Things are happening in Europe, and those things will not help our sick economy. Government bonds of Greece were downgraded to junk status and interest spiked at 23 percent. That is the interest on a loan a Greek with excellent credit would pay. If he could get a loan.
Portugal was also downgraded and so was Spain. Investors willing to buy government bonds from those three of the herd of PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) are evaporating. The Greeks reacted to the prospect of less vacation and lower retirement payments by rioting and going on strike. The country is so dysfunctional that Greek Air Force pilots joined the general strike; the Minister of Defense was “profoundly disappointed,” which did not seem to worry the pilots. The result of the inability of the PIIGS to pay the interest on their national debts is that there are runs on their banks, the Euro is dropping to parity with the dollar (or worse), and the future of the European Union is hanging by a frayed string.
Could that kind of economic disaster happen here? Yes, it can happen here. And it will happen here when big lenders like China appreciate the true size of the total United States debt and stop buying our bonds. Washington tells us we have a $15 trillion national debt and the Congressional Budget Office says debt will hit $20 trillion by 2020. Staggering numbers, but if you add Social Security, Medicare, retirement pay congress awards itself, and all the other unfunded obligations, the American Enterprise Institute says the national debt is $112 trillion! At the rate we are spending, before we get to 2020 we will not be able to fund the budget and pay the interest on our debt to China or anyone else.
What to do? More taxes? Every person and every company in America does not make enough money to pay the interest on $112 trillion. Print more money? Long before the presses melt, no one will want dollars. Swiss francs will be back in style. The only way to avoid an Argentine-style crash is to stop spending on new programs and to cut spending on old programs. That means decreased Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits, decreased retirement benefits for government and union retirees, and decreases or elimination of every other so-called “entitlement.” When we make a serious start on those reductions and use the resulting surplus to pay down our debt, we will once again be a productive and creditworthy nation. As we cut into entitlements, I propose we cut the defense budget in half.
That might be terribly dangerous you say? The graph below (2008) shows we could slash our military budget by 50 percent and still be spending an order of magnitude more than every other major world power—combined.
It pains a Naval Academy graduate and former carrier pilot to propose the first thing to be cut should be the aircraft carrier battle groups. Those magnificent ships and aircraft are too expensive, and are designed to fight the last war, not future wars. In practice exercises between submarines and carriers, the submarines win. Every time.
And who are the enemies who will attack us with their aircraft carriers? There are none, and there never will be another Battle of Midway. Nevertheless, Navy plans as of October 2009, are for seven FORD class nuclear carriers, a truly awesome warship and a truly awesome target.
USS Gerald R. Ford (artist’s depiction)
Any nation that fears it might be attacked by the USS FORD will not build an aircraft carrier to match it. No country could do it. But they could build missiles to do the job instead, and they have done just that. For the cost of two aircraft parked on the flight deck of the FORD, an enemy can fire dozens of cruise missiles from ships, submarines, and aircraft that will home in on the carrier from hundreds of miles away and slam into it at the speed of sound. The damage from the warhead and the kinetic energy of such a missile is devastating, and multiple hits will sink the largest ship.
FORD has not yet been built, but do missiles exist that can sink it? Here it one, the BrahMos, a $3 million Mach 3 cruise missile built by a joint venture between Russia and India. The next version, BrahMos II, will be ready in 2013 and will impact a target at more than five times the speed of sound.
Besides the BrahMos there are super-cavitating torpedoes that travel at 200mph and ballistic missiles with ranges in excess of a thousand miles that are designed to home in on carriers. The Chinese may be selling their version any day.
So let us talk money. A new F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter costs $50 million and USS FORD will carry 90. But for the cost of just two Hornets an enemy can buy three dozen BrahMos missiles, enough to put the entire battlegroup out of action.
The FORD carrier will cost $11.2 billion before counting regular overhauls. In 1993 a battlegroup, including the carrier, aircraft and support ships, cost $1.5 billion just to operate (no Navy numbers since 1993, so the cost today must be astronomical). Savings by decommissioning half of our dozen carrier battlegroups, and by not building more, will be over half a trillion dollars. Maybe a trillion. So before BrahMos missiles, high speed torpedoes, and ballistic missiles sink all our carriers, let’s save hundreds of billions of dollars and do it ourselves.
But let’s not forget the Army and the Air Force. Army Lt. Gen. William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, said the Army could pay for, equip and operate an entire combat division for the cost of operating a single U.S. Navy carrier battlegroup. What he was really saying was an Army combat division is very, very expensive. They even drink Starbucks Coffee at their bases in Iraq. Think some savings might possibly be made?
For its part, the Air Force is having real problems justifying those expensive fighters and expensive pilot training. Who are they going to fight and how will they get there? It useless to have fighter wings based in the United States when a youngster in a trailer can control a Predator drone and find, identify, and kill an enemy soldier five thousand miles away, then go home for lunch.
Predator drone control trailer
There may be a silver lining in the dark cloud of national debt. Besides forcing us to get rid of excess weaponry we cannot afford, the debt will force the Pentagon to do strategic planning and redesign our defense against tomorrow’s enemies. That is, if the White House will allow us to even name today’s Islamic enemies.
Chet Nagle is the author of IRAN COVENANT.