To the next President and next Congress: Maybe Sequestration should happen after all for the long-term good
As voters go to the polls today, we’ve turned our thoughts to Sequestration and the impact on Defense budgets.
Defense sequestration is widely view as a disaster for national defense and for employment. Sequestration requires a cut of $500bn over 10 years, or $50bn a year. Spending for FY2013 is $902.3bn, according to government figures, excluding the Afghan war. A $50bn cut would be 5.5%.
We certainly acknowledge the adverse impact of cutting $50bn from next year’s budget, but we can’t help but wonder if there isn’t 5% that is “fat.” Parochially, Boeing’s KC-46A tanker is on the hit list for cuts. Given the difficulty it took in getting to this contract and the pressing need to replace the KC-135, we would hope this program would survive.
But we’re thinking on a higher plain.
We’ve been reading a biography of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, and his battles with the defense machine—keeping it in check—are pretty well known to students of Ike and his famous last address as president in which he warned of the growing influence of the Military Industrial Complex. This President, a 5-Star General who led the Crusade in Europe, the mightiest Armed Forces in the world, became frustrated with the growing power of the defense interests.
Since then, we’ve had several Secretaries of Defense (McNamara, Cheney, Rumsfeld) and Presidents who wanted to reform the Pentagon. Each failed.
There is a saying that the Generals (and Admirals) want to fight the last war. There’s probably a lot of truth to this. There are some visionaries who recognize that we’re not going to have aircraft carrier-to-aircraft carrier battles nor great ground wars between super-powers.
Wars today are dominated by drones and smart bombs—and cybersecurity. Do we truly need a Navy that is larger than that of 1917, as Mitt Romney suggested during the final presidential debate? If we’re not going to be the world’s policeman (another discussion entirely), the answer is probably not. But what kind of Navy do we need in any event?
Clearly, aircraft carrier battle groups are the most visible means of projecting foreign policy strength. They also bring US power within reach of many areas where we don’t have foreign military bases.
But do we need, as reported in one study, 630 foreign military bases (900 if you count those associated with the Iraq and Afghan wars) in 38 countries? To be sure, there are plenty with fewer than a dozen personnel that act as liaisons. But surely some consolidation seems in order.
So much of our military action now is covert. For this we need submarines to undertake missions and as delivery vehicles for Special Forces. Some argue we should begin building advanced, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) diesel-electric subs to augment the nuclear fleet. They’re cheaper and they can operate more easily in shallow water. The problem is they still can only cruise submerged at crawling speed and given the vast distances from US bases in Hawaii and the Mainland, it takes forever for these subs to get anywhere. Certainly they could be stationed at advanced bases like Guam, but in an armed conflict with China, their first battle plan is Anti-Access, Access Denied (A2AD). Guam would be an early target, and so would Taiwan and Japan. While theory certainly suggests a role for AIP subs, practicalities suggest otherwise.
There is still a need for an air force. We need to replace the remaining 50 or so Boeing B-52s, all the B-1s and the B-2s. But with what and how many are truly needed for those limited number of missions beyond the range or payload of drones that are cheaper, more mobile and piloted from a remote station eliminating personnel risk?
Unmanned aerial vehicles come under criticism for indiscriminate casualties. Well, pardon us. War is messy and these UAVs and drones allow for pinpoint bombing that beats the hell out of carpet bombing from B-52s as recently as the Iraq War in 2001. So how many bombers are truly needed?
Do we really need a whiz-bang fighter with all the Star Wars gadgets? The air defenses of Afghanistan and Iraq and even Iran certainly aren’t as sophisticated as Russia or even China. Are we building a military to fight terrorists or for the last war?
How many ground troops do we truly need? It certainly was true we woefully under-manned the 2010 Iraq war and the long-running Afghan war. President George W. Bush and SecDef Rumsfeld tried to do both on the cheap. But the nature of warfare’s changing face is clear in the casualty count. In Afghanistan, the longest-running war in US history, we’ve lost the fewest number of servicemen (and women). High tech wars have changed how we fight. How many soldiers and Marines do we really need?
These are highly philosophical, strategic think-topics. But since the Pentagon, and Members of Congress, and Mitt Romney seem more interested in fighting the last war, perhaps Sequestration will force decisions to be made to focus on the next war.
In this, Sequestration might actually have long term beneficial effects despite the short-term gain.
Alas, even with the Gridlock-driven, power-mad Republicans and Democrats in Congress famous for doing nothing rather than the Peoples’ business, we think Sequestration won’t happen.
But maybe it should.