Budget Cuts and the DoD’s Priorities

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The Secretary of Defense has proposed cutting $78 Billion out of the DoD budget over five years.   That’s $78 Billion, or less than $20 Billion a year.  Are you kidding me — why even bother with such a miniscule amount?   Anyone with even a brief, passing knowledge of the DoD over the last 2 decades has to be amused that the national media has viewed this proposal as a “substantial cut.” With an enormous DoD budget that exceeds THREE QUARTERS of a TRILLION DOLLARS a year, a reduction of $20 Billion a year is almost a rounding error!

After the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) the DoD budget was less than $350 Billion per year. It is now over $830 Billion per year.  When you deduct the cost of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, DoD still spends over $549 Billion per year.  What justifies this level of spending, after you deduct war costs?  Answer – No one can rationally justify it.  Let’s consider what we’re getting for our Defense budget:

First — you are not going to find anything being spent on procuring better “troop” gear.  That ship has sailed, as Congress’ wire brushing of the DoD procurement brass during the early stages of the Iraq War for their utter incompetence in providing adequate numbers and quality of body armor, armored vehicles and HUMVEE armor upgrades, a better fitting helmet, etc. ran its course.  By 2007, the DoD, Army and Marine procurement weenies had successfully scurried to get the troops what they should have had before we kicked off the Iraq War.  In the process, they got Congress off their backs.  They have since retreated into their normal state: disinterest in things for the troops; high interest in big dollar programs.

Now — Let’s look at what DoD’s funding.

The Army, having spent almost two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars on the Future Combat System (FCS) and produced nothing deployable – or even useful – other than an engine, has been cancelled.  It has been reborn and been renamed, I think for the second time in eighteen months, and is now called the “Brigade Something or Other.”  Same focus, though, a “family of networked vehicle systems.”  Can you say son-of-FCS?   Will they ring a bell when they spend their first hundred billion dollars?  Who knows, but mind my words, any time a Service addresses anything that is wrapped in wording as a “Family of XXX” needs to be viewed as a program that doesn’t know what it wants to develop; has no earthly idea what the “Family” will cost, or what will constitute a success.   Think of it as a corporate annuity plan to feed the greed and thirst of the military industrial complex with more of your tax dollars!

The Air Force now wants to develop a new manned bomber.  To do what?  Since we can put a missile’s warhead into a 55 gallon drum from thousands of miles away, why – pray tell – do we need another manned bomber?  Isn’t our $2 Billion per copy B-2 good enough?  Is the $750 Million per copy B-1 inadequate?  The $800 Million per copy F-117 Stealth Aircraft is somehow unusable?  The B-52’s are still flying after almost 60 years of service, and seem to be upgradeable forever.  What is it that these manned bombers, our ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and our unmanned UAV systems cannot do that justifies throwing money away after another manned bomber?  Beats me.  But hey, they’re the Air Force.  These are the same guys that gave us the F-22, which at $400 million a copy, this high speed, low drag “air dominance” miracle machine cannot deploy into “an electrically contaminated environment,”  like over Iraq or Afghanistan.  Doesn’t matter to the Air Force, they want more of them.  Oh yeah, they also want a thousand of their variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, rapidly gaining on the F-22 in the cost overrun sweepstakes.  I find it remarkable that the best fighters the Air Force and Navy still get their hat and ass handed to them in Red Flag and Top Gun Exercises by fighter bombers built in the 1960’s: updated A-4’s and F-5’s.  Hey guys, it’s the ordnance and avionics, not the airframe.  But what do I know.

The Navy’s and Marines’ procurement priorities need no explanations.  They are unexplainable. At best they are an enigma, at worst they are a rip-off of the taxpayer. No one with an IQ greater than half their body temperature can make sense of why the Navy wants to buy what it wants to buy.  For example, even though no aircraft carrier (CV) has been successful in avoiding being sunk by day two in any force-on-force exercise in the past few decades, we are still buying nuclear powered CVs at $20 Billion each, counting their air wing’s aircraft.  Yet, the adversary that routinely sinks them, a diesel submarine, similar to the subs on loan from one of our NATO allies, has not appeared in a Navy budget request in almost 50 years.  Probably because diesel boats just aren’t sexy enough and would be tantamount to admitting that our CV’s are vulnerable.  Why should we buy an inexpensive diesel submarine, when we can spend $3 Billion on a nuclear powered Virginia class submarine, instead?

We’re deeply into the enigma area when the Navy articulates their rationale for the buy of ten Littoral Combat Ships (LCs) of two very different designs, from two different manufacturers.  When the Navy is arguing against buying amphibious class ships to land Marine forces on hostile shores, they claim that the threat to these ships from shore launched high velocity missiles so severe that it will require the amphibious ships to operate at least 100 miles from the shore, or risk being sunk.  Ok, I get that.  BUT – the LCS class ships are specifically justified for operations within the “littoral,” that sea zone well inside the 100 mile threat that the Navy paints as too deadly for Navy ships. The LCS case gets even less credible when you note that the Navy has not requested any funding for anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air warfare (AAW), or any other “mission modules” that the Navy says will make the LCS useful.  This folly is comparable to a fire department buying a fire truck without buying its ladders, hoses, or pumps.  The Navy seems to believe that spending a mere $7 Billion for ten nice LCS hulls, but no mission modules, is wise.  An enigma or a rip-off? You tell me. It’s just money.

The Marines finally cancelled their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), an armored landing craft designed to move Marines from ship to shore at high speed, and then provide them with an armored fighting vehicle when ashore.  The Marines spent almost 17 years and $14 Billion trying to make this pig fly in the ship-to-shore phase. If the threat to the amphibious ships, from which the EFV is to deploy, does require them to operate beyond the 100 mile mark from the shore, the EFV couldn’t carry enough fuel to get from ship to shore, and still carry Marines.  The Marines are now going to fund the search for the son-of-EFV. If 20 years couldn’t get the EFV to be mission ready, the Marines won’t find a suitable replacement in this decade.  Hey guys, save the money from the son-of-EFV search, and look at buying smaller, commercial hovercraft to ferry Marine vehicles from ship-to-shore, and to upgrade or replace the fighting vehicles the Marines use once ashore.

Lastly, if DoD wants to cut their big spending beyond what I noted above, consider the following:

  • DoD should order the Navy and Air Force to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each of their DoD agencies to reduce their uniformed and civilian personnel numbers by 5% each year for the next 5 years.
  • DoD should order each Service and each DoD agency to cut 10% of their 2011 budget allocation for the following year, each year for three years; For example:  The Army will only get 90% of their 2011 allocation as their 2012 funding; 90% of their 2012 allocation for 2013 , etc.
  • Order each Service and each DoD agency to submit in 60 days their list, in detail, of what programs they want to reallocate money from or to to make up for the 10% funding deduction in 2012.  Budget submissions for 2013 and 2014 must reflect these reduced allocations when submitted in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Only then will we see what is really “essential,” and what is just “wanted.”

Col. Jim Magee, USMC (Ret.)

Jim Magee is a retired Marine infantry colonel and a combat veteran with extensive experience in special operations, intelligence and acquisitions. He commanded the first Marine Corps light armored vehicle battalion, and after retiring headed the design team for the Interceptor Body Armor system. He has held a wide variety of senior positions in the defense industry, and continues to serve as a consultant to companies in both the US and allied nations.

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