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Why Didn’t Gadhafi Go Into Exile?, Con’t.

By Taylor Marvin

It appears that Gadhafi’s* son Seif is in contact with the ICC, apparently to negotiate a possible surrender on the condition that he won’t be returned to Libya if he’s found innocent. At The Monkey CageEmily Ritter of the University of Alabama and Scott Wolford of University of Texas-Austin believe this is evidence that autocrats value trial at the ICC as preferable to death, but only if comfortable exile is off the table:

“One could argue that, by seeking terms better than remaining at large—-which seems to involve taking shelter with a nomadic tribe, accompanying mercenaries to Zimbabwe, and running a permanent risk of violent death or capture—-the younger Gadhafi is trying to win just such an assurance from the ICC: jail time or, should he prove his innocence, a return to a country other than Libya. Of course, the ICC can be a better option for suspects than the relatively poor outcome of death under a collapsed regime, but only if the ICC represents a better prospect than any outside option, such as asylum.”

This is further evidence that, while trial at the ICC is far from idea for deposed autocrats, it’s preferable to a brutal death or imprisonment within their home countries under a hostile successor regime. This supports the theory that increased NATO lethality and willingness to remotely intervene in civil wars against dictators could increase the efficacy of the ICC by making trial a better alternative to fighting to the end, which NATO’s increasing ability to target individuals makes more likely to result in death rather than eventual victory.

The authors raise an interesting point — an ICC willingness to negotiate surrender under favorable terms for suspects could encourage future war crimes:

“If leaders expect that they can negotiate marginally better deals for themselves prior to surrender (which, in this case, may mean living out one’s twilight years in a country where one isn’t likely to be prosecuted again or killed), then they’ll also be marginally more willing to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in the first place.

So, as the world debates the best approach to dealing with the remnants of the Gadhafi regime, it’s important to keep this tradeoff in mind: war criminals can be enticed to surrender by making the terms of their prosecution better than remaining at large—-enabling prosecution and preventing whatever mischief Seif al-Islam might otherwise engage in as a fugitive—-but granting leniency may undermine deterrence in future cases if the ICC appears too willing to bargain with its suspects.”

This gives us an interesting hypothesized incentive scheme: because international asylum is no longer an option for deposed autocrats, threatened dictators have an incentive to violently resist opposition movements in the hopes of retaining power, rather than fleeing into comfortable exile. Here the existence of the ICC makes damaging wars more likely.

But Dr. Ritter and Dr. Wolford argue, if the ICC establishes a tradition of negotiating favorable terms with deposed dictators, autocrats have an incentive to fight until defeat is inevitable and only then surrender, maximizing their chances of remaining in power or, failing that, surviving. But here dictators’ incentive scheme gets more complicated. The existence of the ICC gives dictators an incentive to fight until the very end to avoid prosecution. A history of leniency at the ICC increases this incentive, by making prosecution in The Hague marginally more attractive than fighting until the end, which will likely result in death. But ICC leniency is also a moderating influence on threatened dictators — if dictators are willing to leave the option of flight to the ICC open, they’re also more likely to avoid high levels of brutality that will guarantee them a harsher sentence even if the ICC bargains down the terms of their trial in an effort to negotiate their surrender, a balancing act that’s likely very much on Seif Gadhafi’s mind. Importantly, Seif’s terms only apply after his trial, meaning that, drawing from this example, future dictators considering similar surrender deals have an incentive to moderate their brutality and minimize the sentence served before enjoying the benefits they negotiated from the ICC. Ritter and Wolford are right to note that ICC bargaining can incentivize crime, but they miss that a willingness to bargain likely also moderates criminal behavior. While international courts’ inability to apprehend suspects alone gives then an incentive to bargain down fugitives’ trial terms, it’s implausible that the possibility of punishment would be bargained completely away. Dictators that wish to leave the possibility of fleeing to ICC custody open have reason to attempt to moderate their verdict by limiting their use of violence, even if they can expect an ICC bargain in return for their surrender.

This suggests that the ICC should prefer a moderate propensity to bargain with fugitives — enough to entice them to surrender, while ensuring that their eventual sentence will be harsh enough to deter future criminals from unlimited violence. Ritter and Wolford reach a similar conclusion, though without considering the moderating influence of a perceived ICC moderate propensity to bargain:

“Courts should consider bargaining as a possible solution to the problem of warrant execution in the international setting, as it may enable courts to build legitimacy through adjudication and become sovereign, powerful institutions, overcoming the obstacles to enforcement even if states are unwilling or unable to cooperate with the institutions’ rules.”

