The Corner

Yes, It’s Time to Increase Defense Spending

President Trump is declaring an intention to increase defense spending and pay for it in part with cuts to other agencies. Here’s the Washington Post:

President Trump will propose a federal budget that dramatically increases defense-related spending by $54 billion while cutting other federal agencies by the same amount, according to an administration official.

The proposal represents a massive increase in federal spending related to national security, while other priorities, especially foreign aid, will see significant reductions.

According to the White House, the defense budget will increase by 10 percent. Trump will also request $30 billion in supplementary military spending for the fiscal year 2017, according to an administration official.

Given our current battlefield supremacy, most voters don’t really understand how old most of our weapons are. Key systems date back to the Cold Wars. Fathers and even grandfathers of current pilots have flown fighters and bombers still in front-line service. Consider the age of these key platforms:

-The M1 Abrams main battle tank was designed in the 1970s and entered service in 1980. The army has upgraded it substantially, but the once “unkillable” tank has proven vulnerable to jihadists’ best weapons, and Russia’s newest tank may well be an M1 peer:

Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank finally does present a peer challenge to the Abrams. While the Abrams still appears to have a slight edge in conventional armor, the Armata compensates with a combination of explosive-reactive armor and a sophisticated radar-guided Afganit Active Protection System (APS) intended to shoot down incoming projectiles. The T-14’s new 2A82 125mm also has improved armor penetration, meaning the Abrams’s frontal armor may be vulnerable at shorter combat ranges (possibly 1,500 meters and less).

While it’s still debatable which is the superior tank—they clearly both are capable of destroying one other—the point is that the Abrams can no longer assume the inferiority of opposing tanks.

-The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is almost as old as the Abrams, entering service in 1981. It also may now have a close Russian peer.

-The B-52 entered service in 1955, more than 60 years ago. Even the Air Force’s most modern bomber, the B-2 Spirit, dates back almost 30 years. 

This is hardly an exhaustive list of aging systems, and while the cumulative effect of American technology and firepower can still dominate the battlefield (even with aging systems), we’re not just losing the qualitative edge in key respects, our numerical advantage is waning as well. In May, the Army shrunk to its smallest manpower level since before World War II:

The Army’s latest headcount shows that nearly 2,600 soldiers departed active service in March without being replaced, an action that plunges manning to its lowest level since before World War II.

During the past year the size of the active force has been reduced by 16,548 soldiers, the rough equivalent of three brigades.

End strength for March was 479,172 soldiers, which is 154 fewer troopers than were on active duty when the Army halted the post-Cold War drawdown in 1999 with 479,424 soldiers, the smallest force since 1940, when the active component numbered 269,023 soldiers.

It’s important to remember the extent to which peace depends on overwhelming American military superiority on multiple fronts, from Europe to east Asia. The deployment of peer or near-peer equipment by potentially hostile powers could be destabilizing unless we maintain our generational edge in equipment and sufficient numbers of troops to engage foes with decisive force. 

That’s not to say that we’re in such military need that we should increase spending without regard to the deficit. Spending increases should be paid for with cuts in less-essential government agencies. National defense is a core constitutional function of government, and other agencies can and should sacrifice to maintain American deterrence.

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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