Defense Cuts Done Right, or Rather Less Egregiously Wrong

by Reihan Salam

Paul Barrett of the leftish (sic) but mostly entertaining and pleasing-to-the-eye Bloomberg Businessweek offers five substantial cuts to defense expenditures that would be cleaner than the Grand-Guignolish sequestration process:

1. Ground the glitch-ridden F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. … 

2. While we’re at it, how about parking the Ground Combat Vehicle? … 

3. On the topic of Army gas-guzzlers: Even the generals admit that they don’t want or need an updated version of the familiar M1 combat tank. The M1 was originally built to face off against Soviet tanks in a land war in Europe, which thankfully never happened. Congress, however, intends to keep doling out billions to gut and renovate old M1s. That makes no sense. 

4. Dock the Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy is building two versions of the troubled vessel that was once billed as a low-cost, versatile coastal patrol ship. The LCS has doubled in price, to more than $440 million a ship. Evaluators have determined that its guns aren’t effective, meaning it might not survive in combat. 

5. Excess bureaucracy must go. “One need only spend 10 minutes walking around the Pentagon or any major military headquarters to see excess and redundancy,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in September at an event organized by the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. He should know. As defense chief in 2009, he culled 20 weapons systems he thought unnecessary or too expensive, including the F-22 fighter. One place to start thinning the bureaucracy: the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That office has more than tripled in manpower, to 4,244 in 2012 from 1,313 in 2010, according to the Pentagon’s annual manpower report. (Fewer bureaucrats means fewer memos and fewer meetings. Win-win-win.)

But the real dividends, I suspect, aren’t to be found in zeroing out weapons programs. Rather, they’re to be found in reforming the way in which the military deploys and develops human capital, as Tim Kane argues in Bleeding Talent. Given the cultural resistance to reforming personnel policy, the pressures post by this year’s various budget controversies might be the time to make a concerted effort in this direction. One potential problem is that there might not be enough young veterans in Congress who really understand these issues and would be willing to invest the time and effort required to make headway. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.