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Military spending reset button

Post by Cheryl Tucker on April 7, 2009 at 8:00 pm with No Comments »
April 7, 2009 8:00 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Defense secretary right to retarget spending

Military priorities – not home-district job programs – should determine where defense dollars are spent.

"My hope is that . . . the members of Congress will rise above parochial interests and consider what is in the best interest of the nation as a whole." – Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on weapons program cuts

Good luck with that, Mr. Gates.

Really, what were the chances that members of Congress whose home districts are heavily dependent on Pentagon spending would look approvingly on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed program cuts?

The howling started almost before he finished unveiling his 2010 budget priorities.

Although legislators from affected districts are expected to pressure President Obama to overrule Gates, the commander in chief should stick to his guns, so to speak. Military priorities, not home-district jobs, should determine where defense dollars are spent.

Gates’ proposed cuts are likely to be as keenly felt in Boeing country as anywhere. They include a halt on further orders of the F-22 Raptor (pictured), a futuristic fighter jet that Boeing has a one-third interest in building, and the C-17 cargo planes often seen flying in and out of McChord Air Force Base.

Other Boeing pain on Gates’ list: cancellation of some of the company’s missile defense programs, including its airborne laser, and the $87 billion vehicle part of the Future Combat Systems program, which the secretary criticized for its costliness and development problems.

Those cuts will hurt here, to be sure. But the overriding concern – especially in tough financial times – should be to spend money where it’s needed most, on the kinds of weapons the military will use to fight the wars of the future, not those of the past.

Those wars are likely to look a lot like the relatively low-tech ones being waged today in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the high-tech ones envisioned during the Cold War. That’s good news for the Army, not so good for the Air Force and Navy.

Gates wants to hire more soldiers and spend more to outfit special forces troops who hunt down insurgents. He wants to build more of Lockheed’s F-35 – the Joint Strike Fighter – and spend more on unmanned Predator drones that can provide intelligence as well as launch missiles.

Just as important as trimming individual weapons systems, though, is Gates’ determination to change the way the Pentagon does business. He would reverse a surge in private contractors that began after 9/11; today they comprise 39 percent of the Pentagon workforce. Bringing those jobs back into Civil Service should improve contractor oversight and reduce costs.

Defense spending is still sky-high: $534 billion for 2010 compared to $513 billion in 2009. But Gates’ proposals put the focus where it should be: on supporting the troops who are most likely to be in the line of fire.

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