Current defense spending adjusted for inflation has been higher than at the height of the Reagan administration. The problem is that defense spending has been producing less than half of the forces and capabilities of those years.
As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman writes in the Wall Street Journal:
There is one great numerical advantage the U.S. has against potential adversaries …the size of our defense bureaucracy. While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled.
Lehman points out there are more than 1,500,000 full-time civilian employees, 800,000 civil servants and 700,000 contract employees in the Defense Department In the military, more than half of our active duty service members are in offices and staffs, yet we are cutting the “trigger-pullers” and the capability and capacity to fight.
We reported here that Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno admitted we have only two trained and combat ready brigades, and the Army had not trained in 6 months. We also reported cuts to Marine combat formations — namely artillery and armor — and the potential cutting of 5-6 Marine combat infantry battalions, their core war fighting unit.Lehman says:
For example, instead of a 600-ship Navy, America now has only 280 ships — and the world’s seas certainly have not shrunk. I entered the military when the Army had nearly 20 combat divisions. Today there are only 10-division “equivalents.” Our Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers from 30 years ago, and some 25-30% of our fighter squadrons have been grounded recently. We are entering an era during which America will have its smallest military, in some areas, since World War I.
The many failures and disappointments of American policy in recent years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Russia and Iran are symptoms of the steady shrinkage of the shadow cast by American military power and the fading credibility and deterrence that depends on it.
Some may say today’s ships and aircraft are far more capable than those of the ’80s and ’90s. I remember a quote often used by the late Army General Cavazos, “quantity has a quality all its own.” In other words, having lots of stuff to fight with is a deterrent.
But the truth is we’re not necessarily more capable. Lehman offers some examples:
Today’s LCSs—the littoral-class ships that operate close to shore—have their uses, they are far less capable than the Perry-class frigates that they replace. Air Force fighter planes today average 28 years old. Although they have been upgraded to keep pace with the latest aircraft of their potential adversaries, they have no greater relative advantage than they had when they were new.
According to a Government Accountability Office report released in October, there could be as much as $411 billion in unfunded cost growth for current Pentagon programs, almost as much as the entire 10 years of sequester cuts, if they continue. The solution is simple: reduce the bureaucracy of the DoD and conduct a strategic bottom up review of the necessary force capability to defeat the enemies of our nation and support our allies.
Not every dollar in DC is equal and defense is our number one priority. But we must spend responsibly, and that also means “accountably.” The world is a far more dangerous place and we cannot defeat the enemy by throwing computers and pencils at them — drones may be “cool” for President Obama, but there are times when you have to send a special calling card from Uncle Sam.