A defense budget that erodes America’s military power

Michael Sandberg/U.S. Navy

The aegis cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) sails in the Baltic Sea during the annual maritime exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2003.

Article Highlights

  • The Obama administration is proposing a “pivot” to Asia in name only

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  • The military deserves better than this budget, and so does America

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  • As defense budget cuts go down, so does America's capacity to give its men and women in uniform the tools they need

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This week, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta provided a preview of the U.S. military’s budget for fiscal year 2013. A deluge of Pentagon jargon such as “reversibility,” “rebalance,” and “sustainment” masks the fundamental reality: this is a budget that will weaken the military. Despite Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey’sprotestations to the contrary, this budget request is a clear pathway towards dismantling America’s military supremacy.

The severe modernization cuts under this administration increase the likelihood that U.S. military capabilities will fall short of the nation’s wide-ranging security commitments. Current budget plans indicate the United States may relinquish its military superpower status—not to another nation per se, but by reverting to a position where it lacks the capacity to engage and maintain a forward presence globally.

"The severe modernization cuts under this administration increase the likelihood that U.S. military capabilities will fall short of the nation’s wide-ranging security commitments."--Mackenzie Eaglen

Economically, the president’s request lays off 100,000 active-duty soldiers and Marines. The budget also seeks a new round of U.S. base closings, retires crucial ships from the fleet, and delays the Joint Strike Fighter, by far the most important program to the health of the American defense industrial base and many small businesses around the country.

At a time when President Obama is calling for a rebirth of American manufacturing, it is wrong to jeopardize the health of America’s shipbuilding and aerospace manufacturing workforce—especially when the military needs these platforms now. This budget accelerates the trend of a defense manufacturing workforce in rapid decline. A recent working group hosted by The Brookings Institution concluded:

"Not only then are the U.S. military services, but also American defense industry at a crossroads. … Careless defense reductions or poor planning won’t just cost jobs or competitiveness, but could actually result in lost American military industrial capability in core areas."

The report continues, stating:

"As presidential candidates and other national leaders develop their platforms for the 2012 elections and beyond, any serious discussion of national security and the current state and future of the military must also give direct attention to matters of the American national security scientific and industrial base."

The administration’s words and actions simply don’t add up. While President Obama has spoken at length about the strategic importance of the Pacific and the growing threat of China, the defense budget greatly lacks the capabilities to back up the military’s ever-growing commitments.

The Obama administration is proposing a “pivot” to Asia in name only. Take, for example, the reckless proposals to eliminate six tactical aircraft squadrons and shrink the Navy’s fleet by 16 ships. A 2009 RAND study identified the current force as too small and the United States losing an air war over the Taiwan Straits due to an overwhelming Chinese advantage in numbers of aircraft.

Make no mistake: as defense budgets go down, so does America’s capacity to give its men and women in uniform the tools they need to defend our interests abroad—as well as our ability to sustain the world-class scientists, engineers, designers, and machinists that comprise our defense manufacturing industrial base. The military deserves better than this budget, and so does America.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at AEI

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