In the general rush to cut the budget deficit, much ink has been spilled over various schemes to reduce the size and sophistication of the U.S. military. The most well-publicized of these proposals, that of the deficit commission, called for cutting a trillion dollars from defense over the next decade, primarily by gutting modernization of the military. My colleague Loren Thompson has already demonstrated the lack of analysis behind the deficit commission’s proposals on national defense.
Now a new challenger to U.S, defense spending has entered the lists. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, budget guru Gordon Adams (together with a colleague, Matthew Leatherman) has proposed a plan to make the U.S. military “leaner and meaner.” He does this primarily by cutting the active duty military by 275,000 and getting rid of or cutting back on weapons programs such as the F-35, V-22, Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), the MEADS tri-national air defense system, the Virginia-class submarine and ballistic missile defense. So-called “minor items” such as radios, rifles and soldier clothing and individual equipment — the stuff that can mean the difference between life and death to the warfighters in Afghanistan — are also recommended for cutbacks.
None of these recommendations are supported by any analysis other than budgetary. For each Adams provides a brief explanation that can only be characterized as almost flippant. We are assured by him that large scale nuclear or conventional wars are quite unlikely and that the nation will not do another major nation-building exercise for at least a decade. We can afford to cut the F-35 program, Adams claims, because current generation fighters “are superior to Chinese and Russian aircraft.” The submarine fleet can be cut because more than 42 is “excess capability” and it is extremely unlikely that the U.S. Navy will have to engage in “all-out submarine warfare,” whatever that means. His statement that the V-22 program’s performance in Afghanistan and Iraq has been “disappointing” is unsupported by Marine Corps and Air Force data. Missile defense funding should be cut in half to “incentivize the Missile Defense Agency to concentrate on more effective and cheaper technologies” — which of course must exist because the author asserts that they must and the agency has simply been too blind to notice them.
Not everything Adams and Leatherman propose would undermine U.S. national security. They endorse the recommendations of the Defense Business Board which called on the Pentagon to reduce overhead, trim bloated staffs and stop the practice of putting expensive active duty personnel in positions that could be filled by civilians, preferably private contractors. They would also impose modest cost constraints and cost sharing on the military medical and retirement systems. These changes would result in about a quarter of the total savings proposed.
This week’s news demonstrates the danger of relying on the half-baked predictions of future threats made by the green eyeshade sect. The head of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Willard, was quoted in a Japanese newspaper to the effect that China’s new anti-carrier, homing ballistic missile had reached initial operating capability. If that was not enough, Aviation Week reported that China had also unveiled its first stealth fighter, undermining Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ claim last year when he cancelled the F-22 program that Beijing would not have an aircraft until at least 2020. Russia has also begun development of its fifth generation aircraft, the T-50, in collaboration with India.
The New York Times published an article claiming that North Korea had expanded its Special Forces units, deployed a new tank and beefed up its armor brigades. Perhaps the shelling of South Korea last year was just a coincidence. Finally, AFP reported on a WikiLeaks furnished State Department cable quoting the Israeli Army Chief to the effect that the threat from Hamas and Hezbollah was so severe as to warrant Israel treating them as a major threat. These so-called hybrid threats with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in their arsenals also could pose a significant challenge to U.S. interests in the region. I guess we were fortunate this week not to have to read about North Korea or Iran’s nuclear programs, Venezuela’s arms buying binge or Russia’s acquisition of Western military hardware.
Adams/Leatherman propose the somewhat careworn strategy of offshore balancing, that is relying on naval and air power — with a dose of amphibious and expeditionary operations if needed — to protect critical security interests abroad. Yet they advocate cutting vital air, naval and amphibious programs such as the F-35, V-22, EFV and Virginia-class submarines. Anyone else detect a lack of consistency?
The fundamental geo-strategic argument of the Adams/Leatherman article is contradicted by more than a dozen government and private studies all of which conclude that the future is too uncertain to allow the United States to plan for only one kind of military challenge, whether it is high-intensity conventional war or large-scale stability and humanitarian operations. To assert that neither is likely, and hence that the size of the military can be reduced and its modernization program undermined, is the height of hubris. No doubt a smaller U.S. military could still do lots of stuff. It might even be more efficient, although that goal seems to have eluded every defense reformer since George Washington. Unfortunately, it might not be able to fight and win the nation’s wars.
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