More on the Phony Debate to Increase the Defense Budget

September 11, 1998

Comment: #184

Discussion Thread:  #183 and commentaries on phony debate over defense spending.


[1]George Cahlink, "Shelton Warns Modernization Problems Loom," Defense Daily, 11 September 1998

[2] General David Bramlett, "FY 99 Funding Assessment," Memorandum for Chief of Staff, US Army, August 20, 1998. Attached.

[3] Rowan Scarborough, "General warns of declining Army," Washington Times, September 10, 1998.

As I have said repeatedly, the Pentagon faces three intractable problems that senior leadership refuses to deal with: a high-cost modernization program that can not modernize the force, even if it is executed perfectly; a rapidly declining readiness posture, driven partly by the rising cost of low readiness; and a corrupt accounting system that makes it impossible to understand, let alone fix, the first two problems.

Rather than deal with these problems in a straight-forward manner and adapt our forces to the changing conditions attending the end of the Cold War, the dinosaurs in the bureaucracy are trying to protect a broken system and a comfortable way of life by saying budget cuts caused problems they deliberately created.

The result is a classical Washington kabuki dance taking the form of a phony debate over the need to increase the budget.

The choreography has been building up since the end of the Persian Gulf War, which coincided with the end of the Cold War. After the Cold War, the Pentagon bureaucrats, like their predecessors at the end of the end of the Vietnam War, put together a plan to continue business as usual by shrinking the force (to reduce operating expenses), truncating/terminating production of the weapons being currently being bought, like F-15 fighters, Aegis cruisers, and M-1 tanks (which had reached the end of their planned production run in any event), and beginning development of a new generation of even higher-cost, cold-war inspired weapons (like F-22, Comanche helicopter, and the New Attack Submarine). The R&D bill for the new weapons was relatively low in the early post war years, but it carried a huge future bill that would have to paid when the new weapons entered production in the latter part of the 1990s or the first decade of the 21st Century.

Taken together, these decisions set the stage for a readiness meltdown and a modernization shortfall in the late 1990s, as I explained in the "Anatomy of Decline Briefing," which I began presenting to senior officials in October 1992.

Not to worry.

The dinosaurs in the Pentagon had to concoct a front-loading rationale to justify how we could pay for these weapons in the post-cold war era without breaking the bank. They used the time honored Washington method of promising FUTURE SAVINGS from PROCUREMENT REFORMS, RAPIDLY DECLINING COSTS (via learning curves), and infrastructure reductions (primarily base closings) to downplay the future consequences of their decisions.

It did not matter whether these reforms materialized. The aim of the front-loading infiltration operation was to buy the time required to get the Congress pregnant by spreading subcontracts to hundreds of congressional districts located in every nook and cranny of our great country. Once the political engineering operation successfully planted multiple programs throughout the national womb, the battle-hardened veterans of the cold-war budget wars knew they could moot the affordability debate by "appealing to the patriotism" of Congress JOBS, PROFITS, & PATRONAGE. The result would be rising defense budgets while threats melted away.

Today, the US defense budget exceeds the combined total or Russia, China, and all the rogues by a factor of three to one; add in the contributions of our allies, and the multiple rises to six to one and we are facing a defense budget train wreck!!!!!.

If we could practice this kind of maneuver warfare against our adversaries, Saddam Husayn would be cooling his heels in Fort Leavenworth.

The three references to this message illustrate the absurdity of our current situation.

In Reference #1, George Cathlink of Defense Daily reports that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says we do not have enough money to modernize the force.

The Chairman is calling for another round of base closures and continued reforms (he calls them streamlining initiatives) to pay the bill, otherwise we will have to increase the defense budget. The Chairman said, DoD has NOT achieved the savings it Expects, so the Pentagon is still "pushing" Congress for base closings. In fact, the GAO has issued several audit reports saying that the saving from acquisition reforms and base closures have not materialized. The logic of the Chairman's "more of the same" argument in the presence of disappointing results reminds one of the rationale used to escalate the bombing of North Vietnam in the 1960s.

Reference #2 is a memo from General Bramlett to the Chief of Staff of the US Arrmy. Bramlett, who retired 10 days after writing this memo, was commander of Forces Command (FORSCOM), or the units of the Army based in the United States. Read this the problems described in this memo very carefully, particularly if you are an advocate of the hi-tech revolution in military affairs or the idea that high cost, hi-tech weapons will save us. Bramlett says the savings from these streamlining initiatives have not materialized. He says, "we can no longer train and sustain the force" under current defense spending and says "this threatens our ability to mobilize, deploy, fight and win."

Note Bramlett's concluding paragraph:

"My assessment is not good news. Funding has fallen below the survival level in FY99. The commanders are concerned that they can not meet the daily challenges of the three imperatives of readiness: training, QOL, and Infrastructure. Our commitment to doing our part in reengineering, creative training strategies, and best business practices has never been stronger. Current funding levels place FORSCOM's ability to accomplish its mission at an unacceptable risk. We must have additional funding for FY98 and beyond."

Bear in mind, the problems described by Bramlett are REAL. The issue is What caused them?

Given the dire nature of Bramlett's predictions, I decided to add up the unfunded budget requirements in Bramlett's letter. They total about $500 million, or less than 1% or the Army's $64 billion budget!!!

This would seem also to be bad news for marketers promoting a budget increase, because the Bramlett's real problem looks more like one of misplaced priorities.

Not to worry the low percentage doesn't seem concern Congress (thank god for the political engineers). In Reference #3, Rowan Scarborough, of the Washington Times, reports that Bramlett's letter will be used by Congress as evidence of the need for a budget increase. He quotes Sen. James M. Inhofe, of Oklahoma, who said "I agree with Gen. Bramlett that your 'unfunded requirements can only be realized with an increase in the overall funding level for the department."

