September 27, 2007 | News Releases on Federal Budget
WASHINGTON, SEPT. 27, 2007- It's time for a sustained commitment to modernize and better equip the nation's military, top financial officers from the Army, Air Force and Navy agreed during a panel discussion on defense spending at The Heritage Foundation.
"While we're at war, we're hitting an all-time low in defense spending as a percentage of GDP [gross domestic product]," Peter Kunkel, principal deputy assistant comptroller for the Army, warned an audience of defense analysts, reporters and friends of the military.
"Obviously, we need to modernize and recapitalize our force," said Rear Adm. Stanley D. Bozin, in charge of financial management for the Navy. Looking at the necessities of future funding, Adm. Bozin said what's "adequate" today just won't be good enough in the future.
"This is a national security risk that's grown since the early '90s," Mackenzie Eaglen, Heritage's senior policy analyst for national security said in introducing the three speakers at the Sept. 26 event.
Eaglen said policymakers must not allow the military to deteriorate again into the "hollow force" of the post-Vietnam years, one that lacks the manpower, training, operational dexterity and modern weapons to prevail on tomorrow's battlefields.
The Heritage Foundation is calling on policymakers to avert that scenario by committing to spend at least 4 percent of the nation's annual economic output, or GDP, on defense. The Washington think tank also released a special report gathering recent research and policy papers on the topic.
The 32-page report, selected writings edited by Eaglen under the title "Four Percent for Freedom: The Need to Invest More in Defense," is available online at http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/sr18.cfm.
"It is a call to action to Congress and future administrations that they must heed in order to keep America safe, free and prosperous in the 21st century," Heritage President Edwin J. Feulner writes in his foreword.
John G. Vonglis, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for finances, cautioned at the Sept. 26 event that the nation can't afford to be unprepared-not just for today's terrorist threats, but for our adversaries' capabilities and tactics 20 years from now.
"Continuing investment decisions have to be made today," said Vonglis, noting that the Air Force's missions have kept it "at war" with aging equipment for 16 years, from Iraq to Bosnia to Iraq again.
Despite the intense pace of repeated deployments, America's military force is roughly half the size it was in the early 1990s. The Army has been reduced from 18 divisions during Desert Storm to 10, the Air Force from 37 tactical air wings to 20, and the Navy from 568 ships in the late 1980s to a fleet of 276 today.
The Army's Kunkel cited a need for a consistent level of spending over the next decade or more, without the dramatic peaks and valleys routinely seen since World War II. The outcome in Iraq, he stressed, "won't be the end of the global war on terror."
The cost of pay and benefits, to say nothing of procuring cutting-edge equipment, has climbed steeply as the nation engages in the longest conflict ever conducted by an all-volunteer force, Kunkel added.
Eaglen said the "bottom line" is that current trends for defense spending point in the wrong direction: Today's budget of $537 billion, just below 4 percent of GDP, is slated to fall to 3.2 percent of GDP within five years.
Heritage estimates, based on the administration's own projections of economic growth, that this decrease would shortchange the military by $140 billion.
Americans, Kunkel said, "need to get the numbers going in the right direction."
So powerful is the nation's economy, Heritage analysts argue in the report, that the United States could sufficiently equip and modernize its forces by maintaining a robust defense budget at 4 percent of GDP over the next five to 10 years - despite past years of underfunding military procurement.
In her introduction to the new report, Eaglen says the "Four Percent for Freedom" solution would ensure that America's military remains capable and ready.