At a speech to the VFW this week, President Obama blasted the Republicans for not raising taxes on top tier earners to prevent defense spending cuts. While the President is dead wrong about the tax increases (he knows all too well that raising taxes on top tier earners does not yield much in the way of revenue for the federal government), there is something that I would like to point out to the Republicans in Congress: Yes we can cut defense spending, and no, it would not hurt our national defense. The key is to do it right.
Defense spending has traditionally been viewed as one of the sacred cows of the Right (so I am sure that I will get plenty of hate mail on this post, but I digress). However, if we are to get our fiscal house in order, everything must be on the table, including defense spending. There is a huge potential for savings in within the Department of Defense, and best of all, the savings can be had without touching soldier pay or equipment. In fact, with some of my proposed changes, it may be possible to improve conditions for our troops, even with a much smaller budget.
As of 2011, the federal budget for defense spending was approximately $720 billion, which is approximately 36% of the federal budget. However, that does not tell the whole picture. Veterans’ benefits are another $94 billion, and at least a portion of the nation debt is due to military spending. Put this all together, and we are paying out a huge sum of money for our military. In fact, the United States accounts for 47% of military spending for the entire world.
My thoughts on the use of the military
Before I go into detail of how and where I would cut the military budget, let me explain what I feel should be our national policy towards defense. To begin with, we need to get back to minding our own business; there is no need to get involved in every little dispute around the world. It is also not our job to defend all of our allies. We’ve had a huge force in Korea for sixty years, and an even larger one in Europe for seventy. I think it is about time for those nations start to take care of themselves. We also need to stop befriending nations that hate us and our beliefs, only so we can get a good deal on their resources (yes, I am talking about the Middle East).
While I feel we need to mind our own business, we also need to make it clear that we will not be soft on National Defense. If you mess with us, the full wrath of the American Arsenal will be brought down on you, and you will receive no mercy. I believe in total war, and the only objective is victory. And after we destroy our enemy to rubble, we will not rebuild their country.
The first cut: foreign military bases
We have far too many overseas bases. Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this notoriously unreliable number omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases. More than half a century after World War II and the Korean War, we still have 268 bases in Germany, 124 in Japan, and 87 in South Korea. Not only is the cost to maintain these bases very high, we often have to pay rent to the hosting nation.
I believe it is high time for the rest of the word to start taking care of itself. We have neither the need nor the money to maintain all of these bases. Even closing 200 of those bases could save us $12 billion a year. Personally, I would like to see a 50-75% reduction in overseas bases. If that means we need to build more transport ships or aircraft carriers, then build those ships; it is a far better use of American tax dollars than paying rent to a country that hates us.
Too many flag officers
The Admirals and Generals of the military are collectively known as “flag officers”. At present time, there are 919 active duty flag officers for a military force of 1.5 million. This is the same number of flag officers as we had during World War 2, when there were 12 million service members. Clearly we have no need for so many flag officers. I think a 50% cut would not be too much, but it must be done intelligently. The Department of Defense needs to review every role that an Admiral or General fills and ask the question “does this job require a flag officer?” Often times, the answer will be no.
Streamlining the workforce
In the US military, the actual combat troops only account for 12-15% of the force. The rest of the service personnel are support. As a former service member, I can attest to the fact that nothing the military does is efficient from a manpower point of view. It is amazing how in this age of technology, where auto companies can run entire assembly plants with only a handful of workers, the military still uses personnel like it’s an unlimited resource. I would suggest finding ways to streamline the entire support system, possibly brining in consultants from the business world. By implementing a more efficient support service we can effectively field a larger combat force while still keeping total service members at today’s level.
To illustrate my point, I did a few calculations. The active duty military is approximately 1.5 million. If combat troops are 15% of that, we have 225,000 combat troops and 1,275,000 support personnel. If we can streamline the support services to allow us a 15% reduction in support personnel, we can now field an increase of 30,000 combat troops on the same 1.5 million active service force.
Top dollar technology and top dollar overhead
Let’s face it, jet attack aircraft are cool. The power they can unleash is incredible, and they get the job done. They are also extremely expensive to buy, are notorious gas hogs, and require a huge number of support personnel. Remember the World War 2 movies where you see the fighters taking off from a grassy field? Not today’s attack aircraft. They need a “proper” runway.
Where am I going with this? It is simple: we need to fight our wars more cost effectively. The attack aircraft of our military is extremely powerful and impressive, but for the majority of the conflicts that we are involved in, they are simply overkill. Consider this: Both Hawker Beechcraft and Cessna (as well as other aircraft manufacturers) build light turboprop attack aircraft, with an average cost as low as $2 million each. Compare this to the A10 Warthog at $12 million, or the F/A-18 at $57 million. Not only is the upfront cost of the aircraft much lower, but they are far more fuel efficient, and can be landed on improvised runways, greatly reducing our overhead costs.
For years, we have fought against enemies who had little or no aircraft of its own, and we could operate these low cost aircraft to support our combat troops on the ground. Remember that we used the A-1 Skyraider from the 1940’s to the 1980’s for this purpose…and the Skyraider wasn’t retired because it wasn’t effective, they were just old (the last one was produced in 1957). Heck, the British used them until 1991!
Reforming the procurement process
Like any private company, the military must purchase certain goods and services. However, unlike a private company, the military can’t buy these products from whatever vendor gives them the best deal. There is an entire procurement procedure that is full of government red tape and abuse. Some statistics state that we could save over $27 billion each year just by reforming the procurement process.
Unfortunately, Congress is much of the problem. If a high ticket item is produced in a congressman’s district, odds are he will push for the military to buy that item, even if it is not needed. A current example is the C-17 aircraft. The US Air Force has plenty, and said they don’t need or want any more. The Secretary of Defense said we don’t need or want any more. However, Congress approved 1.5 billion for more C-17s. Why? Simple. Parts for that aircraft are made all over the country, so most congressmen want to see more bought, even if we don’t need them. This kind of insanity has to stop.
What we don’t need to touch
Most of the time, when we here about cuts to the military budget, we here about a freeze on soldier pay, or the cancelation of some big project. To me, these are the things that shouldn’t be touched. Our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen deserve top quality pay, and should have the right tools to do their jobs. Research into new weapon systems are critical to our national defense. Simply put, budget cuts to the military should involve getting rid of waste and abuse. Period.