Hopefully, by the time you read this, a new administration will
be taking shape.While the campaign elicited some discussion on defense
issues, unfortunately, it tended to be of “sound bite”
Accordingly, there are still many unanswered questions for the
new leadership of the country to address, not just the administration,
but Congress as well. One of the most basic questions is whether
our new president truly will lead the country in national security
matters. Will he acknowledge the serious problems facing our military,
and then, will he work to educate the electorate about these problems
and their needed fixes?
Unfortunately, those fixes require money: real money, not just
campaign-promised money. The opinion polls during the presidential
campaign indicated our citizens probably have all the defense for
which they are willing to pay, at the present time. The president’s
challenge, if he chooses to accept it, is to convince the public
and Congress that defense has languished long enough.
The tragedy on the USS Cole took away 17 young lives, but it also
should provide a wake-up call to our country. The reality is that
the world is still a dangerous place—no less so for Americans.
Given that reality, we may have reduced our forces too much after
the end of the Cold War.
Consider the situation facing our new president: defense spending
declined for 15 consecutive years, until fiscal year 2001. Our military
is 40 percent smaller than a decade ago. The Army is down from 18
divisions to 10; the Air Force from 22 tactical squadrons to 12;
and the Navy from 534 ships to 313.
On the equipment side, we continue to live on the technologies
of the 1960s and 1970s, that were procured in 1980s and have been
in use by our military ever since. Our equipment is aging, both
as a result of time and overuse. While our military is 40 percent
smaller, we are deploying forces two to three times as often. There
were 20 deployments in the 1980s, versus more than 50 deployments
in the 1990s. Some describe our equipment situation as a “death
spiral,” where the increased maintenance requirements from
aging equipment continues to grow, and the money to pay for maintenance
is taken out of new equipment budgets. The end result is that less
equipment is purchased, causing the existing equipment to age that
In constant dollars, while defense expenditures are down by 27
percent since 1990, new equipment spending is down by nearly 70
One of the campaign issues centered around the question: Do we
have the strongest, best trained, best equipped military in the
world? Perhaps. But that will not continue to be the case, unless
we act now to correct the downtrend. Fortunately, we are the global
power—but with that position come global responsibilities,
and a de facto designation as the world’s “911”
crisis response line. As such, we often are required to “come
as we are,” in response to ethnic warfare, genocide, collapse
of governments, natural disasters, as well as international terrorism,
not to mention being prepared for the Saddam Husseins of the world,
with their tank-heavy armies.
Regardless of individual opinions on whether we are the strongest,
best trained, best equipped, best prepared military force, there
are too many current indicators that we have serious problems and
that we must not be complacent. Consider the recruiting problems
that continue to challenge us; we also continue to have difficulties
retaining skilled personnel—from mechanics to pilots to junior
leaders. Readiness problems grow, with the most recent being a Navy
Inspector General report indicating spare parts shortages, with
serious consequences for the readiness of naval aviation. Next year,
our combat aircraft will reach an average age of 20 years, and combat
vehicles already are nearing 30 years of age. So the problems of
aging equipment are not exclusive to any single service.
We ignore these problem indicators only at serious risk to our
national security. Now is the time to acknowledge them, identify
the problems and do what we can to fix them.
One of the “facts” bandied about during the campaign
was that we spend more on defense than our 22 leading adversaries.
But that does not seem to be the right question. The right question
should be: Are we secure? Are we ready? Have we properly equipped
and trained our military so we can look in the eyes of the families
of those young Americans we ask to go in harm’s way in the
name of our country and say “we gave them everything they
needed.” And with that, I can only say: over to you, Mr. President
and Mr. Congressman.