Debts, deficits and defense

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In the fight over defense spending, the first round has been fought between Congress and the Pentagon. Congress won by a knockout.

In a grudging response to calls from Republicans to bring the White House defense budget cuts to a vote, the Democrat majority allowed a House vote in early June. But it was only on a single item in the long list. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had dipped her toe in the water and allowed a vote to decide the fate of the “alternative engine” for the F-35 fighter. She assumed it was an obscure program with minimal support, and the easiest cut to pass. She was mistaken.

As of now, Pratt & Whitney has a sole source contract that gives them a monopoly on building the engine for the aircraft that will be 95 percent of our jet fighter force. The F-35 is nothing less than the basis of future American air superiority.  But, notwithstanding Pratt & Whitney’s sole source contract, General Electric and Rolls Royce were funded to develop a competitive engine the Government Accounting Office says will reduce costs by as much as 12 percent. Setting technical arguments aside, the issue came down to $485 million. The White House and Pentagon wanted to cancel the competition. When the smoke cleared, a solid majority of votes by both Democrats and Republicans insured the alternative engine program will continue. In the age of trillions, why was this vote over spending less than $500 million important?

The Obama administration intends to slash the defense budget in order to pay for its riotous spending on bailouts, “stimulus bills,” their signature healthcare program, and massive pork bribes for votes from congressmen who hopefully will not survive this November’s balloting. To continue the spending spree, the White House plans to eliminate over a trillion defense dollars in the next ten years. Details of those proposed cuts were laid out by Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) Sustainable Defense Task Force in a 56 page report titled: Debt, Deficits, & Defense – A Way Forward. None of the service arms are spared.

The Navy will be reduced to eight aircraft carriers (from twelve planned) and seven air wings. Eight ballistic missile submarines will be cut from the planned force of 14, leaving just six. Building of nuclear attack submarines will be cut in half, leaving a force of 40 by 2020. The four active guided missile submarines would be cut, too. Destroyer building would be frozen and the new DDG-1000 destroyer program cancelled. Among other huge cuts, the fleet is to be reduced to 230 combat ships, eliminating 57 vessels from a current force level of 287.

The Air Force must retire six fighter air wings equivalents, and at the same time build 301 fewer F-35 fighters. The nuclear bomber force will be completely eliminated in the name of unilateral disarmament—the B-1 and B-2 and B-52 and other bombers will still be able to drop bombs, but their nuclear weapon wiring and controls will simply be removed. Procurement of the new refueling tanker and the C-17 cargo aircraft will be cancelled. Directed energy beam research and other advanced missile and space warfare defense projects will also be eliminated or curtailed.

Active duty Army personnel will be slashed from 562,400 to 360,000. That includes elimination of about five active-component brigade combat teams (the report is not exactly). The Army will also suffer a myriad of other cuts, including closure of overseas bases.

The Marine Corps would be cut by 30%, from 202,000 to 145,000, and the other funding cuts planned for the Corps mean the United States will not be able to mount a major amphibious landing on any hostile shore. Marine Corps programs to be killed include the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

The hot button item of reducing pay, pension, healthcare and other benefits for our soldiers, their wives, their families and their widows is stated as: “Resetting the calculation of military compensation and reforming the provision of military health care…” Whatever those mysterious words will ultimately come to mean, the task force report shows a planned reduction of pay and benefits for the troops and their families to the tune of $120 billion.

Many other proposed cuts are not addressed in coherent detail, including how the reduction of our deployed nuclear warheads to 500 would be accomplished (a much greater reduction than contemplated by the pending START treaty with Russia). Today’s deterrent force of 500 Minuteman III missiles, for example, would be reduced to just 160 missiles or less, which then leaves a balance of 340 warheads for ballistic submarines and tactical delivery systems everywhere in the world! Other key parts of American strategic defenses are slashed as well, including modernization, research, and maintaining safety and reliability of existing weapons.

These sweeping reductions in our defenses are bad enough, but the most disturbing part of the report from Rep. Frank’s task force of think-tank pundits is the lack of a rationale for such drastic cuts.

Instead of serious proposals for a national security strategy, the task force recommends something they call a “policy of restraint.” The soaring rhetoric of the report is not specific, but it seems to suggest the United States should withdraw from the world and hole up in a little “Fort America.”

President Obama is emulating President Jefferson. Strapped for money, Jefferson cut the navy by two-thirds and built small gunboats instead, saying they “are the only water defense which can be useful to us, and protect us from the ruinous folly of a navy.” What were the results of Jefferson’s version of a low cost ‘policy of restraint?’ Britain’s navy brushed the gunboats aside and burned the White House in 1814.

Fortunately, the British superpower of 1814 did not have an air force, a strategic missile force, or a large amphibious Marine Corps. If they had, they would have burned the Declaration of Independence, too.

(Now, to paraphrase Monty Python, “for something completely different.” I discussed President Obama’s plan to pay for more spending by cutting a trillion dollars from our defense budget on The Schilling Show, News Radio 1070WINA, Charlottesville, Virginia. You can listen to The Schilling Show live, or use your computer to link to their podcast archives at The Schilling Show . Scroll down the list to 6-17-10 Hour 2 – Chet Nagle – and hear our informative show!)

Chet Nagle is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of IRAN COVENANT.

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