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Breaking:$500 Billion Defense Cuts Possible

May 10, 2010

The data on this story is about 1yr old, but In From the Cold George Smiley ‘s commentary is new, based also on recent speeches by SecDef Gates. He says “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet“:

Brace yourselves for massive decreases in military spending as the War in Iraq winds down and we begin our withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011. No one’s saying how much of a hit the Pentagon will take, but we’ve filed away a copy of a 2009 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study that provided an “alternative” strategy for Pentagon procurement. The study outlined potential cost savings of roughly $500 billion (over a 16-year period) by canceling or down-sizing various weapons programs. The plan was produced under the auspices of former CBO Director Peter Orszag; he is currently President Obama’s budget director…

Specifically, the blogger singles out the following for likely cuts:

  • Thousands of Army and Marine troops, especially those called up for the two Surges, into Iraq and now Afghanistan.
  • “Elimination of the Air Force’s next-generation tanker (KC-X)”
  • Major decreases in the Joint Strike Fighter buy.
  • Another aircraft carrier cut from the fleet, perhaps more.

This will be hard to take for some, but it shouldn’t be unexpected. Historically after every war, there is downsizing in the military, and with the economy in its current shambles, the military will be specifically targeted, no matter which Party will eventually be in charge.

This is why I plead, and beg the military to kick the gold-plate weapons addiction, before we end up with the world’s most expensive, but most useless armed forces, filled with wonderful superplanes, giant warships, and heavy tanks, which we don’t have enough of for all our enemies, and which we can’t arm, maintain, or even fuel properly. Neither will we have trained personnel to operate these wonders of the world, because as In From the Cold also pointed out, training is the first to go when trying to save pet projects:

A case in point? During the mid-1990s, the Air Force reduced its ranks by 10,000 personnel. The “savings” were used to fund development of the F-22 Raptor, which was seriously over budget. The additional money kept the program going, but the down-sizing produced a predictable consequence: by the time the Raptor became operational, the USAF was noting a drop in experience levels in certain career fields. Some of the airmen projected to serve as experienced technicians and mid-level supervisors had left the service years earlier, part of the forced exodus mandated to “save” the F-22.

Still, this shouldn’t be all bad news. A leaner, meaner military might induce the admirals and generals to make do with less, and stretch precious procurement and operating funds. Even if we drop to 1990s levels in defense spending, that would leave us with about $300 billion (adjusted for inflation) to play around with, much greater than the $60-$80 billion estimated spent by the Chinese Military.

With such funds, there is little excuse why we can’t buy adequate numbers of planes, armored vehicles, and ships, replace them when they are worn out, and operate them where they are needed, without keeping ancient weapons in service linger than reasonable should be, just to maintain the facade of Great Power Status. We are still great, lets start acting like it again, by spending responsibly.

We have had plentiful funds flowing since the end of the Cold War, and yet this has induced the downsizing and rapid aging of our forces, even greater than the post-Vietnam slump with gave us a “hollow military“. Logically, if we make cuts, then we should start to see increases, if the Pentagon would adequately reform itself.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    June 29, 2010 11:10 pm

    Cuts are definitely needed, but comparing what we spend to the Chinese does not make sense. What we spend should only be based on our defense/foreign policy. If the Chinese had to pay what we do for defense I’d bet their defense budget would run about the same i.e. five million dollar tanks, Tricare healthcare, higher salaries

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 11, 2010 11:04 am

    Anonymous–Almost certainly. What is interesting, Ike invoked defense cuts across the board after the Korean War, yet somehow managed to create the wonderful high tech military we have today, in which were born supercarriers, nuke subs, Polaris subs, supersonic fighters, etc.

    A similar revolution is in store for us if it is managed correctly.

  3. Heretic permalink
    May 11, 2010 10:13 am

    “Elimination of the Air Force’s next-generation tanker (KC-X)”

    Only possible if you want to bring every aircraft in the world back to CONUS and never leave it ever again.

    Major decreases in the Joint Strike Fighter buy.

    HIGHLY likely given that the program is on a controlled flight into terrain (see: Death Spiral).

    Another aircraft carrier cut from the fleet, perhaps more.

    That would require an act of Congress to change the law mandating the minimum number of CVNs.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    May 11, 2010 9:22 am

    Yeah… no surprise here… here’s the lead in to an article by Cdr Bryan McGrath in this month’s Proceedings magazine that echos similar sentiments…

    “At some point the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wil come to an end… … With there be another “peace dividend,” one that will help defray the cost of physical and social infrastructure investments here at home?”

  5. Distiller permalink
    May 11, 2010 5:46 am

    No surprises here. Saying something like that for a long time already. But nevertheless the path to real savings lies in cutting back ambitions, not in cutting back toys. Also in uniting resources, be it on a national level (just look at the U.S. forces structure), or a supranational level (looking at the EU and its pointless parallel spendings resulting in almost nothing).

  6. Marcase permalink
    May 11, 2010 2:25 am

    Forgot where, but I read that contractors are nearing, if not surpassing, total troop levels in-theatre, on the ground, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    So withdrawing troops is one thing – and force (troop) reduction will be fast once ‘stop-loss’ will cease and reserves and Guard units return state-side – but if that void will be filled by even more contractors which are still being paid out of the DoD budget, funds will drop only slowly, putting more programs on the chopping block.

  7. Joe permalink
    May 10, 2010 10:54 pm

    Few observers accept the state-released figure of Chinese defense spending as being anchored in reality. Your range of $60 – $80 billion barely covers their admitted level of spending (for 2010) of $78B.

    The RAND Corp estimated a few years ago that defense expenditures were running 1.9% – 2.4% of GDP…higher than Chinese admissions but lower than US DoD estimates. Accepting their handiwork for a moment and factoring in 2009 IMF figures for world/national GDP, then that places nominal Chinese military spending somewhere in the $90B – $120B range.

  8. ArkadyRenko permalink
    May 10, 2010 9:18 pm

    It doesn’t take a genius to cut programs from the military. Heck, anyone could do it.

    The question is: how do you maintain quality and capability with minimal losses, while still cutting programs. That’s the challenging part.

    And, as a side point, the US needs the KC-X.

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