year, if all goes as President Bush plans,
the United States will spend more money on
the military than in any year since 1952,
the peak of the Korean War.
are the stark numbers. The original defense
budget for fiscal year 2004 was $400 billion.
Bush's supplemental request for Iraq and Afghanistan,
which he announced last Sunday on television,
is $87 billion, for a total of $487 billion.
Let's be conservative and deduct the $21 billion
of the supplemental that's earmarked for civil
reconstruction (even though the Defense Department
is running the reconstruction). That leaves
comparison, in constant 2004 dollars (adjusted
for inflation), the U.S. defense budget in
1985, the peak of the Cold War and Ronald
Reagan's rearmament, totaled $453 billion.
That was $12 billion to $33 billion less than
this year's budget (depending on whether you
count reconstruction). In 1968, at the peak
of the Vietnam War, the budget amounted to
$428 billion. That's $38 billion to $59 billion
below Bush's request for this year.
have to go back more than 50 years, when 50,000
Americans were dying in the big muddy of Korea,
to find a president spending more money on
the military -- and even that year's budget,
$497 billion in constant dollars, wasn't a
lot more than what Bush is asking today.
are perilous times, but are they that perilous?
Do we really need to be spending quite so
much money on the military?
$87 billion supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan
is fairly straightforward: $32.3 billion for
operations and maintenance, $18.5 billion
for personnel, $1.9 billion for equipment,
$5 billion for security, $15 billion for infrastructure,
and so on. It's a bookkeeping calculation:
If you want to continue the mission, that's
what it costs; if you want to spend less,
you have to downgrade the mission.
there's plenty more in the military budget
that does not have the slightest connection
to any clear and present (or even murky and
Congress passed the military budget last spring,
nobody had any idea that "postwar" difficulties
would boost it by $87 billion -- more than
one-fifth of its original, already hefty size.
Nor did anyone project that the federal deficit
would meanwhile expand to nearly half a trillion
dollars. When your kid's in the hospital,
your roof is leaking, and your salary's just
been cut, you should probably put off plans
to build a pool or buy a plasma-screen television.
The military budget is in a similar state,
and it only makes sense to reopen the books,
set priorities, and slash those programs that
can safely be deferred.
are some particularly large and easy suggestions:
fighter planes. The budget includes $5.2 billion
to build 22 F-22 Raptor stealth fighters and
$4.4 billion to continue research and development
for a smaller, single-engine version known
as the F-35 Joint Strike fighter. Stealth
planes are built from exotic materials, with
rounded edges, to minimize their visibility
to enemy air-defense radars. The U.S. Air
Force already has more than 100 stealth aircraft,
in the form of B-2 bombers and F/A-117 attack
planes. They have been very useful, in the
last few wars, for going in early and knocking
out heavily defended targets and air-defense
sites. Beyond that phase of the battle, non-stealth
planes -- F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, A-10s, even
ancient B-52s -- have done just fine and have
been shot down in exceedingly small numbers.
In other words, beyond a certain point (which
we have probably reached for the foreseeable
future), we don't need more stealth. As an
additionally superfluous matter, the F-22
and F-35 are designed as stealth "air-superiority"
fighters -- planes whose main mission is to
shoot down enemy planes. Given the comparative
resources that the United States and other
nations devote to flight training and technology,
it is very doubtful that any air force in
the world, except perhaps those of Israel
and France, could shoot down more than a few
American non-stealth fighter planes in even
a large, protracted dogfight (and most of
those shoot-downs would be by dumb luck).
The only American weapon that performed poorly
in Gulf War II was the AH-64D Apache attack
helicopter -- in its only massed assault,
30 out of 32 were shot up, mainly by Iraqi
small-arms fire, and had to scurry back to
base, most of them in disrepair. Yet the budget
includes $777 million to keep buying Apaches.
It also includes $1.1 billion for initial
procurement of the RAH-66 Commanche scout-and-reconnaissance
helicopter. Given that unmanned drones, like
the Predator and Global Hawk, are cheaper,
more effective, and less dangerous, maybe
the Commanche can be shut down for a bit,
weapons. For the past decade, the Pentagon
has been denuclearizing its atomic arsenal.
B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers have been converted
to carry conventional bombs and missiles.
Four of the Navy's 11 Trident submarines are
being similarly altered to fire non-nuclear
Tomahawk cruise missiles. So why does this
budget include $780 million to buy 12 more
D-5 Trident II nuclear missiles for the other
Trident subs? The Navy already has 300 D-5
missiles, each of which carries eight nuclear
warheads, for a total of 2,400 warheads. The
U.S. military, all told, still possesses about
7,500 strategic nuclear warheads and bombs,
of various types, on subs, bombers, and ICBMs.
The D-5s were built to give the Navy's submarines
the same sort of "hard-target-kill capability"
-- the combination of explosive power and
accuracy necessary to destroy blast-hardened
missile silos -- that the Air Force's MX missiles
had. Since the Soviet Union no longer exists
and its Russian successor has destroyed most
of its missile silos voluntarily, there is
no conceivable justification to purchase more
defense. This column has recited, with exhausting
repetition (see, most recently, here), the
many ways in which President Bush's much-cherished
missile-defense program is not nearly ready
for prime time -- even by the Pentagon's own
(if sometimes understated) acknowledgement.
Yet the president persists in his plans to
deploy the beginnings of an anti-missile missile
system before the end of the year and to continue
to accelerate more advanced aspects of the
program, even though all analyses indicate
that the technology does not exist to support
them. The budget for this year contains $9.1
billion for missile defense. It would not
harm security in the slightest to cut this
by two-thirds to $3 billion -- which is how
much Ronald Reagan spent in his spurt of enthusiasm
for "star wars," and which is more than enough
to maintain what defense denizens like to
call a "robust research-and-development effort."
batch of suggestions alone would save nearly
$20 billion, and we haven't even mentioned
excesses in surface ships (to fend off whose
navies?), anti-submarine-warfare programs
(to attack whose submarines?), vertical-take-
off-and-landing aircraft (which don't seem
to perform reliably at taking off or landing)
-- to say nothing of associated costs in maintenance
and R & D, or of potential savings in other,
less visible, but cumulatively overstuffed
often fall into the trap of believing that
everything in the military budget must have
a military need. Their eyes glaze over in
a haze of credulity, or their backs stiffen
in a respectful salute, that isn't remotely
replicated when they scrutinize the budget
of most other departments of the federal government.
Amid this permissive climate, the Pentagon
has, quite naturally, inflated its perceived
threats, swelled its stated requirements,
and loosened its fiscal discipline. Donald
Rumsfeld insists that Iraq is not Vietnam.
But his budget says otherwise.
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