Why a Cold War Budget
Without a Cold War?
A bottom-up analysis of our defense needs and
what it will take to meet them
by Dr. Lawrence Korb, Former Assistant Secretary
from Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities
In the decade since the unexpected end of the Cold War and
collapse of the Soviet Empire, the nation has worked to establish
the appropriate and realistic size and shape of the military structure
necessary to protect vital national security interests. Despite
the fact that the U.S. has spent over $2 trillion on national
security since the end of the Cold War (more than all of our potential
adversaries combined) and conducted no less than five analyses
of our defense spending needs, neither conservatives nor liberals
appear to be happy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) argue that
current readiness is frayed and that long term health of the force
is in jeopardy. Republicans in Congress argue that President Clinton
has allowed the military to become hollow. Many liberals wonder
why, even after the Cold War, defense spending is still rising
while social discretionary spending is declining.
The reason for this unhappiness is clear: neither the Pentagon,
the Clinton Administration, nor the Congress has done a real "bottom-up
review" of our interests, the real capabilities of our potential
adversaries, and the forces needed to both protect our interests
and defeat our opponents. The Department of Defense (DOD) will
argue that it has, in fact, done this on three occasions: in 1990
when the JCS designed the Base Force; in 1993 when the Clinton
Administration conducted what they called a Bottom-Up Review (BUR)
of defense requirements; and in 1997 when the Pentagon's Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR) updated the BUR. But the fact of the matter
is that all three reviews were merely attempts by the Pentagon
to maintain force structures and military spending at levels as
close to Cold War standards as politically feasible.
As the Congressionally mandated National Defense Panel noted
in late 1997, these Pentagon reviews were nothing more than a
rationalization for the existing force structure. Rather than
looking at the real capabilities of our potential adversaries,
the Pentagon studies used the U.S. military of the 1980's as a
basis of comparison. It is as if Bill Clinton's military was structured
to go to war with Ronald Reagan's rather than that of Iraq or
For example, the Air Force has requested more money because
the "mission capable rates" of its aircraft have declined
from 80 percent in the 1980's to 75 percent today. The Navy notes
that a decade ago all of its deploying ships were in a C-1 readiness
status; today, some vessels are allowed to deploy in a C-2 status.
The Marines point out that mission capable rates for their equipment
has dropped from 90 percent to 85 percent. The Army has reduced
tank training hours by 20 percent.
Even assuming that all of these problems are caused by lack
of funds (and that is dubious because readiness spending per capita
is higher in real terms than it was a decade ago), readiness ratings
of U.S. forces are the highest in the world. And, their margin
over their potential adversaries is increasing every year.
The Pentagon has been remarkably successful in its endeavor
to maintain high levels of funding. The Clinton Administration
had planned to spend nearly $1.7 trillion in defense between FY
1998 and FY 2003. After adjusting for inflation, defense spending
in the first Clinton administration was at 88 percent of the average
that the U.S. spent on defense from the end of the Vietnam War
to the end of the Cold War. Defense spending in the second Clinton
administration is likely to be even higher in real terms. As a
result of complaints by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and pressure
from Congress, the Administration wants to add $112 billion to
the projected level of defense spending over the next six years.
If the Congress continues its practice of adding funds to the
Clinton request, the annual defense budget could be back to its
Cold War average of $320 billion early in the next century. In
essence, this nation would have a Cold War budget without a Cold
To be sure, the end of the Cold War did not mean the end of
history; the U.S. does still need to have substantial military
forces to carry out a variety of missions. The Armed Forces of
the United States need to be prepared to deter any conventional
or nuclear attacks against the U.S., our allies, and our interests.
If deterrence fails, the U.S. forces need to be able to conduct
military operations, be it a major war thousands of miles from
our shores or keeping the peace in a place like Bosnia, alleviating
human suffering in Bangladesh or Central America, or making a
show of force in a crisis in the Taiwan Straits.
The United States military deters attacks against American
interests by maintaining sufficient conventional forces in the
active and reserve structures at home and around the globe, in
a sufficient state of readiness, with sufficient mobility to respond
quickly enough to defeat any potential adversary, with a minimum
of casualties. In addition, this nation needs to spend sufficient
funds on investment to replace worn-out equipment and to maintain
a technological edge over potential rivals. Finally, the military
needs to have sufficient nuclear forces to deter any nation from
using their own weapons of mass destruction.
