Arne Owens

The military forces we had ready in 1990 were conceived and procured, at great expense, in the 1970s and early 1980s. The tanks, ships and aircraft were relatively new. During the post-Desert Storm downsizing, older equipment was retired. But unlike defense planners of the 1970s and 1980s, Clinton Administration planners allowed procurement of replacement weapons and equipment to slip below even what was needed to replace that which remained after the downsizing. In fact, President Clinton cut defense spending from 4.8%% of GDP in 1992 to 3% in 2000.

In 1997, writers of the National Defense University’s Strategic Assessment 1997 pointed out that “each military service needs a recapitalization funding surge in the first decade of the twenty first century.” In other words, right about now, we should be buying new weapons systems and equipment to replace that which is either old and worn out, or broken after six years of combat operations. Except we’re not; or at least not to the extent needed to ensure America can defend itself from future worst case threats.

Today, the damage the Clinton team did to defense in the 1990s is about to be compounded by a Defense budget being prepared by the Obama Administration. As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, the Joints Chiefs of Staff requested $584 billion for 2010 and a floor of 4% of GDP. The White House puts the floor at $3.7%, for a total of $533 billion for 2010, falling in 2011 and then flat-lining for another five years.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently outlined the Administration’s defense budget priorities and created even more cause for concern. The Air Force takes a major hit with the halt in production of the F-22 Raptor, a replacement for the 40-year old F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, and a halt in production of C-17 transport planes that are a lifeline to remote war zones such as Afghanistan. The Army received a marginal increase in end-strength from the Bush Administration, but Sec. Gates now proposes canceling the Future Combat System ground vehicle, which is the only replacement on the drawing board for M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Infantry fighting vehicles, both designed in the 1970s.

Most disturbing, however, is the plan to cut missile defense spending by $1.4 billion. At a time when North Korea is developing a nuclear weapons capability and perfecting a launch vehicle to deliver a warhead, cutting spending on missile defense is downright dangerous. And North Korea is not the only threat. The mid-term threat from Iran is also very real. Only a credible missile defense shield will convince North Korea and Iran of the futility of their expenditure, or, worst case, deter them from using the nuclear weapons they develop.

Honorable people will disagree, but our concern should be that the military we will have when the next major threat is upon us may not, as a result of decisions made today, be fully prepared, and the cost in American lives and treasure could be great.

Arne Owens

Arne Owens is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, West Point graduate and Desert Storm veteran.