Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Pentagon Budget Rises Again

March 1, 2009


The Pentagon Meets the Real World

Many crucial details are missing from the military budget released last week by the Obama administration. But the initial signs are encouraging.

After adjusting for inflation, the basic Pentagon budget will rise by roughly 2 percent to $534 billion, with $130 billion more to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (down from this year’s expected $141 billion). The administration also plans to accelerate the expansion of the Army and the Marine Corps and increase pay for service members — both much needed moves.

How much the expansion and pay increases will cost will not be known until the full budget is released in April. What is already clear is that to stay within the $534 billion ceiling, the Pentagon will have to finally face the real world and make cuts in expensive and outdated cold-war weapons systems. President Obama and his advisers have a few more weeks to figure out which weapons to cut. But we are ready now with suggestions.

We would start by killing off the Air Force’s F-22 fighter and the Navy’s DDG-1000 stealth destroyer. We would also scale down the Army’s Future Combat Systems and hold back the deployment of unproven missile defense systems. Those four steps could save well over $10 billion a year. Billions could be saved by halting construction of unnecessary attack submarines, and dropping the Marines’ troubled tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.

Cutting weapons programs takes political courage — that is why so many have survived so long after their military rationales evaporated. President George W. Bush was not willing to face down industry lobbyists and their carefully cultivated Congressional allies. The F-22 program, backers claim, sustains more than 25,000 jobs in 44 states — jobs that will be fiercely defended in the current economic environment. But cutting unnecessary programs is essential to help pay for more critical defense needs and more cost-effective economic stimulus.

We note that Mr. Obama has not yet delivered on his pledge to shift the war accounts from supplemental spending bills into the annual Pentagon budget. That would allow for more careful Congressional vetting. It might be too much to expect after only five weeks in office, but it must be done next year.

Over the next few weeks, Defense Secretary Robert Gates must assert authority over the Pentagon bureaucracy and push through the major procurement cuts he has long hinted at. Then he must lay down the law to the individual service chiefs that end-run appeals of these cuts to Congress will not be tolerated.

No comments: