The Boston Globe, an extremely leftist, anti-defense newspaper based in Massachusetts, has recently published a pathetic propaganda screed railing against Mitt Romney’s pledge to increase defense spending to 4% of GDP (from 3.5% today) and to build additional 44 Navy warships. Their article also criticizes him (directly and through the mouths of leftist “independent analysts”) for decrying the Navy’s decline to its smallest size since 1916 and the Air Force’s decline to its smallest size ever.
Displeased that these metrics (which are credible, BTW), show the US military having significantly declined since the Cold War, the BG tries to change the goalposts and discredit these metrics, using dollar figures instead and claiming that because today’s ships and planes are more capable than those of the 1910s or the 1940s, numbers supposedly no longer matter. This is a claim that defense’s opponents frequently make when trying to justify defense cuts (even deep ones), and a view that many people profess. However, it is wrong.
Firstly, the number of ships and planes that a military has at its disposal is relevant and does, in a way, show its prowess (or the lack thereof), and in comparison to previous inventories and force levels, does show whether, and how badly, a military has declined. Secondly, there’s an unavoidable fact that will never cease being true – that one ship or one plane, no matter how technologically advanced it is, can be in only one place at any given time. As AEI’s defense issues expert Mackenzie Eaglen, who is quoted in the article a few times, says:
“One ship, one aircraft, or one brigade can only be in one place at one time around the world. So even with sophisticated technologies and people in the military, numbers still matter. A lot of deterring is achieved through physical presence of these assets. Quantity has a quality all its own.’’
And she’s 100% right.
Thus, it does matter a great deal how many ships and planes the US military has. The fewer ships and planes it possesses, the fewer places they can go to, the fewer things they can do at any given time, and the fewer enemies they can engage. In short, technology is no substitute for numbers.
So, although aircraft carriers cannot be compared to steamships or battleships of the WW1 years, each aircraft carrier/ship/cruiser/frigate/LPD/supply ship can be in only one place at a time.
Moreover, unlike in 1916 or 1917, America now has interests around the globe and allies on all continents, and is facing serious military/security threats on all continents as well: Venezuela and FARC in Latin America, Russia in Eurasia, China and North Korea in Eastern Asia, Iran and Islamic terrorist organizations in the Middle East, pirates in the Red Sea. These national interests, allies, defense commitments, and threats are far numerous, far serious, and far more widely dispersed around the world than they were in 1917, when the US faced fewer threats, had fewer interests around the world, and had no formal allies. So the USN needs far more ships now than it possessed in 1917.
The BG claims Romney would increase defense spending by 61% if he grows it to 4% from its projected level of 3.2%. That’s a lie. In percentage terms, this would represent 25% growth (by 0.8 pp from 3.2% of GDP). In absolute numbers, assuming that America’s GDP is $14.66 trillion (as the CIA World Factbook says), that means growing defense spending from $526 bn today to $586.4 bn (4% of $14.66 trillion), a growth of $60.4 bn, i.e. by only 11.5% – far less than the 61% that the BG claims.
Moreover, the BG is propagating the Obama campaign’s lie that defense spending will shrink only as a percentage of GDP and only in FY2013, after which, the BG claims, it will resume growth:
“Romney is correct in noting that core defense spending is slated to fall as a percentage of GDP if war costs are not included, analysts said. Obama has proposed a 2013 Pentagon budget of $525 billion, a $6 billion cut from a year earlier, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Romney has vowed to restore the cuts and increase spending.
But Obama campaign officials said that calculating the spending as a percentage of the nation’s economy does not tell the whole story, noting that, after next year, the defense budget is slated to increase in dollar terms.”
