It seems every time you pick up a newspaper, the headline proclaims another military program cancelled. First, it was the F-22. Then it was missile defense. The list goes on and on. The reason given seems always the same too…“We don’t need that.” This mantra gets repeated so often, one suspects one of two truisms must be at the root of it. Perhaps, everyone in the Pentagon before Obama showed up was an idiot and didn’t know what was really needed—or, all these cuts are a budget driven exercise, gutting the military modernization program (the White House’s chief strategy for tamping down defense spending).
The latest victim is the most advanced robotics program ever attempted by the Army. “Remember that unmanned, pack-mule vehicle the Army was building to carry rucksacks, water, ammo and other heavy gear for combat troops?” asks a recent article in the Army Times, “Forget about seeing it on a battlefield near you. The Multifunction Utility Logistics Equipment vehicle, known as the MULE, was among the unmanned toys that survived from the now-defunct Future Combat Systems program.” No longer. “The Army killed the MULE-Transport and MULE-Countermine vehicles in December because the two concepts were no longer needed in the new Brigade Combat Team Modernization structure, said Paul Mehney, spokesman for Program Executive Office Integration.”
Developing robotics is, in fact, one of the great competitive capabilities that the Pentagon should be funding, not cutting according to a Heritage research paper, “Robotics and the Next Steps for National Security” by Jena Baker McNeill and Ethel Machi. When it comes to robotics technology, the future is here. Robots across the world now traverse hazardous terrain, carry out surveillance missions, and perform remote surgery. They are becoming ever more sophisticated and autonomous. Robots easily and safely perform tasks that would otherwise endanger human lives, and do so faster and more efficiently than is possible with conventional methods. Robots are used by private industries and by the federal government. Robots play a vital role in maintaining the competitive edge in national security.
Every time another cutting-edge capability is cast aside, raises the question again. Why are we cutting funds to rebuild the military? When these capabilities are needed Congress and the American people will curse the Pentagon and spend what ever takes to get our men and women the equipment they need to protect us and come home safe. But by then our soldiers will already be in harm’s way. The mission will be in jeopardy and our sons and daughters on the battlefield and at risk.
What the military needs today is not “sunshine patriots” but a Congress and an administration willing to meets its obligations to “provide for the common defense,” without cutting corners when its convenient.