Security Isn’t Cheap

Adam J. Hebert. Air Force Magazine, November, 2010.


…ill-advised calls to cut the Pentagon budget follow as predictably as the tides. Without credible analysis of strategy or requirements, critics are once again declaring defense spending to be out of control.

Editor’s Comment:

In his editorial Security Isn’t Cheap Adam J. Herbert cites the work of the Sustainable Defense Task Force as a case in point of critics of Pentagon spending recommending cuts “without credible analysis of strategy or requirements.” As a member of the task force I differ over the credibility of our analysis. But let me speak to where I agree with Mr. Herbert:

• “Security is not cheap.” In fact it is extremely expensive. When the country is hit with a financial disaster we owe it to the country and our military to reexamine our national security strategy and make sure priorities are clear and that our military investments are cost-effective. In the last twelve years of Pentagon budgets the planning has proceeded as though there is no resource constraint. Unfortunately, that is true of the last QDR as well. Those days are clearly over – Secretary Gates has said as much.

• “A well-trained, well-equipped, professional military is not cheap. If the nation wants it to cost less, the nation will probably have to ask it to do less.” Exactly. Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. military has steadily advanced its global reach and engagement. Missions have proliferated, including many that should be done by civilians in the State Department and other agencies. Significant numbers of U.S. troops still remain in Europe, even though there is no military threat to Europe that allies can’t handle. The most important take-away lesson from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that long low-intensity land wars are not cost-effective uses of U.S. military power and should be avoided whenever possible. Hopefully we can all agree there should never again be such a “war of choice.”

• “There are certainly ways to reduce defense spending…” Yes, and one that will save around $45 billion in Air Force modernization accounts is available in a choice about how to modernize the fighter fleet. The Air Force has decided to replace its aging F-16s with just about the most expensive new fighter one can dream up, the F-35. In today’s fiscal environment either the Air Force will end up with a lot fewer of these planes than planned, or they will choose to get ahead of the budget crunch and modernize with new block versions of the still best of class F-16s and limit the buy of F-35s this decade to a few squadrons for high-intensity air-superiority missions. If serious air competition emerges a decade from now we can then roll out production of F-35s (or perhaps a less costly follow-on to the F-16), planes presumably much improved with ten years or more of further fighter technology development.

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