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The “Big Freeze” in Defense

January 30, 2010

Lawrence J. Korb, writing in Think Progress, thinks President Obama’s spending freeze proposal during the State of the Union address, should also include Defense Spending:

Rather than exclude these accounts from the freeze for fear of appearing weak on defense, the president should mandate that the baseline defense budget also be frozen.
Indeed, freezing the base defense budget at its current level of about $532 billion would not hinder the Pentagon’s ability to conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will be funded separately through a $160 billion supplemental. Moreover, freezing defense spending would force the Pentagon to make the hard choices it has avoided over the past decade.

I love the last line, since it completely explains why some of the services have avoided reform. Isn’t it obscene that we have two military budgets, one for fighting today’s ways, thus allowing the other to be somehow exempt and keep last century programs on life support? This is why we are stretched everywhere, and probably why the War on Terror has become The Long War. Because we didn’t ask for total commitments from the services as in the World Wars, we are fighting with only part of our strength. This gives branches of the Air Force and Navy carte blanch to keep spending as usual.

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But Korb insists a Freeze would lead to cuts in unneeded weapons, and provides the following list which we will comment on in detail:

Cut missile defense, while maintaining funding for its continued research and development. Saves about $6 billion. (I agree. An extremely expensive answer to a low tech problem)
Keep the Virginia-class attack submarine production steady at one per year instead of ramping up to two per year in FY 2011. Saves about $2 billion (I agree and actively seek conventional subs to restore numbers to this essential force)
Cancel the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 at two ships. Saves about $1 billion (Why wait? Cancel them all on the slips!)
Cancel the MV-22 Osprey and substitute cheaper helicopters while continuing production of the CV-22. Saves about $2 billion (This idea being about 2 decades overdue)
Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program. Saves about $294 million (With JHSV we have fast ships that can go near to shore and offload armed vehicles)
Cut the FY 2011 F-35 purchase to twenty, slow down production of the aircraft, cancel the alternate engine program, and replace the cut planes with drones. Saves about $4 billion (Bye-Bye Joint Strike Fighter. Hello Super Hornet and combat drones)
Cut FY 2011 funding for the Army’s Future Combat Systems by one third. Saves about $763 million (Scrap the vehicles, buy off the shelf)
Continue offensive space-based weapons development at a low rate. Saves about $100 million (From Star Wars to Star Trek?)
Reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 600 deployed warheads and 400 in reserve. Saves about $13 billion (Move the deterrent to sea)

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Scoop Deck also points to an article at Ivan Eland which details specific cuts:

 The Navy could cancel the CVN-79 aircraft carrier, terminate the building of littoral combat ships and [LPD-17]-class amphibious vessels, stop production of exorbitantly expensive DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, and terminate production of SSN-774 Virginia-class submarines. The Navy has little relevance to the war on terror and, with existing equipment, has crushing dominance over any other fleet in the world.

 I do not think the “Navy has little relevance to the war on terror”, I believe it has made itself irrelevant because it isn’t wholeheartedly in the fight. That leads back to the second military budget at the top of this post. If the military was forced to fight the war on a single budget, not just supplementals, then you not only get a combined effort, but you get military equipment built to fight current wars, not past wars, or the wars we want. Plus we get the savings which are coming anyway.

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Finally, back in 2008, I wrote the following:

I believe the US can safely endure a “weapons holiday” with a freeze on building Big Ships, while bolstering our littoral fleet to fight pirate insurgents.

Currently, no nation on earth is building weapons as we have today in our Navy. Though some might be building carriers, none are of the size, carry as many planes, or possess the expertise to fly naval airpower from large decks as we possess in a single one of our 11 nuclear powered warships. In quality or numbers no other nation has anything like the Burke class destroyer, the exception being Japan which has 4 such ships, and South Korea 1-2, both our allies! America has 60, plus 22 equally capable older Ticonderoga class cruisers.

My point is, we can safely stop building these magnificent monuments to our technical prowess and shipbuilding expertise, beef up ship numbers will smaller, less, expensive vessels, making the Navy more relevant to current conflicts, and less expensive to operate. Worn out crews would spend more time at home, because you wouldn’t be sending a carrier manned with 5000 sailors out for every little crisis. As the old Victorian Navy would do, just “send a gunboat” and we would possess them in many hundreds, giving rogue states, pirates, and terrorist smugglers no leeway or rest anywhere on the high seas.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Heretic permalink
    February 1, 2010 11:50 am

    Indeed, freezing the base defense budget at its current level of about $532 billion would not hinder the Pentagon’s ability to conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will be funded separately through a $160 billion supplemental.

    Sigh …

    I don’t expect THIS sort of amnesia to be championed here at New Wars. In case you hadn’t heard, the whole “fund the wars by supplementals” charade was done purely for the purpose of keeping them “Off Budget” as an accounting gimmick so as to make the annual budget deficits *seem* less than they actually were. Advocating this position is the height of irresponsibility.

