The Cuts the Pentagon Missed: 02/19/11
Defense Secretary Robert Gates understands that the country cannot keep issuing blank checks to the Pentagon and that the Pentagon needs to spend more rationally and efficiently. He is committed to equipping American forces for the wars they are actually fighting. He has terminated some costly and unneeded weapons programs, held errant contractors accountable, and pressed the services to find savings to help pay for new spending. Mr. Gates is right that there is no way to restrain Pentagon spending without addressing health care costs, which now account for almost 10 percent of the budget. He has proposed that working-age military retirees pay higher health insurance premiums — $520 a year, up from $460 now — the first increase in 16 years.
Some of that same managerial sense is evident in the Pentagon’s latest $553 billion request ($118 billion more is requested for Iraq and Afghanistan). But Mr. Gates did not go far enough. The $78 billion in spending cuts he announced last month were not really cuts, but merely reductions in projected hefty increases. Cuts in all areas of federal spending will be needed to bring down the deficit, and the Pentagon cannot be exempt. There are ways to cut that will not compromise national security. And the sooner those cuts begin, the less disruptive they will be to military planning, and the more savings they will yield. Mr. Gates’s proposal to cancel the Marine Corps’s costly and unworkable Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle will save $11 billion in future costs. But $3 billion has already been needlessly spent. Unfortunately, Mr. Gates’s new budget would continue many other weapons programs whose costs will continue to climb. The $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has already seen costs per plane nearly double from the amount originally budgeted. It should be cut back. Programs to keep building Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines — relics of the cold war — and the unsafe V-22 Osprey aircraft should also be scaled down now. The Pentagon needs to jettison the ancient formula that guarantees each service its accustomed share of taxpayer dollars. Air and sea power that can be readily mobilized are vital to American security. But for a decade, the Army and the Marines have been pushed to their limits while the Navy and the Air Force have looked for ways to stay useful and justify their budget shares. Updating the formula to reflect a more realistic division of labor would wring significant savings from the Air Force and the Navy while protecting the Army and the Marines from the multiple combat tours that have strained service members and their families over the last decade. Congress has been a big enabler of Pentagon bloat — egged on by lobbyists and defense contractors. The Republican leadership, in particular, does not make even the pretense of fiscal responsibility when it comes to military spending. That is why it was gratifying to see 110 House Republicans joining Democrats to heed Mr. Gates’s plea to cut off future spending for an unneeded alternative engine for the F-35 — saving a potential $2 billion to $3 billion. Most of the work would have gone to Speaker John Boehner’s Ohio district. That is a start, but only a start. America has vast global security responsibilities and needs to remain prepared for a variety of future challenges. It needs to do so with fiscally sustainable military budgets that do not weaken our economy or distort national priorities. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/opinion/20sun1.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=pentagon&st=Search