Defense cuts to an already weakened military exposes us to aggression

Mackenzie Eaglen is a defense policy analyst for the American Enterprise Institute.

Here’s a recent article that she wrote from the Wall Street Journal. (Full text also here on the AEI web site)


Washington is battling these days over “sequestration,” the $500 billion additional cut to the defense budget looming in January.

[…]In April 2011—long before the near shutdown of the government and the last-minute debt-ceiling deal, which paved the way for sequestration—the president outlined $400 billion in defense cuts he had already approved. He also said that he wanted to “do that again” and find another $400 billion in military spending reductions. All this without any talk of threats, strategy or requirements—just arbitrary budget targets imposed on the military.

Even before sequestration and the possible loss of a half-trillion dollars, the U.S. military has seen three years of budget cuts. The consequences are already here. We have to look all the way back to 1916 to find a year when the Air Force purchased fewer aircraft than are included in Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget request.

Many of the Air Force’s aerial refueling tankers predate human space flight. Training aircraft are twice as old as the students flying them. The F-15 fighter first flew 40 years ago. A-10 ground-attack planes were developed in the Carter years. And all of our B-52 bombers predate the Cuban missile crisis.

Then there’s the Navy, which is the smallest it has been since 1916. At 286 combat and combat-support ships, the Navy today is less than half the size it reached during the Reagan administration. And what about those men and women who have been fighting America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001? They’re losing 100,000 in active duty personnel. Surely some will go from the front lines to unemployment lines as a result.

[…]Military leaders have suggested that taking on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Third World army would be an operation of “many, many months.” The so-called “pivot” to Asia is being mimed with fewer ships on longer deployments and a shrinking, aging air force. We’re ignoring a wholesale Chinese power grab in the South China Sea and watching the nuclearization of Iran.

In another article on AOL Defense, she focuses in on the cuts to the U.S. Air Force. (Full text also here on the AEI web site)


Between the existing reduction of $487 billion and sequestration’s additional half-trillion dollar cut, the Pentagon faces a very profound strategic turning point — one entirely different than that articulated by Secretary Panetta. Instead of prudently posturing for future successes, America’s armed forces are headed for a crash.

These pressures are perhaps best illustrated within the Air Force. The service absorbed 90 percent of the cuts levied on the Department of Defense in the 2013 budget — $4.8 billion of $5.2 billion. The effects have been immediate and pronounced: nearly 10,000 airmen are being cut; 227 aircraft are being prematurely retired; and critical capability shortfalls are on the rise.

[…]These budget cuts would not present such dire effects if the Air Force had been able to use the past decade to recapitalize its fleet and overarching infrastructure. At the end of World War Two, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cold War, the service was able to weather post-war budget downturns precisely because it had reset the majority of its capabilities during wartime.

Circumstances were different this past decade. The Air Force, already stretched thin by the 1990s procurement holiday, actually saw its percentage of the defense budget decline by one-third during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The service canceled or delayed the vast majority of its modernization portfolio to sustain wartime operational demands.

So 20 years of underfunding has given us an Air Force on the brink. Its aircraft average a quarter of a century in age-with many dating back to the Eisenhower Administration. The wings of Carter-era A-10 ground attack airplanes are riddled with structural cracks. Airmen learning to fly are strapping into T-38s over twice their age. B-52s, all of which pre-date the Cuban missile crisis, are spending up to a year in depot-level maintenance. In light of the F-22 shortage, the Air Force is now extending the lifespan of its 28 year-old F-15s to 18,000 hours — more than three times their original design life.

The Air Force also spent the last decade retiring nearly a quarter of its bombers, fighters, and cargo aircraft in an attempt to free up money for immediate priorities. While helpful on a budget spreadsheet in the near-term, this has stretched the remaining tails even thinner. Shrinking the fleet makes little sense when the mission demand is constant. Aircraft availability rates and maintenance statistics clearly illustrate the rising costs associated with this decision.

Obama is also in favor of the complete disarmament of the United States with respect to nuclear weapons.

The Wall Street Journal explains:

The White House and Pentagon are considering several proposals that would deeply cut the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, potentially to as low as 300 warheads under one such plan, according to a U.S. official.

The proposals haven’t been presented to President Barack Obama but are being debated by lower-level officials on the national-security staff and in the Pentagon.

The U.S. official said the government isn’t considering a unilateral cut to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Instead, the different proposals represent arsenal levels that could be negotiated with Russia in a future round of arms-control talks.

Nonetheless, the prospect of nuclear-arsenal cuts during a hard-fought presidential campaign is certain to stoke political controversy.

Under current treaty obligations, the U.S. must reduce its nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads by 2018 from just below 1,800 now. One of the new proposals would cut the arsenal to between 1,000 and 1,100; another proposes an arsenal of between 700 to 800; and the most drastic proposal would cut the arsenal to between 300 and 400, according to the official.

