The best war is that avoided, because the good guys have convinced the bad guys they cannot win. Israelis have learned that and you would think Americans would have, too. But the newly-announced U.S. defense budget, plus dramatic spending cuts even before, plus those in the works under a congressional automatic sequestration plan, show otherwise. The U.S. now faces a “hollow military,” even as the world and Israel must face the end of the “Pax Americana.”
First some raw numbers. “Raw” as in an open wound.
At $526.6 billion, US defense spending as percentage of GDP will be 3.7 percent, about a third of the post-war peacetime average and sequestrations will drop it to merely 2.8 percent by 2018.
All services will be battered. For example the Army must slash more than 100,000 soldiers to downsize to 420,000 by 2019, unless Congress restores the cuts. Yet Army chief of staff Gen. Raymond Odierno warned in November that this size “will make it very difficult to conduct even one sustained major combat operation.” Numbers aside, he said readiness will erode because reduced training funds means “only 20 to 25 percent of the force will be trained in its core competency.”
Until just four years ago, it was U.S. doctrine to be able to fight two conventional wars at once; now it’s apparently doctrine to lose one war.
Meanwhile A-10 tank-busting Thunderbolt II “Warthogs” that performed so brilliantly in close air support in both Iraq wars are slated for elimination to preserve the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Yet that program is being cut as well!
This comes after the F-22 Raptor program was shut down after building a mere 203 aircraft from an original request of 762. Part of the rationale for the cut was all those F-35s that were going to be built – many of which no longer will be. (This unfortunately has become standard U.S. procedure. Thus of the 132 B-2 Spirit stealth bombers originally planned, a mere 20 were ultimately built.)
But the greatest threat to Israeli security will be the diminishing number of carrier task forces. Not just those huge floating airfields, but all the other ships that accompany them and magnify their firepower. In times of military crisis, politicians’ words mean little. It’s sending the carriers that signals “We mean business.”
Until just a few years ago it was sacrosanct that the U.S. must have 12 carriers, actually a reduction from 15 a short time earlier. That’s in part because several are being refurbished or overhauled at any time. Twelve carriers isn’t.
Then a couple of years ago the Obama Administration said “Okay, 11. But absolutely no fewer!” The carrier force now stands at 10. (It also said 490,000 soldiers but no fewer!) But in a moment of honesty, when the U.S. halved its carriers in the Persian Gulf from two to one in 2011, the Secretary of Defense admitted it was because of budget cuts.
LEANER, NOT MEANER
Proclaimed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in announcing the new budget. “Over the last four years, the Department has canceled or curtailed more than 30 major acquisition programs, rebalancing our portfolio towards platforms better suited to 21st century security challenges, and making new investments in areas like cyber and advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.”
Odierno sees it differently. “We will be unable to maintain the software upgrades necessary to sustain aerial network operations; the Army software sustainment program will be at high risk due to the reduction in funding for 135 systems that affect network security, systems operations, integration and information assurance,” he told Congress in September.
Indeed, among canceled programs have been efforts to develop a new general-purpose weapon to replace the M-4 carbine – a mere modification of the M-16 rifle introduced in Vietnam over half century ago in Vietnam. In virtually every way the M-4 is inferior to weapon adopted by the IDF, IMI’s Tavar Tar-21. The Tar-2 uses “bullpup” technology to reduce weight and size without the trade-offs of the M-4, which include accuracy, range and what’s called “stopping power” inferior to the M-16!
At least 14 countries now have bullpup weapons as standard military issue, and 18 countries have even purchased the Tar-21 for various personnel. The advantage of the M-4 is it’s cheaper. Decreased cost in exchange for increased likelihood of American deaths, injuries, and mission failure. (Note to Hagel: Slingshots are cheaper yet.) Americans would be outraged if they knew this; but they do not.
Quite simply, the U.S. government has decided to abandon core government responsibilities paid for through discretionary spending in favor of mandatory spending, mainly transfer entitlement programs. (National infrastructure is also collapsing, with a D+ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers.) These automatically refunded programs will soon devour all revenue and raise borrowing to an (even more) unsustainable level.
Yet fighting capability is being cut even within the shrinking budget.
The amount spent on personnel, including salary and health care benefits for active duty, retirees, and their families has soared in the last decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And it will continue to do so even as the percentage allotted to procurement and testing plummets. Meanwhile, congressmen will gladly further cut readiness in order to prevent shutting down needless bases in their congressional districts.
In short, the nation is eating its own seed corn, as well as the seed corn it’s borrowing, to hand money to those with the most political influence. That’s a war the U.S. military cannot win. And the entire world will pay the price.