The Ignorance of ‘Cut Military Spending’

Military spending long has been the preferred target when politicians try to explain where the funds will come from for the vastly increased domestic/social spending programs that they promise.  “We spend far too much on defense; all the money we need to pay for my incredible life-altering initiatives is right there.”

This contention is demonstrably false. The country’s military budget is anything but “bloated.” Factual historical records show that during the periods of WWII (1941-45), Korea (1950-53), Vietnam (1966-75), the Reagan-era military rebuilding that bankrupted the Soviet Union (1982-87) to the Gulf/Iraq wars/The Surge (2003-07), American military spending was far higher than today, both as a percentage of the federal budget and as a percentage of GDP.

But, are we wisely spending this reduced amount of money on the military, in a manner that best fits how we use our military today and how we’ll likely use it in the foreseeable future?

One of history’s oldest clichés is, “Generals always prepare for battles from the last war.” A perfect example is the French Maginot Line, a fortified wall of cannons and guns that formed the border between France and Germany, constructed in the 1930’s following the end of World War I. Never again would Germany cross their western border and invade France, as they’d done in 1914.

No, they wouldn’t. Instead, in May 1940, German Panzer divisions would drive north-westerly out of Germany into the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and attack France coming down from the Low Countries, behind the Maginot Line, completely circumventing it and rendering it totally useless. The Germans carved through a stunned, paralyzed France like a hot knife slicing through butter, causing France to capitulate in total humiliation to the invading Germans in a matter of weeks. It stands as one of history’s most impressive and complete military conquests. So much so, that the term “Maginot Line” has come to mean any extravagant, expensive technology built and deployed for a scenario that never materialized.

We have to be careful that the same thing is not said about the U.S. military in the post-Cold War Age of Terror. While we had 500,000 troops in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War, it’s unlikely that we’ll fight another war of that type. Weapons and targeting have become so much more sophisticated and “smarter” in the last quarter-century that it now only takes a fraction of the raw numbers of men (oops, sorry...”troops”) and machines to achieve the same result today as decades earlier.

At least that’s the rationale for today’s greatly-reduced numbers of personnel, ships and aircraft. How reduced are today’s numbers? The entire Army currently stands at around 425,000, less than the number deployed to Kuwait in 1991. Similarly, the number of aircraft and ships in the ranks is lower than in past years by a very significant amount: The Navy has fewer ships today than in 1915; the Air Force has fewer planes now than at its inception in 1947.

Still, the essential question remains: what is the nature of the engagements the U.S. military will be tasked with fighting in the future?

A large-scale ground conflict involving hundreds of thousands of American infantry, armored and artillery personnel seems unlikely, both politically and tactically. There is no more Soviet Cold War threat to Western Europe, and while present-day Russia’s actions and motives remain unpredictable and suspect, it’s hard to envision a U.S. response to Russian mischief being multiple divisions of American soldiers and 1000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Similarly, it’s difficult to contemplate a situation where the appropriate American response—either politically or logistically—would be to send that kind of force to the Middle East or Iran or the Pacific.

What are the biggest new weapons projects and are they appropriate for the kind of threat scenarios we’re likely to encounter?

Certainly, one of the most ambitious and expensive upcoming projects is the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB), the B-21 Raider, to be built by Northrup. Initial plans are for 100 aircraft over a period of several years, initially becoming active in 2030. The development costs for the project will exceed $23 bil, 100 aircraft will be over $55 bil and the associated maintenance, support, training, etc. is likely to be another $20 bil.

Aside from the inarguable fact that the Air Force’s existing 60-year-old B-52’s and 40-year-old B-1’s are no longer anywhere near as effective or battle-zone survivable as our country needs them to be, a long-range stealth bomber capable of pinpoint-accurate strikes on virtually any target in the world, undetected, is exactly the kind of 21st-century threat response system we should have. Although the per-plane cost might seem high, the ability to forcefully react in a matter of hours, not weeks —anywhere in the world—when circumstances dictate, with personnel numbering in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands, gives our country amazingly flexible capability and influence. That is precisely how we should be spending our defense money.

At the other end of the spectrum, fighting the Congressional “retire the A-10” chorus and instead keeping our A-10 Warthog attack/support aircraft fleet active and modernized provides about the best take-out-those-specific-tanks-that-are-threatening-the-good--guys capability of any country in the world. The A-10’s amazingly long loiter time and its legendary ability to take and survive hits from enemy ground fire have made this aircraft the single most feared and hated weapon in the U.S. arsenal, according to captured belligerents in the Mid-East.

Yet incredibly, both of these weapons systems are lightning rods for politicians bent on “cutting military spending,” politicians who are seemingly either more interested in the appearance of being anti-military/pro social spending or who are legitimately uninformed and ignorant about this country’s defense requirements. Neither is a good reason.

Our military budget, proven by the numbers, is not bloated. What we need to do is closely analyze and evaluate exactly what our missions are likely to be, procure and/or maintain that capability and make our military expenditures optimally-efficient with regard to what the country’s security/political requirements are, always mindful of resisting the temptation of using defense spending as a local vote-buying jobs program.

It’s not a question of “guns vs. butter.” It’s a question of realistically deciding what kind of gun you need and not over-paying for the bullets on the one hand, while not allowing people to fraudulently sign up for and receive free butter on the other hand.

Through October 2016, Federal tax receipts are at an all-time high, significantly higher than before the Great Recession. There’s plenty of money. We just need to spend it wisely.

