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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Obama's spending cuts put a squeeze on developing new military technology

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Photo - Directed-energy weapons being developed for the U.S. military by Boeing include this vehicle, which includes a laser mounted on top of a tactical truck. (Photo: Boeing)
Directed-energy weapons being developed for the U.S. military by Boeing include this vehicle, which includes a laser mounted on top of a tactical truck. (Photo: Boeing)
Opinion,Columnists,Jed Babbin,The Pentagon,Air Force,National Security,Defense Spending,Budgets and Deficits,Sequester

The Air Force — our most technology-dependent military service — is struggling to deal with the conflicting demands of what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates derided as “next war-itis” and the Obama spending cuts.

The choices it's trying to make may well be unmakeable because of that conflict, as the new Air Force strategic forecast, announced last week, makes pretty clear.

The Air Force, Navy and Army all face the same problem. You can't do more with less: You can only do less with less.

The race for technology is as old as war. Hannibal and his elephants broke the Roman army in 216 B.C. at Cannae. Machine guns swept the battlefields of World War I until the tank was developed. Our Air Force has maintained air supremacy since April 1950 by forecasting and investing in the technology that would be needed to sustain it five, 10 and 20 years later. When Gates denied the need to do that, he was refusing to do his principal duty.

There is a stark contrast between what the warriors will need and what the budget will allow. On one hand, we have the Budget Control Act’s “sequestration” and President Obama’s imposition of $1 trillion of defense cuts over 10 years. About $400 million has already been cut from the defense budget. On the other, we have the essential “next war-itis” that, in the words of Air Combat Command’s Gen. Michael Hostage, is looking past the mess of the F-35 to a sixth-generation fighter, bomber, unmanned aircraft and even directed-energy weapons, according to a report in Aviation Week & Space Technology. But you can’t buy such weapons with what’s left of the Air Force budget after the Obama defense cuts.

Last week the Air Force announced a new “strategic forecast” that looks 20 years ahead. It purports to make the mismatch go away by shifting to aircraft that can be bought more quickly and cheaply, and cutting military manpower.

According to a New York Times report, Maj. Gen. David Allvin, one of the report’s authors, said: “To boil this down, we have to buy things very differently and develop and employ our people differently. ... We have to behave more like an innovative 21st-century company.” What on Earth does that even mean?


Allvin
The simple fact is that military services cannot and should not make decisions the same way commercial companies do. Paying for the development of the iPhone 6 is fundamentally different from cooperation by the Air Force in researching the next scientific breakthroughs that will make sixth-generation aircraft and directed-energy weapons possible. The military services make decisions on weapon systems within the defense acquisition system, which is buried deeply under thousands of pages of unproductive laws and regulations. Implementation of each law and regulation takes time and, thus, costs money. And the Defense Department has imposed a lot of that unproductive work on itself.

The Air Force plan is wishful thinking about bygone days. During the beginning of World War II, legendary aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang could be pushed from conception to first flight in 117 days. Today's revolutions — such as stealth technology — may come suddenly, but they have to be developed by scientists and designed by engineers in a defense culture that doesn’t reward speed and success or penalize laxity.

The Air Force, Navy and Army all face the same problem. You can’t do more with less: You can only do less with less. Last week, the congressionally sanctioned report on the Quadrennial Defense Review was released, authored by former Defense Secretary William Perry and retired Gen. John Abizaid. It found that the mismatch between what our warriors need and what the Obama defense budget contains is severe and growing worse.

To its credit, the Perry-Abizaid study admits that it didn’t benefit from the deep analysis of intelligence information and military capabilities that the Obama QDR also lacked. Until that thorough analysis is done, we cannot measure the damage Obama’s cuts have done or chart a path to recover from them.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author with Herbert London of The BDS War Against Israel.

Perry-Abizaid report on the Quadrennial Defense Review

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Jed Babbin

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The Washington Examiner

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