Magazine article National Defense

The Nation's New Leadership Must Not Be Complacent about Defense

Magazine article National Defense

The Nation's New Leadership Must Not Be Complacent about Defense

Article excerpt

Hopefully, by the time you read this, a new administration will be taking shape. While the campaign elicited some discussion on defense issues, unfortunately, it tended to be of "sound bite" nature.

Accordingly, there are still many unanswered questions for the new leadership of the country to address, not just the administration, but Congress as well. One of the most basic questions is whether our new president truly will lead the country in national security matters. Will he acknowledge the serious problems facing our military, and then, will he work to educate the electorate about these problems and their needed fixes?

Unfortunately, those fixes require money: real money, not just campaign-promised money. The opinion polls during the presidential campaign indicated our citizens probably have all the defense for which they are willing to pay, at the present time. The president's challenge, if he chooses to accept it, is to convince the public and Congress that defense has languished long enough.

The tragedy on the USS Cole took away 17 young lives, but it also should provide a wake-up call to our country. The reality is that the world is still a dangerous place--no less so for Americans. Given that reality, we may have reduced our forces too much after the end of the Cold War.

Consider the situation facing our new president: defense spending declined for 15 consecutive years, until fiscal year 2001. Our military is 40 percent smaller than a decade ago. The Army is down from 18 divisions to 10; the Air Force from 22 tactical squadrons to 12; and the Navy from 534 ships to 313.

On the equipment side, we continue to live on the technologies of the 1960s and 1970s, that were procured in 1980s and have been in use by our military ever since. Our equipment is aging, both as a result of time and overuse. While our military is 40 percent smaller, we are deploying forces two to three times as often. There were 20 deployments in the 1980s, versus more than 50 deployments in the 1990s. Some describe our equipment situation as a "death spiral," where the increased maintenance requirements from aging equipment continues to grow, and the money to pay for maintenance is taken out of new equipment budgets. The end result is that less equipment is purchased, causing the existing equipment to age that much faster. …

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