Rep. Ryan and Sen.Murray

Much of official Washington likes the budget deal struck this week by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, chairs of the two chambers budget committees. No more stupid and debilitating showdowns. No more federal shutdowns. Perhaps Congress can actually do what it is expected to do and pass some spending bills. At least we might get two years of relative political peace. That’s not the view of some reaches of the left and the right. The left fear a resurgent Pentagon feeding deeper at the public trough at a time just when it should be weaned. The Tea Party and its chums fear a larger deficit just as sequestration is really starting to curb the appetitive of the federal beast. William Hartung, a defense expert at the left-leaning Center for International Policy, presents a cogent critique of the new budget deal. Read on. The Editor.

The deal struck this week by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray has been well received by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the defense industry, and many people in the media and the public at large who are tired of Washington’s budgetary gridlock. No one is popping any champagne corks, but there is a widespread feeling that any agreement that can eliminate the uncertainty that has dominated Washington budgetary debates over the past two years is worth supporting.

But the Ryan/Murray deal can be improved. The Congress and the president should rethink the need to give the Pentagon over $20 billion more in fiscal 2014. More than enough money is available under the budgetary caps established in current law to provide a robust and forward-looking defense of the United States without this proposed increase. At roughly $480 billion for the Pentagon budget proper — and nearly $500 billion when nuclear weapons spending at the Department of Energy is factored in — current plans are already about $100 billion per year higher than the Cold War average.

One could argue that we live in a vastly different world than we did during the Cold War, and that there is no reason that we should be spending a similar amount now as we did then. This is absolutely true. The world is considerably safer than it was when the U.S. was faced off against a superpower adversary that had the capability to end life as we know it, and Pentagon spending should reflect that fact.

If anything, traditional military challenges to the United States have been diminishing in the last few years. The Iraq war is over, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. There is a good chance that Iran’s nuclear weapons program will be stopped through negotiations, not force. Al Qaeda is on the wane, and no foreign terrorist group has been able to launch a significant attack on U.S. soil for over a decade. There are still serious security challenges out there, to be sure, but if we can’t address them with a budget of nearly half a trillion dollars per year there is something seriously wrong with the way we are utilizing our resources.

What are the most important threats on the horizon? Any list must include cyber-attacks; home-grown or “copy cat” terrorism carried out without significant logistical or financial support from any organization or network; “loose” nuclear weapons or bomb-making material in Russia, Pakistan, or heaven forbid, Saudi Arabia (reportedly eager to lay claim to weapons now in Pakistan); and a miscalculation in the tussle between China and the U.S. and its allies in Asia over borders and the resources contained within them. None of the aforementioned challenges will be solved via traditional instruments of military power. The lack of a military solution is even more evident in the case of more generalized threats to human life and livelihood like climate change and epidemics of disease.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are not unmindful of these shifts, but they have yet to fully act on their implications. One set of proposals that seeks to bridge the gap between preparing for current versus future threats is a report on “strategic agility” put forward by a task force of defense analysts, retired military officers and former defense industry executives organized by the Stimson Center. In its own words, the task force’s approach would “seek to avoid involvement in protracted ground conflicts, reform the way the DoD compensates and utilizes personnel, and reduce expenditure on weapons that provide only marginal improvements in capability.” It highlights diplomacy as the preferred means of settling conflicts, but notes that the current State Department operating budget is just 3 percent of the Pentagon’s.

Specific actions recommended in the Stimson report include cutting the headquarters of the Pentagon and the military services by 20 per cent, reducing the Army to 450,000 active duty troops, slowing down purchases of the F-35 combat aircraft, and downsizing the ballistic missile submarine force from 12 to 10 boats. These four steps alone would save $25 billion annually, more than the Ryan/Murray plan proposes to add to the Pentagon budget for 2014.

The Stimson approach offers just one illustration of how Pentagon spending can be reduced while creating a military more appropriate to near- and medium-term threats.. Douglas Macgregor has proposed restructuring the Army and Marines so that they are constituted of autonomous “plug and play” modules that can provide more combat capability at lower overall troop levels. And long-time defense journalist and analyst Tom Ricks of the New America Foundation has called for shrinking the military in order to make it easier for it to “adapt to the events of tomorrow.”

Throwing an extra $20 billion at the Pentagon now may just postpone a necessary rethinking of how we structure our armed forces and what we expect of them in a world where traditional approaches no longer work. Congress should reconsider this part of the Ryan/Murray deal and keep the Pentagon under the caps set out in current law.

