When President Trump entered office, America’s defenses were badly lagging after eight years of budget wrangling under President Obama, for whom national defense was not a top priority. That included the sequester, which cut defense and non-defense spending by equal amounts, even though the great majority of the budget is non-defense.
The 600-ship Navy attained under President Reagan dwindled to less than half its peak. America was on course for the smallest Air Force since before World War I as well, only about half of what retired generals say is needed to meet national defense commitments. America was building down to the smallest Army since before World War II, only about half of what would be required to support our national defense.
We also lagged in missile-defense modernization. That included space-based lasers, which were originally perceived as the lynchpin to an impenetrable dome for America.
Even America’s nuclear deterrent was lagging. That was supposed to be based on the triad concept, which offered triple-protection nuclear deterrence, protecting America by land, air and sea. But land deterrence was crippled by aging land-based missiles dating to the 1950s.
Deterrence by air was crippled by outdated nuclear B-52 and B-2 bombers older than their pilots. Only 12 nuclear submarines (six more under construction), each carrying 10 nuclear missiles capable of splitting into 10 independently-targeted warheads, still carried America’s functional nuclear deterrent.
Anti-satellite weapons Russia and China already have orbiting in space threaten our own satellites — satellites our conventional military forces depend upon for their modern weapons to operate.
Some of this has been addressed by President Trump, especially with his proposed “space force.” But his budget increases so far have really only restocked needed military armaments.
America’s national defense apparatus needs to be rebuilt. Trump’s decision to appoint Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to replace Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis is a step in the right direction.
Shanahan previously served as an executive with Boeing. He understands the defense contracting business, which is exactly what it will take to rebuild America’s military as Reagan did nearly 40 years ago.
However, Shanahan’s work experience has prompted criticism. A January Politico report suggested Shanahan unfairly favored Boeing, citing two anonymous officials who accused him of “praising Boeing and trashing competitors such as Lockheed Martin during internal meetings.”
Yet even Politico acknowledged, “Under his ethics agreement, Mr. Shanahan has recused himself for the duration of his service in the Department of Defense from participating personally and substantially in matters in which the Boeing Company is a party.”
One source said, “He’s not talking about Boeing right now; he’s really speaking more to his experience, his leadership. His insight is, ‘I’ve seen this, I’ve done it.” Another said, “He’s agnostic toward Boeing at best. I think he’s extremely confident about his capability relative to sourcing and working with contractors.”
The Defense Department is additionally already investing $1 trillion in a long-term contract with Lockheed for its crown jewel, the $90-million F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet. Shanahan has given no indication that he is wavering on that commitment to long-term modernization.
Anonymous contractors should stop spreading unfounded rumors about Trump’s nominee to lead the department. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, Acting Secretary Shanahan will be able to do his job, and the department will continue granting defense contracts based on merit — not because of bullying by contractors in Washington’s swamp.
Denison Smith is a former assistant attorney general for the state of Idaho, staffer for Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho), and trustee of the Reason Foundation. He has over three decades of experience in investment banking, including as the former regional vice president of the Pioneer Fund of Boston, the fourth oldest mutual fund in the United States.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.