Last week President Obama took another opportunity to discuss his budget plans with the American people. As part of selling his $3.2 billion dollar budget, he has set his sights on defense acquisition reform and the time-honored tradition of promising greater cost savings by rooting out the fraud, waste, and abuse within the system.
While reforming the acquisition system is a noble task, buried within the President’s language is the subtle message that he sees acquisition reform not just as an effort towards reforming the acquisition process, but also as a way to cut weapons systems his administration deems to be either unnecessary or unaffordable. In his remarks, the targeted programs that don’t provide “our troops with the kinds of tools that they need to succeed on their missions.” The misplaced yet growing conventional wisdom around Washington is that because the future of conflict will mirror our present irregular engagements, there is less of a need to invest in expensive conventional military platforms that the military will likely not “need to succeed on their missions.”
Coming up with what appears to be an arbitrary cost-savings figure of $40 billion, therefore, will mean targeting conventional “Cold War” platforms, possibly to include the F-22A Raptor, DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer, long-range bomber, and the number of aircraft carriers in America’s fleet.
The reality is that the future is highly unpredictable, and organizing for that future based on present threats is an inadequate approach to defense planning. Luckily, concern is mounting on Capitol Hill. This week, Senator Thune (R-SD) sent a bipartisan letter to President Obama in support of the Next Generation Bomber program. Similar letters in support of the KC-X tanker program and the DDG-1000 destroyer have also been sent in recent weeks. And just last week Senator Cornyn (R-TX) penned a letter to Secretary Gates expressing his concern that the Obama defense budget “appears to be insufficient to guarantee U.S. national security in the coming years.” Congress must resist he President’s attempts, and ensure that the defense budget is at a level that can sustain a fighting force prepared to meet the full spectrum of possible missions it may be called on to undertake.