September 1, 2009 | Commentary on Federal Budget, National Security and Defense

Obama, Gates are Gutting America's Defense Industry

When Gen. William Snow arrived in Washington, D.C., to direct the buildup of the artillery for the Allied Expeditionary Force, he thought his office ought to have stationary reflecting the importance of the task.

His request was rejected. Rather than fund this excessive extravagance, it was suggested the general purchase a rubber stamp to mark his correspondence.

Snow joined a War Department completely unprepared to fight World War I. The Army hadn't been used to buying much of anything since the Civil War. They had forgotten how. And, there wasn't much to buy.

The U.S. had virtually no defense industrial base. When America entered the war, Congress handed out unprecedented contracts for artillery, tanks and planes. The war was over before U.S. industry could deliver any of them. Doughboys went into battle riding British tanks, piloting French planes and firing artillery made by their allies.

America is returning to the 19th century, a world where it will be incapable of producing the instruments needed to defend itself. Secretary of defense Robert Gates' policies are pumping steroids into the speed of that decline.

Both houses of Congress have now passed the defense authorization bill, giving their rubber stamp to dismantling the defense industrial base. Last week, President Barack Obama made a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars cheerleading the decision.

Obama has couched many of these defense cuts in rhetoric that sounds like smart business decisions, axing unneeded weapons and killing costly programs. From massive cuts to missile defense to pairing back on how many ships and planes America needs, the truth is that the administration is more interested in budget-slashing than smart-buying.

They are gutting buying defenses for the future to pay for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The proof of this is simple. They are cutting programs and replacing them with ... nothing.

The Pentagon plan is to simply ignore future needs or else push the decision to buy new equipment far into the future, when paying for new planes, combat vehicles, missile defenses and ships will be somebody else's problem.

What Washington has not explained is how it's going to sustain a defense industrial base when it doesn't buy anything. Today, defense purchases account for about 10 percent of the nation's industrial output. In a decade, that production could virtually vanish.

In fairness, Obama did not invent this problem. Washington has not seriously worried about the defense industrial base since the end of the Cold War. While the Obama/Gates' cuts have been trumpeted from the Pentagon's E-Ring, folks forget that his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, slashed about 100 procurement programs.

The real problem is that neither the Obama administration nor its predecessor really looked at the impact of these decisions on the capacity of the American industrial base to support any future Pentagon strategy.

A recent study by the Aerospace Industries Association found that some of our defense sectors are already on life support. Regardless of any strategy the Pentagon might pick, the industrial base for developing rotary-wing systems (like combat helicopters), long-range bombers and some space assets is now so crippled, companies would have a difficult time responding to new requirements, even if the military wanted a lot more new stuff.

There is only one answer: The Pentagon is going to have to immediately start a sustained program of modernizing its military capabilities or the defense industrial base is going to dry up and blow away -- and with it will go high-paying jobs, technical innovation and America's capacity to defend itself at a reasonable cost.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in the DC Examiner