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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In the spring of 2016, a bipartisan group of prominent national security figures called on U.S. policymakers to address the unsustainable and rapidly increasing national debt.
These national security experts said in a statement: “As individuals who have served the nation in both international and domestic leadership roles, we continue to believe that our long-term debt is the single greatest threat to our national security.”
The bipartisan group called itself the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, chaired by retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The coalition included former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, and former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft.
Unfortunately, 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump never mentioned how they would tackle the national debt or the security threat it represents. With the national debt hovering around $20 trillion, now is the time to act and reduce our national debt by reforming the Pentagon’s spending.
Prior Presidents Have Failed at Pentagon Reform
Throughout American history, presidents from both parties have spoken of reforming the Pentagon. But that history is littered with failed attempts at change. Each administration gets tangled in the bureaucratic maze of politics because every defense program has an entrenched political constituency.
In the final days of his administration, President Eisenhower gave his famous farewell address. He urged the nation to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Unfortunately, the U.S. has failed to heed his wise counsel.
Among the deletions from Eisenhower’s iconic address was the original term “military-congressional-industrial complex.” At the time, elected officials deemed that combination to be too inflammatory.
Eisenhower was speaking of military leaders who always seek the latest weapons program without contemplating future strategic threats to the United States. He was also referring to political leaders who use the Pentagon as a job creation program for their states or districts.
Pentagon Has Had Numerous Defense Weapons Fail
Since 1991, we have seen an exhaustive list of weapons failures. An article written by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis in Armed Forces Journal, titled “Purge the Generals,” focuses on this point.
A short, and by no means exhaustive, list of Pentagon failures includes:
- The RAH-66 Comanche armed reconnaissance helicopter (launched in 1991 and canceled after $6.9 billion spent)
- The XM2001 Crusader mobile cannon (launched in 1995 and canceled after $7 billion spent)
- The Future Combat Systems (launched in 2003 and canceled after $20 billion spent)
This problem of weapons failures is not only systemic to the Army. All branches of the armed forces face this problem of expenditures without tangible results.
In 2011, the Defense Department cancelled the Marine Corps’ expeditionary fighting vehicle after the Pentagon spent $3 billion. The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, which was designed to protect coastal regions, had a slew of cost overruns.
The intention was to build 30 ships at a cost of $200 million each. So far, only about four have been built and the price tag is approaching $1 billion each.
The first of the four ships, USS Freedom, developed a crack in its hull during sea trials. Now, there are concerns about its sustainability in combat.
To understand how the Department of Defense procurement and acquisition system is broken, just look the enormous cost overruns for the Joint Strike Fighter, commonly known as the F-35.
Each variant of the aircraft to be used by the Marine Corps, Navy and the Air Force has enormous costs associated with the aircraft: $148 million each for the Air Force, $337 million each for the Navy and $251 million each for the Marine Corps. Those costs, however, keep on rising.
Congress Also Culpable for Pentagon Waste
You can’t blame just the Pentagon for the bloated defense budget. Lawmakers are equally culpable.
For example, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno informed Congress in 2013 that the Army didn’t need any additional M-1 Abrams tanks. Nevertheless, lawmakers appropriated $436 million for the construction and maintenance of Abrams tanks, money which Odierno said could be used for other more pressing projects.
Unfortunately for the Army, the only place that builds and produces the tank is the Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio. The facility has strong backing from Ohio lawmakers, including Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Senator Rob Portman, as well as from Republican Representative Jim Jordan.
No one wants to be associated with closing this plant in a crucial swing state or eliminating almost 16,000 jobs spread across 882 suppliers, according to Kendell Pease, the company that makes the Abrams tank.
A report by the Government Accountability Office in 2014 said the Department of Defense obligated about $187 billion for defense contractors. That was more than half its total obligations on contracted services in fiscal year 2012.
DoD Unaware of How Many Contractors It Hires
Unfortunately, the DoD doesn’t know how many private contractors the department employs. It aslo has an inconsistent, if not arbitrary, method of determining their cost.
Unfortunately, this waste of money is not confined to the Department of Defense. It is replicated across the federal government.
Former President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Congress that it would be foolhardy to think the nation’s debt could be reduced on the back of the Pentagon without looking at the rest of the federal budget, especially entitlement spending.
Reforming the “military industrial complex” and the rest of the federal government cannot wait any longer. American national security depends on efficiency and wise spending.