We're Not Spending Enough on Defense

Last Friday the Department of Defense released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This report, which the department is required by law to pre­pare every four years, reviews the department’s forces, resources, and programs.

It outlines a strategy for addressing critical issues like budget and acquisition priorities, emerging threats, and required capabilities. One issue that the QDR probably does not adequately address is the need to increase defense spending in the years ahead to prevent the military from becoming hollow.

How Much is Enough?

America’s national security is in peril when it has a military that looks good on paper but cannot actually perform the missions it might be called on to undertake. “Hollow force” describes what happens when military readiness declines because of a lack of adequate funding. A hollow force lacks the resources (1) to provide trained and ready forces, (2) to support ongoing operations, and (3) to modernize. One of the first signs of impending hollowness is when the services tradeoff manpower against modernization to meet competing and equally important priorities. When the Pentagon has to sacrifice investment in the future force to save money to pay today’s bills, that increases risks and can cost taxpayer even more money in the long run. Some Air Force decisions reflected in the QDR are a case in point.

Whither the F-22?

The F-22 is the Air Force’s newest fighter. Due to a recent decision, the number of aircraft to be purchased will be reduced and the years to procure them extended to free $3.5 billion in the near term to invest in developing a new long-range strike aircraft (probably a bomber). A new long-range strike capability is vital and should be funded, but delaying the F-22 purchase is the wrong way to do it. The U.S. has already spent $25 billion to develop the F-22, and it is a good plane. The Air Force desperately needs to replace its old fighters. Speeding production will give the Air Force more new planes faster and at less expense. Forcing the Air Force to stretch its purchase over time could increase the cost per plane and will delay the replacement of old fighters.

Why Keep the C5A?

The C5A is a large-transport aircraft. It is old and rickety. The workhorse of the air transport fleet is the C-17. It is a proven, capable plane. To maintain the number of aircraft needed for air transport and save money in the short run, the Air Force plans to spend $85 million to upgrade the C5A. In the long run, the Air Force will have much more capability and save money by retiring the C5A and buying more C-17s.

Fewer Troops?

Manpower is the most expensive part of the military, but it is also the military’s most valuable asset. The Air Force plans to cut 40,000 personnel. Again, this move will save money in the short term, but for the long-term it makes no sense. Cutting the numbers will just put greater stress on a smaller number of active and reserve forces.

Stop the Insanity

When the services must choose between equally important and vital priorities so that they can pay the bills, the nation is not spending enough on defense. When the services must commit to spending a lot of money in the long run so that they can save a little bit today, the nation is not spending enough on defense. The QDR will not solve this problem. The administration and Congress must provide defense budgets adequate to meet all critical needs and stop forcing the services to make counterproductive decisions.