    Cut missile defense, while maintaining funding for its continued research and development. Saves about $6 billion.

    There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineers and put the project into production. What has become apparent is that the Land Based BMD systems are both less flexible and less reliable than the sea based ones (SM-3, etc.). The problem with Sea Based BMD is that we haven’t built “enough” ships to perform this role yet while having enough of a reserve to have destroyer escorts (in previous eras, known as cruisers) for our carrier fleets. The only “real” question at the moment is whether a Sea Based BMD “shooter” is best exemplified by a DDG-51 Flight IIa or by an arsenal ship “barge” loaded with missiles that just floats around the ocean … leaving the DDG-51 ships with the task of merely being floating BMD radar stations, since the whole Sea Based BMD system is predicated on a twin ship tracker+shooter configuration, rather than a single ship doing both functions all by itself.

    What needs to be done, with respect to BMD is to spend less money on R&D (at present) and more money on getting the BMD capabilities we’ve already developed operational at sea.

    Keep the Virginia-class attack submarine production steady at one per year instead of ramping up to two per year in FY 2011. Saves about $2 billion

    Short sightedness on parade again. You can buy 1 boat per year at $3 billion per boat … or 2 boats per year for $4 billion combined. You spend more money (total), but the cost per boat (bang for buck) gets far better (see: economies of scale). Maintaining production at 1 boat per year GUARANTEES that the sub force gets smaller over time. This is a “cut off nose to spite face” sort of decision.

    Cancel the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 at two ships. Saves about $1 billion

    If it’s not already being built, cancel it NOW. Just about the only things we can learn from these ships now is how the Tumblehome hull “works” on ships of this size. Beyond that, they’re pretty much R&D proof of concept vessels, for a concept which we are no longer pursuing.

    Cancel the MV-22 Osprey and substitute cheaper helicopters while continuing production of the CV-22. Saves about $2 billion

    I hate to say it, but cancelling the MV-22 at this juncture would actually be a bade idea. Instead, what needs to happen is an evolution of the MV-22 based on actual warfighting experience that can only be gained through daily operations in actual combat theaters. Take that experience and then figure out how to make the platform *better* … rather than figure out how to make the platform cease to exist. The Osprey is making it possible for paradigm shifts to emerge in how lift operations “work” on multiple levels. We need to keep plugging at this (and make the contractors deliver better products!).

    Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program. Saves about $294 million

    The EFV has taken far too long to develop … and the world has changed out from under it. We’ve gone from muskets to machine guns in the time that it’s taken to develop this Cart’n’Buggy answer to a problem that doesn’t solve the challenges we now understand we face. Cancel, cancel, cancel.

    Cut the FY 2011 F-35 purchase to twenty, slow down production of the aircraft, cancel the alternate engine program, and replace the cut planes with drones. Saves about $4 billion

    Actually, what we ought to be doing is getting on our knees and begging Boeing to answer the question (conclusively) of whether or not the country would have been better off pursuing development of the X-32 rather than the X-35. The Lockmart Beast was always bound to grow to become something of a Rube Goldberg hyper-complexity machine susceptible to the Golden BB (let alone the Death Spiral we’re now seeing). As flight testing (what little has been done on it) has conclusively proven, the F-35 is a great plane so long as nothing goes wrong … and the plane is so overburdened with complexity as the pretty much *ensure* that something will always go wrong.

    Cutting the alternate engine program (the GE F136) is about as smart as amputating your hand at the neck. You’d save an almost trivial pittance of money, in relation to the price of the overall program, while dramatically increasing the risk of the entire venture. You’d also be handing Pratt & Whitney a “blank check” of NO COMPETITION to deliver the lowest quality/highest cost product that the “customer” is willing to put up with … for the next 30 years. First Order STUPID DUMB Shortsightedness.

  2. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 30, 2010 10:56 am

    The fall of the Soviet Empire was only evolutionary if you believe in punctuated equilibrium. And even then, it was a major change that called for a reasoned response. Our current procurement makes the NEA look progressive and forward looking. But once again, the problem is people, not platforms. Maybe we need to give all flag officers a golden handshake. That’s what firms that want to stay in business do with their deadwood.

  3. January 30, 2010 10:18 am

    That’s a pretty courageous stance. Our Defense procurement budget is expensive and evolutionary. Freeing the budget from funding expensive programs could release funds for more revolutionary advancements in military technology. Our current use of drones is the biplane era that will conceivably herald a new, less labor intensive, approach to defense. This subject should unleash some pretty passionate arguments for all sides.

Trackbacks

  1. The Scoop Deck – The budget and its discontents, vol. 2: Are we the Soviets?

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