Although the defense budget grew by $300 billion in the decade after 9/11, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments notes that just 16 percent of that increase was earmarked for modernization—and that a dozen new weapons systems were terminated and many systems had their numbers cut below end-strength goals (e.g., the F-22). “The aggregate effect is that a significant portion of DOD’s investment in modernization over the past decade did not result in force modernization.”
To get a sense of the modernization crisis, consider that the Air Force now plans to keep flying B-52 bombers through 2040. The first B-52 took to the skies in 1954. The CH-47 helicopter celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and the Army plans to deploy the heavy-lift chopper past 2040.
This benign neglect of the military might make sense if peace were breaking out. But we know the very opposite to be true. America is still at war in Afghanistan. Terrorist networks like al-Qaeda still have the ability to strike and are increasing their influence in the Horn of Africa and in Yemen. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is less stable and more paranoid than ever, as is nuclear-armed North Korea. Iran is racing ahead with its own nuclear-weapons program and threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Arab Spring revolution has triggered a civil war in Syria. What happens if/when Assad starts firing off chemical weapons? What if the revolution spreads to the oil-rich Arab monarchies? And what path will the new governments in Egypt and Libya ultimately choose?
These, it could be argued, are not even our principal worries. As the U.S. declaws itself, China is boosting military spending by 11 percent this year, capping double-digit increases in nine of the past 10 years.
According to the Pentagon’s latest report on China’s military power, Beijing is pouring increasing sums into advanced cruise missiles, conventional ballistic missiles, anti-ship missiles, counter-space weapons, cyberspace capabilities, upgrades to its bomber fleet, 79 surface combatants and 50 submarines. These assets are “designed to enable anti-access/area-denial missions.” In other words, their mission is to deter and if necessary destroy the Pacific fleet.
Similarly, Russia—in the midst of a planned 65-percent increase in military spending—is making claims in the Arctic, occupying parts of Georgia, blocking international action in Iran, providing arms and cover to Syria, buzzing North American airspace, and carrying out provocative maneuvers and weapons deployments in areas bordering NATO states. Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has unveiled plans to deploy 2,300 new tanks, 600 new warplanes, 400 new ICBMs and 28 new subs—all in the next 10 years.
So, while Beijing rapidly upgrades to a 21st-century military and Russia reloads, the Army and Marines will make do with older tanks and fewer troops; the Navy will try to stretch a 10-carrier fleet to do the work of 12 carriers; and the Air Force will get smaller and older. In fact, if the sequestration guillotine falls, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey warns of a Pentagon with “fewer options and a lot less capacity,” adding “we wouldn’t be the global power that we know ourselves to be today.”
Maybe that’s by design. It seems a smaller military may serve a larger objective for the president—namely an America that is less assertive; an America less able to act independently, and hence more deferent to and dependent on the UN; an America with fewer military resources, a shorter reach, slower reflexes and a smaller global role.
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