However, the increasing lethality of NATO air power means that dictators have an even greater incentive to avoid a NATO intervention, which is increasingly likely to result in their death at the wrong end of a drone-fired Hellfire missile. This leaves embattled dictators a thin rope to walk: utilize sufficient force to crush a opposition movement, while avoiding the threshold of brutality required to attract a NATO intervention. Of course, this threshold varies from country to country — most dictators will never suffer a Western intervention, for any number of reasons. Libya was an exception. It’s open geography was well suited to effective air-to-ground warfare, the Libyan rebels had had already managed to field an organized armed opposition force that NATO could tactically support, and Gadhafi’s continued rule had no real utility to Western powers. As we’ve seen, few nations fill this criteria: Syria’s opposition has (for the most part) declined to openly fight government forces and Syria’s urban geography makes airpower much less tactically useful than in the Libyan desert and Bahrain’s hospitality to the US Fifth Fleet make both countries secure from the threat of NATO intervention, no matter how brutally their governments crush democratic protest movements. However, it’s also worth noting that sometimes NATO members will militarily intervene in conflicts where they have few apparent interests, as the Obama Administration’s recent deployment of troops to central Africa to combat the LRA demonstrates. As the costs and efficacy of drone warfare increase, there is good reason to suspect that the criteria for triggering NATO assassination missions will shrink, potentially giving vulnerable dictators in rural, open countries greater incentive to avoid extremely brutal responses to domestic unrest, however lenient the ICC elects to be.

*Astute readers will notice that I spelled “Gadhafi” this time. I don’t have a convention for the confusingly-translated dictator’s name, and just use whatever my source material prefers. Apologies for any confusion.

Update: Slightly altered for clarity, added paragraph.

Governance Failure in San Diego – An Interview with Steven Erie

By Taylor Marvin

Note: This post is part of a series dedicated to highlighting recent books by UCSD professors.

Dr. Steven Erie

Dr. Steven Erie

Steven P. Erie is a professor of political science and is the director of the Urban Studies and Planning program at UCSD, where he focuses on urban politics and public policy. In addition to Dr. Erie’s academic work, he has also served on the Governor’s Infrastructure Commission and advises San Diego public officials and city leaders. His latest book, Paradise Plundered: Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego, explores the roots of San Diego’s persistent failure to deliver good governance to its citizens. To learn more about the book and government failure in my adopted city, I sat down with Dr. Erie to discuss Paradise Plundered.


Prospect: What motivated you to write Paradise Plundered, and what can you tell me about the book?

Dr. Erie: What motivated me to write [the book] is that I’ve lived in San Diego for 30 years, and in that time I have been involved in a whole lot of civic issues: airports, charter reform, water supply issues, etc. San Diego is a very understudied city; of the top ten cities in the country it’s the least studied, so it’s low hanging fruit. The book, Paradise Plundered, started out as Troubled Paradise, and [originally] was going to be a political biography of an understudied sunbelt city when we started the project in 2006. Over the course of five years as events unfolded, the tone and the title got darker: from Troubled Paradise to Paradise Plundered.

After the 2007 wildfires, I suddenly realized that we were no more prepared to fight major fires in 2007 than we were in 2003. I began to look into that, and realized that San Diego simply didn’t want to pay for fire safety. They wanted somebody else to do it: Cal Fire, or mutual aid with Orange County or Los Angeles County. And then of course the fiscal crisis, the pension scandal, the near permanent budget deficit… The book morphed from a political biography into a much more focused look at the City of San Diego’s fiscal crisis and related government failures. There’s a chapter on redevelopment San Diego style and a peculiar institution in San Diego called the Center City Development Corporation; no other California city has a non-profit corporation that traps all of its tax increment financing downtown. The others are all citywide, and the funding is spread to the neighborhoods, not just kept downtown. There’s a chapter on planning and the legacy projects like the Storybook library and convention center expansion, a new Chargers stadium, a new city hall. How, as we’re teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, do we go full speed forward with these monumentally expensive city projects downtown, all of them of course at no additional cost to taxpayers? So the book really became focused: four of the six chapters are on the City of San Diego since 1990 covering the fiscal crisis and its impact on public services and governance. And that’s how we ended up with Paradise Plundered, instead of Troubled Paradise.

Prospect: The book characterizes San Diego as America’s most badly governed large city. Can you elaborate on that claim?

