Obama Defense Cuts = Strong Medicine for Unhealthy Pentagon (Updated and Bumped)

26.02.09

Categorie: Finances, Politics, Reality Check |

President Barack Obama will unveil his 2010 budget on Thursday, and the military expects big cuts to their spending plans. How big? The Navy was hoping for as much as $26 billion a year to build ships, and will probably get only $14 billion. The Air Force is desperate for 60 more F-22 fighters at a cost of nearly $10 billion, and the only way they’ll get them is with commiserate commensurate cuts to other programs. The Army is bracing itself for a major slash to its pet project, the $160-billion Future Combat Systems family of technologies.

“A reduction in defense spending this year would unnerve American allies,” pundit Robert Kagan warned. “What worries allies cheers and emboldens potential adversaries.”

But huge increases in military spending under George W. Bush didn’t improve our defenses, analyst Winslow Wheeler reminds us:

America’s defense budget is now larger in inflation-adjusted dollars than at any point since the end of World War II. However, our Army has fewer combat divisions than at any point in that period, our Navy has fewer combat ships and the Air Force has fewer com­bat aircraft. …

The evidence, while counter-intu­itive, is irrefutable that more mon­ey makes our problems worse. As the Army, Navy and Air Force budgets have climbed, their forces have grown smaller, older and less ready.

Wheeler contends, and I agree, that the Pentagon needs a heavy dose of imposed discipline by way of deep budget cuts, and renewed emphasis on proper accounting, Congressional oversight and sound business practices. We can’t continue to paper over military waste by injecting more money into a failed system. If we keep spending the way we have in recent years, we’ll spend ourselves into ruin.

But don’t worry: even if we sliced a quarter off our roughly $500-billion defense budget for last year (not counting war costs), we’d still spend more than most nations combined. With those resources, plus a little bit of common sense and technological appetite-suppression, we could maintain the world’s most powerful armed forces, by a large margin. What I’m proposing is not the end of U.S. military supremacy, but vital reforms for preserving U.S. military supremacy.

Consider: today the U.S. Navy enjoys a more than 10-navy standard in most categories, including tonnage, missile firepower and aviation capability. In other words, we field more forces than the next 10 most-powerful navies combined. This is easily the widest margin of naval superiority in the history of the world. With that much superiority as a buffer, we have adequate space and time to make the painful reforms we must make to ensure we continue to dominate, not just for the next year or two, but for decades to come.

So cut the Pentagon budget, Obama, and cut deep. And defense planners: with the hundreds of billions you’re left with, take a fresh look at our needs, and our options, and make wise decisions on our behalf. Don’t fear the budgetary axe. Welcome it, as it slices away the dead wood of decades of accumulated mismanagement.

Update, 2/26/09: We’re already beginning to see the benefits of budget cuts. The Army has announced it will probably eliminate half of the Future Combat Systems’ manned vehicle designs. Likely targets include the Mounted Combat System, which was meant to replace the battle-proven M-1 heavy tank, but is too light to survive modern threats. The Army will use a wide range of very capable, existing designs to replace the killed FCS vehicles. Buying more M-1s, Strykers and upgraded M-113s will save money and result in a more capable force.

(Photo: Kevin Lampinen)

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13 Responses to “Obama Defense Cuts = Strong Medicine for Unhealthy Pentagon (Updated and Bumped)”

  1. ajay says:

    “The Air Force is desperate for 60 more F-22 fighters at a cost of nearly $10 billion, and the only way they’ll get them is with commiserate cuts to other programs.”

    While I like the neologism – “commiserate cuts” presumably being cuts that cause equal amounts of misery – I think you mean “commensurate”.
    And I heartily agree with the rest of the post. Procurement is scandalously wasteful in the US (and elsewhere for that matter) and the hammer needs to come down.