Military spending long has been the preferred target when politicians try to explain where the funds will come from for the vastly increased domestic/social spending programs that they promise.  “We spend far too much on defense; all the money we need to pay for my incredible life-altering initiatives is right there.”

This contention is demonstrably false. The country’s military budget is anything but “bloated.” Factual historical records show that during the periods of WWII (1941-45), Korea (1950-53), Vietnam (1966-75), the Reagan-era military rebuilding that bankrupted the Soviet Union (1982-87) to the Gulf/Iraq wars/The Surge (2003-07), American military spending was far higher than today, both as a percentage of the federal budget and as a percentage of GDP.

But, are we wisely spending this reduced amount of money on the military, in a manner that best fits how we use our military today and how we’ll likely use it in the foreseeable future?

One of history’s oldest clichés is, “Generals always prepare for battles from the last war.” A perfect example is the French Maginot Line, a fortified wall of cannons and guns that formed the border between France and Germany, constructed in the 1930’s following the end of World War I. Never again would Germany cross their western border and invade France, as they’d done in 1914.

No, they wouldn’t. Instead, in May 1940, German Panzer divisions would drive north-westerly out of Germany into the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and attack France coming down from the Low Countries, behind the Maginot Line, completely circumventing it and rendering it totally useless. The Germans carved through a stunned, paralyzed France like a hot knife slicing through butter, causing France to capitulate in total humiliation to the invading Germans in a matter of weeks. It stands as one of history’s most impressive and complete military conquests. So much so, that the term “Maginot Line” has come to mean any extravagant, expensive technology built and deployed for a scenario that never materialized.

We have to be careful that the same thing is not said about the U.S. military in the post-Cold War Age of Terror. While we had 500,000 troops in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War, it’s unlikely that we’ll fight another war of that type. Weapons and targeting have become so much more sophisticated and “smarter” in the last quarter-century that it now only takes a fraction of the raw numbers of men (oops, sorry...”troops”) and machines to achieve the same result today as decades earlier.

At least that’s the rationale for today’s greatly-reduced numbers of personnel, ships and aircraft. How reduced are today’s numbers? The entire Army currently stands at around 425,000, less than the number deployed to Kuwait in 1991. Similarly, the number of aircraft and ships in the ranks is lower than in past years by a very significant amount: The Navy has fewer ships today than in 1915; the Air Force has fewer planes now than at its inception in 1947.

Still, the essential question remains: what is the nature of the engagements the U.S. military will be tasked with fighting in the future?

A large-scale ground conflict involving hundreds of thousands of American infantry, armored and artillery personnel seems unlikely, both politically and tactically. There is no more Soviet Cold War threat to Western Europe, and while present-day Russia’s actions and motives remain unpredictable and suspect, it’s hard to envision a U.S. response to Russian mischief being multiple divisions of American soldiers and 1000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Similarly, it’s difficult to contemplate a situation where the appropriate American response—either politically or logistically—would be to send that kind of force to the Middle East or Iran or the Pacific.

What are the biggest new weapons projects and are they appropriate for the kind of threat scenarios we’re likely to encounter?

Certainly, one of the most ambitious and expensive upcoming projects is the new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB), the B-21 Raider, to be built by Northrup. Initial plans are for 100 aircraft over a period of several years, initially becoming active in 2030. The development costs for the project will exceed $23 bil, 100 aircraft will be over $55 bil and the associated maintenance, support, training, etc. is likely to be another $20 bil.

Aside from the inarguable fact that the Air Force’s existing 60-year-old B-52’s and 40-year-old B-1’s are no longer anywhere near as effective or battle-zone survivable as our country needs them to be, a long-range stealth bomber capable of pinpoint-accurate strikes on virtually any target in the world, undetected, is exactly the kind of 21st-century threat response system we should have. Although the per-plane cost might seem high, the ability to forcefully react in a matter of hours, not weeks —anywhere in the world—when circumstances dictate, with personnel numbering in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands, gives our country amazingly flexible capability and influence. That is precisely how we should be spending our defense money.

At the other end of the spectrum, fighting the Congressional “retire the A-10” chorus and instead keeping our A-10 Warthog attack/support aircraft fleet active and modernized provides about the best take-out-those-specific-tanks-that-are-threatening-the-good--guys capability of any country in the world. The A-10’s amazingly long loiter time and its legendary ability to take and survive hits from enemy ground fire have made this aircraft the single most feared and hated weapon in the U.S. arsenal, according to captured belligerents in the Mid-East.

Yet incredibly, both of these weapons systems are lightning rods for politicians bent on “cutting military spending,” politicians who are seemingly either more interested in the appearance of being anti-military/pro social spending or who are legitimately uninformed and ignorant about this country’s defense requirements. Neither is a good reason.

Our military budget, proven by the numbers, is not bloated. What we need to do is closely analyze and evaluate exactly what our missions are likely to be, procure and/or maintain that capability and make our military expenditures optimally-efficient with regard to what the country’s security/political requirements are, always mindful of resisting the temptation of using defense spending as a local vote-buying jobs program.

It’s not a question of “guns vs. butter.” It’s a question of realistically deciding what kind of gun you need and not over-paying for the bullets on the one hand, while not allowing people to fraudulently sign up for and receive free butter on the other hand.

Through October 2016, Federal tax receipts are at an all-time high, significantly higher than before the Great Recession. There’s plenty of money. We just need to spend it wisely.