Dr. Erie: That’s not the way that San Diego proclaims itself to the world, and actually San Diego won awards for being very well governed in the 1990s. But what we mean by badly governed is is that there is a lack of recognition of what the fundamental problem in this town is, which is the lack of revenue and resources. In the book we benchmark San Diego with the other leading ten American cities — we throw out San Francisco, because it’s a combined city/county, which throws the spending pattern there off — and San Diego today spends fifty percent less per resident on basic public services than just the average of San Jose, Anaheim, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, and the other California cities. Part of our fiscal crisis is self-induced; we want the services, but we don’t want to pay for them. But at the same time, there is San Diego’s aspiration for civic greatness in these huge downtown legacy projects in a time when we’re closing libraries. We have an unaccredited fire department, and are 22 fire stations short of meeting national accreditation standards. We have the smallest police force per capita in the country. This is not Chicago-style corruption, but instead just basically a town that wants public services but doesn’t want to pay for them, and then has to find someone to blame when there are lapses or failure in public service.

I don’t know if you want to call it the most badly governed city in the country, and it’s not an issue of official corruption — a political machine or a dominant party, etc. — it’s the fact that basic public services are not being adequately provided to residents, and we don’t see any solution in sight.

Prospect: What makes San Diego different from other California cities? Why is there such a disconnect between spending and revenue here?

Dr. Erie: There’s a very strong libertarian culture in San Diego, and it goes back quite a ways. We looked at things like voting on tax and bond measures and since 1995 sixty percent of the tax and bond measures — almost all of them requiring a two thirds vote — have been approved in the other California big cities. In San Diego: zero. If you look at city revenue and expenditures you’ll find that San Diego is the only California big city that believed in Proposition 13. Every other California city with a wink and a nod found new revenue: utility taxes, higher business license fees, higher hotel taxes… except San Diego. And that’s one of the reasons that we are in the situation that we are today, where the demand for services so far outstrips the available revenue. But there’s something about the culture here, and the absolute irony is that it’s an absolute contradiction to how San Diego was built. San Diego was built by big government. Look at the military and the State and the University of California [higher education] systems to see how jobs have been created in San Diego! But when it comes to local government there’s this strong libertarian streak, even more than in conservative Orange County. Orange County has a county fire authority, and they’re willing to pay money for it! But somehow in San Diego, there’s a tremendous demand for public services but there’s an incredible unwillingness to pay for it. We call it a free lunch town.

San Diego skyline. Image by Wikimedia user Ted Rufus Ross.

San Diego skyline. Image by Wikimedia user Ted "Rufus" Ross.

Prospect: What lessons can we draw from San Diego?

Dr. Erie: Let’s put it this way: the San Diego way has gone nationwide. San Diego was just an early, eager adopter. It goes back to the 1970s — in the early seventies San Diego’s fiscal profile is virtually identical to other California big cities. You then begin to see a divergence, particularly after 1978 and the passage of Proposition 13, which raised the bar in terms of requiring voter approval on tax increases. Somehow, other places were able to get tax increases anyway because they had leadership that convinced the public that they were an investment in the future. LA County did that to fund their county fire department in the late 1990s to the tune of $900 million, and over 67 percent [of voters] approved. But that’s not the case in San Diego: we don’t have the leadership to tell people “hey you the voters, the emperor — you don’t have any clothes.”

Tax is a four letter word in this town.

San Diego was an early adopter of this kind of free lunch attitude towards local government. What we’ve seen in the last ten to fifteen years is that it has spread throughout the state, and then nationwide. San Diego is just a precursor to an awful lot of national trends.

Prospect: What if anything can residents do to improve city governance?

Dr. Erie: Residents certainly can, but the question is what are they going to do? Right now what’s happening in San Diego is two things: one is that we’re moving towards called managed competition, i.e. city agencies have to compete with outside private firms for things like landfills, garage services, and street repair, with the argument being that the private sector can do it more cheaply. That’s not always the case — the jury is still out on the economic benefits of privatization. The other thing is that the source of the city’s fiscal crisis — its structural budget deficit — has been popularly identified as public employee pensions rather than the gross underspending on basic public services. So we now have a proposal to freeze city salaries for five years and for new hires to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution program, which is probably going to pass. This is going to make it a lot harder to recruit and retain city workers, when they can go to [neighboring] Chula Vista and get a more generous pension and fringe benefits package.