  2. soonergrunt says:

    The biggest problem is that we get crap for our money. Why haven’t we replaced the M-4/M-16 family? We’ve known about the problems with that weapon design for over 20 years, but we kept buying new tanks and artillery in the Army. We spent billions on two attempts at a new scout helicopter, both of which failed, but we can’t get the most basic weapon system of any military force in the world right.
    As long as we continue to buy gold plated systems, the most basic functions of the military will become more and more compromised.
    Boeing is currently building the F-15K and F-15SG for South Korea and Singapore respectively for a hell of a lot less than the F-22 and it has most of the F-22′s capability.
    The F-35 is a money pit that costs more and will be capable of less than the F-16 and F-18 it is replacing.
    The San Antonio class ships are a fiasco, over priced with faulty equipment, and the Coast Guard’s Deepwater project is a disaster.
    Until we begin to treat defense manufacturers as businesses that need to produce quality product, and not buy stuff from them just to keep them in business, we’re going to have this problem and it’s going to cost us dearly.
    We used to do this right. We used to buy thousands of aircraft and tanks and hundreds of ships all within or under budget and on time. What happened? How many points of failure in this system have failed, and what can we do about it?

  3. Matt says:

    The FCS and DDG-1000 programs need to go. LCS may need to be cut as well. We need functional good enough weapon systems like new DDG-51s and maybe an off the shelf frigate design licensed built in a US shipyard. These senators and house members need to think military first and not their southern consituents that need jobs. We need to think national importance over state importance with procurement.

  4. Though I didn’t vote for Obama, with no regrets, I am all for this. It is crunch time for the US Military, whether we have a more expensive but smaller and less capable force, or one of a reasonable cost and size to face current and future threats.

  5. [...] More-David Axe provided us with details: President Barack Obama will unveil his 2010 budget on Thursday, and the military expects big cuts to their spending plans. How big? The Navy was hoping for as much as $26 billion a year to build ships, and will probably get only $14 billion. The Air Force is desperate for 60 more F-22 fighters at a cost of nearly $10 billion, and the only way they’ll get them is with commiserate commensurate cuts to other programs. The Army is bracing itself for a major slash to its pet project, the $160-billion Future Combat Systems family of technologies. [...]

  6. DieHard'Pub says:

    Folks,

    Like Mike Burleson, I didn’t vote for Obama, but it *sounds* like he has some good ideas. I think the FCS, LCS, Airborne Laser, EFV, F-35 and additional F-22′s need to be cut. We need to dramatically overhaul military requisitions. We need more soldiers, and more marines. I personally would like to see another full division along the lines of the 101st airborne, but with V-22′s. Although it pains me to admit it, we probably don’t need as many nuclear submarines. I think our priorities need to be adjusted. The real test will be if Obama can get the cuts through the porky congress. Don’t bet on it.

  7. Chockblock says:

    The problem is that we NEED the F-22. Newer F-16s and F-15s are roadkill vs. S-300/HQ-9 tpye systems (which Iran has). Give me a certified PAC-3 or PAC-2 crew and I’ll blow an F-15K or F-16 block 50/60 out of the sky. Sadly our enemies can do that too. In the air, the SU-27 clones, the J-10 and other fighters level the playing field against our teen series. AS an active duty servicemember, I don’t want a level playing field.

    our enmies are spending in areas to counteract our advantage in firepower. They are trying to turn our aging fighters against us. Remember most of the fleet of aircraft and ships are started to near the end of their useful lives. New tech cannot be shoehorned into them, new enemy tech renders them obsolete.

    High speed cruse missiles are being sold, not designed, sold to counter our navy. Iran has a submarine, China is working on carriers. Don’t get me started on missile defense.

    Missile defense works, trust me, I am a 14E. I know people in GMD and THAAD. The enemy is scary, but they are working on the problem. Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.

    The FCS needs to have half of the vehicles cut. Many are too light. Others can have bits added onto older rebuild vehicles. Unlike airplanes, they can continue serving after a rebuild.

    More F-22 are needed, but not as many as the airforce wants. The F-35 many end up being a niche fighter. If we must build late model F-16 and F-15s, give’em to the guard, reserve and our allies. Or better yet, the administration should try and sell the F-35/22 to our allies.

    Cut deep? it’s that why we have tankers and transports flown by the grandsons of their original pilots?

  8. Moose says:

    Chock, there were massive increases during the last decade and we still have tankers, Bombers, and transports flown by the grandsons of their original pilots. It’s not the amount spent, it’s how it’s spent. Procurement needed it’s ass kicked into shape, that’s starting to happen now.

  9. ajay says:

    our enmies are spending in areas to counteract our advantage in firepower. They are trying to turn our aging fighters against us

    Right now your actual enemies have no air force at all. That’s why your F-22 hasn’t fired a single shot in anger in its lifetime.