Senator Inhofe will be pleased to know that the Pentagon agrees with him.

In Reference #1 to Comment #183, George Wilson reported that

"Pentagon leaders are now preparing the fiscal 2000 defense budget which goes to Congress early next year. Their plan is to seek a higher topline for fiscal 2000 and beyond than the 1997 congressional agreement allows, administration officials told LEGI-SLATE News."

I queried several sources in the Office of the Defense Comptroller about Wilson's claim, and they told me it was true, to the best of their knowledge. They told me they expected the increase to be about $10 to $15 billion per year over the next six years, or about $60 to $75 billion.

That Bramlett's letter can be good news for the Pentagon tells us something about the current level of debate. Welcome to the funhouse on the Potomac, a place where reality need not interfere with the real business of national security.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #2

20 August 1998


SUBJECT: FY 99 Funding Assessment

1. The FORSCOM commanders have recently completed their review of resource requirements against their FY 99 funding distribution. My guidance was to maintain training (go-to-war} reading" at the expense of infrastructure and Quality of Life (QOL) if they could not balance the requirement of all three. They have done their best to implement this guidance, but we can no longer twin and sustain the farce, stop infrastructure degradation, and provide our soldiers the QOL programs critical to long term readiness of the force. Commanders remain fully committed to supporting force readiness, but we cannot operate within current funding levels and have the viable fighting force we want - project Into me next century,

2. We can provide trained and ready units in FY99, but we anticipate some drop in reported readiness as the year progresses. Our BASOPS [base operations] accounts have only marginal funding levels, and Real Property Maintenance (RPM) accounts are nearly depleted at many of our installations. The OMA funding levels are no longer sufficient to "make it happen" and avoid serious long-term negative impacts to the force. Those insufficient funding levels are further degraded by refined TRM cost factors, by the inability to achieve programmed efficiencies, and by increased funding for contractor support. Our flexibility in further hampered by stovepipe funding for specific programs mat have become a larger percentage of our total budget

3. Despite considerable efforts to conserve scarce resources at the expense of QOL and infrastructure, unit readiness will be degraded. Commanders at Forts Lewis, Stewart and Bragg report units will drop below ALO in the fourth quarter of FY 99. This threatens our ability to mobilize, deploy, fight, and win.

4. In FY 98, we mortgaged infrastructure and QOL to maintain training readiness. BASOPS, and RPM were underfunded again but with little migration ($18 million) as we needed every dollar for training. Infrastructure maintenance and repair are now funded below survival levels. FY 99. Marks the second consecutive year in which FORSCOM could not provide installation infrastructure repair beyond "break and fix." The most critical unfunded repairs totaling $215 million are: sewer and utility systems- $49M; barracks roofing/heating and air conditioning repair - $59M; roofs on maintenance and ammo facilities - $10M; bridges and roads - $29M; training and operations facilities repairs - $7M; and other general facility repair projects - $60M. Of immediate concern is our inability to resource food service contracts which drives us to the associated alternative of possibly returning our soldiers to perform kitchen and dining facility attendant duties. Base information management operations, the DOIMS, were hit especially hard. This account is down more then 30 percent from FY 98, severley affecting base automation, printing, and automation equipment accounts. Commanders state that shortfalls will "render infrastructure, QOL, and BASOPS(-) non-mission capable."

5. We fully understand that many of our unfunded requirements can only be realized with an increase in the overall funding level for the Department, and we continue to advocate that goal. As part of our assessment, we have identified those UFRs [unfunded requirements] requiring funding by way of Funding Letter inserts as well as other critical UFRs to be worked through the year of execution. Those items requiring additional funds within our funding letter include: Food Services and Dining Facility Operations $10.1M; AC/RC Support $15.6; AC/ARNG Integrated Divisions - $4.0M; Digital Training - $18.5M; Force Modernization - $18.6M, and Commercial Activities Studies - $3.2M.

6. Our Executive Agent Role in the DCSC4 areas demands intense management as we act of the Army's behalf. To resource the requirements of these missions in FY99 will require: an additional $26.3M in funding letter inserts for Long Haul Commo; $14.1M for sustainment of the new Command and Control Protect mission; and $1.7M for support of the Defense Red Switch Network. In addition, we request that Europe's portion be provided to them as was done in the POM.

7. AC/RC Support (Training Support XXI) continues to be significantly underfunded as we transition to the new Support to Operational Training Functional Area Assessment (SOT-FAA) Integrated alternative structure. This structure will be fully staffed in FY99 after a ramp-up year in FY98. The funding requirement is inherently heavy in TDY, as observers/controllers/evaluators and other training absence personnel must travel to, the associated RC units and training sites. We are concerned about our ability to fully perform this growing mission. In addition, the new AC/ARNG Integrated Divisions that will begin to stand up provisionally on 1 October 1998 are unfunded In FY99. These shortages are particularly acute the context of our stated commitment to the Total Army.

8. As we move toward fielding a digitized force, we need resources for robust digital training events and associated training infrastructure upgrades. Funding tails become major cost drivers as the Army moves from Advanced War Fighting Experiments (AWE) and applique to equipping and training the digitized force. Insufficient funding continues to delay modernization of many training support facilities such as ranges, simulation facilities, transportation networks to/from/in and around ranges, targetry, and maneuver boxes.

9. My assessment is not good news. Funding has fallen below the survival level in FY99. The commanders are concerned that they can not meet the daily challenges of the three imperatives of readiness: training, QOL, and Infrastructure. Our commitment to doing our part in reengineering, creative training strategies, and best business practices has never been stronger. Current funding levels place FORSCOM's ability to accomplish its mission at an unacceptable risk. We must have additional funding for FY98 and beyond.

General, USA