Tuesday, CDS Director Tom Donnelly testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the state of America’s armed forces ten years after the attacks of September 11. After acknowledging the dire budgetary straits in which the Defense Department finds itself, Donnelly turned to the strategic consequences of budgetary drawdown, delineating the effects of lower budgets on four vital strategic interests: defense of the American homeland; assured access to the “commons” on the seas, in the air, in space and in “cyberspace;” the preservation of a favorable balance of power across Eurasia that prevents authoritarian domination of that region; and the providing for the global “common good” through such actions as humanitarian aid, development assistance, and disaster relief.
For the full text of Donnelly’s testimony, click here.
(U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)
In a speech this morning at AEI sponsored by the Center for Defense Studies, Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon reflected on America’s “quest for peace” since September 11, 2001. But just as we pass the ten-year mark, said McKeon, “we are sliding back to a place we pledged never to return to, and repeating the mistakes of a September tenth America.” Defense cuts threaten to degrade a military after a decade of conflict—a military whose sacrifice has been enormous, and whose role in sustaining the peace is vital.
As the United States considers defense spending cuts, McKeon invoked Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength.” From Hamilton to Marshall and Eisenhower, American leaders have understood, intuitively and acutely, the importance of a strong defense to a prosperous and peaceful future. Today, with an aging inventory of platforms, rising global uncertainty, and a force that has given so much over the past ten years, holding the line on the defense budget is more important than ever.
Tomorrow, CDS Director Tom Donnelly will testify before McKeon’s House Armed Services Committee in its hearing “The Future of National Defense and the U.S. Military Ten Years After 9/11: Perspectives from Outside Experts.”
The Defending Defense project, a joint initiative of AEI, the Foreign Policy Initiative and The Heritage Foundation, brought together Senators Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyl as well as Representatives Randy Forbes, Duncan Hunter and Allen West in the Rayburn House Office Building on Thursday to discuss defense spendingin light of the Super Committee deliberations. Tom Donnelly from the American Enterprise Institute, Bill Kristol from The Weekly Standard and the Foreign Policy Initiative, and Mackenzie Eaglen from The Heritage Foundation participated as well, with Kristol delivering opening remarks and moderating, and Donnelly and Eaglen providing commentary after the event.
Senator Kyl, a member of the Super Committee, argued that defense spending was not the cause of America’s budget woes and “should not be the answer” to righting our budget deficit. “When we had our first meeting, the Chairman asked, ‘Well, what do we think about defense spending?’ And I said, ‘I’m off the committee if we’re going to talk about further defense spending,’” the senator said of Thursday morning’s first Super Committee meeting. “First we did discretionary spending in the budget act, second, defense was half of that, even though it’s not half the budget, obviously. And, third, we can’t afford any more and that’s what your defense secretary, past and current, and others have said. So we’re not going there.”
After Senator Kyl delivered his remarks, Representative West reflected on his experience as an army officer, and discussed the strategic, operational and tactical implications for lower defense budgets, pointing specifically to the imperative for strategy to drive budget-setting, not vice-versa. Senator Graham gave a broad-ranging address on American strategy, invoking Ronald Reagan’s vision of “peace through strength” and discussing the progress made in securing America since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Graham went on to say, with regard to the treatment of defense spending in the budget deal, “This pisses me off beyond belief that our party would subject the Department of Defense not just to more cuts, but to the end of the finest force ever created in the history of the world… This budget deal is a philosophical shift that I will have no part of.”
Representative Forbes spoke of the need for sound and thorough assessment of risks and necessary resources, and of the relationship between America’s economic and military strengths. Senator Ayotte reminded listeners of the constitutional obligation of Congress to keep America safe, as well as the consequences for our men andwomen in uniform of cutting defense spending more deeply. Representative Hunter, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who enlisted following the September 11 attacks, called for America to take stock of its role in the world, the risks to which it is exposed, and the vast interests tied to having a strong military when shaping its defense budget.
Click here for Senator Kyl’s uncorrected transcript.
