DoD Cutting Major Programs in Restructuring
The Defense Department is finally getting somewhat serious about COIN and other forms of nontraditional warfare, signaling major priority shifts with its new budget proposal.
Gates’s aides say his plan would boost spending for some programs and take large whacks at others, including some with powerful constituencies on Capitol Hill and among influential contractors, making his announcement more of an opening bid than a decisive end to weeks of sometimes acrimonious internal Pentagon debate.
Among the programs expected to be heavily cut is the Army’s Future Combat Systems, a network of vehicles linked by high-tech communications that has been plagued by technical troubles and delays; with a price tag exceeding $150 billion, it is now one of the most costly military efforts.
Gates also is considering cutting a new $20 billion communications satellite program and reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, and he plans to eliminate elements of the decades-old missile defense effort that are over budget or considered ineffective, according to industry and administration sources.
Gates has signaled for months that the Pentagon’s resources are misallocated, but his embrace of the budget increase proposed by President Obama represents an abrupt turnaround. Late in the Bush administration, he blessed a military-service-driven budget proposal for 2010 packed with $60 billion in spending beyond what the Pentagon had earlier recommended. Much of the added funds would have accelerated the production of existing ships, airplanes, Army vehicles and missile defenses.
My graduate mentor, Don Snow, drummed into me that “policy is what gets funded.” Presidents and cabinet secretaries frequently announce priorities that people mistake for policy but, unless said priorities are reflected in the budget, they’re just talk.
This is definitely a move in the right direction although, frankly, not nearly enough of one. Given that this is an opening bid in what is likely to be a very contentious debate, one would think much more drastic reforms would have been warranted.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell cited the current financial crisis as a rationale for these cuts. The problem, however, is that Congressmen whose districts make these systems could reasonably argue that this is precisely the sort of stimulus the economy needs right now. It’s going to be very difficult to get these cuts through, especially with the sunk costs in FCS.
Even beyond the tactics of negotiating this through Congress, the proposed moves are a baby step. Cutting FCS makes sense, certainly, but only mothballing only one carrier group? There are those who argue that carriers have been outmoded since roughly the Battle of Midway. Do we really need 10 of them?
UPDATE: The above notwithstanding, Andrew Exum “has never been so excited about a freaking budget.”