William D. Hartung is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.


  • Don Bacon

    The Air Force could save money (for A-10s and other purposes) by following the regs and not purchasing more aircraft than it needs. Nineteen F-35A’s are being produced and procured this year without any need for them.

    DOD Instruction 5000.02 provides instructions for low rate initial production (LRIP), the current production phase for the F-35 variants.

    LRIP: This effort is intended to result in completion of manufacturing development in order to ensure adequate and efficient manufacturing capability and to produce the minimum quantity necessary to provide production or production-representative articles for IOT&E, establish an initial production base for the system; and permit an orderly increase in the production rate for the system, sufficient to lead to full-rate production upon successful completion of operational (and live-fire, where applicable) testing.

    *** the minimum quantity necessary for IOT&E — Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.

    There are currently four F-35As assigned to Edwards AFB, California for system development and demonstration (SDD) and five F-35As for Operational Testing. That’s all they need. Nine aircraft.

    However, many more are being produced. Further CTOL aircraft are being stationed at Eglin AFB, Florida, and used for training which is NOT necessary with LRIP aircraft. As of November 15 there were 33 LRIP F-35s based at Eglin AFB, Fla. (17 F-35A (two international aircraft), 14 F-35B (including three international aircraft) and 2 F-35C).

    These aircraft procured beyond test needs are flown for training purposes and must be maintained. There are 400 maintainers who work on the 33 F-35s at Eglin — that’s expensive.

    But the most expensive part is the procurement of aircraft which aren’t needed for test purposes. This fiscal year the Air Force is spending $3.35 billion to procure 19 F-35A planes it doesn’t need. That’s at $176 million each. Waiting until full procurement to buy planes, after the design is proven and necessary changes are made, and utilizing the savings from full production, would save the Air Force a considerable amount of money.

    This is especially true for the F-35 because based on what we know about software and other delays, the testing will still be ongoing five years from now. During that time spending over three billion procurement dollars annually — over fifteen billion dollars — for planes still in development, still being tested, still requiring 400 maintainers just at just one of the bases, is a vast waste of money.

  • Don Bacon

    They just lost the vets — not smart.

    news report:

    The Military Coalition, a group of 33 uniformed services and veterans
    organizations, is sent a letter to House and Senate leaders, as well as President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, expressing their anger with the deal.

  • Don Bacon

    GAO Action Tracker
    Defense: Weapon Systems Acquisition Programs


    The Department of Defense (DOD) could achieve significant cost savings by employing best management practices at all phases of its weapon system acquisition process—including early systems engineering, analyzing alternatives, managing changes in system requirements, and more prototyping early in program development testing.


    DOD continues to make progress in implementing best practices on weapon system acquisition programs, but not all best practices are being applied by all acquisition programs and more consistent implementation is needed, as GAO suggested in March 2011. For example, in March 2013, GAO reported that the implementation of best practices, such as conducting early systems engineering reviews and prototyping, varied on the programs GAO assessed. Most future major programs that provided data to GAO planned to hold early systems engineering reviews before starting development; however, only 11 of the 17 future major programs GAO assessed intend to develop early prototypes. DOD is in the process of revising its overall acquisition policies, which could help improve the implementation of best practices and therefore lower the risk of cost growth and schedule delays on DOD’s major programs.

    Regarding the F-35 program, here’s Frank Kendall, Pentagon acquisitions chief:

    “I can spend quite a few minutes on the F-35, but I don’t want to,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said Monday. “Putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice. It should not have been done, OK? But we did it, OK? Now we’re paying the price for being wrong about that.”

    There’s no reason to “”pay the price.” Please see below regarding more on F-35 production.

  • allbuss84

    I wish we would compare current spending for other programs to an arbitrary “average” of spending that ended over 20 years ago on an uninflation adjusted basis of course. Why stop at defense? Medicare spending is probably 200% above the average from inception to 1990. Defense spending as a % of GDP is half today of what it was during the Cold War while welfare has picked up the difference, but who’s counting.

  • ziggy1988

    This is a litany of blatant lies written by a pseudo-expert who works for an extremely leftist (not “left-leaning”) “New America Foundation”, an organization that seeks to turn America into a socialist, militarily weak country.

    All of Hartung’s claims are patently false. All of them.

