Magazine article The American Conservative

Sticker Shock and Awe

Magazine article The American Conservative

Sticker Shock and Awe

Article excerpt

Our defenses should get smaller and smarter, not more expensive.

PENTAGON OFFICIALS SAY that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will soon announce up to a half-dozen weaponssystem cancellations. If that's true - and I'm not convinced it is - Gates will probably meet more resistance than the Allies ran into at Normandy.

The time-honored adage says that generals always plan for the last war. American generals, taking things a step further, always plan for the last World War. As strategy analyst William Lind notes of our weapons-acquisition practices, "most of what we are buying is a military museum." For all the Pentagon's lip service to "transformation" and "revolution in military affairs," today's force looks like a Buck Rogers version of the force we defeated the Axis Powers with: aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines, armor, infantry, bombers, fighters, special forces, and so on.

Our "Good War" military was suited to symmetrical enemies whose political behavior could be compelled by defeat of their armed forces. We haven't had a foe like that since the Berlin Wall came down; arguably, the Soviets ceased to be a serious military threat years if not decades before then. Yet the preponderance of our defense budget is spent on gee-wizardry to deter or tight a peer competitor that will never emerge.

At the low-tech end of the spectrum, the Obama administration intends to continue increasing the size of our ground forces to conduct the "long war" against "radical extremists," despite analysis by Rand Corporation that concludes the best way to proceed in our misnamed war on terror is "with a light U.S. military footprint or none at all."

Neoconservatives weep that their paisley sky will fall if America's defense budget drops below 4 percent of GDP. If that metric were a true indicator of military might, America would be at the mercy of juggernauts like Burundi (5.9 percent), Eritrea (6.3 percent), and Qatar (10 percent). As for percentages that mean something: America accounts for more than half of the world's defense expenditures. Iran's defense budget is less than one percent of ours. The defense budgets of Russia and China are no more than a tenth of ours. The U.S. and its Western allies supply more than 95 percent of global arms sales; anybody who wants a military that can compete with ours will have to buy it from us.

If Gates is serious about eliminating the fat from the defense budget, he can start by amputating the Pentagon's wild blue extravagance.

Air-power fanatics still argue that the atom bomb was the decisive factor in ending the war with Imperial Japan, but the judgment of history is that strategic bombing is a proven dud. The $2 billion B-2 stealth bomber is albatross enough, but the Air Force wants to replace it by 2018 with an even costlier manned bomber that will have the same combat radius but carry fewer bombs. By 2035, the Air Force plans to field a "transformational advanced technology capability" for long-range strike using an "advanced system-of-systems approach." "System of systems" is network-centric warf are-ese for a weapons program that will transform into a system of economic systems. We already bomb Pakistani weddings and Somali villages with robot airplanes controlled from Nevada and cruise missiles launched from nuclear submarines. Our "global reach" is systematic enough.

At $338 million per copy, the F-22 Raptor is the most expensive fighter jet ever made, but the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program cost is on schedule to surpass the Raptor project's total tab. The planned production run of 183 Raptor airframes will cost $62 billion. The Joint Strike Fighter comes cheaper by the pop, but the planned 2,458 aircraft buy will cost upwards of $1 trillion in acquisition and maintenance costs. Moreover, the Government Accountability Office says the JSF estimate is "not reliable for decision making" because "certain key costs were excluded. …

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