The truth about Tom Coburn’s defense cuts proposals

Rick Perry has recently endorsed Tom Coburn’s “Back to Black” budget plan, which includes defense cuts of $1.006 trillion over a decade, i.e. $100 trillion per year, and would force the DOD to face bigger budget cuts than any other cabinet department.

What is the truth about these defense cuts proposals?

Like most other opponents of a strong defense, Coburn assures us that his proposals would not damage the military at all, and he claims that his proposals are only “options”, but it doesn’t change the fact that:

1) he would prefer to see all of them implemented; 2) he presents them as one indivisible set of policies, whereby defense spending cuts would total $1.006 trillion over a decade and total federal spending cuts $9 trillion over a decade; 3) ANY of his big defense cut proposals, even if implemented alone, would do significant damage to the US military and make America less safe, while implementing all of them would gut the military completely and invite a Russian first nuclear strike; 4) any of these defense cuts would be implemented ON TOP OF, not instead of, all the defense cuts already administered or scheduled (including the defense cuts ordered by the debt ceiling deal, $465 bn).

As for Coburn’s pious denials:

“However, we would hope each proposal would be debated on its merits.”

And that’s what I (and others) have done. The problem is that there is no merit to his proposals at all. NONE. And if Coburn doesn’t know that, he’s mentally deficient.

“As an example, an option to reduce the number of aircraft carriers from eleven to ten is not equivalent to an option of permanently decommissioning every single aircraft carrier in the Navy‘s fleet.”

Technically true, but this Nation cannot afford to cut its carrier fleet any more. The Congress reluctantly accepted, in 2007, a permanent cut of the carrier fleet from 12 to 11 ships, but promised there would be no further cuts to the fleet and instituted a statutory requirement that the Navy have no fewer than 11 carriers. Last year, that requirement was temporarily waived for the Enterprise-Ford “interregnum” (2013-2015). As numerous credible analysts, including the HF’s Peter Brookes, say, the Navy needs NO FEWER than 11 carriers. With fewer than 11 carriers, the Navy would have no more than 6-7 carriers available for deployment at any one time (the others would be in refit or staying in homeport after deployment), and therefore, executing the Fleet Response Plan would become impossible.

“It should also be noted what is not included in these proposals.”

Oh, so we are supposed to be grateful to Coburn that he’s only half stupid and doesn’t rpopose to close the DOD entirely? Again, like I said, the defense cuts that he HAS proposed would, by themselves, gut the military for the reasons I stated earlier. It doesn’t matter what is not included in these proposals.

“Under this plan, the Army will return to its pre-war size but not be cut further.”

So we are supposed to be grateful to Coburn for cutting the Army “only” to its pre-war size? The Army’s pre-war size is inadequate, and, as Army Vice Chief of Staff testified recently on Capitol Hill, whenever the Army’s troop strength was cut, it cost them lives.

“The Navy will remain nearly the same size”

Only if by “nearly the same size” you mean eliminating an entire carrier strike group, its associated air wing, and the ships that Gates’s savings of January 2011 would’ve paid for. (Coburn proposes to transfer all of these savings into deficit reduction, not military modernization as Gates proposed.)

“as will the Air Force as measured in total number of ships and combat wings.”

FALSE. As stated above, Coburn proposes to eliminate an entire carrier strike group, an entire carrier air wing, and 200 ICBMs, which would mean abolishing 1-2 Air Force missile wings (and inviting a nuclear first strike by Russia).

“Key modernization programs, even the Joint Strike Fighter, will continue.”

FALSE. Two variants of the F-35 – B and C – would be cancelled (with no replacement for Marines and a pathetic substitute, the Super Bug, for the Navy; the Super Bug is essentially a variant of the F/A-18, a plane that first flew in 1978 and entered service in the 1980s). The Next Generation Bomber program would be delayed until the mid-202s, even though it is LONG OVERDUE (a genuine REQUIREMENT for it was identified 5 years ago and confirmed by the 2010 QDR and by Sec. Gates in January 2011). The V-22 program would barely limp along, severely cut.

“The nation‘s nuclear deterrent will remain robust.”

FALSE. It will be severely cut to the point that Russia would be tempted to conduct a nuclear first strike against the US. Coburn proposes to cut – for purely budgetary reasons – the ICBM fleet by 200 missiles, from 500 to 300, and the SSBN fleet (with its associated SLBMs) from 14 to 11. Note that the Heritage Foundation already deems the current nuclear deterrent inadequate, and that former SECDEF/SECENERGY/defense expert James Schlesinger deems the arsenal allowed by the New START “barely adequate”, per his Senate testimony on the treaty. Russia has already matched the US in the quantity of strategic delivery systems (and has more strategic nuclear warheads than the US), having reached the maximum quotas allowed by New START, and has the financial and technological capability to add further strategic DSes (ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers). It also has over 100 Tu-22M air-refuelable bombers that the New START doesn’t count. ANY CUTS to the US nuclear arsenal or the arsenal of means of delivery would render the US weaker than Russia on that score, and thus imperil the US. Cuts of the magnitude demanded by Sen. Coburn would cut the US arsenal so badly they would invite a nuclear first strike. And, under his budget cuts, you can forget about any modernization of the nuclear triad. There wouldn’t be any money for that and indeed he says he would delay the NGB program until the mid-2020s.

“Pay levels will not be cut or frozen for active duty military service members. In fact if the option regarding defense commissaries and post exchanges is adopted, active duty military pay will increase.”

Oh, so we should be grateful that he will at least not cut military pay and only gut the military?

“While the options below represent $1 trillion in savings, the reduced spending from these options listed below would put the Pentagon back on the level of annual funding it had just five years ago at the height of the Iraq surge.”

FALSE. The FY2008 core defense budget was $481.4 bn in then-year dollars, i.e. $526 bn in today’s money. The FY2007 core defense budget was, IIRC, $475 bn in then-year dollars. The current defense budget, under the CR, is $530 bn. Cutting the defense budget by $100 bn a year would mean cutting it to $430 bn, a level of defense spending not seen since the early Bush years, i.e. a totally inadequate level.

Coburn’s defense cuts would be destructive, dangerous, wrong, and treasonous.



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