During last week’s debate, President Obama made an intriguing statement while explaining his deficit hawk credentials. In referencing the programs he cut, he mentioned “aircrafts that the Air Force had ordered but weren’t working very well.” This is a rather vague reference, leaving up for speculation just what aircraft he had in mind.
A quick rundown of some of the aircraft programs terminated in the last four years: the F-22A Raptor stealth fighter, the Combat Search and Rescue helicopter, the C-17 transport aircraft, the C-27J Spartan transport aircraft, and the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft. All programs eliminated under President Obama, none of them due to performance issues.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has not been left unscathed, either. After singing the praises of the JSF and affirming that “this supportable, state-of-the-art aircraft commands and maintains global air superiority,” the President’s fiscal year 2013 budget request then cuts 13 aircraft for that year and 179 aircraft between 2013 and 2017.
The termination of so many aircraft programs indicates the Administration’s wider approach to the defense budget. The President goes on to say:
I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of our discretionary domestic budget. That’s the largest cut in the discretionary domestic budget since Dwight Eisenhower.
Obama’s reference to Eisenhower implies that defense spending is becoming problematic and that in addressing the issue he is being fiscally responsible while at the same time mindful of national security needs. As Baker Spring of The Heritage Foundation wrote:
He is not a national security hawk precisely because he intends to impose the low defense spending caps. He is not a deficit hawk because he plans to use the savings from the defense cuts to increase spending on domestic programs.
Air Force chief of staff General Norton Schwartz referred to the defense cuts when talking about the tough choice he made to eliminate the C-27 transport aircraft. He had an agreement with the Army chief of staff to keep the program in the Air Force, “but that was $487 billion ago.”
These cuts come before accounting for sequestration. Designed to force Congress to compromise on a reduction in discretionary spending, sequestration stipulates $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts. Defense programs absorb nearly half this amount.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said of sequestration, “It was designed as a meat ax. … It would be a disaster.”
Since the President has already stated that he will exempt personnel accounts, sequestration will fall heavier on research and development, procurement, and operations and maintenance budgets. Which programs will future Pentagon officials refer to while explaining “that was $1 trillion ago”?
Adam Yosef is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.