Sunday, May 03, 2009

Military Pork

Defense Secretary Gates has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to the military budget. He has made it clear that the days of unlimited funding for untested and unnecessary weapons are over. Given the huge chunk of the national budget given over to military spending, that is a remarkable and welcome change.

Sean E. Duggan, a research associate at the Center for American Progress, noted that change in an op-ed piece published in the Boston Globe. He also pointed out that unfortunately the Defense Secretary doesn't have the last word in the matter.

Gates's budget proposal, the most significant overhaul of the Pentagon's spending priorities since the end of the Cold War, is an opportunity to more adequately match capabilities to necessity. Among other needed moves, Gates's plan would eliminate vehicles for the Army's Future Combat Systems because they are highly vulnerable to the kinds of improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, Gates's proposal would stop the purchase of a new presidential helicopter, reorient the Navy's ship building priorities, and cancel unproven missile defense systems.

One of the other programs that Gates would close down in production of the F22 Raptor, a fighter plane that was initially designed to counter a Soviet fighter, one that was never built. As Duggan points out, the F22 is useless in the wars we are fighting now and has not been used in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet, added to the supplemental request President Obama submitted to Congress recently, funding for four additional F22s was included. Why did that happen?

In fact, the supplemental request submitted to Congress last month already includes funding for one such unneeded program: four additional F-22 Raptors. In a letter to President Obama, the entire Connecticut delegation urged the continuation of the F-22 program in order to "meet critical national security needs." ... [Emphasis added]

Even though Secretary Gates has gotten the message through to several key military officials (including Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz) that the F22 is a dead program, he hasn't successfully gotten that message through to Connecticut's congressional contingent. The F22 program has deep connections to that state and, to be honest, provides jobs for its citizens. It's pretty hard to fault the Connecticut delegation for fighting to preserve jobs, but in this case, it's time to stop the pork.

The only way to do that, Duggan asserts, is to stop framing the discussion in terms of national security and to start treating the issue for what it actually is.

It is time for more military leaders to do the same. If nothing else, the refusal to endorse the continuation of unneeded weapons programs by the leadership of the military services would force lawmakers to admit what the inclusion of that platform in a supplemental bill is really all about: a jobs program. If that ends up being the case, let's debate it on those terms.

The F22 and other programs like it were designed in response to the Cold War and assumed a traditional battlefield. The Cold War is over, and it is doubtful that we will ever return to traditional warfare. Defense Secretary Gates knows this, and gradually the Pentagon officials under him are beginning to get it. Wasting money on such programs simply is not an effective use of taxpayers' money, even if it does provide jobs.

It's time to move on. It's time to create jobs for this century, jobs that involve building the carriages for public transportation, or building the windmills and transmission systems for renewable energy. At the start of World War II, the automakers shifted from building automobiles to building tanks in a matter of months. There is no reason that such a shift could not be implemented now without dislocating our struggling economy further. All it takes is a little honesty and the will to make it happen.

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