Ashton Carter is the U.S.military’s chief weapons buyer. Judging from what he said yesterday at The Heritage Foundation about saving money in the defense budget, his job is about to get much more complicated if the Obama Administration gets its way by trying to reduce the federal budget deficit on the backs of those in uniform.
Military spending cuts are being proposed by a President who has surged forces in Afghanistan, started a new military operation in Libya, sent troops to aid disaster victims in Japan and Haiti, and increased counterterrorism operations with Pakistan and Yemen…to name just a few of the many missions underway around the world today.
Since the military consumes about $700 billion per year including war costs, it’s inevitable that the Department of Defense will carry the lion’s share of the security portion of deficit-reduction, if not virtually all of it.
This is a great irony for two reasons: (1) in light of what the military is being asked to do (more and more) and (2) given that the military has already been tasked to contribute more money than any other federal agency to deficit reduction.
Defense cuts will increase risk to military personnel in harm’s way. The Secretary of Defense has called them “disastrous.” This is because the equipment accounts are always raided first. Even though the purchase of new platforms accounts for just one-seventh of the entire military’s budget, it is always the spending axed first because everything else is considered a “must pay” bill (ranging from people to current operations). History shows repeated cycles of modernization funding typically falling first and fastest when defense budgets come down.
But while the equipment budget will shrink, the need to replace aging and war-torn systems won’t go away. America’s military still needs cutting edge ships, aircraft and vehicles to operate most effectively.
The sheer volume of defense cuts will impact everything from “endstrength” (the number of people in uniform) to readiness, to facilities and infrastructure, to weapons systems. Nothing will be spared–which is going to be a problem, to say the least, if we keep asking the military to do more with less.