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Out in Front: Stand By to Capsize

February 1, 2013  - By
Image: GPS World

We have reached our tipping point, say the seven U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff in a January 14 letter to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.

“We are on the brink of creating a hollow force,” they continue. By this they mean that the military of the size that they are required to maintain may be incapable of performing the duties for which it is relied upon.

This sounds a great deal like the scenario forecast in Don Jewell’s “2C or Not 2C” column in this magazine. Five GPS satellites currently on orbit have the capability of broadcasting new signals essential to security and economic growth. But that capability is hollow because of a lack of — what? money? resolve? back-up? — to turn it on and use it. Those satellites could actually die in a couple of decades without ever performing the function for which they were designed.

The hollow-force concept as applied to the GPS constellation reverberates eerily through John Lavrakas’ “BeiDou, How Things Have Changed” piece in this issue. If GNSS matters continue developing along the same paths they follow now, the hierarchy of satnav systems, by user numbers, market share, health, robustness, economic viability, yea even unto military prowess, may well shift.

The uncertain fiscal year 2013 funding caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long Continuing Resolution in the U.S. Congress and radical budget surgery known as sequestration currently has military chiefs directing severe reductions to operation and maintenance spending.
Operations and maintenance keep satellites flying.

“Our proposed near-term actions,” write the civilian Secretary of the Air Force and the U.S.A.F. General Chief of Staff, “include . . . defer[ring] non-emergency Facilities Sustainment, Restoration, and Modernization  (FSRM) projects, resulting in a reduction of roughly 50 percent in FSRM spending; where practical, de-obligat[ing]/incrementally fund[ing] contracts to encompass only FY13.”

Modernization will (or would) keep GPS apace with user requirements, growing security needs, and an increasingly digital world. Incremental funding has delayed new signals and new capabilities time and again; sounds like it’s set to do more.

“For now, and to the extent possible, any actions taken must be reversible at a later date in the event that Congress acts to remove the risks I have described,” writes Ashton Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to nearly every one under the sun connected with the military and money.

When is decay reversible? The notion of a tipping point is that, once passed, it cannot be re-crossed again in the opposite direction. Neither the status quo nor stability can be restored.

Many of us in the private sector have gone through successive rounds of cutbacks and lay-offs. Such measures first trim away the fat. This can be healthy, to some extent, although fat stores energy for later use. Then they start slicing into muscle. This reduces the ability to function. Finally, in many cases, they take a hacksaw to the bones. This not only cripples the organism, it effectively destroys it.

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