    1) Despite his pious denials, the world is far, far more dangerous than at any point during the Cold War except the Cuban Missile Crisis over 50 years ago. It is, in fact, more dangerous than at any point since WW2, again excluding only the CMC. During the CW, the US had to deter only one hostile superpower. Today, it has to deter and keep in check TWO hostile superpowers with large nuclear arsenals – Russia and China – as well as a nuclear-armed and belligerent North Korea, soon to be joined by a nuclear-armed Iran. It also has to fight terrorist organizations, such as AQ and Hezbollah, around the world. To cut US defense spending even further (after all the previous, pre-sequestration rounds of defense cuts implemented by the Obama admin) would be suicidal. No, the US is not spending too much on defense; if anything, it is spending too little. The world is decidedly NOT safer now than during the Cold War; for all of the above reasons, it is far MORE dangerous.

    2) US military superiority is mostly a thing of the past already. Russia and China both wield large, modern, and growing nuclear arsenals as well as large, modern conventional militaries. In most categories of weapons, they’ve already matched or bested the US and are now working on closing the remaining few gaps. Their Flanker fighters are superior to everything the US flies except the F-22 and upgraded F-15C/Ds. Their PAKFA, J-20, and J-31 stealth fighters will best everything on the planet except the F-22 (whose capability they will nonetheless approach). Their Sovremenny and Type 052 DDGs are better than the USN’s DDGs, their submarines are quieter than the USN’s (who also sucks at ASW), and the PLAN already has far more attack subs than the USN does. In a few years, the PLAN will have more submarines, and more ships, in total than the USN. They both also have IRBMs, a class of weapons the US does not have, and China also has a huge arsenal of GLCMs. It is now also developing a stealthy, intercontinental bomber capable of reaching the CONUS.

    But most troublingly, these countries (and on a lesser scale, rogue states like the DPRK and Iran) have fielded large, multi-layered networks of anti-access/area-denial weapons and capabilities that can shutter the US military out of entire war theaters completely, by destroying US land bases, USN surface ships, US satellites, and crippling US cyber networks as well as denying access to their airspace to all but the most stealthy a/c (F-22s and B-2s, plus the future LRSB/NGB). This means the US will have to acquire a wholly new series of long-range strike platforms that can access even the most heavily-defended countries, hit their assets, and operate at great distances, as well as disperse, harden, and fortify its current land bases and upgrade its air and missile defenses. This cannot be done on the cheap – it will require significant and sustained investments.

    So Hartung’s claim that there’s no threat to US military supremacy is also a blatant lie – like the rest of his screed.

    3) How much money the US has spent on defense in decades past is completely irrelevant to how much money should it be spending on defense right now. The only way to determine the right amount is to ask: “What exact capabilities (and thus weapons) do we need, at what level of sophistication, and at what quantity, and how much will it cost to recruit, house, feed, equip, train, maintain, care for, and compensate such a military?” Only this way can the right amount of defense spending be determined.

    Raw figures and exclamations, like “oh my gosh, we’re spending $480 bn to $500 bn per year on defense, can’t we provide for our security with that amount?” and “oh my gosh, we’re spending more than during the Cold War on defense!” are utterly irrelevant and childish. Not to mention that the dollar is worth far, far less today than during the Cold War, and that as a share of the federal budget and of GDP, the US now spends LESS on defense than at any point since FY1940.

    Hartung, whose goal is to totally gut America’s defense, OTOH, wants to arbitrarily cut US defense spending deeply so that it will be woefully inadequate.

    4) Despite Hartung’s blatant lies that the world’s current security threats cannot be solved by military means, nothing could be further from the truth. Today, the biggest threats to America’s and its allies’ security are: an ascendant and aggressive China, a resurgent and aggressive Russia, a nuclear-armed NK preying on its southern neighbor and the US itself, an Iran speedily developing nuclear weapons and BMs, and terrorist groups of global reach like Hezbollah and AQ. These threats cannot be defeated by ANYTHING other than military means – because the ONLY thing these potential aggressors understand and respect is military strength. It’s the only thing that can deter and if necessary (Hezbollah, AQ) defeat them.

    5) Contrary to Hartung’s blatant lies, the Ryan-Murray budget deal would not add a penny to the defense budget. It would only slightly reduce the amount of sequestration-required budget cuts the DOD would have to make in FY2014 and FY2015: by roughly $20 bn this FY and $9 bn the next, out of over $50 bn in cuts mandated by the sequester for every FY going forward thru FY2022. After FY2015, the sequester would return in full force.

