feelings, with many members of the tight-knit Catholic churchgoing community in Carrick-On-Suir and surrounding districts still shocked and disappointed by the turn of events.

Despite the bishop’s declaration that Geoghegan had himself applied to be laicised, the Association of Catholic Priests’ Tim Hazelwood describes his treatment as “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable”.

In 2020, Hazelwood accompanied Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan, and his secretary.

“It was obvious from the meeting that he wanted Richard to apply for laicisation,” Hazelwood says. “That’s when Richard said he would have liked to be a curate…Richard found it difficult being on his own in a parish. He needed support,” Hazelwood adds.

“Obviously, the bishop had made up his mind,” says Hazelwood, “I was shocked, really because the majority of bishops would be supportive, but what I was hearing was really a put down.”

Geoghegan declined to comment when contacted.

Former parishioner, John Nolan said, “The Church is crying out for priests and is leaving a good man go. He was friends with everyone, an absolute gentleman. Anyone having a wedding here would look for him. I think it is all down to Bishop Phonsie. ”

Describing him as “a fantastic priest”, Carrick-on-Suir butcher Morris Whelan says was a great man. “He knew everyone by name. You’d meet him once and he knew your name forever. He was involved in the parish in every part of it.”

Local Sinn Féin councillor David Dunne remembers Geoghegan’s kindnesses during his mother’s illness.

“Everyone recognised him for the programme he did with Francis Brennan…It was fairly flamboyant and wasn’t in keeping with the Church, but it was typical of Fr Richard,” said Cllr Dunne, “He was always friendly, outgoing and is well-regarded. It is a major loss.”

Describing the former priest’s ability to engage, Luke Foran says: “One of my favourite memories of him is my brother’s Communion where he had all the kids gathered around and Richard’s phone rang, and who was on the phone only ‘Jesus’.

“You should have seen the kids’ faces drop. It was brilliant and he enthralled and captivated the whole place. He was ahead of his time. Richard humanised the priesthood and was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Besides the memories, there is anger, too. Ashling Ní Fháthaigh said: “When he was saying mass the church was a lot fuller with a younger congregation. (He) was liked by so many and was punished for that.”

Believing that the church’s hierarchy has questions to answers, Margaret Croke says: “A church without compassion and understanding who can so readily dismiss a person who was so dedicated for so many years to its flock and to God really needs to change.”

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