Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Procurement Holiday Begins

From this blog, almost four months ago...

"..there's another element of the Clinton legacy (and the 1990s) that often goes ignored. We refer to the so-called "procurement holiday" that gripped the Pentagon during that decade. Critical decisions on major weapons programs were postponed or shelved, forcing the Pentagon to extend the service lives of existing systems.

Investor's Business Daily aptly described the problem--and its consequences--in an editorial published earlier this year: In the first six years of the Clinton administration, Bush 41's budget projections for weapons procurement were slashed by $160 billion. For fiscal 2000, the Congressional Budget Office said $90 billion a year was needed to hold procurement steady. The Clinton procurement budget was a mere $55 billion. During the Reagan buildup (fiscal 1981-87), we spent an average of $131 billion on procurement.

And the effects of Mr. Clinton's procurement holiday are still being felt today, almost a decade after he left office.

"The U.S. Air Force has been engaged in continuous combat for the last 17 years with fewer airplanes today than in 1990 — only increasing their age more quickly. Moreover, current Air Force plans call for retiring two F-15s for every new F-22 brought into service."

But if Barack Obama has his way, the USAF--and the other services--will never catch up. The Boston Globe reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates will unveil a plan later this month to cut billions from new weapons systems.

Two defense officials who were not authorized to speak publicly said Gates will announce up to a half-dozen major weapons cancellations later this month. Candidates include a new Navy destroyer, the Air Force's F-22 fighter jet, and Army ground-combat vehicles, the officials said.

More cuts are planned for later this year after a review that could lead to reductions in programs such as aircraft carriers and nuclear arms, the officials said.

The Globe depicts Gates as the chief architect of the plan, noting his well-publicized observation that the U.S. "cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything,"

To be sure, Mr. Gates (like any SecDef) wants to put his stamp on the Pentagon. And he's not the first defense chief to oppose weapons systems that are grossly over-budget and behind schedule.

But the secretary isn't the only engineer driving this train. Like his predecessors, Dr. Gates has to live within the overall parameters established by the commander-in-chief, his budget team and Congressional leaders. However, the impact of those influences is conspicuously absent from the Globe article.

As we observed last year, members of the Obama Administration and key Democrats on the Hill made it very clear--there would be cuts in defense spending. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office offered something of a blueprint in January, issuing a key study that suggested an "alternative" defense plan, with massive cuts in weapons programs. Among its recommendations:

-- Reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10.
-- Cancelling the Army Future Combat System (FCS) program in favor of upgrades to existing tanks and armored vehicles.
-- Eliminating the Air Force's next-generation tanker (KC-X) and spending part of that money on modifying 50-year-old KC-135s and KC-10s that date from the 1980s.
-- Limiting Marine Corps purchases of JSF to the number needed to replace the AV-8B Harrier
-- Cutting the Air Force JSF buy in half.
-- Delay acquisition of the Navy's next-generation cruiser (CG-X) for a decade.

In case you're wondering, the CBO study also calls for a halt to F-22 production. In other words, it's hard to tell where Mr. Gates' proposal begins and the budget office plan ends. Never mind that the CBO is suggesting a risky, even dangerous procurement strategy--putting off key weapons purchases for years or decades--despite the dangers of a multi-polar world. Of course, it helps that the former CBO director is now running the Office of Management and Budget, giving him tremendous clout in military spending matters.

We should also note that military leaders almost universally oppose these recommendations. So, in eliminating programs like the F-22, Mr. Gates is bucking the advice of his own generals and admirals. But the SecDef didn't reach the rarefied air of the E-ring by ignoring the prevailing political winds.

It's hard to swim against a tsunami, and Bob Gates clearly knows how to follow the current. That's why Globe article strikes us as little more than Pentagon spin, trying to put the best face on a bad situation.


RPB said...

This is Barry and his liberal left plan to stop US interventionism in the future. Take away the weapons to do it and voila! No more US imperialism. We must take note that the Pax Americana will end soon if US superiority in the multipolar world wanes. But hey, we'll have more boots on the ground to peace keep because, well, wars against peer competitors are obsolete. Right? And never mind that they'll probably cut readiness, training and transport as well. When the next big test comes these ignorant morons will throw up their hands and blame others. It makes me want to throw a copy of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics at Gates' head. But I think I'd hear a resounding, hollow plunk when it hit him.

Also, do not let the Bush administration off the hook too. While we had multiple wars going on, we also had the Republican majority. During this time we failed to allocate more money towards procurement or even make it an issue. Instead, we punted key weapons decisions to perhaps, what may turn out to be, the most liberal, anti-defense President in history.

At least we'll still have our nuclear deterrent. . . oh. Do not worry, benevolence and negotiation will always stave off the hoards seeking gains in the zero sum game of international politics. I'm glad we've decided this early to cede the 21st century to the Chinese and Russians.

The giant is yet again falling into a slumber. Too bad when he awakes he'll have all his extremities tied down by domestic Lilliputians and he'll find his opponents have grown larger as he shrank during his sleep.

SMSgt Mac said...

And thus it is clearly illustrated as to why Gates was kept on after Bush 43.
Through an apparent confluence of separate interests (Gates and Obama etal.) Gates gets to do the dirty job he wanted to do earlier when cooler heads kept The Budgeteer in line. Now the Obama administration gets to have their dirty work done by the leftover hatchetman. What a useful tool Gates is proving to be - in every sense of the word.

opus said...

You forgot to mention the maintinance program they're trying to cancel altogether.

Medical care for veterns.

Just a man... said...

My biggest problem with all of this is that the national doctrine/strategy probably won't change even if we cut procurement. You can't cut procurement and keep stable (or increase) the amounts and types of missions called for with our current slate of OPLANs. Does anyone remember the mid-90s conversation about not really being able to prosecute two major regional wars? That's exactly what happened (in addition to other standing commitments such as Korea) and it strained the force.

We're not being realistic with our procurement and we're not being realistic with our commitments - why do we even bother?

kitanis said...

There has been a big push to get rid of the F-22 for years and it keeps comming..

Meanwhile.. our F-15 airframes age.... As well as our F-16 fleet..

The Air Tanker keeps getting mired in procurement and political

Boy.. America wanted change.. and they might regret it yet