There’s an urban myth inside the Washington Beltway that Republicans do a better job of running the government because so many of them come from the business world. Maybe that was true when Dwight Eisenhower was President, but you sure can’t prove it from the recent crop of political appointees that Republican administrations have sent to the Pentagon. During the Reagan years, Caspar Weinberger presided over an indiscriminate spending binge that soon produced six-hundred-dollar hammers. During Bush 41, Dick Cheney terminated a hundred weapons programs — the Abrams tank, the Bradley fighting vehicle, the Trident submarine, the Seawolf submarine, the B-2 bomber — with so little analysis that his successors ended up spending tens of billions of dollars coping with the consequences (restoring the C-17 transport program alone cost $10 billion).
And then there’s Donald Rumsfeld, the seasoned statesman, the visionary leader struggling to reform a calcified military bureaucracy. Here’s what Rumsfeld wants to do. He wants to cut funding for every category of warship, even though the Navy’s fleet is now less than half the size of the Reagan-era fleet and access to land bases in Eurasia is increasingly doubtful. He wants to terminate both military airlift programs even though the Army’s top modernization goal is to get to foreign war zones faster. And he wants to save $10 billion from a program on which the Air Force has already spent $40 billion by eliminating half of the service’s stated requirement for the one aircraft that can preserve global air superiority into the next generation.
One of the best-kept secrets of Rumsfeld’s tenure is that the seer who wants to transform America’s military with new technology pays almost no attention to weapons programs. Instead, he delegates responsibility downward to subordinates — specifically to a collection of liberal-arts types whose grasp of technology and industrial processes is even more tenuous than their grasp of Iraqi political culture. This inner circle listens to Congress and the services when it likes what it’s hearing, and ignores them when it doesn’t. The main reason it listens to the Navy is because the Navy never disagrees; it doesn’t like the Air Force because the Air Force pushes back.
The impact of Rumsfeld’s latest spending plan on America’s declining aerospace industry is a bureaucratic case-study of what happens when policymakers don’t think through the implications of their biases. The Pentagon currently funds seven major programs to produce fixed-wing aircraft. If Rumsfeld’s recommendations prevail, six of those programs will cease production by the end of the decade. The C-130 transport line and F-16 fighter line would close in 2008. The F-15 fighter line would close in 2009. The C-17 transport, F/A-18 fighter and F-22 fighter lines would close in 2010. By the beginning of the next decade, only the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be left (assuming no further development problems).
Rumsfeld thus proposes to abandon most of the military-aircraft industrial base. No doubt he and the big thinkers around him believe they are embarked on something akin to Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” of obsolete enterprises as they lead the way to a bright future. But as far as the aerospace sector is concerned, Rumsfeld’s destruction seems more akin to what a young Army officer said as he leveled the village of Ben Tre in Vietnam during the Tet offensive — “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”
Find Archived Articles: