Apr 06 2009

The Obama Defense Budget Makes A Lot Of Sense – Updated

Published by at 4:10 pm under All General Discussions

The outline of the new DoD budget priorities by the Obama administration is very, very good. The knee-jerk far right will find some marginal issues to moan about – because every large federal plan has marginal issues someone will moan about. But the fact is there is a lot of good stuff in this plan. First in taking care of the troops and funding their needs consistently:

With regard to the troops and their families, I will recommend that we:
      1. Fully protect and properly fund the growth in military end strength in the base budget.  This means completing the growth in the Army and Marines while halting reductions in the Air Force and the Navy. Accomplishing this will require a nearly $11 billion increase above the FY09 budget level.
      2. Continue the steady growth in medical research and development by requesting $400 million more than last year.
      3. Recognize the critical and permanent nature of wounded, ill and injured, traumatic brain injury, and psychological health programs. This means institutionalizing and properly funding these efforts in the base budget and increasing overall spending by $300 million. The department will spend over $47 billion on healthcare in FY10.
      4. Increase funding by $200 million for improvements in child care, spousal support, lodging, and education.  Many of these programs have been funded in the past by supplementals. We must move away from ad hoc funding of long-term commitments. Thus, we have added money to each of these areas and all will be permanently and properly carried in the base defense budget.  Together they represent an increase in base budget funding of $13 billion from last year.

No arguments there. In this fiscally tight environment any and all increases are welcomed. Some will complain more could be done, but they should note that most liberals would be carving up the DoD to spend on useless ‘feel good’ programs.

And the investments in new war fighting systems and tools makes sense as well:

1. First, we will increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support for the warfighter in the base budget by some $2 billion. This will include:
      • Fielding and sustaining 50 Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY11 and maximizing their production. This capability, which has been in such high demand in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be permanently funded in the base budget. It will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from over a year ago. 
      • Increasing manned ISR capabilities such as the turbo-prop aircraft deployed so successfully as part of “Task Force Odin” in Iraq. 
      • Initiating research and development on a number of ISR enhancements and experimental platforms optimized for today’s battlefield.
      2. We will also spend $500 million more in the base budget than last year to increase our capacity to field and sustain more helicopters – a capability that is in urgent demand in Afghanistan. Today, the primary limitation on helicopter capacity is not airframes but shortages of maintenance crews and pilots. So our focus will be on recruiting and training more Army helicopter crews.
      3. To boost global partnership capacity efforts, we will increase funding by $500 million. These initiatives include training and equipping foreign militaries to undertake counter terrorism and stability operations.
      4. To grow our special operations capabilities, we will increase personnel by more than 2,800 or five percent and will buy more special forces-optimized lift, mobility, and refueling aircraft. 
      We will increase the buy of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) – a key capability for presence, stability, and counterinsurgency operations in coastal regions – from two to three ships in FY 2010. Our goal is to eventually acquire 55 of these ships.
      5. To improve our inter-theater lift capacity, we will increase the charter of Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) ships from two to four until our own production program begins deliveries in 2011.
      6. We will stop the growth of Army Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) at 45 versus 48 while maintaining the planned increase in end strength of 547,000. This will ensure that we have better-manned units ready to deploy, and help put an end to the routine use of stop loss. This step will also lower the risk of hollowing the force.

For those hoping Obama would ‘fail’ as president, I offer these sound proposals as evidence of what could have gone wrong with such hopes – our military could have been crippled, our fighting men and women left high and dry. Clearly, this is not happening with this plan in place.

This year’s budget deliberations focused on what programs are necessary to deter aggression, project power when necessary, and protect our interests and allies around the globe. To this end, I will recommend new or additional investments and shifts in several key areas:
      1. To sustain U.S. air superiority, I am committed to building a fifth generation tactical fighter capability that can be produced in quantity at sustainable cost. Therefore, I will recommend increasing the buy of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from the 14 aircraft bought in FY09 to 30 in FY10, with corresponding funding increases from $6.8 billion to $11.2 billion. We would plan to buy 513 F-35s over the five-year defense plan, and, ultimately, plan to buy 2,443. For naval aviation, we will buy 31 FA-18s in FY10. 
      2. We will retire 250 of the oldest Air Force tactical fighter aircraft in FY10. 
      3. We will end production of the F-22 fighter at 187 – representing 183 planes plus four recommended for inclusion in the FY 2009 supplemental. 
      4. To better protect our forces and those of our allies in theater from ballistic missile attack, we will add $700 million to field more of our most capable theater missile defense systems, specifically the terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) System and Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) programs. 
      5. We will also add $200 million to fund conversion of six additional Aegis ships to provide ballistic missile defense capabilities. 
      6. To improve cyberspace capabilities, we will increase the number of cyber experts this department can train from 80 students per year to 250 per year by FY11. 
      7. To replace the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet, we will maintain the KC-X aerial re-fueling tanker schedule and funding, with the intent to solicit bids this summer. 
      8. With regard to our nuclear and strategic forces: 
      • In FY10, we will begin the replacement program for the Ohio class ballistic missile submarine program. 
      • We will not pursue a development program for a follow-on Air Force bomber until we have a better understanding of the need, the requirement, and the technology. 
      • We will examine all of our strategic requirements during the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Nuclear Posture Review, and in light of Post-START arms control negotiations.
      9. The healthy margin of dominance at sea provided by America’s existing battle fleet makes it possible and prudent to slow production of several major surface combatants and other maritime programs.
      • We will shift the Navy Aircraft Carrier program to a five-year build cycle placing it on a more fiscally sustainable path. This will result in 10 carriers after 2040.
      • We will delay the Navy CG-X next generation cruiser program to revisit both the requirements and acquisition strategy.
      • We will delay amphibious ship and sea-basing programs such as the 11th Landing Platform Dock (LPD) ship and the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) SHIP to FY11 in order to assess costs and analyze the amount of these capabilities the nation needs.
      10. With regard to air lift, we will complete production of the C-17 airlifter program this fiscal year. Our analysis concludes that we have enough C-17s with the 205 already in the force and currently in production.
      In today’s environment, maintaining our technological and conventional edge requires a dramatic change in the way we acquire military equipment. I believe this needed reform requires three fundamental steps. 

Could more be spent? Yeah, with unlimited money we don’t have. And of course there have to be takeaways:

  First, this department must consistently demonstrate the commitment and leadership to stop programs that significantly exceed their budget or which spend limited tax dollars to buy more capability than the nation needs. Our conventional modernization goals should be tied to the actual and prospective capabilities of known future adversaries – not by what might be technologically feasible for a potential adversary given unlimited time and resources. I believe the decisions I am proposing accomplish this step. 
      Second, we must ensure that requirements are reasonable and technology is adequately mature to allow the department to successfully execute the programs. Again, my decisions act on this principle by terminating a number of programs where the requirements were truly in the “exquisite” category and the technologies required were not reasonably available to affordably meet the programs’ cost or schedule goals. 
      Third, realistically estimate program costs, provide budget stability for the programs we initiate, adequately staff the government acquisition team, and provide disciplined and constant oversight. 

The last item is a big one I see everyday. The government needs a minimal ‘bureaucracy’ to manage the money being spent and make sure it is not wasted. Too many on the right want to spend money without sufficient oversight – which leads to waste and corruption. The government needs competent technical staff to challenge and review the private sector gurus.

This is one area where smaller is not always better. There is a problem with too many voices at the table (the whole ‘consensus’ insanity, where we drive down to the lowest level of comprehension to get all the heads nodding in the same way). What we need is less dead wood and more real leaders. 

However it is done, we need to let go of nice sounding ideas that have gone wrong:

   First, I recommend that we terminate the VH-71 presidential helicopter:
      • This program was originally designed to provide 23 helicopters to support the president at a cost of $6.5 billion. Today, the program is estimated to cost over $13 billion, has fallen six years behind schedule, and runs the risk of not delivering the requested capability.

Second, we will terminate the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue X (CSAR-X) helicopter program. This program has a troubled acquisition history and raises the fundamental question of whether this important mission can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution with single-purpose aircraft. We will take a fresh look at the requirement behind this program and develop a more sustainable approach.
      Third, we will terminate the $26 billion Transformational Satellite (TSAT) program, and instead will purchase two more Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites as alternatives.
      Fourth, in the area of missile defense:
      • We will restructure the program to focus on the rogue state and theater missile threat.
      • We will not increase the number of current ground-based interceptors in Alaska as had been planned. But we will continue to robustly fund continued research and development to improve the capability we already have to defend against long-range rogue missile threats – a threat North Korea’s missile launch this past weekend reminds us is real.
      • We will cancel the second airborne laser (ABL) prototype aircraft. We will keep the existing aircraft and shift the program to an R&D effort. The ABL program has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable. 
      • We will terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program because of its significant technical challenges and the need to take a fresh look at the requirement.
      • Overall, the Missile Defense Agency program will be reduced by $1.4 billion.

I have no issue with most of these since they are targeted to stop a massive missile launch out of Russia or China. MAD still applies and does more to hold off Armageddon than expensive myth of an impenetrable shield from all scenarios. We need to stop the likes of Iran and North Korea who can launch only a few missiles over a long period of time. These super exotic weapons are overkill for the current threat.

Fifth, in this request, we will include funds to complete the buy of two navy destroyers in FY10. These plans depend on being able to work out contracts to allow the Navy to efficiently build all three DDG-1000 class ships at Bath Iron Works in Maine and to smoothly restart the DDG-51 Aegis Destroyer program at Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. Even if these arrangements work out, the DDG-1000 program would end with the third ship and the DDG-51 would continue to be built in both yards. 
      If our efforts with industry are unsuccessful, the department will likely build only a single prototype DDG-1000 at Bath and then review our options for restarting production of the DDG-51. If the department is left to pursue this alternative, it would unfortunately reduce our overall procurement of ships and cut workload in both shipyards. 

Again, we do not face any serious threats to our navy and we can easily destroy any and all takers right now. Newer destroyers are going to be needed, but the fact is we have been winning wars without them with incredible ease. We can tighten our belts a bit here – for now.

Sixth, and finally, we will significantly restructure the Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. We will retain and accelerate the initial increment of the program to spin out technology enhancements to all combat brigades. However, I have concluded that there are significant unanswered questions concerning the FCS vehicle design strategy. I am also concerned that, despite some adjustments, the FCS vehicles – where lower weight, higher fuel efficiency, and greater informational awareness are expected to compensate for less armor – do not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current vehicle program, developed nine years ago, does not include a role for our recent $25 billion investment in the MRAP vehicles being used to good effect in today’s conflicts. 

As with any large umbrella like the FCS, there are good ideas and not so good ideas. I cannot think of a single serious person who thinks fuel efficiency (and the loss of protection that brings the riders) should be a priority. We learned in Iraq the hard way we needed armored HumVees, not fuel efficient ones. This too is a smart move by the DoD.

Further, I am troubled by the terms of the current contract, particularly its very unattractive fee structure that gives the government little leverage to promote cost efficiency. Because the vehicle part of the FCS program is currently estimated to cost over $87 billion, I believe we must have more confidence in the program strategy, requirements, and maturity of the technologies before proceeding further. 
      Accordingly, I will recommend that we cancel the vehicle component of the current FCS program, re-evaluate the requirements, technology, and approach – and then re-launch the Army’s vehicle modernization program, including a competitive bidding process. An Army vehicle modernization program designed to meet the needs of the full spectrum of conflict is essential. But because of its size and importance, we must get the acquisition right, even at the cost of delay.

Good idea. If it is off track stop it, fix it and restart it. Spend our tax dollars wisely, and focus on protecting our forces, not some whacked out Green thing.

  A final recommendation that will have a significant impact on how defense organizations are staffed and operated. Under this budget request, we will reduce the number of support service contractors from our current 39 percent of the workforce to the pre-2001 level of 26 percent and replace them with full-time government employees. Our goal is to hire as many as 13,000 new civil servants in FY10 to replace contractors and up to 30,000 new civil servants in place of contractors over the next five years. 

This is not as bad as some hysterics will make it seem. There needs to be a good balance, and these jobs are non-political. They are engineers, scientists, technologists, accountants, contract specialists, human resources, trainers, etc. They will be a bit more expensive than their private sector counterparts in some respects, but not enough to ring the alarm bells over.

All in all a well thought out an (dare I say  it) centrist approach that doesn’t scavenge the military at all, but puts its war fighter as top priority.

Addendum: So, what about the F-22 Raptor, the most incredible fighter jet every conceived? Well, I understand the plan is to build just under 200 hundred of them and stop. Actually, given its incredible superiority over any and all other fighters this seems to be a decent plan. I would make sure the production capability stays up by storing a a major of the factory line and running a few planes a year through the remainder to keep evolving and fixing problems and keeping proficiency up. They could replace aging older jets as they are retired.

There are lots of ways to be prepared to begin massive production at sometime in the future. But we don’t need a lot of these right now today. Our edge is really that big.


26 responses so far

26 Responses to “The Obama Defense Budget Makes A Lot Of Sense – Updated”

  1. Terrye says:


    Oh please. “They” are the Chinese. The fact that they can not stand up to us did not stop them from developing this weapon in the first place. Obviously, they will not survive. The Soviet Union would not have survived either, but they still made plans to destroy the US anyway.

  2. Terrye says:

    And Sarah Palin is not some wingnut either. If she is concerned about these cuts then so am I.

  3. AJ, it takes five to seven years to build an aircraft carrier.

    Burke-class destroyers take three years to build.

    The amphibious vessels Marines use take 3-5 years to build depending on the class.

    If we’re caught short-handed in this regard, it’s not a matter of just snapping our fingers and ordering some more. It will take eight to ten years, if not more.

  4. AJStrata says:

    Harold, I was only talking the F-22. We have a lot of Navy right now. If we start losing carrier groups we pull out the big guns.

    Militarily we cannot lose.

  5. Terrye says:

    We just might start losing if we make enough cuts.

  6. AJStrata says:


    Of course – but that is a hypothetical that doesn’t fit the policies proposed.