CONVENTIONAL FORCES STRUCTURE
What would such a force look like and how much would it cost?
This force would have up to 2 million men and women in its Total
Force (1.2 million active and 0.8 million reservists). The conventional
component would be organized into eight active Army divisions,
15 Army National Guard brigades, nine Navy carrier battle groups
and eight air wings, 20 Air Force tactical air wings with 65 planes
in each wing, and three Marine divisions and three air wings.
This realistic force is compared to the current force in Table
About 50,000 people in this force would be forward deployed
in Europe and another 75,000 in Asia, as opposed to 100,000 in
each area now. There would be sufficient air and sea lift to move
four Army divisions and one Marine division to an area as far
away as the Persian Gulf within 30 days. Additionally, enough
materials would be pre-positioned in Europe, Asia, the Persian
Gulf and the Indian Ocean to enable these ground troops and the
deploying Air Force wings to become an effective fighting force
upon arrival. The planes, ships, and tanks would be equipped with
the most sophisticated precision guided munitions that would enable
them to strike military targets with a minimum of risk to the
combat forces. These conventional forces would be backed up by
up to 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons.
These conventional forces would be capable of fighting one
major theater war while conducting a Bosnia-type peacekeeping
operation and maintaining a presence in Europe, the Gulf, and
Asia. The forces would adopt a posture of tiered readiness --
maintaining its forward deployed and immediately deployable forces
in the U.S. in a high state of readiness (C-1 or C-2) while allowing
its late deploying forces to maintain a lower state of readiness
(C-3 or C-4). The cost of paying and operating this force would
amount to no more than $145 billion -- $60 billion in personnel
costs and $85 billion in operations and maintenance (O&M).
This compares to the approximately $170 billion now being spent
to maintain a total force of 2.4 million soldiers capable of fighting
two major theater wars in a high state of readiness with an additional
200,000 soldiers permanently deployed in Europe and Asia.
There are some who will argue that the U.S. will unduly jeopardize
its national security interests if it does not maintain the capability
to conduct a minimum of two major regional contingencies simultaneously.
If such an unlikely situation should occur, our 2 million person
Total Force would have sufficient residual power to inflict incredible
devastation on any aggressor. The Pentagon says that a major theater
war would require four Army divisions, four Marine brigades, ten
Air Force wings, and four Navy carrier battle groups. Our "smaller"
force has twice that amount of combat capability, and our allies
in these potential hotspots, e.g. South Korea, are becoming stronger
than our potential adversaries, e.g. North Korea. In fact, all
of the other top military forces in the world are bound by treaties
to come to our defense if we are ever attacked.
Others will argue that cutting the forces in Europe from 100,000
to 50,000 could destabilize the continent with particularly devastating
consequences. However, the new united Europe with its own common
currency should be able to handle its own problems with a minimum
of U.S. involvement. Europe in 1999 is not the Europe of 1939
or 1945. In fact, the total GDP and population of the European
Union is greater than that of the U.S. It only lags the U.S. in
defense spending. All the European member states combined currently
spend $100 billion less in defense than the U.S., hardly an equitable
burden sharing arrangement.
Military equipment wears out over time and must be replaced.
Moreover, U.S. military forces need to maintain their technological
edge over their potential adversaries. Therefore, the U.S. needs
a robust investment budget.
Since the U.S. has such a technological edge over any likely
opponent and is no longer in an arms race with the Soviet Union,
it does not need to continue deploying the next generation of
weapons platforms (planes, ships, and tanks) at the same hectic
pace as it did during the Cold War. The U.S. military can replace
its aging equipment, and actually increase its technological edge,
on an investment budget of up to $80 billion a year -- $40 billion
for procurement, $35 billion for research, development, testing
and evaluation (RDT&E), and $5 billion for construction. This
modernization budget of $80 billion is more than the total defense
budgets of Russia and China combined and eight times more than
the combined defense budgets of the five rogue states (Iran, Iraq,
Syria, Libya and South Korea) which the U.S. considers likely
opponents in a major theater war.
