The Corner

Don’t Compromise Combat Power

I understand that defense cuts are inevitable. I understand that as we leave Iraq and scale down our operations in Afghanistan, there will be considerable budget savings, and I also understand and agree that the Department of Defense bureaucracy (like every single federal bureaucracy) is bloated and sometimes grotesquely inefficient. In other words, I am not someone who sees the defense budget as untouchable in our fiscal crisis.

At the same time, and as we ponder whether to attack the defense budget with a scalpel or an axe, we cannot compromise our core combat power — the combination of well-trained, well-supplied soldiers married to weapons systems of unrivaled quality and technical superiority. Simply put, in the battlefield we don’t want a “fair fight,” and our very expensive technology saves American lives and directly contributes to victory on the battlefield.

I can track the history of my deployment to Iraq in two phases: pre-MRAP and post-MRAP. The MRAP (“Mine Resistant Ambush Protected”) was developed as part of an emergency program to counter the IED threat, primarily in Iraq. When my unit, the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment, arrived in Diyala Province, in addition to our Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, we were stocked with Humvees. While I won’t add too much to the litany of service member complaints about the outmatched, under-armored Humvee, I’ll simply note this fact: Before May, 2008, when MRAPs replaced most of our Humvees, by far the deadliest place in Diyala Province was on the roads. Antitank mines and other explosives regularly claimed American lives. After the MRAP, we did not lose a single soldier to IEDs.

It’s hard to overstate the real-world impact of this change. For the insurgents, IED placements became a very high-risk, low-reward activity. We gained greater freedom of movement, took from the insurgents their most effective weapon, and gained a decisive victory in our battle space.  

And that’s just one example. I keep reading liberal critics explaining that our military spending isn’t “balanced,” that we spend far more than other countries. This is of course true, but we don’t want our military power to be “balanced” with other countries. The goal is military superiority, not balance, and military superiority cannot be maintained indefinitely with 25-year-old fighters, 30-year-old tanks, and 40-year-old aircraft carriers.  

We ask men and women to volunteer to lay down their lives for their country. Their commitment to us means that we have a commitment to them — not to spend all we can but to equip them as well as we can. Cut waste and reduce inefficiencies (the Heritage Foundation has outlined a path to significant savings), but don’t compromise combat power.  

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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