But the crazy thing is is that people don’t realize that the spike in the pension [costs] and the so called $2.1 billion pension liability today has very little to do with the so-called generous pension programs of the late 1990s, what are called “Managers’ Proposal 1” and “Managers Proposal 2”. Those two [proposals], which increased pension payouts and also some retrospective pensions, only accounts for 15 percent of the $2.1 billion unfunded liability. The vast majority is due to investment losses. Public pension systems decided that there was a free lunch, and went to Las Vegas — Wall Street. That change [shifting pension funds from safe, low-yield investments like bonds and Treasury bills to higher-yield but riskier stocks] is the largest source of the spike in [pension] liabilities, and the pensions’ share of the city budget. The second cause is that we have systematically underfunded and diverted money from the city pension system for years. We underfunded it to pay for things like the Republican National Convention and public safety back in 1996.

The cause of the pension spike is complicated, but to this date it’s not the so-called “Cadillac pensions” of 1996 and 2001. But you’d never know it from reading the newspapers or listening to the debates in this town. [The rhetoric] is all about Cadillac pensions, and the public of power sector unions. Public sector unions were the junior partners in most of these agreements. It was really elected and appointed officials concerned about balancing budgets and not going to voters and using the “t” word — the four letter word “tax” — so they took money out of the pension fund.

Moving forward, there are going to be no revenue increases in the City of San Diego, in terms of new taxes and all of the savings from pension reform are going to be at least twenty years out. But managed competition and pension reform seem t o be the only options on the table. What’s going to happen to basic city services, to libraries, parks, and police and fire? I don’t see any easy solutions, unless some leader is willing to have the cojones to tell the public that if you want these services, you’re going to have to pay for them. And nobody wants to do that.

What’s in a Name?

By Taylor Marvin

MQ-9 Reaper. United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.

MQ-9 Reaper. United States Air Force photo by Senior Airman Larry E. Reid Jr.

At The New RepublicTimothy Noah (via Jonathan Bernstein) lays into the Pentagon’s dense language of euphemisms:

“But God bless drone warfare. I guess because it’s still so new, the DoD functionaries who get to name drones haven’t yet forgotten how to call a spade a spade. There was little reason to doubt what a “Predator” drone intended to do. But I guess that just wasn’t blunt enough. So when time came in 2006 to name its successor, “Reaper” carried the day.(Its builder, General Atomics Aeronautical, more demurely prefers to call it the Predator B.) I’m pretty sure “Reaper” is not intended as a tribute to the great American inventor Cyrus McCormick. When the Reaper reaches the end of its useful life will DoD call its successor the Assassin?”

While Noah makes the very good point that the Pentagon’s favored euphemistic kinetic/non-kinetic distinction is inherently ridiculous, he gets the logic behind the “Predator” name exactly backwards. While the aircraft that would evolve into the MQ-1 was first flown as the “Predator” in 1994, the Air Force only began arming Predators in 2002, meaning that the MQ-1’s menacing name predates its strike role by eight years. Similarly, the MQ-9’s “Reaper” designation isn’t exactly a euphemism — I think its fair to say that few people would be confused about the lethality of an aircraft whose name evokes the personification death. And while the MQ-9’s upcoming, jet powered General Atomics “Avenger” sucessor’s name drips with indulgent self-righteousness, it isn’t exactly misleading: Predators, Reapers, and Avengers all kill.

Anyways, this is all a bit silly — aircrafts’ given names rarely have anything to do with their missions. The F-15 and F-16, both designed from the ground up as ferocious combat aircraft, are innocently designated as the “Eagle” and “Fighting Falcon”, while the more martially named A-5 Vigilante saw most of its service in the reconnaissance role. The Pentagons’s linguistic slight-of-hand is an important part American culture’s internalization of contant war as the new normal. But sometimes a name is just a name.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633.

Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633.

The best links of the week:

The “Arab Spring” in a historical perspective (via Andrew Exum).

Mitt Romney’s corporate idealism: Mitt Romney drove the creation of the modern, hyper-competitive economy.

No he didn’t.

Demolishing the myth that the average student can pay their way through college without loans (via Andrew Sullivan).

Midnight Sun | Iceland from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo, via Sarah Kliff.

Defending Zooey Deschanel’s melancholic rendition of the national anthem (via Robert Farley).

Possibly related: “Zooey Deschanel’s character in The New Girl is probably the clearest example of this right now, as that entire show is based around how quirky and eccentric and, as a result, lovable, Zooey’s character is. Except she’s not so much ‘eccentric’ as much as she is ‘bad at being alive and functioning socially, in the present.'”

