2012 Defense Budget Marks a Shift to Conventional Weaponry
It was only three years ago that Defense Secretary Robert Gateswarned that the Pentagon’s weapons acquisition establishment was infected with “next war-itis.” Instead of buying technologies for today’s wars, the services were obsessed with futuristic weapons that may never be needed, Gates complained. His comments sent generals, admirals and contractors scrambling for ways to show that their cherished programs were not suffering from the dreaded disease.
Circumstances have changed since, and the Pentagon appears to be ready — despite tightening budgets — to start turning more attention to big-ticket weapons that would be needed for high-tech warfare. Of particular concern is the ability to stay ahead of the new weaponry that is now being developed by China, Iran and even non-state groups, analysts said.
The defense budget proposal that the Obama administration will send to Congress next week shows signs that the Pentagon is concerned about asserting its dominance in aerial and naval warfare, vis-à-vis a rising China and saber rattling by Iran, saidJim Thomas, vice president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
The 2012-2018 budget is expected to begin a gradual slowdown in the growth of defense spending, which has doubled since 2001. After 2015, the budget will flatten out, Thomas said Feb. 10. But even with a constrained budget, Gates already has let it be known that he intends to support increased funding for a long-range bomber, naval surface warships, submarines, intelligence collection and electronic warfare systems, all of which would be designed to operate in a “non-permissive environment.” That is Pentagon-speak for fighting in areas where U.S. jets and ships would be vulnerable to enemy missiles or aircraft.
As the Pentagon plans for the future, Thomas said, “We’re looking at less permissive environments than we’ve had in the last 20 years.” In the wars of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, by contrast, U.S. aircraft have flown with impunity, he said.
Most recently, steps by theChinese military, by Iran’s regime and even by non-state actors such as Hezbollah to expand their arsenals are having an impact on Pentagon’s budget planning, Thomas said. “The theme you begin to see is that we’re going to start to divest systems and programs that were designed for relatively benign operating environments,” he said. “We’re probably going to be investing far more heavily in systems that perform better in non-permissive environments.”
Evidence of the changing emphasis is the decision to cancel the Marine Corps’Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, saidTodd Harrison, senior fellow for budget studies at CSBA. In the context of dealing with future threats, the EFV “is not a good program,” Harrison said. “It wouldn’t work well in a contested environment.” The EFV is a personnel carrier that deploys from a ship and swims to the beach. In the water, it would be vulnerable to shore-based missiles. On the ground, it would be susceptible to buried explosives.
The current thinking is that money would be better spent on technologies that can help U.S. weaponry stand up to these advanced threats, Harrison said. “And the budget is starting to reflect that.”