2006 United States Federal Budget-Department of Defense (proposed)

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DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

See: White House budget:OMB Proposed 2006 Budget

Analysis

This is not the budget for the war. This is the budget of military systems that aren't involved in a war right now and aren't particularly likely to be in the near future. There is no reason that this part of the budget should be spared while deep cuts are made in the domestic discretionary budget.

By service branch the spending is $127.5 billion for the Air Force (up 8.2%), $125.6 billion for the Navy (up 5.4%) and $100 billion for the Army (a 0.3% decline that will be made up with the Army getting the lion's share of the $80 billion supplemental appropriation).

The key points to keep in mind when looking at the Department of Defense budget are:

  • This budget is missing another $80 billion in supplemental appropriations that will go to primarily to the Army. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "The only way you can look at this budget is to look at the supplementals". The real defense budget is not $441 billion for 2006, it is $521 billion.
  • The spending increases in this budget have nothing to do with U.S. deployments in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • This budget does contain real cuts and delays in major new weapons buys.
    • The buy of F-22s "raptor" air superiority fighter jets is reduced.
    • The buy of Virginia Class Nuclear Attack Submarines is reduced.
    • The next generation destroyer DD(X) program is postponed.
    • The program to develop a new anti-tank missile common to all services instead of a separate one for each service is terminated.
    • There are $1 billion a year in cuts for national missile defense.
    • There are cuts in the V-22 Osprey plane/helicopter program.
    • A new and improved version of the C-130 transport plane (called the C-130J, but virtually an entirely new design) is cut.
    • The Navy's oldest or second oldest aircraft carrier will be taken out of service bringing the number of aircraft carriers from 12 to 11.
    • The new Marine Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (basically an armored personnel carrier type vehicle) is cut.
    • The Army's Future Combat System program is redesigned to be less ambitious and thus provide something troops can use much sooner with less risk.

These cuts are appropriate, although they may be too small. The F-22 is a plane that has some purpose, but the shift from a huge number of F-22s to a "silver bullet" force, in light of reduced threats makes sense. Our nuclear submarine fleet is actually quite new with significant service life left and the Navy doesn't even really want any more of them. The main reason we are buying new submarines at all right now is to keep the manufacturing skill base necessary to build them in place. There is no new threat that justifies a new generation of destroyer, and there are good reasons to be skeptical about any major new investment in large surface naval ships that could be vulnerable to massed cruise missiles, submarines and other threats that are hard to defend against. The main weapon associated with the DD(X), a railgun, is unproven technology that is likely to result in cost overruns and delays. National missile defense doesn't work even in tests designed to give the system an edge. It is still not clear if the V-22 will be reliable enough to play the central role in military planning it was supposed to fulfill. There were technological problems with the C-130J program. Cuts in the Marine's EFV reflect that fact that we have sufficient resources already to make any anticipated amphibious assaults making this purchase less urgent. The Future Combat System redesign makes sense.

The only program cut that may not make sense is the Joint Common Missile program. This is designed to create a successor to the Army's Hellfire missiles (inlcuding the longbow varriant) and the Air Force's Maverick missiles, among others common to all the services so that production costs could be reduced. Missiles are not cheap. Each one costs about $60,000-$120,000 and the military buys tens of thousands of them. They do their job, but even a modest reduction in missile cost by having one missile for all of the services could save a bundle of money in the long term. Presumably the cuts are based on the reasonable assumption that large numbers of missiles are already stockpiled and that the military opponents the U.S. is likely to face in the foreseeable future are unlikely to have large numbers of tanks that the missiles are needed to destroy.

  • The real story, however, involves the cuts that weren't made.
    • The Air Force has far more F-15 and F-16 fighters in service than it needs against any plausible enemy and operating and maintaining this air fleet is expensive. It is not meaningfully cut in this budget.
    • The Navy has a far larger surface fleet than is necessary or appropriate to deal with any plausible enemy (the Soviet Navy it was designed to fight has collapsed, leaving China as essentially the only significant Naval power in the world that could conceivably be hostile), but the cuts to the existing surface fleet are marginal. Again, the operating and maintenance costs associated with this massive fleet are very expensive.
    • The Army has more than 7,000 Abrams tanks. They turned out to play only a secondary role in the Iraq War and are ill suited to our future defense needs. They were designed to face advanced Soviet tanks a short distance away in wars with a clear front line on the plains of Europe, but are hard to transport, poorly designed to fight anything but a tank, and ill suited to wars where everyone is on the front line because their supply lines are vulnerable. But, by one estimate, maintaining those tanks accounts for 50% of the Army's non-war related maintenance costs. Fewer than one in six of these tanks is in Iraq. This plan does act boldly enough to reduce this massive expense.
    • National Missile Defense is still funded at $8.8 billion a year despite the fact that this program does not work.
    • There is new funding for an unnecessary and provocative new generation of nuclear weapons.

Simply limiting the growth in Air Force spending and leaving the Navy at its status quo spending level, by reducing proposals for spending from each of those services by 5%, cutting national missile defense from $8.8 billion a year to a $1.8 billion figure more appropriate for an early stage experimental program, and cutting nuclear weapons development could save about $22 billion ($220 billion over ten years), on top of the $5.5 billion a year of cuts already proposed by the Pentegon. A further 5% cut from proposed levels (for a total of 10%) for the standing Air Force and Navy not deployed in the war effort, would save another $12 billion a year ($220 billion over ten years).

  • The President's own budget proposal makes clear that the Pentagon is doing a poor job of managing its spending. While it doesn't spell it out, some of the big problems are a delay in base closures, the Halliburton contract, and a lack of accounting of Iraq spending. There are no meaningful initiatives to cut this admitted waste in the Defense budget.

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