The Economist calls for generational warfare: “Another reason OWS may want to shift their focus is that the elderly (or at least the their most effective lobbby, the AARP) has declared war on them.”

Ben Harper – Excuse Me Mr / Burnin’ & Lootin.

Why Didn’t Qaddafi Go Into Exile?

By Taylor Marvin

Over at The Monkey Cage,  UCSD School of International Relations and Pacific Studies* professor Barbara Walter has a short piece on how the ICC motivates threatened dictators to fight rather than risk prosecution. It’s worth quoting in full:

“One of the many puzzles surrounding Muammar Qaddafi was his refusal to go into exile. Once NATO intervened on behalf of the rebels and Tripoli fell, Qaddafi must have known that he would eventually lose the war and that this would mean death. Instead of leaving the country, he decided to stay.

Why? One surprising answer has to do with the International Criminal Court. It used to be that exile was an attractive long-term option for dictators to take. Rather than stay and fight, they could live their lives in wealth and comfort in beautiful and stable places such as Paris or the Bahamas.

This changed as more and more countries ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC. Now seeking asylum is no longer easy or particularly attractive. Dictators can try to convince countries such as France, Britain, Venezuela, Mexico or Spain to let them settle in their capital cities or along their coastlines. But since all have ratified Rome, moving there is tantamount to turning oneself in to be prosecuted for war crimes. Qaddafi could seek refuge in countries that have not yet ratified Rome, such as the United States or Cuba or Zimbabwe or Sudan or Saudi Arabia. But those countries are either unwilling to accept him (the U.S. and Saudi Arabia) or unable to credibly commit to protecting him over time (Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan). How long could Qaddafi trust that the current regime in Cuba or Zimbabwe will remain in power to protect him?

There is evidence that Qaddafi considered different exile options as early as March of this year. And yet he stayed until his death last week. We will never know exactly what went through Qaddafi’s head in the last year of his life. Part of what drove him to fight to the end was almost certainly an exaggerated love of power and risk. But part of what drove him was also likely to be careful calculations about his alternatives. What Qaddafi’s behavior reveals is a potentially unexpected and unfortunate side-effect of an increasingly successful ICC. By limiting the options nasty dictators have to seek exile, it is increasingly forcing them to stay. And by forcing them to stay, it could, inadvertently, be encouraging war.”

This is a strong argument — obviously it doesn’t invalidate the idea of the ICC, but the possibility that the increasing risk of prosecution abroad could motivate threatened dictators to remain and fight is important. If the ICC matures into a durable criminal court that can promptly prosecute war criminals, we can expect future dictators to be less and less likely to surrender power voluntarily.

However, there’s another aspect of dictators’ evolving incentive scheme to consider. Let’s assume that threatened autocrats face four broad possible outcomes, which they value in the following order:

Stay, remain in power > Flee, comfortable exile > Flee, prosecution by the ICC >
Stay, imprisonment in home country/death

While most dictators would probably prefer to remain in power, whiling away your days as an exile in Paris is pretty good alternative. But if the threat of ICC prosecution (and, nearly as importantly, confiscation of the funds you’ve stashed in foreign bank accounts) makes a comfortable exile impossible, embattled dictators have a strong incentive to stay and attempt to outlast their opponents. However, this preference only makes sense if an autocrat battling a domestic opposition has some chance of winning.

Trial by the ICC isn’t that bad. It’s certainly humiliating, and the prospect of a lifetime jail sentence isn’t pleasant, but for most dictators it’s likely preferable to a violent death. Slobodan Milošević’s trial by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia dragged on for five years before his death in 2006, Charles Tayor’s trial at the ICC has been ongoing since 2007 and even a guilty verdict at the ICC is at worst a lifetime prison sentence, rather than execution. Of course, history is full of rulers who preferred death to the humiliation of being thrown out of power. But this is rare — while nearly all rulers would prefer to remain in office, for most dictators a trial in The Hauge is preferable to brutal imprisonment or death at the hands of their countrymen. As Dr. Walters points out, Qaddafi declined to flee Libya to avoid a criminal trial. But it’s important to note that he likely elected to stay because he believed that he had at least a chance of outlasting NATO’s will to fight and defeat the rebels, making resistance preferable to fleeing.

