December 6, 2000

December 6, 2000 | News Releases on National Security and Defense

Next President Should Significantly Boost Defense Spending, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, DEC. 6, 2000-Rebuilding U.S. military strength and morale should be a top priority for the next president-whoever he may be, says a new paper from The Heritage Foundation. After all, both Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Gore campaigned on a promise to boost defense spending if elected.

"Priorities for the President," an issue-by-issue policy guidebook for the next administration that will be published by Heritage in January, notes that-while the U.S. military remains the best-trained force in the world-post-Cold War troop reductions and budget cuts, coupled with longer and more frequent missions, have taken a severe toll.

The guidebook's chapter on national defense, released in draft form today, observes that the current administration has cut national defense by more than 500,000 personnel and $50 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. Author Jack Spencer, a defense analyst at The Heritage Foundation, notes that a recent Congressional Budget Office report concluded that military funding would need to rise by $50 billion a year simply to maintain the size of today's forces.

Aging equipment is part of the problem, according to Spencer. Most of the equipment that U.S. troops rely on to fight and win wars today, such as Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, aren't being replaced often enough. For example, the average age of fighter aircraft used by the Air Force today is 20 years, even though the planes were designed for a 15-year life, Air Force officials confirmed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the pace of deployments has increased 16-fold over the last eight years, including missions in Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1996), and Iraq/Kuwait (1998). As a result of this over-extension, all four services-Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy-face a shortage of modernized equipment and are suffering from low morale.

This has led to severe retention problems, Spencer notes. The U.S. Army has lost four active divisions and two reserve divisions, or more than 250,000 soldiers-an attrition rate of 30 percent. The Air Force is down five tactical squadrons and nearly 100 bombers, as well as 30 percent of its personnel. The Navy, meanwhile, has seen 20 percent of its fleet eliminated, and the Marine Corps has seen its active-duty roster shrink by 22,000.

To remedy the deteriorating situation, Heritage recommends several defense policy initiatives for the next president, including:

  • Increase spending for national security, up to 4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) every year. When President Clinton entered office, the United States was spending 4.4 percent of GDP on defense; by 2001, it will have dropped to 2.9 percent. Spending 4 percent, Spencer says, will allow the military to fulfill its missions, modernize its force, and maintain a presence abroad.

  • Change U.S. security strategy from being able to fight and win two regional, nearly simultaneous conflicts to a "one-and-a-half-war" capability. The current 1.4 million regular-duty soldiers are hardly sufficient to man a two-war scenario.

  • Limit operations (other than warfare) that drain vital resources and over-extend personnel. Each mission undertaken by the military should have a clear objective that advances U.S. national security and gives military leaders wide latitude.

  • Increase funding for research and development to better equip military personnel with technologically superior weapons. "The military in the field today is little better than it was 20 years ago, while the rest of the world has leaped decades forward in the digital revolution," Spencer writes.

"Priorities for the President" is part of an ongoing series of policy guidebooks published by The Heritage Foundation every four years (with one exception) since 1980. It is part of Heritage's "Mandate for Leadership Project," which was named for the original policy blueprint that The Washington Post said served as the "bible" of the Reagan administration.

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