Interview: Zbiegniew Mazurak

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We sought the opinion of Zbiegniew Mazurak on defense issues. Mazurak’s “About Me” page says “I’m a defense analyst with 6 years of experience in the field, specializing in the defense budget, nuclear weapons strategy, and missile defense.” We wanted to see how Mazurak would approach the fact check issue without our leading toward a particular angle. As a follow up we asked for Mazurak’s expert assessment in accord with the angle we took with our fact check.

We conducted this interview via a question-and-answer page on Mazurak’s blog. We altered the format to achieve an interview format. Readers can find the original format here.

Interview with Zbiegniew Mazurak, Dec. 18, 2015


I’m addressing a fact check issue regarding Republican candidate Marco Rubio’s statement that the U.S. is not building the aircraft, long-range bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines required for U.S. security. I’m hoping you’ll find time to offer comment via email (or here on your blog).

Did Marco Rubio really say that?

The USAF has recently awarded to Northrop Grumman (and its partners) a contract to design and build 80-100 new, stealthy long-range bombers which will be nuclear- and conventional-capable. Some people, such as Congressman Randy Forbes, say that more than 80-100 bombers should be built, but at least this number will be procured (assuming the Air Force can keep the aircraft’s cost in check.

The US Navy is building Ford-class aircraft carriers (and will probably partner with the Indian Navy to help it build catapult carriers of its own). The problem is the enormous cost of these vessels: $12 bn apiece. But they are being built – and will be commissioned at a pace of roughly one every 7 years.

As for submarines, the USN is building modern, very quiet Virginia class submarines. It aims to procure them at a pace of 2 per fiscal year, but sequestration of the defense budget leaves that in doubt.

The US Navy is also developing, and seeks to build 12, ballistic missile submarines to maintain the sea leg of the nuclear triad. Once again, the problem will be the cost of that program: some $100 bn in total to design, develop, test, and build the 12 submarines.

Rubio said what I wrote he said, which is a little ambiguous (I try to avoid asking leading questions). Another fact checker judged Rubio was saying the U.S. isn’t doing any building of those defense items. Your answer suggests you took it in that or a similar way. But I think it’s likely Rubio was saying procurement isn’t nearly as aggressive as it ought to be. Your opening question (“Did Marco Rubio really say that?”) hints that you’d be surprised if Rubio said/suggested the U.S. isn’t building those things.

Do you have a view on whether the current projected rate of procurement sustains security near a desirable level?

I believe the rate of 2 Virginia class attack submarines per year and the plan to build 100 bombers and 12 ballistic missile submarines is the minimum, esp. with regard to the bombers. Each USAF bomber squadron has 12 aircraft, so a fleet of 100 bombers would constitute only 8 squadrons plus 4 spare aircraft (e.g. for attrition). This is the bare minimum. There are experts such as ret. LTGEN David Deptula (USAF, ret.) who believe the USAF needs to procure many more than that – incl. 120 front-line bombers to fully equip 10 combat-coded squadrons, plus training aircraft and reserve planes for attrition.

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