However, if threatened autocrats judge themselves to have little to no chance of even surviving an uprising, much less remaining in power, they’re more likely to flee even with the expectation that exile will end in a cell in The Hauge rather than a Spanish beach. Improving US military capabilities have made this least favorable outcome — death — more likely.

In the last few years the US military and intelligence establishment has become very proficient at targeting and killing specific individuals. 1986’s Operation El Dorado Canyon strike mission against Libya missed Qaddafi, and President Clinton’s 1998 cruise missile strike against Osama bin Laden failed to kill the terrorist leader. Similarly, the Bush Administration’s failure to promptly kill or capture Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein demonstrated that despite the formidable combat capabilities of the US military, individuals could count on being able to evade US. This perception has likely changed. In the last year the United States has publicly killed bin Laden, Qaddafi and Anwar al-Awlaki and successfully targeted countless al-Qaeda leadership figures in Pakistan, demonstrating that improved US intelligence gathering and the widespread use of armed drones has significantly raised the United States’ ability to kill specific individuals.

This increased US lethality likely alters dictators’ incentives — yes, outlasting your opponents and staying in power would be nice, but a long trial in The Hauge looks a lot nicer when the alternative is being on the wrong end of a US drone strike. Of course, this logic only applies when an embattled dictator antagonized the US to the point that a military intervention is on the table; as Syria’s brutal repression of protestors has shown, this remains a high threshold. But as drone lethality continues to advance, the barriers to US targeted strikes against autocrats tempted to brutally repress democratic opposition could become less rigid. While the US government appears to be no longer interested in committing ground forces to foreign wars an appetite for targeted airstrikes remains, as America’s shadow wars in Yemen and Somalia demonstrate. If hanging on to power requires an autocrat to repress domestic opposition with sufficient brutality as to attract a US or NATO intervention effort, exile and subsequent prosecution is likely the more attractive choice for most dictators. While we can expect the emergence of the ICC as an effective prosecuting force to give dictators less incentive to flee into comfortable retirements rather than fight, in rare cases this incentive could be countered by the falling tactical barriers to targeted assassination.

*Full disclosure: I am employed by IR/PS.

12% of Female BAs Major in Science, Math or Technology, Less Actually Work in Their Field

By Taylor Marvin

Via Kay Steiger, Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce has a new report out on women in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields:

It’s worth remembering that while a greater and greater percentage of doctorates are awarded to women, there are still huge institutional barriers to women entering the science and technology workforce. While increasing female education attainment will likely erode these barriers in the future, they’re enormously harmful today. Barriers that cause large numbers of female STEM BA graduates to leave their field is a huge waste of talent.

The report also presents another interesting, if discouraging, finding — the gender wage gap for STEM workers is higher than for other fields:

The entire report is very informative; check it out.

Update: I should probably note that the above statistic only covers female STEM BAs, which are generally less useful than STEM BSs, for both males and females. The lower career utility of a STEM BA vs. a BS likely explains some of the high attrition rate of female STEM BA graduates. That said, there’s clearly suboptimal education resource allocation going on if that many female STEM BAs don’t stick to jobs in their fields.

F-35B Unit Costs Hits $300 Million

By Taylor Marvin

Aviation Week reporter Bill Sweetman does the math and determines that adding STOVL capability brings the Marines’ F-35B’s unit cost to over $270 million. At Information Dissemination, naval analyst Raymond Pritchett notes that the true unit cost is probably closer to $300 million, and makes a good point about the F-35B’s political prospects:

“If the F-35B was a separate program today and not integrated with the rest of the Joint Strike Fighter program, during these times of budget cuts does anyone honestly believe a unique Marine Corps VSTOL stealth fighter aircraft would survive the accountants? As part of the JSF program, the F-35B will almost certainly will survive. As a unique program – even if it was less expensive, on cost, and on schedule – Congress would have probably canceled it today.

So while I think it is safe to say the Marine Corps paid more for STOVL by participating in the JSF program, I think it is also true to suggest the Marine Corps also paid the extra cost as a form of insurance from the politics of Washington.”

As I’ve argued before, the F-35B’s ability to fly off LHDs is a powerful force multiplier. This ability will likely be especially important in the looming era of American military budget austerity — because the current Wasp class and future America class LHDs are cheaper to operate than Nimitz and future Gerald R. Ford class CVNs, the ability to project competitive naval air power without committing a CVN will give the US Navy increased flexibility and future cost reductions, if used wisely. This doesn’t automatically justify the ballooning cost of the F-35B — especially consider that the USAF and USN’s F-35A and F-35C variants are largely on schedule and budget — but it is an argument for continuing the program, despite its jaw-dropping expense.