Unfortunately, since the end of the Cold War the U.S. military
has continued its Cold War practice of rushing new generations
of weapons systems into production to stay ahead of its putative
rival. But, since the collapse of the Soviet Union there is no
competing super power, and, as in the other areas of military
capability, the U.S. is in a modernization of arms race with itself.
The Air Force is developing approximately 340 of the high performance
Stealth Fighter, the $64 billion F-22 to replace the F-15 and
F-16, and the $46 billion Navy 548 F/A-18 E/F to replace the F/A-18
C/D. This is occurring even though the existing F-15, F-16, and
F/A-18 C/D tactical fighters are already the best in the world
and likely to remain so for the next several years.
This same phenomenon is occurring in ships and tanks. In this
decade alone, the Navy is buying three Sea Wolf submarines at
a cost of over $13 billion and now plans to buy 30 new attack
submarines at a cost of $64 billion. They are doing this even
though its current SSN-688 Los Angeles class submarines are still
superior and have many years of useful life left. The Navy also
continues to buy Nimitz Class Carriers at a cost of $5 billion
each, even though it does not need to maintain as many carriers
forward deployed and lacks a legitimate blue water adversary.
Similarly, the Army is spending $700 million a year to upgrade
its M1-A1 main battle tanks even though they are far superior
to anything in the world. Even the normally frugal Marines are
not exempt from this procurement phenomenon. Rather than relying
on helicopters to transport their troops from ship to shore, they
want to purchase the V-22 tilt rotor Osprey at a cost of $81 million
per unit for 458 units. This is more than the cost of the world's
most sophisticated fighter, the F-15, which costs $50 million
per plane. The Army also wants to purchase the sophisticated Commanche
(RAH-66) helicopters for $37 million apiece, or $48 billion for
1,292 of these helicopters.
Because these next generation weapons are so expensive, the
U.S. military cannot replace its aging equipment on its current
$100 billion investment budget. For example, by 2002, 75 percent
of the Air Force planes will be 20 or more years old. But, if
the Pentagon adopted a more realistic buying strategy, it could
actually modernize its force more rapidly at a lower cost. The
Air Force should continue to buy F-15's and F-16's instead of
the F-22 and the Navy F/A-18 C/D's instead of the F/A-18 E/F.
The Air Force could purchase seven F-16's or four F-15's for the
price of one F-22, while the Navy could buy two F/A-18 C/D's for
the price of one F/A-18 E/F. Both services could then wait for
the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which is scheduled to go into production
in 2003. The JSF, which will be bought by all the services, is
better that the existing generation of tactical aircraft, and
its projected cost of $219 billion for 3000 planes, or $73 million
per plane, is much less than the F-22 ($188 million) and the F/A-18
E/F ($84 million).
Although the Navy does need more ships, it does not need to
buy two new carriers, 30 advanced submarines, and 57 sophisticated
destroyers. It should purchase more missile-firing frigates and
develop arsenal or missile-firing ships. These vessels will be
capable of firing hundreds of Tomahawk missiles against the likes
of Sadam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden at a much lower cost than
carrier-based planes. The Marines need new ways to get to shore,
but helicopters like the CH-53 would do just as well as V-22's.
Likewise, the smaller Army does not need to purchase nearly 1300
Since the services have already spent considerable sums of
money on developing these new highly sophisticated weapons, the
military could buy some of them so that the taxpayer will receive
some return on the investment. These super sophisticated weapons
could serve as "silver bullets" like the fifty 117-A
Stealth fighters that bombed Baghdad in 1991, the 100 B-1 bombers,
and 20 B-2's that the U.S. has in its inventory. Under an $85
billion investment budget, the U.S. could afford up to 100 F-22's,
200 F/A-18 E/F's, 100 V-22's, 500 Commanche Helicopters, 15 new
attack submarines, and 30 DDG-51 destroyers. In addition, a $30
billion RDT&E would keep our forces on the cutting edge of
technology. These changes in conventional investment programs
and the savings are displayed in Table 2.
There are also some areas where the Pentagon should invest
more money. It should spend an additional $2 billion a year on
buying faster sea-lift, more Civilian Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)
planes, and more refueling aircraft. These lift enhancements will
cure the existing shortfalls in military lift and enable DOD to
deploy its forces more rapidly to any potential trouble spots.