    I’d be prepared to bet, say, €50 that the whole F-22 fleet will score no more than a handful of air-to-air kills before being taken out of service for being obsolete. The day the eleventh kill is scored by a Raptor, I pay the money to charity; anyone who takes the other side of the bet can pay up to charity when the last F-22 goes off in 2030 or so to be the nation’s most expensive gate guardian.

    (Kills have to be the destruction of other combat airplanes, defined as military fixed-wing manned aircraft carrying some anti-air weaponry, using weaponry carried on the F-22 itself. Plinking transports, drug planes, airliners, drones and helis doesn’t count. Guiding in UAVs to do the actual killing doesn’t count. Dropping bombs and launching AGM doesn’t count either. That’s not what F-22 is for.)

    Moose is right – the military has more money now (adjusted for inflation, and excluding war spending) than at any time since 1945, and it’s got fewer aircraft, fewer ships and fewer soldiers. Ridiculous.

  10. Chockblock says:

    “the military has more money now (adjusted for inflation, and excluding war spending) than at any time since 1945, and it’s got fewer aircraft, fewer ships and fewer soldiers. Ridiculous.”

    Systems like FCS’s Non-line of sight cannon, Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System , the robots, drones etc. Increase our firepower. Fewer soldiers today because we pack more punch in a smaller package.

    Our company-level units have more firepower than whole battlions did 20 years ago. We do more with less because we have the firepower. Other nations, China, India, Iran, Paskistan, Russia, etc. are trying to copy us. They are upgrading as best they can. We cannot afford a repeat of the 1990′s, when several programs were given short shrift.

    Our basic training system cannot produce more soldiers and marines overnight. The army’s basic training bases were just cut to 4: Fort Benning, Fort Jackson, Fort Leonardwood, Fort Sill. Where are the drill sgt’s going to come from? Keep in mind that basic training includes boot camp and AIT. Some AIT’s are over a year long. Too late for the wars we are fighting now.

    As to the enemy air. China: Su-27/30, J-10, J-11,
    India: Su-27MKI,Su-30 Iran: S-300, Venezuela: Su-30,

    Trim the underpeformers, but keep the F-22 and half the FCS.

    Take the logistical systems: Tankers, trucks, etc. out of the hands of the services and make them joint programs. Make the services play nice and support these overlooked items.

  11. Douglas Young says:

    It’s o.k. to spend billions on low priority infrastructure just to stimulate the economy, but spending it on national defense is too costly??? It seems to me that keeping people working is the goal, especially highly skilled engineers and technicians. Giving billions to pork projects and then expect that to generate future revenue is not a sound business plan. Keep our defenses work force, it will serve us better.

  12. [...] War Is Boring And defense planners: with the hundreds of billions you’re left with, take a fresh look at our needs, and our options, and make wise decisions on our behalf. Don’t fear the budgetary axe [...]

  13. TheAnalyst says:

    Hey “Matt”, are you nuts? The LCS is what the USN needs MORE of, and as far as FCS, the entire aspect of “Superiority” relies heavily upon this crucial area.

    “Ajay”, the Defense Spending is now being lowered to levels not seen since BEFORE WWII. That was before we even had the DOD. How do you think we will be able to maintain such, without the proper funding? Your information is extremely flawed at best.

    As for you “DieHard’Pub”, are you completely off your rocker? The F-22 is set to replace and integrate the existing ACS, while providing FCS capabilities. It is one of the MOST Crucial developments to our Air Superiority since the F-117 became main line in the late 1980′s.

    “Mike Burleson”, you have NO idea what state our MIL is in right now. Do you realize how far back we still are from the cuts of the 1990′s? We have yet to even compensate for our losses back then, let alone manage the idea of ever pulling ahead again. If we ever wish to exist at Desert Storm levels in our Near Future, we will need to instate a Mandatory Draft. That is how far behind we are.

    All of you “Defense Slashers” are absolutely oblivious to the Realities faced by our Nation in this Modern Era. The Major Cuts of the 1990s are what destroyed our Intel/War Fighting Capabilities, and were a direct corresponding factor behind why we were blind sided on September 11th, 2001. If you wish to be attacked again, but even Worse this time around, then Cut away by all means.

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