Of course, this debate is entirely academic: the F-35B is unlikely to ever get cut entirely unless it runs into some unforeseen and insurmountable technical barrier. Eliminating the F-35B would automatically balloon F-35A and C unit costs, threatening the political viability of the entire program. Given that the only real alternative to the JSF is upping buys of aging and increasingly uncompetitive F-15Es or potentially SEs and F/A-18E/Fs, Congress clearly isn’t going to threaten the core F-35 program even if its price continues to grow. The entire idea of a common airframe equally suited for the Air Force and Navy multirole mission and Marine STOVL seem to have been wishful thinking from the beginning. But two decades into JSF it’s what we’re getting, and it’s time to make the best of it.

Video via Defense Tech.

The Joys of American Politics, Part 23,638

By Taylor Marvin

One day Herman Cain will tell his grandchildren a great story about the crazy time he almost became president.

Fighter Market 2020+: Uncertainty and Not Much Else

By Taylor Marvin

Ace Flight Global reporter Stephan Trimble is at the Seoul Air Show, where he snagged this picture of a chart presented by the European combat aircraft consortium Eurofighter:

Trimble is most interested in Eurofighter’s forecast of a joint Brazilian-Turkish fighter by 2025. However, there are a few more interesting assumptions here –Eurofighter forecasts that the Chinese Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter and the joint Russian-Indian PAK FA, which are both currently in their early development stages, will enter operation service by 2020. This is an ambitious time frame. Both the J-20 and the PAK FA are advanced fifth-generation aircraft that incorporate some degree of stealth and (presumably) supermaneuverability technology, ambitious technological advancements for both the Russian and Chinese defense industries. Remember, the Lockheed YF-22, the F-22’s predecessor, first flew in 1990, a full 15 years before the F-22 entered operational service in 2005. The PAK FA program’s T-50 prototype and the J-20 first flew in early 2010 and 2011, respectively, so a pre-2020 introduction to operational service for both programs would significantly undercut the F-22’s development cycle. How credible is this estimate?

First off, it’s important to take Eurofighter’s estimate with a grain of salt. In an age of European austerity Eurofighter GmbH lives and dies on export sales, meaning that it has an interest in talking up the threat of Russian and Chinese fighter programs in order to encourage sales of its 4.5+ generation Typhoon fighter. Eurofighter already makes a few dubious assumptions in this chart: Eurofighter GmbH — primarily a German, British, and Italian company — vindictively assumes that French rival Dassault’s excellent Rafale won’t achieve any export sales, and puzzlingly forecasts that the US-lead F-35 program will achieve its full 3,500 unit production run by 2030. Similarly, Eurofighter smugly predicts Typhoon export sales beyond 2035, which is certainly disputable given that the Typhoon has already lost high-profile export orders by Singapore and South Korea (though the Typhoon has been ordered by Saudi Arabia). This chart is fundamentally a marketing tool, and we should be aware that Eurofighter has an incentive to dismiss its French (Dassault Rafale), Russian (Su-35), and American (Boeing F-15E and F/A-18E/F) competitors and play up forecasted Russian and Chinese threats. That said, Eurofighter’s forecasted timeframe for the J-20 and PAK FA’s entry into service is interesting. How credible is it?

I’ve recently spent time exploring this issue. In a recent interview with Tai Ming Cheung, an expert on China’s defense industry and the author of Fortifying China: The Struggle to Build a Modern Defense Economy, Dr. Cheung judged a pre-2020 introduction of the J-20 to be highly unlikely. Similarly, East Asian military expert Richard A. Bitzinger recently told me that he judged the T-50 to be “destined for a very long and painful R&D cycle, if it ever emerges from it at all.” This suggest that Eurofighter’s forecast is optimistic at best. However, the story’s a bit more complicated.

The J-20 likely has a more secure future than its Russian fifth-generation counterpart, for a simple reason: China spends roughly twice as much as Russia on defense, and China’s defense budget is growing at a much more rapid pace. China’s rapidly expanding economy means that the PLA will be able to devote increasing resources to ambitious defense projects, meaning that China likely has the economic, if not technical, ability to field a fifth-generation fighter aircraft in the mid-future. By all appearances the J-20 is a high priority project within the PLA. International prestige is deeply important to China’s leaders, and along with space programs and aircraft carriers advanced combat aircraft are one of the most prestigious national technology projects. Similarly, China’s apparent aspirations for regional hegemony within the South China Sea arguably requires the flexibility of an internationally competitive maritime strike fighter, a role the J-20 appears well suited for.

