April 14, 2009
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
It is the year 2019. A speechwriter rummages through a pile of
reports and press clips, preparing to draft testimony for the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Hers is not a happy task. For months now, reporters have
documented the continuing decline of military readiness. It has
been 10 years since Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his
plan to slash spending on programs meant to assure the long-term
security of the nation. Since his historic, April 6, 2009,
announcement, it's become plain that Gates' short-term savings plan
short-changed future readiness.
Nowhere is this more evident than in missile defense. Gates had
ordered a $1.4 billion reduction in funding for that program,
effectively stopping the development of more advanced missile
defense systems. His rationale was that they were not needed
because countries like Iran and North Korea had not yet
successfully demonstrated that their missiles could reach U.S.
Unfortunately, while Washington gutted its defensive program,
Tehran and Pyongyang plowed full speed ahead with their offensive
efforts. Encouraged by U.S. inaction, they shared Technology and
lessons learned (and received covert assistance from other
As a result, their ballistic missile programs had raced ahead
even faster than anticipated. Now both nations boast of robust
arsenals and the will to use them jointly against the United
States. America is more vulnerable to missile attack than ever. The
The picture for conventional forces is no prettier. Gates had
rejected buying additional F-22 fighters, opting instead to acquire
less expensive F-35 fighters. Both aircraft had state-of-the art
capabilities, but one was not a substitute for the other. They were
designed to work together: The F-22 conducting long-range strikes,
penetrating the most sophisticated enemy air defenses and clearing
a path for the F-35.
The decision to shut down F-22 production was strictly
budget-driven. The Air Force clearly needed about 60 more to
provide global coverage. Without them, there was more demand than
planes. But while our Air Force took a step back, countries like
Iran, China, and North Korea had taken two steps forward.
Now, they are ringed with the most sophisticated air defenses on
the market. If a crisis breaks out in the Middle East, the Taiwan
Straits, or the Korean peninsula, America might find itself blocked
out of the airspace. Uncle Sam can forget about establishing the
air supremacy it had enjoyed in every conflict since World War
Life is no better at sea. Gates had ordered the Navy to delay
investments in next-generation destroyers and aircraft carriers.
Other countries, however, poured money into new anti-ship missiles
and mines. Over the course of the decade, America's blue water navy
has been pushed further and further out to sea to avoid these
"The Navy is fearful to enter critical sea lanes or approach
enemy shores," the speechwriter muses. "How can I write around
The land force situation offers no solace. Gates' decision to
scrap the Army's development of the next-generation of combat
vehicles had proved penny-wise and pound-foolish. Starting over had
only increased the time and money needed to develop new vehicles.
It left the Army with more manpower and less useful tools. Ten
years on, they are saddled with equipment that's too old, too
heavy, and almost impossible to deploy rapidly to far-off trouble
Okay, back to today. I've painted a bleak future, but it doesn't
have be that way. There is no need to make draconian cuts in the
Pentagon's procurement budget.
That budget represents less than one-fifth of Washington's
spending. It is neither the cause of the federal deficit, nor a
cesspool of wasteful spending (as Defense critics so often portray
Even with a war on and an all-volunteer force, U.S. Defense
spending today totals less than four percent of our gross domestic
product. That's only about half the level of Defense spending
maintained during the Cold war.
Defense is not the source of our national economic woes. In
fact, cutting defenses just cuts more jobs.
Congress and the White House have had no problems ponying up
hundreds of billions of dollars for such "vital" programs as
bailing out bankers and hedge-fund managers, paying gentlemen
farmers not to grow food, building neighborhood bike trails and
removing tattoos. How can they countenance short-changing the
people prepared to fight and die to keep us free?
One of the few duties assigned to Congress under our
Constitution is to "provide for the common defense." That doesn't
mean leaving our men and women in uniform to defend us with rusty
swords and broken shields.
Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation
and the author of GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and
Winning World War II.
First Appeared in the Washington Examiner
It is the year 2019. A speechwriter rummages through a pile of reports and press clips, preparing to draft testimony for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Protect America Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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