The Case for Slimming Down the US Military to Make it Better
Previously published on Jan 26, 2011
Inefficiencies in any military are deadly. With the US military budget over bloated, the National Debt beyond unsustainable, and global terrorism demanding more of our covert forces in far more countries around the world, we need a smarter, more flexible military that can respond more quickly to crises. The problem is that much of our military infrastructure is designed around the notion that money is not an issue when it comes to defense. This mantra is reflected both in how our military operates and its technology.
War machines have long helped keep the men and women of modern militaries safe; however, new challenges in a global war on terrorism require these machines operate in far more adverse conditions with far greater restrictions. With the most pressing threats to global and national security coming from terrorism, militaries must reorient their focus to engage highly mobile, adaptive, resourceful enemies over a long period of time. This also means combat forces will experience far greater ground combat for the foreseeable future.
Inefficiencies not only waste resources and lead to unnecessary pollution, they present a logistics nightmare that jeopardizes the lives of troops, especially considering how easily insurgents can target long supply chains. For example, a gallon of gasoline can cost between $50 and $60 in Afghanistan while our vehicles are terribly inefficient in terms of fuel usage. This recipe for disaster could have crippled the war effort in Afghanistan when the Pakistani government closed its border to allied shipments and insurgents blew up several fuel trucks in the summer of 2010.
Meanwhile, a war on terrorism is about troops getting close and personal with the enemy, as well as potential allies, so we need aircraft and other vehicles to support that mission. Unfortunately, much of the fighting is going to be in very inhospitable climates. One advantage Soviet technology has had over US gear is that it works in some pretty dirty conditions; whereas, American technology has often been designed to function in more ideal situations. This is one area of development that new technology should address. As such, we need technology that does more to protect troops than just add heavy plates of metal to the sides of a truck.
One problem is that in the past efficiency meant using inferior technology that would endanger the lives of troops. Plainly, we should be able to do better through smarter technology. Another major problem, however, comes from Congress and the Pentagon bureaucracy. Cutting costs, scrapping unnecessary projects, and refitting our military to its current missions have been top priorities of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Despite the necessity of such leadership, every Congressional oversight committee prodded by top military brass has interfered with the process by undermining the authority of the Executive Branch and focusing on political rhetoric versus sound policy.
One prolonged victory for Robert Gate was persuading Congress to kill plans to further expand US airpower with the F22. Designed to replace the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F22 was intended to ensure America maintained air supremacy over the Soviet Union. Derailing this Cold War era technology made sense as global terrorism is the current focus of our military attention, but legislators fought tooth and nail to preserve this 140 plus million dollar interceptor jet. Secretary Gates points to the F-35 lightning II as his preferred replacement for the F22, due to its flexibility and significantly lower cost; however, other hardware of similar flexibility is also badly needed
Furthermore, Robert Gates has moved to change the culture of the Pentagon. By shifting somewhere around one hundred billion dollars worth of spending away from inefficient, unnecessary pet projects, the military can provide for the needs of our troops without further burdening the Deficit. In addition, cutting over seventy-eight billion dollars from its budget and eliminating the Joint Force's command in Norkfolk,Virginia does help tame the beast. More reforms will likely have to be undertaken, but a change in attitude and a sufficient attempt to actually utilize resources in an efficient manner helps put the US military on a more sustainable path. Unfortunately, a failure to fully reform will ultimately lead to a weakening of our armed forces.
With the need for the Unite States to rebuild its military as the lengthy conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end, we should take the opportunity to development technologies that can help keep troops safe, help troops become more effective fighters, and conserve resources. We need to find ways of adapting war machines so they provide greater protection, offer superior offensive capabilities, become more reliable in extreme, diverse environments, and perform in a far more efficient manner. Finally, we must also look at some missteps our militaries might make and has done when it comes to its technology, among other areas.