Image at

J-20 flight testing. Image at

However, there are significant roadblocks to the J-20’s entry into operational service. China has no experience manufacturing modern fighters — China’s current premiere indigenous-produced fighter, the Chengdu J-10, is decades behind contemporary Western and Russian designs, and does not incorporate advanced technologies required for the J-20. Similarly, the J-10 currently utilizes Russian engines and Chinese industry has struggled to indigenously produce modern jet engines, a key (and often troubled) component of any aircraft program. While the J-20 prototype features indigenous engines, producing a production powerplant for an eventual operational variant will likely be a challenge. Similarly, Chinese industry has little experience working with the stealth technology and thrust-vectoring nozzles featured in most fifth-generation designs, and while the J-20 may forgo advanced stealth (especially advanced RAM coatings) and thrust vectoring in favor of affordability these advanced features likely remain challenging for China’s nascent but growing industrial base. However, these design choices are perhaps the strongest argument for relatively prompt introduction of a J-20 operational variant: by apparently deliberately choosing simplicity over the most advanced stealth and performance technology, the J-20 may be able to side-step the most challenging aspects of its development.

Of course, China’s military leaders face the same resource constraints as other militaries. China’s military budget is growing but not unlimited, and other ongoing Chinese military procurement programs like the J-15 naval fighter and construction of 2 indigenous carriers could out-compete the J-20 program for limited resources. This possibility is supported by the J-20’s apparent irrelevance to a prospective Chinese military action against Taiwan, which would likely be decided by the ability of Chinese land-based anti-ship ballistic missiles to deter a US Navy intervention, rather than a limited number of futuristic aircraft.

The Russian PAK FA program faces what could be described as the opposite constraint: while Russian industry has extensive experience constructing modern aircraft, the Russian government’s chronically strained finances offer little resources to devote to speculative development programs. This scarcity motivated Russia run the PAK FA program jointly with India, with the expectation that both parties would eventually purchase roughly 250 units each. However, despite previous Indian purchases of Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighters international development efforts are fraught with difficulty, and it is uncertain whether the PAK FA program will ever result in an operational aircraft.

PAK FA T-50 prototype. Image by Maxim Maksimov.

PAK FA T-50 prototype. Image by Maxim Maksimov.

However, the Russian aviation industry does have extensive experience producing advanced aircraft. Similarly to the J-20, the T-50’s stealth and sensor equipment appear to be much less ambitious than what was designed into the American F-22, moderation that greatly simplifies development. Additionally, T-50 manufacturer Sukhoi has extensive experience with thrust-vectoring nozzles from its mid-1990s Su-37 technology demonstrator, though Russian industry has little experience with stealth technologies. Finally, Sukhoi has clear incentive to promptly introduce the PAK FA. Due to the anemic Russian military budget Russian manufactures are much more dependent on international exports than their American counterpart, and in the next three decades a large number of up-and-coming powers are expected to purchase advanced combat aircraft. Because the PAK FA is Russian aviation’s only fifth-generation game in town, it’s now or never for Sukhoi: either introduce the PAK FA, or potentially lose lucrative international sales to more advanced European or American aircraft for decades to come. However, it’s unclear if these incentive will be able to overcome the cold financial limits and political uncertainty facing the Russian defense industry — despite Indian involvement, the PAK FA faces a rocky road to operational service.

This suggests that the Eurofighter forecasts for both the PAK FA and J-20 are overly optimistic. However, I’d argue that we are likely to see some version of a Chinese fifth-generation fighter before 2025, though probably not earlier. Prospects for the PAK FA are much less certain, but Eurofighter’s 2018ish service introduction seems to be an unrealistic best-case scenario.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Saturn. Image by NASA.

Saturn. Image by NASA.

The best links of the week:

How Qaddafi fooled Libya and the world.

The Super-Rich Super-Heroes Respond To #OccupyWallStreet: We Are The (Fictional) 1% (via Matt Yglesias).

How Cosmopolitan Magazine is misleading a generation of young women. Funny, but way too close to the truth.

Limits of imagination in a finite universe.

Using the market to address climate change: Insights from theory and experience (via Free Exchange).

This is a month old, but I think that Nathan Rabin’s reading of Zack Snyder’s violent, hallucinatory and (maybe) misogynistic Sucker Punch is very good.