This is completely false. US defense spending – with or without war costs counted in – has shrunk this FY and is slated to shrink further in the next FY and in the years afterward (so the claim that it will climb back in FY2014 is false), both in dollar terms and as a percentage of GDP. The core defense budget has shrunk in real terms from $552 bn in FY2011 to $531 bn this year, and is slated to decline to $525 bn in FY2013 and further in the following years. But war spending has also declined (from $160 bn in FY2011 to $115 bn this FY) and is slated to shrink further, to $88.5 bn in FY2013 and eventually zero out in FY2016 after the last US troops leave Afghanistan. Thus, both core defense and war spending is set to shrink dramatically in the years ahead, having already been cut, and the total military budget will thus shrink significantly as a result, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of GDP, even without sequestration. Moreover, the BG is understating its impact – it will cut another $600 bn (not $500 bn) out of the defense budget over a decade, ON TOP OF the $487 bn cuts already mandated by the debt ceiling deal and translated into details by Secretary Panetta.
As data from the CBO, presented in Graph 1, shows, defense spending will not return to its FY2011 levels until FY2019 at the earliest, even without sequestration, and that assumes that Congress makes no additional defense cuts.
As Graph 2 shows, defense spending will be cut to slightly above $500 bn and stay there indefinitely, barring a policy change.
Likewise, this graph from the anti-defense, Soros-funded CATO Institute is completely false. It falsely projects that under Obama’s plan, defense spending would remain constant throughout this decade and then grow again in the early 2020s, while Romney’s 4%-of-GDP proposal would shoot it up over $600 bn in FY2014, over $700 bn in mid-decade and over $800 bn by the end of this decade. America’s GDP would have to grow at a neckbreaking pace for 4% of it to constitute such a huge sum. (Remember: currently, 4% of GDP is just $586.4 bn.)
And despite Team Obama’s protestations, percentage of GDP is a more credible measure of spending than raw dollar figures, because it accounts for how much of a burden on the economy and on taxpayers a budget is. That measure, not raw dollar figures, tells us how much something costs and, quite literally, how seriously a nation treats its defense. And by that measure, defense has been neglected since the 1990s.
But mere dollar and inventory data don’t even begin to show the decline of the US military, which is now a shadow of its former self. Far more troubling is the dire material state of the current military, and that is the argument that Romney should’ve used. As Mackenzie Eaglen says:
“An Air Force F-15C literally broke in half during flight some years ago. Today, every single Navy cruiser hull has cracks; A-10C Warthogs have fuselage fractures, and the UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter fleet is regularly grounded. Over half the Navy’s deployed aircraft are not ready for combat.
Last April, the engine of a F/A-18C Hornet caught fire aboard the USS Carl Vinson. Last March, the engine of a Marine Hornet about to take off from the USS John C. Stennis exploded.
As these aging aircraft were bursting into flames, senior officials were warning Washington politicians that keeping the older fighter planes in safe flying condition was “one of their most serious challenges.”
Built in the 1980s and 1990s, the jets were designed to fly for 6,000 hours. Delayed delivery of the replacement F-35, however, has forced the services to squeeze an additional 4,000 flight hours out of the Hornets.”
There’s more proof of the military’s poor material condition, but this nicely illustrates the problem. The equipment aspect is no better. The vast majority of the military’s equipment is outdated, dilapidated, and not survivable in today’s threat environment marked by advanced, 21st century weapons, including A2/AD weaponry. It was produced mostly in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which means the US is still living off the defense investments of those times. This cannot continue much longer.
Per former AF Secretary Michael Wynne, “The Air Force is going out of business”, as its old planes (whose average age is 24) fall out of the sky. So yes, it does matter that the Air Force is “older than ever since its establishment”.
