NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 9, 2009

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a significant reordering of U.S. defense programs.  His recommendations should not go unchallenged, say Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow, and Gary Schmitt, a resident scholar, both with the American Enterprise Institute.

In the 1990s, defense cuts helped pay for increased domestic spending, and that is true today.  Though Gates said his decisions were "almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books," the broad list of program reductions and terminations suggest otherwise, say Donnelly and Schmitt. 

Consider a few of the details of the Gates proposals:

  • The termination of the F-22 Raptor program at just 187 aircraft inevitably will call U.S. air supremacy -- the salient feature, since World War II, of the American way of war -- into question.
  • The U.S. Navy will continue to shrink below the fleet size of 313 ships it set a few years ago; the number of aircraft carriers will drop eventually to 10.
  • Gates has promised to "restructure" the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program, arguing that the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan have called into question the need for new ground combat vehicles.
  • The proposed cuts in space and missile defense programs, including the termination of the Airborne Laser and Transformational Satellite programs -- the most promising form of defense against ballistic missiles -- reflect a retreat in emerging environments that are increasingly critical in modern warfare.

Gates justified these cuts as a matter of "hard choice" and "budget discipline."  The budget cuts he is recommending are not a temporary measure; rather, they are the opening bid in what, if the Obama administration has its way, will be a future U.S. military that is smaller and packs less wallop, say Donnelly and Schmitt.

Source: Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, "Obama and Gates Gut the Military," Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2009.

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