Thanks to the provisions of the Budget Control Act and the subsequent directions of President Obama’s budget director, Jack Lew, the Department of Defense is figuring out how to trim $1 trillion from its current and planned budgets. Perhaps the principal target in the sights is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program (aka the Lightning II)—a fact that neatly encapsulates the Pentagon’s severe budgetary, programmatic, operational, and strategic problems. It’s only modest hyperbole to conclude that as fares the Lightning, so fares America’s military power.
Taking away the F-35 would render the surface Navy and Marine Corps all but useless in responding to the kind of “anti-access” challenges China now presents and others like Iran are developing.
There are only three places they can go to harvest cuts of that magnitude: military personnel, operations and maintenance, and the “acquisition” accounts that reflect both weapons research and procurement. The costs of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have skyrocketed over the last decade. Even if the costs of combat or “hazardous duty” pay are factored out, Stephen Daggett of the Congressional Research Service has calculated that the annual per-troop price of the All-Volunteer Force has risen from less than $60,000 from 1972 to 2001 to almost $90,000 today. Thus, even though reductions in Army and Marine manpower are already baked into Pentagon plans, the overall personnel budget will continue to rise. Making the cuts contemplated in the Budget Control Act will likely mean further reductions of tens of thousands, but deeper troop cuts would be difficult—and extremely risky.
The “O&M” pot would appear to be a more lucrative target, and savings from these accounts are the dream of every good-government Pentagon reformer. The dream, but never the reality, as former Pentagon chief Robert Gates discovered in his quixotic 2010 quest for “efficiencies.” Cost growth in operations and maintenance is staggering: Daggett estimates that even if defense spending remained the same (after inflation), O&M would consume half the Pentagon’s budget by 2020. But the category is a catch-all: It includes elements such as the defense health service, which treats veterans, reservists, and families as well as active troops. And the effect of past O&M cuts has been felt in reduced training and unit readiness—the most deserving suffer first. The dream of big O&M savings will remain a dream. The best that can be hoped for is to constrain the rate of growth.
Much of the budget-cutting pain will thus inevitably be felt in acquisitions. Daggett forecasts that such spending, about $185 billion in 2010, will drop to less than $127 billion by 2020—and could be less than that, if the super committee either does its worst or simply does nothing. And here’s how the F-35 finds itself in the center of the bull’s-eye: It’s where the acquisition money is.
Welcome to the world of the defense programmer. The first two rounds of Obama defense cuts eviscerated a generation’s worth of weapons projects. The 2009 round, in particular, short-circuited big-ticket items like the F-22 Raptor fighter, the Zumwalt destroyer, and the Army’s Future Combat Systems. The 2010 round policed up some of the smaller fry like the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. By the reckoning of the Pentagon’s last “Selected Acquisition Report,” the annual scorecard for weapons programs, the F-35 dwarfs all other efforts. And if one simply calculates money planned but not fully programmed or spent—in other words, the most fertile fields for harvesting future savings—the F-35, with about $300 billion needed to complete the planned buy, is an order of magnitude larger than any other program on the books. Considering that it’s long been planned to replace nearly the entire fleet of aging U.S. fighters and a good number of support aircraft, the cost is no surprise and still, in fact, a bargain. Nonetheless, the temptation to plunder the F-35 budget is overwhelming.
The Navy is almost eager to do so. On July 7, Navy undersecretary Robert Work told Navy and Marine Corps planners to develop alternative aviation plans that look at terminating both the short-take-off “B” model for the Marines and the carrier “C” model for the Navy. In standard Goldilocks fashion, Work called for three options: Cut $5 billion, cut $7.5 billion, cut $10 billion. And, ominously, Work directed his minions to divine “the best-value alternative, factoring in both cost and capability. . . . This relook must consider every plan and program. Even cuts to long-planned buys of JSF must be on the table.”
Now to the operational rub. Since World War II, America’s sea services have been, first and foremost, organizations built around the virtues of carrier aircraft—this includes the Marine Corps, whose big-deck “amphibs” are almost as large as any non-American aircraft carrier. Clever defense analysts have begun to castigate carriers as “wasting assets,” too vulnerable to the kind of ballistic missile and other attacks that the Chinese military is developing. But it’s equally the case that a carrier without a front-line aircraft—that is, the fifth-generation F-35—is an entirely wasted asset.
