Reliable Security Information

Alternatives for Defense Spending

On April 6, 2009 Secretary Robert Gates announced a swath of cuts to defense procurement programs. According to an article in the Financial Times titled Gates takes axe to top weapons projects in US, "Robert Gates, US defence secretary, yesterday unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon's weapons priorities, taking the axe to some of the most high-profile equipment programmes as part of his spending proposals for 2010."

Gates argued in his prepared statement that these reductions were strategy based, "almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books or fit under the 'top line[.]" Gates announcement, however, preceded the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a mandatory Congressional review of the military's long-term needs which usually precedes major shifts in military procurement.

Additionally, Gates' announcement did not include any significant statement of strategic intent or any analysis to justify the decision. The only consistent factor in the cuts appears to be high-cost projects (such as Future Combat Systems); programs experiencing significant cost overruns ( like the VH-71, the presidential helicopter program); or politically controversial initiatives (such as missile defense).

Furthermore, it seems clear that the secretary is leading an effort to reduce defending spending. While the administration has claimed that overall they have increased defense spending, accounting for inflation; raising manpower costs; and shifting "supplemental" war costs into the baseline defense budget may actually decrease the real buying power of the baseline defense budget by 7 percent less than FY 2009.

Gates' proposals have already come under criticism. As alternatives to the Gates' recommendations are discussed and debated, research by defense analysts at The Heritage Foundation could provide insights into understanding and evaluating the issue. Quadrennial Defense Review: Building Blocks for National Defense by Baker Spring and Mackenzie Eaglen argues that Congress should base its assessment of any proposed changes on the QDR and "should ensure that the new assessment goes back to the basics, as originally intended, to achieve sound national security planning with significant buy-in from Capitol Hill." They offer a number of recommendations. On overall funding for defense acquisition in particular, Spring and Eaglen conclude:

Future funding should not be based on a series of high-stakes bets. The military does not have the luxury of focusing solely on conventional and state actors at the expense of unconventional and non-state threats. The U.S. military needs to have not only the most capable equipment, but also a sufficient number of weapons systems and suppliers to meet national security requirements.
Avoiding budget spikes provides more than platforms; it provides stability in defense planning and offers a steadier workload for those constructing them. When budget requests change so dramatically year to year--particularly when requirements stay the same--the industrial base cannot plan ahead, and this increases the cost of individual systems. The national security of the U.S. is best served by a competitive industrial base, and defense budget predictability will contribute to this effort.

Also of note is The Heritage Backgrounder, "Providing for the Common Defense: What 10 Years of Progress Would Look Like." I this research paper, the foundation's defense analysts outline an overall strategy for sustaining defense compatibilities over the long term.

Comments (1)

Robert Pipes:

Does anyone know what impact these cuts will have on General Dynamics?

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