In a recent and rather disturbing Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Secretary of the Navy and 9/11 Commission member, John Lehman, revealed a number of disheartening realities about the present state of America’s military preparedness – points that certainly made me sit up and take notice.
At a time when America’s already overly short attention span is largely being expended on domestic issues, Mr. Lehman argues compellingly that the world’s most powerful and astronomically expensive military (take a look at the chart below…) is increasingly beginning to resemble those long neglected bridges, schools and power plants I’ve written about on this site numerous times before. And even if Americans haven’t yet taken notice, our adversaries and allies most certainly have. Consider the following:
- “Although current U.S. spending on defense adjusted for inflation has been higher than at the height of the Reagan administration, it has been producing less than half of the forces and capabilities of those years. Instead of a 600-ship Navy, we now have a 280-ship Navy, although the world’s seas have not shrunk and our global dependence has grown.”
- “Instead of Reagan’s 20-division Army, we have only 10-division equivalents.”
- “The Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers it had 30 years ago.”
- “While today’s LCSs—the littoral-class ships that operate close to shore—have their uses, they are far less capable than the Perry-class frigates that they replace.”
- “Air Force fighter planes today average 28 years old. Although they have been upgraded to keep pace with the latest aircraft of their potential adversaries, they have no greater relative advantage than they had when they were new. There are merely far fewer of them in relation to the potential threat. In deterrence, quantity has a quality all its own.”
- “While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled.”
- “Today the average time for all weapons procured under Defense Department acquisition regulations is 22 years.”
- “The latest Government Accountability Office report, released in October, estimates that there is $411 billion of unfunded cost growth in current Pentagon programs, almost as much as the entire 10 years of sequester cuts if they continue.”
Mr. Lehman lays out a number of plausible solutions that could be implemented to stem this decline and substantially reduce wasteful and non-essential spending. Obviously, I certainly hope that his vision (or at least something like it) receives the attention and action it most assuredly deserves. What I fear, however, is that the same corrosive politics that have virtually paralyzed our nation at home may do yet more damage to our military until some unimaginable calamity shocks us back into sanity. And again, this is NOT about spending. After all, we also spend far more on education and health care than ALL other industrialized nations but still end up with worse outcomes.
For all of us – and especially those brave men and women serving overseas during this Christmas season – let’s pray that I’m totally wrong.
Mr. Lehman believes in the possibility of a “Republican victory in the 2016 elections based on a Reagan-like rebuilding mandate that can actually be carried out by a newly streamlined and more agile Defense Department.”
My questions: Who is that “Reagan” and why isn’t he/she already casting a spotlight on this overwhelmingly significant crisis?