In sum, it makes no sense to retain massive carrier fleets with ever-more-limited capability. If the Navy and Marine Corps can’t afford to put a China-relevant plane aboard their carriers—and a China-relevant “unmanned” aircraft is not on the horizon—they should stop building the carriers, too, and even mothball some of the ones they have now.
Terminating the “B” and “C” models of the F-35—let alone reducing the numbers of “A” models intended for the Air Force—would have dire strategic consequences. The F-35 is an international program, and the roster of countries who have contributed money to the development of the Lightning or who want to buy the plane is a veritable who’s who of America’s allies. Britain alone has committed about $2 billion to the project, and the Italians, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Australians, Norwegians, and Turks are already on board and will build parts of the jet. The Israelis want to get F-35s by 2014 if they can, and the Singaporeans are lined up just behind; both countries—states little larger than aircraft carriers—are interested in the short-take-off “B” variant on the assumption that their current air bases are increasingly vulnerable. Japan and South Korea—absolute linchpins of U.S. posture in East Asia—are likely candidates for sales, assuming there’s still something for them to buy in a few years.
A big hit on the F-35 program would also be catastrophic for the defense aviation industry, both in this country and in the West generally. A generation ago, seven companies made airplanes for the U.S. military. Now Lockheed Martin, the only firm to have made a fifth-generation aircraft, leads an international consortium of companies who make pieces of planes. The F-35 factory in Fort Worth is enormous, with the capacity to accommodate the Pentagon’s original plans to buy over 230 Lightnings a year. But with past reductions keeping production at just 30 or so airplanes annually for the next couple of years, and talk of making similar cuts beyond that, the capacity will be increasingly unused—and the workers laid off.
Defending the F-35 program is politically incorrect. It’s been a favorite punching bag for congressional overseers and often in “breach” of the cost-growth targets of the so-called “Nunn-McCurdy” law—a 1982 provision that was a grandstand play back then and is entirely outdated and irrelevant now. Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have proposed a new amendment that threatens to end the program while also renegotiating past contracts. Even Gates put the F-35B on “two-year probation,” whatever that means.
But preserving the program is essential for America’s defense for the foreseeable future. We’ve put an immense number of eggs in this basket, and it’s just about the last basket we have—there are no short-term alternatives, and taking away the F-35 would render the surface Navy and Marine Corps all but -useless in responding to the kind of “anti-access” challenges China now presents and others like Iran are developing.
Cross-posted from the Weekly Standard.
(U.S. Air Force /Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/wikimedia commons)
The Islamic Republic of Iran has cultivated and supported terrorist groups in the broader Middle East for decades. Hamas, operating in the Gaza Strip, and Lebanese Hezbollah, now a leading party in the coalition running the Lebanese government, are among the groups continuously receiving funding, weapons, and other assistance from the Iranian regime. Through these activities, Iran has developed the capability to project force by proxy and threaten American interests and allies in the region, including Israel.
Public professions of support for Hamas and Hezbollah are commonplace among Iranian officials and clerics. Often times, these statements also shed light on the nature of their ties and on how these proxies fit into Iran’s expansionist regional map. Recent remarks by Iranian leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are illustrative in this regard. Ali Saidi, a cleric appointed to serve as a sort of commissar for Khamenei, told a recent audience that “The world’s people should know that today the positions of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine are considered as Iran’s ‘border’ with Israel, and any threat to these regions is seen as an attack on positions and interests of the Islamic system.”
Saidi’s statement is significant in its suggestions that Hamas and Hezbollah are not simply accessories but limbs of the regime and that Gaza and Lebanon are essentially forward bases for the regime. As a statement of Iranian doctrine, such a declaration would have dangerous implications for regional stability and Israel’s ability to defend itself, particularly as the regime continues its drive toward a nuclear weapons capability.