Obama's Defense Cuts Breathtakingly Naive

Presidential candidate Barack Obama, his campaign team, and some Capitol Hill Democrats promise to slash defense spending in a way that is both breathtakingly naive and incredibly dangerous to our national security.  

Last winter, Obama taped ads outlining his intent to slash defense spending.  He said, “I will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.  I will not weaponize space.  I will slow our development of future combat systems. … I will not develop new nuclear weapons.”  He also called for a 15 percent cut in Pentagon spending deferring those funds to more “education, healthcare, job training, alternative energy development, world hunger [and] deficit reduction.”

Recently, Obama’s vice presidential running mate Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) outlined specific programs for the budget axe.  “I’ll tell you what we cannot afford … a trillion-dollar commitment to ‘Star Wars,’” new nuclear weapons, a thousand-ship Navy, the F-22 Raptor,” Biden said.

Richard Danzig, a former Clinton Navy secretary and chief Obama defense advisor, promised “… to come to grips with affordability issues and the requirements process” regarding the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer.

Capitol Hill Democrats promise to help chip away at Pentagon spending as well.  Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has called for a 25 percent cut in military spending which he said will get the U.S. out of Iraq sooner and will force the Pentagon to reprioritize its weapons requirements.  “We don’t need all these fancy new weapons,” Frank said.  

Slashing military capabilities in war time is incredibly naïve.  Besides the ongoing wars in Central Asia, America faces emerging threats: Russia is reclaiming its former militaristic status, China has demonstrated robust offensive capabilities like anti-satellite and cyber-warfare systems, and the number of rogue threats with sophisticated weapons of mass destruction is proliferating.   

Yet Obama and Biden have naively targeted “unproven” missile defense programs for cuts.  But the ballistic missile threat is very dangerous and expanding.  Unlike the Cold War when our missile threat was limited to the former Soviet Union, today the threat includes North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and perhaps a nuclear-armed Pakistan should democracy be turned on its head in Islamabad.  Others like Syria have missiles and fledgling nuclear programs that could eventually be packaged into weapons of mass destruction aimed our way.

Fortunately, the Bush administration had the foresight to invest in a missile defense system capable of dealing with rogue threats.  On Feb. 20, the USS Lake Erie demonstrated our anti-missile capability with an SM-3 missile which destroyed a wayward satellite more than 100 miles high.  Last year, our ground-based midcourse defense system killed a dummy missile over the Pacific using an interceptor stationed in Alaska.  The U.S. Bureau of Arms Control warns, “The ballistic missile danger to the US, its forces deployed abroad, and allies and friends is real and growing.”

Obama promises not to “weaponize space,” but China’s January 2007 anti-satellite test should chill such naiveté.  That test demonstrated that the satellite system which America depends on for banking, communications and navigation is threatened.  

“I will slow our development of future combat systems,” Obama promised.  Our combat systems are becoming ancient and spending on maintenance is up more than 80 percent from a decade ago.  Our Air Force is flying an aging fleet that includes 50-year-old tankers and our Army is driving 1960s vintage vehicles.  Last year, all F-15s — our mainstay fighter — were grounded after one fell apart in midair, and two ongoing wars have savaged most of our aging ground vehicles.  Our forces desperately need to be recapitalized and modernized to keep up with emerging threats.  

Obama promises “I will not develop new nuclear weapons.”  But according to the head of the military’s Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, our warheads are aging and weren’t designed to last forever, making him nervous. “I liken it to approaching a cliff — and I don’t know how far away from that cliff I am,” Chilton said.

 Biden showed his naiveté when he suggested we have or want a “thousand-ship Navy.”  The Department of the Navy operates 282 ships but would like to have 313 vessels to sustain global operations.  Our sea force plans to purchase seven ships in fiscal 2009.  At that growth rate, given the shelf life of modern vessels, our blue water fleet will in fact shrink over time.

Amidst all the promised cuts there is one exception.  Last year, Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs that he favors “a strong military” large enough “to sustain peace.”  The Illinois senator promised to increase the size of our ground forces by 92,000 and provide “first-rate equipment, armor, incentives and training.”  

Consider what Obama’s proposed cuts might mean for our national security.  

The fiscal year 2009 defense budget is $515 billion, with a total of $651 billion when emergency discretionary and supplemental spending is included.  Obama’s 15 percent would be $77 billion assuming only the primary budget is vulnerable to his knife.  

Obama has promised to increase ground — Army and Marine Corps — forces.  Hopefully, those new recruits won’t come out of the already too thin Navy and Air Force ranks.  The FY09 military personnel budget is $125 billion, or 24 percent.  

Almost $180 billion, or 35 percent, is budgeted for operations and maintenance.  These funds are tailored to the military’s current size to maintain its aging equipment and facilities.  Cut too much here and the armed forces won’t be ready to fight emergent threats such as Russia and China.  

The Democrats’ big budget cutting target is procurement and research and development.  Those items total $184 billion, or 36 percent, of the Pentagon’s budget.  Obama and his team have focused on five procurement programs for cuts.  The FY09 budget for those systems totals $26.7 billion.

— Missile defense: $8.8 billion.  
— F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: $6.1 billion.
— F-22 Raptor: $4.6 billion.
— Army’s Future Combat System: $3.7 billion.
— DDG 1000 Destroyer: $3.5 billion.

Funds for other targeted programs like space-based defenses and replacement nuclear weapons are either non-existent or have FY09 price tags under $1 billion.  The balance of the procurement budget goes mostly to replace aging ships, aircraft and ground vehicles which are absolutely critical in war time.

Should Obama scrap the five targeted programs, he would save only one-third of his promised 15 percent.   Where else does he turn — family housing ($3.2 billion)?  

Clearly, finding the promised savings will require far more than cosmetic cuts.  Obama would have to cut force structure which he has promised to increase, accept a much lower level of readiness which is dangerous in war time, cut additional procurement programs and or slash recapitalization of worn-out equipment in order to reach his promised 15 percent.  

Finally, put the 2009 defense expenditures in perspective.  Today, the U.S. spends about four percent of its gross domestic product on defense, which is 1.5 percentage points below the 45-year historical average and well below Cold War and Vietnam War levels.  But given the threats America faces, four percent may be insufficient to secure this country in the future.

Obama and his Democratic colleagues have expressed defense views and a grasp of the facts that are dangerously naïve, and their promises to cut America’s armed forces would seriously jeopardize our national security.