[Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2000, Inside Washington Publishers. This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher]

Prominent advocates of increased military spending, including the Republican candidate for president, continue to call for major Pentagon budget boosts to correct what they view as unacceptable readiness levels and inadequate modernization plans, but skeptics say the solution involves refocused priorities and not more money.

Meanwhile, DOD is moving to solve some problems by increasing funding in a recently finalized program decision memorandum that raises fiscal year 2002 through 2007 defense budgets by $19.6 billion. The boost begins with a $3.5 billion topline increase in FY-02 and includes raises of about $3 billion every year through FY-07, according to documents obtained by Inside the Pentagon (see related story).

Readiness funding is a major driver of the topline increase, and the Air Force -- facing nagging spare-part and reliability issues -- is due for another $1.75 billion in increased flying-hour program funding and $1.15 billion for readiness enhancements, which are spread across multiple accounts.

Together, Air Force flying hours and readiness additions account for roughly two-thirds of the service's $4.5 billion topline increase.

Some defense advocates call for even more. Frank Gaffney, director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Security Policy, says defense spending -- which accounts for about 3 percent of gross domestic product today -- should rise to a steady state of 4 percent. This of course would translate to roughly a 25 percent Pentagon funding increase, but Gaffney told ITAF this week that "4 percent of GDP investment is clearly something we can afford today."

In an Aug. 7 paper titled "The Four Percent Solution," Gaffney says "Such a commitment of resources would assure the readiness of both today's armed forces and tomorrow's for many years to come, while allowing important new defense initiatives -- like Gov. Bush's laudable pledge to protect the American people against ballistic missile attacks at the earliest possible time -- to be fulfilled. We must not forget that the alternative has, in the past, often proven to be far more costly: unnecessary, avoidable wars whose price in blood and treasures dwarfs the savings achieved via pound-foolish 'peace dividends."

Gaffney told ITAF that 4 percent is not a hard-and-fast number, but rather an indication of where defense spending has been and a reflection of where it could be today. "If GDP were to take a nosedive" -- because of a severe recession, for example -- "clearly you'd have to recalculate," he said.

In his paper, Gaffney added that upcoming elections represent "an opportunity not only to acquaint the American people with the full magnitude of the crisis facing our military, but to seek a mandate from them for correcting it" by adopting a 4-percent solution.

The candidates are already acquainting the public with the readiness issue. In response to statements made by Vice President Al Gore, who said Aug. 22 that "Our military is the strongest and the best in the entire world," Republican vice presidential candidate and former defense secretary Richard Cheney replied in an Aug. 30 speech that "our military today is overused and under-resourced.

"Defense spending today is lower as a percentage of GNP than at any time since 1940 -- the year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the same time, overseas deployments have multiplied, stretching the services to the limit, and causing shortages of spare parts and equipment. All of this has brought on serious problems of readiness, recruiting, retention, and morale."

"In just the past few days," he continued, "we have seen other disturbing stories. The Marines were forced to suspend flight operations for three different aircraft, owing in part to defective rotor blades. . . . To point out that our military has been overextended, taken for granted, and neglected -- that is no criticism of the military. That is a criticism of a president and a vice president, and the record they have built together. . . . When you triple our commitments around the world, while at the same time taking the . . . Air Force from 17 wings to 13 . . . and the Navy from well over 400 ships down toward fewer than 300 -- that, Mr. Gore, is running down the military," Cheney charged.

Although reducing the number of international commitments DOD must respond to would be one way to reduce funding requirements, few are willing to advocate a reduction in the U.S. military presence worldwide.

Nevertheless, others are not so sure increasing funding is the solution to the readiness woes. Franklin Spinney, tactical aircraft analyst with the Pentagon's program analysis and evaluation shop, pointed out in an Aug. 20 commentary that advocates of proposals such as Gaffney's neglect "to tell the reader what dollar figure is implied," just as they neglect "to compare our current level of spending to that of our potential adversaries."

Spinney is an outspoken critic of some DOD spending priorities, but notes that his views are personal and not department positions.

But for the record, he cites Office of Management and Budget predictions and notes that earmarking 4 percent of GDP for defense would far exceed historical spending trends even when compared to the Reagan defense buildup.

The 4-percent solution is "absurd," Spinney writes, especially in light of the absence of any real threat to the United States. Implementing it "would be tantamount to a declaration of total war on Social Security and Medicare in the following decade," he added.

The commentary also notes that advocates of 4-percent solutions take "great care not to mention the level of spending by our potential adversaries. This is a stark departure from the Cold War practice that always premised U.S. requirements for higher defense spending on the long-term threat of increased Soviet spending."

Last week, the State Department released information on worldwide military spending that shows the United States outspent the next six highest-spending nations combined in 1997, the final year reviewed (ITAF, Aug. 25, p15). The discrepancy grows even larger when "states of concern" or rogue nations are compared to U.S. expenditures.

Spinney notes in his commentary that even at present spending levels, China, Russia and other potential U.S. adversaries are being outspent by the United States by nearly three-to-one.

Gaffney cautions against comparing U.S. spending to that of other nations, "as the left is often fond of doing," and notes instead that the historical average for U.S. defense spending has been 8 percent of GDP.

According to the State Department, the United States accounted for a third of all military spending worldwide in 1997, compared to 27 percent a decade earlier when the Soviet Union was competing the United States and its allies for military supremacy.

Both sides agree on the need to break out of the defense "death spiral" cited by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Jacques Gansler in 1998.

Gansler noted then that "The requirement to maintain our aging equipment is costing us more each year: in repair costs, down time, and maintenance tempo. But we must keep this equipment in repair to maintain readiness. It drains our resources -- resources we should be applying to modernization of the traditional systems and development and deployment of the new systems. So, we stretch out our replacement schedules to ridiculous lengths and reduce the quantities of the new equipment we purchase, raising their costs and still further delaying modernization."

The effects of this death spiral are clearly being felt today, as funding for operations, maintenance, repairs and spare parts are consuming an ever-larger portion of the DOD budget. This is evidenced not only by the spending changes proposed in PDM I, but a General Accounting Office report this week that outlines the stresses the Air Force is facing trying to keep its machinery ready for combat (see related story). -- Adam J. Hebert


DM ups Air Force O&M, flying-hour program by $2.9 billion


Adam Hebert
Inside the Air Force, Vol. 11, No. 35
September 1, 2000