Earlier this year, President Barack Obama sent his Administration’s 2010 budget priorities to the Congress. What it revealed was shocking, even if it should not have been surprising, with trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, even before healthcare reform spending is counted. The only significant cuts were in future defense spending, even as American forces are fully engaged in fighting two wars and the world appears as dangerous as it ever was.
The White House’s budget submission called for ending production of the Air Force F-22 Raptor, a replacement for the 40-year old F-15 Eagle air-superiority fighter. Congressional calls for restoring F-22 funding were soon followed by President Obama’s first and only veto threat to date. The veto threat means the F-22 program is effectively cancelled, and the Air Force’s ability to suppress enemy air defenses and establish air supremacy over future battlefields has been degraded.
The Administration also proposed cutting production of the Navy’s top fighter aircraft, the F-18 Super Hornet, which will result in a shortfall of at least 200 aircraft – probably 300 – that are sorely needed to modernize the Navy’s carrier air wings.
Also applying the cutting knife to the Army, the White House is canceling the Future Combat System Manned Ground Vehicles, the high-tech replacements for M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradley Infantry fighting vehicles, designed in the 1970s.
Finally, Obama Administration has taken a pass on building the Air Force’s next-generation mid-air re-fueling tanker. With the oldest KC-135 aerial refueling tankers entering a sixth decade of service and the newest, the KC-10, in the air for 30 years, our ability to maintain global air dominance well into the future is at increased risk.
Most disconcerting, however, is the White House plan to cut missile defense spending by $1.4 billion. At a time when North Korea is developing a nuclear weapons capability and testing launch vehicles of increasing range to deliver warheads capable of reaching U.S. territory, cutting spending on missile defense is downright dangerous. And North Korea is not the only threat. The mid-term threat from Iran remains real after witnessing their recent launch of a domestically produced missile with a 1,200-mile range. Only a credible missile-defense shield will convince North Korea and Iran of the futility of their quest for advanced ballistic missile technology, or, worst case, deter them from using such weapons if they are successfully developed.
Let us hope that the Administration isn’t simply saving money to fund future “cash for clunkers” and the other massive government giveaways at the expense of national defense. But recent history is not reassuring. Less than 12% of recent stimulus bill funding is truly stimulative, with the remainder consisting largely of programmatic handouts to various Democratic constituencies demanding government services. Priorities in the 2010 budget continue the trend, and the implication for future budgets is more of the same. Given this realignment of funding priorities from the previous Administration, especially cuts in key defense programs, it is difficult to imagine any result other than a decline in the readiness of our military.
Defending the nation in the years ahead requires actually funding weapons programs and systems that our military can use to do the defending. Congressional action to fund the replacement of aging aircraft and ground combat vehicles in the 2010 defense appropriations bill is essential. It will also create thousands of American jobs, a seeming no-brainer, given the ongoing recession. Spending taxpayer money wisely while funding the necessary tools of national security makes America more secure while also contributing to a vibrant 21st century economy.