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Odysseus
04-08-2009, 06:05 PM
The secretary's new budget will leave us weaker to pay for the president's domestic programs.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123914897083399179.html

By THOMAS DONNELLY and GARY SCHMITT

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a significant reordering of U.S. defense programs. His recommendations should not go unchallenged.

In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today. Though Mr. Gates said that his decisions were "almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books," the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise. In fact, he tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the budget plan represented "one of those rare chances to match virtue to necessity" -- the "necessity" of course being the administration's decision to reorder the government's spending priorities.

However, warfare is not a human activity that directly awards virtue. Nor is it a perfectly calculable endeavor that permits a delicate "balancing" of risk. More often it rewards those who arrive on the battlefield "the fustest with the mostest," as Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest once put it. If Mr. Gates has his way, U.S. forces will find it increasingly hard to meet the Forrest standard. Consider a few of the details of the Gates proposals:

- The termination of the F-22 Raptor program at just 187 aircraft inevitably will call U.S. air supremacy -- the salient feature, since World War II, of the American way of war -- into question.

The need for these sophisticated, stealthy, radar-evading planes is already apparent. During Russia's invasion of Georgia, U.S. commanders wanted to fly unmanned surveillance aircraft over the region, and requested that F-22s sanitize the skies so that the slow-moving drones would be protected from Russian fighters or air defenses. When the F-22s were not made available, likely for fear of provoking Moscow, the reconnaissance flights were cancelled.

As the air-defense and air-combat capabilities of other nations, most notably China, increase, the demand for F-22s would likewise rise. And the Air Force will have to manage this small fleet of Raptors over 30 years. Compare that number with the 660 F-15s flying today, but which are literally falling apart at the seams from age and use. The F-22 is not merely a replacement for the F-15; it also performs the functions of electronic warfare and other support aircraft. Meanwhile, Mr. Gates is further postponing the already decades-long search for a replacement for the existing handful of B-2 bombers.

- The U.S. Navy will continue to shrink below the fleet size of 313 ships it set only a few years ago. Although Mr. Gates has rightly decided to end the massive and expensive DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer program, there will be additional reductions to the surface fleet. The number of aircraft carriers will drop eventually to 10. The next generation of cruisers will be delayed, and support-ship projects stretched out. Older Arleigh Burke destroyers will be upgraded and modernized, but at less-than-needed rates.

The good news is that Mr. Gates will not to reduce the purchases of the Littoral Combat Ship, which can be configured for missions from antipiracy to antisubmarine warfare. But neither will he buy more than the 55 planned for by the previous Bush administration. And the size and structure of the submarine fleet was studiously not mentioned. The Navy's plan to begin at last to procure two attack submarines per year -- absolutely vital considering the pace at which China is deploying new, quieter subs -- is uncertain, at best.

- Mr. Gates has promised to "restructure" the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, arguing that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have called into question the need for new ground combat vehicles. The secretary noted that the Army's modernization plan does not take into account the $25 billion investment in the giant Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. But it's hard to think of a more specialized and less versatile vehicle.

The MRAP was ideal for dealing with the proliferation of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq. But the FCS vehicle -- with a lightweight yet better-protected chassis, greater fuel efficiency and superior off-road capacity -- is far more flexible and useful for irregular warfare. Further, the ability to form battlefield "networks" will make FCS units more effective than the sum of their individual parts. Delaying modernization means that future generations of soldiers will conduct mounted operations in the M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles designed in the 1970s. Finally, Mr. Gates capped the size of the U.S. ground force, ignoring all evidence that it is too small to handle current and future major contingencies.

- The proposed cuts in space and missile defense programs reflect a retreat in emerging environments that are increasingly critical in modern warfare. The termination of the Airborne Laser and Transformational Satellite programs is especially discouraging.

The Airborne Laser is the most promising form of defense against ballistic missiles in the "boost phase," the moments immediately after launch when the missiles are most vulnerable. This project was also the military's first operational foray into directed energy, which will be as revolutionary in the future as "stealth" technology has been in recent decades. The Transformational Satellite program employs laser technology for communications purposes, providing not only enhanced bandwidth -- essential to fulfill the value of all kinds of information networks -- but increased security.

Mr. Gates justifies these cuts as a matter of "hard choices" and "budget discipline," saying that "[E]very defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk . . . is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in." But this calculus is true only because the Obama administration has chosen to cut defense, while increasing domestic entitlements and debt so dramatically.

The budget cuts Mr. Gates is recommending are not a temporary measure to get us over a fiscal bump in the road. Rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop. But what is true for the wars we're in -- that numbers matter -- is also true for the wars that we aren't yet in, or that we simply wish to deter.

Mr. Donnelly is a resident fellow and Mr. Schmitt is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. They are co-editors of "Of Men and Materiel: the Crisis in Military Resources" (AEI, 2007).

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In addition to the charges made above, the new budget does not increase the airlift or sealift capabilities of the Air Force or Navy, which makes future deployments even more problematical.