For example, the Pentagon is building several versions of the F-35 fighter plane. Models specific for the Navy and the Marines have been "plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, and are now estimated to cost just under $200 million each," according to a report by Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Project on Government Oversight. Replacing the two extra models of the basic F-35 with the F/A-18 fighter -- ending up with the same total number of planes, but a combination of F-35s and F/A-18s -- could save about $61 billion over the next decade.
Then there is health care. Coburn wants TRICARE, the military health care system, to require greater out-of-pocket payments from retired soldiers who were not in any way disabled by their service and are not yet eligible for Medicare. Their out-of-pocket expenses have been basically unchanged since 1995, while health care costs have risen dramatically. Making that change and a few others in TRICARE, Coburn estimates, could save more than $180 billion in the next decade.
Then there is outside services contracting, a practice that has nearly tripled in cost since 2000. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to slow it down, and there are measures in place to freeze it. But Coburn points out that "reducing Department of Defense spending on service contracts by 15 percent over the next 10 years would still leave contract spending at approximately the level it was in 2007, when the U.S. was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." Doing so would save an estimated $370 billion over the next 10 years.
There are many other possible savings. The long-troubled Osprey tilt-rotor plane is still a problem; it could be mostly replaced by helicopters, for a saving of $17 billion. An additional $9 billion could be saved by ending the Pentagon practice of running its own domestic grocery stores. And so on.
In all, Coburn envisions a possible $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. Others see cuts in the $600 billion range. In any event, it's big money. Whatever the figure, the bottom line is that Republicans decrying the sequestration cuts should remember the Pentagon budget still needs to be reduced -- just in the right way.
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