    Even before sequestration, the DOD had already cut almost a TRILLION dollars out of its budget: in over $330 bn in cuts resulting from the killing of over 50 crucial weapon programs by Sec. Gates, $178 bn in his later “efficiencies”, and $487 bn under the first tranche of BCA-mandated (pre-sequester) budget cuts. Sequestration is only the newest series of defense budget cuts being implemented by the Obama administration, which targeted defense for deep cuts as soon as it took office. Any claim that Ryan and Murray want to add any amount of money to the defense budget is a flat-out lie.

    6) The Stimson Center’s proposals are useless, because they would “achieve” $25 bn in “savings” only by deeply cutting the military’s MUSCLE – America’s military CAPABILITIES, not the fat. Specifically, the Army would see even deeper cuts than those proposed by Obama, and the Navy’s planned SSBN replacement fleet would get cut from the barely-adequate planned number of 12 to just 10 boats. This is the defense policy of a madhouse.

    7) Hartung shows his true colors when he calls on Congress not to spare the DOD at all from the sequester… but does not object to Congress reducing the scheduled sequester cuts to nondefense (domestic) discretionary programs, the vast majority of which are unconstitutional. This proves, once again, that Hartung’s goal is NOT to save taxpayers money, but to gut America’s defense.

    And for that, he should be damnated forever as the traitor he is.

    Shame on Hartung for lying so blatantly, but above all, shame on BD and its editors, Colin Clark and Sydney Freedberg, for publishing his litany of blatant lies and thus giving him yet another avenue to lie to the public, as if he didn’t have enough. Shame on you, Messrs. Clark and Freedberg!

    • kevinthepope

      right on that, today’s world is SIGNIFICANTLY more dangerous than it was a decade ago. Don’t confuse a few terrorists with a country with armed forces on active duty approaching 2 million in China, and with defense budgets buying vastly cheaper weapons of “good enough” quality to cover a quality gap as well per capita getting alot more bang for the buck. The US Defense industry keeps people employed; Why we don’t spend MORE and employ more folks in meaningful jobs, and hey, tax some of it when sold to friendly countries to help our budget deficit and perhaps put some into US education is beyond me. The f-35 not needed comment by one poster? If we were in a shooting war, you would not want to test an s-400 missile system going against you in a 25 year old F-16 or F-15. Our tanks have not gone a game changing modernization in years, ditto for the IFV’s. If you want to do more with a change in spending, here’s one for you- We don’t need a pentagon bureaucracy in the tens of thousands. Half of those folks should be reassigned to combat units or let go, so we have MORE troops in combat units, and Less overall in the service. Just remember China is sending out it’s “I feel threatened” feelers which in the past have almost always led to some military conflict. Better to meet them head on and AVOIID the conflict through strength and understanding and save the trillions a war would cost, or for that matter, any belligerent nation that senses we are at a low point.

    • paulrevere01

      Hyperbole par excellance…take a breath and consider the economic mess out there on the playing field. You are obviously not disturbed that since Don Rumsfeld’s declaration of $2.3 TRILLION unaccounted for, lost, dissappeared, filched, evaporated, stolen in grand larceny from the DOD, there have been estimates of as high as $7 TRILLION unaccounted for by the same DOD.

      Until those numbers are resolved, there can be no consideration of all the suds you tossed on the mirror.

      You are an alarmist and tragically myopic, just the type of mentality PNAC and the rest have USED to spend ANOTHER reported $6 TRILLION since the illegal Irag invasion 12, now almost 13 years ago..

      I find your pov an insult to the much vaunted common sense of the American people.

      • ziggy1988

        I am not hyperbolizing, I am stating the FACTS, which are clearly uncomfortable to you leftists. The world is more dangeroys than ever sibce the CMC, and the JCS as well as DNI James Clapper agree with me on that. As for the 2.3 trillion referred to by Rumsfelfd,that is ancient news from early 2001. Rummy and his comptroller Dov Zakheim reduced that number to a few hundred billion. The rest will be accounted for shortly. As for Iraq, I did not support that war, but it was not illegal – it was.authorized by both houses of Congress by VAST bipartisan margins.

        • paulrevere01

          You are obviously a young man who needs to do less quoting of ‘the experts’, who ALL have vested financial and career interests in what they say, and look outside that fear box you seem so enamoured with.

          It is a psychological truism that when the human mind is consumed with fear, it can do nothing until that fear is resolved…and NOT just assuaged.