STRATEGIC NUCLEAR FORCES
The U.S. currently spends over $30 billion a year on its strategic
nuclear forces. This is in excess of 10 percent of its total defense
budget and makes little sense in an era when the U.S. and the
former Soviet Union are no longer practicing mutual assured destruction.
Indeed, the problem is not that the Soviets will launch a strategic
nuclear weapon against the U.S. but that its nuclear weapons,
fissile material, or technology will make its way to a rogue nation.
At the present time, the U.S. and Russia have both ratified
the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START I) which limits both
sides to 7,500 strategic nuclear weapons. The U.S. has ratified
START II, which cuts the number to 3,500. Unfortunately, the Russian
Duma has not. However, Russia will not be able to afford anywhere
near 7,500 weapons; its Deputy Prime Minister estimates that they
can only maintain several hundred. The U.S. argues that it cannot
cut its force below START I levels until the Russians ratify START
II. And it continues to buy strategic nuclear weapons. For example,
the QDR plans for the U.S. to buy over 400 new Trident D-5 submarine-
launched ballistic missiles. This is absurd. The U.S. should unilaterally
announce that it is cutting the number of weapons to a level no
greater than 1,000 and invite Russia to follow. This number is
more than enough to destroy any possible targets and deter any
nation contemplating the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Even maintaining about 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons and
related programs including nuclear waste management and environmental
remediations should cost no more than $15 billion annually.
BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE (BMD)
There is no doubt that the U.S. needs to be concerned about
attacks from ballistic missiles either against our troops in the
field (Theater Missile Defense, or TMD) or against U.S. territory
(National Missile Defense, or NMD). Over the past 15 years, DOD
has spent $50 billion trying to construct a defense against ballistic
missiles. Even with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pentagon
still spends the same amount each year as it did during the Reagan
years, when the President initiated his Strategic Defense Initiative
(SDI). The billions have yielded no tangible success to date.
For FY 1999, which began on October 1, 1998, the Pentagon
had planned to spend about $4 billion on BMD research and development,
approximately $3 billion was supposed to go for TMD, and $1 billion
was slated for NMD. BMD is now the largest single investment program
in DOD. Nonetheless, the Republicans in Congress want the deployment
of BMD accelerated and added another $1 billion to the program
for FY 1999. This was done in spite of the fact that the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that putting more money
into the program will not produce a product sooner. In fact, the
whole BMD program should be funded at no more than $3.0 billion
a year -- about $2.5 billion for TMD and $0.5 billion for NMD.
The Army's Theater High Altitude Air Defense System (THAAD) has
failed all five of its tests because the Pentagon has felt pressure
to produce results quickly. Cutting funding for THAAD would allow
it to be developed in a slower, more thoughtful manner.
WASTE AND INEFFICIENCY
Secretary of Defense William Cohen estimates that keeping
unnecessary bases costs the Pentagon and the taxpayer about $3
billion a year. Cohen would like to put the savings into buying
unneeded tactical weapons like the F-22. The savings should be
returned to the taxpayer as soon as the bases are closed.
Each year the Congress adds a number of programs to the military
budget. These earmarked or special interest items, which range
from $400 million for six unrequested C-130 Aircraft to $14 million
for work on the "Northern Lights," amount to about $4
billion a year. The defense establishment would wish to see the
money spent on unnecessary systems like the F-22, but these funds,
too, should be returned to the taxpayer.
A force costing $225 billion a year would give this nation
more than enough military capability to protect our interests
and apply military power where needed. If this $225 billion force
is given enough money to keep pace with inflation, our military
will actually increase its margin of superiority over its potential
There is no doubt that the U.S. disarmed too rapidly in 1919
and in 1945. But, this is not 1919, nor 1945. We should not make
the opposite mistake and not disarm at all after the Cold War.
Trying to determine how much to spend on defense on the basis
of what we spent in the Reagan years, or as a percentage of GDP
or the federal budget, is illogical. We disarmed after World War
I and II. Our adversaries did not. That was the problem. Since
the Cold War, the rest of the world has disarmed while we have
not. Would the U.S. be any less secure if President Clinton had
spent $100 billion less on defense in his first administration
or spent $200 billion less in his second? I think not. But the
country would be a lot better off.
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