For years now we at the Lexington Institute have been warning anyone who would listen that the array of military equipment that allowed the U.S. for thirty years to win the Cold War and operate as the sole superpower is wearing out. Now this story is front page in today’s Wall Street Journal. Author Nathan Hodge correctly characterizes the problem as one of rapid aging coupled with extensive use of much of the inventory. To make the situation even worse, just at the time the nation faces an economic crisis and mounting deficits, it also faces a profound crisis of national security. Without what the Journal rather cavalierly describes as an “expensive face-lift,” the U.S. military will become obsolete.
If the Pentagon simply wanted a new set of shinier, faster and bigger toys it would be easy to dismiss the problem and gut the defense budget in order to help fix the deficit problem. But as Hodge rightly points out, the global military balance is shifting (and not in favor of the United States, I would add). Moreover, even though the overall defense budget increased sharply over the past decade most of the money went to support the war efforts including the purchase of specialized equipment such as MRAPs armored vehicles and Predator drones.
The Pentagon now faces two problems. Some of its equipment such as aerial refueling tankers, strategic bombers, nuclear attack submarines and military satellites are simply wearing out with age and will need to be replaced. In other cases, such as tactical fighters, the technology has advanced and other nations, including potential adversaries are acquiring aircraft about as good as our own. If the U.S. military is going to continue to enjoy air dominance it will have to invest in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The Journal rightly points out that the military, successive administrations and Congress have made their share of mistakes when it comes to procurement. Nonetheless, the reality documented by Hodge is that unless the decision is taken to recapitalize the U.S. military, the security Americans have know for some sixty years will dissipate along with the aging stock of military hardware.
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