The fact of the matter is that there are hot spots and threats all over the world. If we want to work towards peace and protect the weak, then we need a large, capable military force. This is the doctrine of peace through strength. Talk is cheap, and disarmament only emboldens evildoers to be aggressive. If we want to stop war, we have to make it costly for aggressors and tyrants. They have to know that there is a cost.

8 thoughts on “Defense cuts to an already weakened military exposes us to aggression”

  1. Couple this with the ever-growing Hot Spots around the globe and we have the perfect storm brewing. If, by chance, Iran, Egypt, or Syria were blow up in our face, forcing us to respond I am afraid that this President would go the other way. Here we are negociating with Iran regarding the development of nuclear arms. Are they kidding, they are stalling and using the time to complete their capability. We are negociating with China, and if they decide to respond to the China Sea issue, regardless of the U.S. position, I am not at all confident of President Obamas response. Egypt on the border of Israel and that is just starting to get touchy, again this President is not responsive.

    Our Defense Policy and persistant cuts in military response capability is a dangerious course to take. While Mr. Obama might be leading today, a serious crisis in one of these hot spots and his evassive response could cost him a second term.


  2. These cuts you speak of are not cuts in the truest sense of the word. The proposed “cuts” to the military is a decrease in proposed future spending levels. For example, if original budgets had asked for a 13% increase, the “cut” is to reduce 13 to something like 9%. Just more GOP double talk and fearmongering. We spend 3/4 of a trillion dollars every year on our military excluding war spending which is above and beyond baseline spending.

    We have members of the congress/senate pushing spending initiatives that the military doesn’t want – tanks (, jets (, ships (, etc. Our spending is completely out of control and in direct opposition to the needs espoused by most of our top military commaners and strategists. Our $400 million a plane f-22 wouldn’t stand a chance in actual combat ( We’re wasting money on older technologies and thinking because…well I’m not fully sure why. I’m positive it has to do a bit with nostalgia, people not wanting to give up their fiefdoms, lobbyists telling their subordinates, i.e., our politicians, what to do, and government welfare in the form of military spending, though none of based on actual need.

    What we need are true, actual cuts to baseline budgets, not just reductions in future spending increases. We already have more than enough technology and resources to take on any of the enemies you listed.


      1. I’m working on it!

        That same Wired article he linked to on the F-22 had this update:

        Update, July 31: Some commenters claim the Red Flag exercise is not indicative of the way the F-22 would fight in the real world. In an actual shooting war, an F-22′s opponent “won’t make it to visual range,” one reader asserted. The Raptor’s stealth would allow it to sneak up high and fast and kill the enemy from long range using an AMRAAM missile, commenters insist.

        But that’s assuming two things. One, that the rules of engagement in a future conflict will allow to the Air Force to shoot down targets without visually identifying them — a risky assumption given the world’s increasingly crowded airspace. Two, that the AMRAAM even works. Missile-maker Raytheon hasn’t delivered a new AMRAAM in two years after it was found that the weapon’s rocket motor doesn’t work in a cold environment, which is exactly where the high-flying F-22 is most at home.

        My understanding is that the F-22 would never be identifying it’s own targets. I would scramble E-2 or E-3 AWACS aircraft to paint bogeys at long range. The IFF recognition problem isn’t something that the F-22 has to solve. It’s an AWACS problem.

        Wired is just wrong about the F-22.


    1. This is an excellent response. I have to think about how to rebut you. However, I would just say that I love the F-22 and no one thinks that it’s primary role is dogfighting. The purpose of it is to engage targets at BVR with AMRAAM missiles, which are now pushing the 100 nm range of the AIM-54C. (The new AIM-120D AMRAAM)


      1. Yes, I was thinking this as well. The F-22 would be operating in conjunction with AWACS and so the likelihood of enemies entering visual range doesn’t seem really high in my opinion. Having read a whole lot on air-to-air combat in my younger years, I’m also a bit put off by the article’s skepticism about the effectiveness of long-range missiles when I’ve read about dozens of kills made in such a fashion.


      2. I don’t disagree about the AWACS comment – it’s how it happens today – what this exercise did show is a significant weakness. While an AWAC will help, what would happen when going up against a country like China that would send a large number of less technologically advanced fighters – they will easily get within range of the F-22. There’s certain formations they could follow that would fool the missiles.

        The reason our country started the top-gun program is just as the movie’s namesake gives – our pilots became so dependent on the technology of missiles that they lost the ability to dog-fight – hence anyone that can get in visual range will face little resistance.

        But you are ignoring the larger picture – our military can afford quite a few cuts as we keep spending on projects/technology our military doesn’t even want or believe they need.

        I believe we can cut our military spending significantly while focusing on a more nimble, higher tech armed forces. Should we need to ramp up like we did in WWII for a large war, we’d be screwed anyways as we’ve outsourced so much of military tech those countries can just stop producing it (all of our smart bomb magnetics are made in China) or continue flooding us with phonies (think China again) that will break everything (it happens so much more often than it should).


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