“Thanks to the president and his foreign policy accomplishments, our nation is stronger and more secure than it was when he took office. The bottom line remains the same – we have the strongest military in the world and that won’t change.’’
are so ridiculous they are downright laughable. Obama has zero foreign policy accomplishments to his name, and because of him and his failed appeasement and unilateral disarmament policies, America is dramatically weaker and dramatically less secure than it was when he took office (as proven by me in my other blogposts). And unfortunately, despite Team Obama’s and Christopher Preble’s claims, the US no longer has the strongest military in the world, and is slated to become even far weaker unless it completely reverses course. Team Obama is simply trying to lull the American people into a false sense of security, but fewer and fewer Americans are buying this garbage. In his first year, Obama closed over 30 crucial modernization programs (including the F-22, CSAR-X, MKV, KEI, and AC-X), thus depriving the military of badly needed equipment which was needed to replace old gear. These cuts were continued in 2010 (the C-17, F-35 Alternative Engine, the CGX cruiser, etc.) and 2011. He has also badly cut the US nuclear arsenal and nuclear modernization programs (allowing the nuclear stockpile to atrophy) and has signed the New START treaty, and recently, he has decided to give Russia missile defense secrets so that Russia can pass them on to China, Iran, and North Korea. Obama has made America radically less secure.
Meanwhile, Obama is cutting defense spending deeply; most of the defense budget goes to personnel and other running “fact of life” costs; little new military equipment is bought; and the military is forced to continue using old, obsolete, worn out equipment, while China is buying large quantities of new weapons and thus rapidly modernizing its military.
Moreover, Romney has failed to mention objective, independent studies which show that America’s defense investments, force structure, and modernization programs are dramatically inadequate. For example, last year, an independent study by the partisan Hadley-Perry Panel, co-chaired by former Clinton Defense Secretary William Perry and former Bush NS Advisor Stephen Hadley, found that:
“The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure.”
Fully modernizing the military will, according to the Panel, “require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.” Those are findings of a bipartisan, non-politically-motivated, neutral panel composed of men who are not running for any office and are not pandering to anyone.
The Panel also found that the Navy’s 283-ship-fleet is woefully inadequate and that the Navy actually needs 346 vessels. In late 2011, the left-leaning CNAS did its own study which arrived at the same conclusion. Both based their studies on the Navy’s needs of today and projected future needs, NOT historic Navy force levels. So even if you discard historic force size as the BG and leftist pseudoanalysts want to, that still doesn’t help them, because these two entities deem the Navy’s ship fleet woefully inadequate based on the requirements of today and the future, not past ship numbers.
So by any objective measure, the US is NOT spending enough on defense, and the US military is in a dire material condition, both in terms of maintenance of readiness as well as modernization and force structure.
The one thing that Romney is wrong about – and conservative analysts like Mackenzie Eaglen and James Carafano have stated this – is that the “4% of GDP” goal is achievable in this decade. Sadly, it isn’t. The President cannot appropriate money by himself; Congress is a full partner, and even without Obama, the Congress is extremely unlikely to agree to defense spending increases, especially when the country is already dealing with trillion-dollar deficits every year. Romney surely knows this.
To sum up, while numbers matter a great deal, and while Americans should be worried that the Navy and the Air Force have dramatically declined in size over the past decades, there is even more convincing evidence of America’s growing weakness and inadequacy of its defense investments: the dire material state and unreadiness of the military’s current equipment and units; the obsolescence, old age, wearing out, and lack of survivability of most of that equipment; the growing foreign threats which require survivable, stealthy weapons; the fact that a ship or a plane, no matter how technologically advanced, can be in only one place at a time; and the inadequate force structure (woefully inadequate in the Navy’s case) measured against the requirements of today and tomorrow, as reported by two independent entities (the Hadley-Perry panel and the CNAS). Mitt Romney should have used these arguments instead of arbitrary money figures and past force structures. Even if leftists like BG journalists claim that today’s supposedly advanced ships cannot be compared to those of 1916, that still doesn’t help them – the Navy’s size is still woefully inadequate compared to the requirements of today and the future.
Graph 1. The scheduled decline of defense spending. Source: the CBO.
Graph 2. Obama’s plans to cut defense spending and to grow all other kinds of federal spending way above it. Source: the Heritage Foundation.