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What Defense Cuts?

April 28, 2009

While we applaud Defense Sec. Robert Gates for attempting to transform our Cold War style military into a leaner 21st Century force, the following proposal from Christian Science Monitor is most revealing:

First, he would just replace most canceled programs. Gates suggested ending production of the Air Force’s premier fighter, the F-22. But he wants to accelerate the Joint Strike Fighter program and to buy more F-18s. He would delay the Navy’s procurement of cruisers and its next carrier, but only slightly. He would end the Navy’s DDG-1000 destroyer program, but buy more of the Navy’s older Arleigh Burke class destroyer, and keep buying the Navy’s littoral combat ship.

He proposes breaking up the Army’s modernization program, the Future Combat Systems, and canceling some of the vehicles – but they will be replaced with others. All told, spending on a national missile defense program would be cut by only about 15 percent.

Second, the military’s size will barely budge under this plan. Yes, the Army would grow to only 45 brigade combat teams rather than 48, as was planned. But the people who were to fill out the 48 would be stuffed into 45 – the units will have higher readiness. The Navy is likely to shrink to 10 carrier battle groups instead of 11, but the decline will take decades. The Air Force will shrink only slightly. Gates wants to halt personnel reductions in the Air Force and Navy and continue to expand the Army and Marines by 90,000 servicemen.

I disagree with many of the conclusions, such as the writers politics, which insist we shouldn’t be involved in foreign entanglements (if not us then who?) or that our budget is so much bigger than everyone else, which I think if you want to be a superpower you must spend like one. I also don’t care that the Army is shrinking and I would even like to see it expand.

I do think the amount of money we spend doesn’t necessarily make us safer. Beginning in the 1970s our armed forces began to shrink noticeably, even though we were spending a heck of alot of money still. While individual weapons became more capable, they were an increasing drain on stretched thin funds which now had to compete with drastically expanded social programs. A close look at the Reagan so-called buildup in the 1980s, it was mostly cosmetic, with older platforms built before the Vietnam War kept in service longer than normal to maintain force levels (especially ships, but also bombers, helicopters, tanker aircraft, airlift).  Also notice that after the Cold War, we had no trouble cutting back because most of our arsenal, from planes, warships, and land vehicles were literally worn out.

Expect even more force cuts after the Iraq/Afghanistan Conflicts but watch spending remain virtually the same if not larger. Bottom line is, there’s still seems to be plenty of money these days for defense, but we get far less bang for our bucks. The increase cost to build high tech platforms which began in the 70’s is taking its toll. The chickens are coming home to roost.


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