One of the things that concerns me with all of the talk about huge budget cuts to defense is the distinct possibility that such cuts will take away the edge our military now has and has enjoyed for decades.
That edge, or advantage, is something that has helped make our military successful in every sort of combat imaginable. But developing and maintaining that edge are both time consuming and expensive. Research, development, testing, field and support don’t come cheap.
Yet that seems to be what is being demanded in an increasingly technologically advanced and dangerous world. The edge we’ve developed technologically over the years is what makes our military so exponentially lethal. We’ve provided combat multipliers to our warriors and they’ve used them expertly.
But to maintain such an edge, we must also be willing to spend the money necessary to do so.
There are numerous examples of cuts being considered that are dangerous. They will not only make our military much less capable, but also threaten our national security. Not only that, the cuts could end up actually costing us more than they save by sticking the military with outdated equipment that requires more maintenance, has more down time and will need continued parts and support.
A few examples would be the Joint Tactical Radio System, the V-22 Osprey, and the F-35. In all cases, “Plan B” is to continue to use what we have. But the entire point of the development of these systems was to fix a problem faced by troops in the field. In the case of the Joint Tactical Radio System, it was conceived to “replace dozens of incompatible communications systems in the field today with a single, secure network.”
The necessity to be able to net with other radio systems is critical in today’s joint combat environment. War fighters at all levels must be able to talk to other services and interact with the assets they provide on the battlefield. Our current method of doing that is awkward at best and critically time consuming at worst. This is a system that is vitally needed to maintain our edge and allow our warriors to operate and efficiently communicate in an increasingly joint combat atmosphere.
The Osprey is a slightly different case. As Dr. Loren Thompson describes it, “the Marine Corps has fielded a genuinely revolutionary airframe that combines the vertical agility of a helicopter with the speed and reach of a fixed-wing plane.” And again, it gives us the edge militarily. It is an airframe that is the Marine Corps future, where speed and agility are going to be critical to battlefield survival. “Plan B”, in this case, is the aging status quo. That should be unacceptable to Americans concerned about the survivability of our Marines and maintaining the combat edge that has served us so well up to now.
Finally there’s the F-35 JSF. Let’s be clear here, there is no viable “Plan B” if this aircraft is scrapped or cut significantly. When Congress chose to curtail the F-22 Raptor buy and only build 186 of those aircraft, the JSF was “Plan B”. It was the aircraft that was going to “fill the gap” created with the poorly thought out choice to kill the F-22. It is the most advanced 5th generation fighter in the world, a developmental concept aircraft brought to the field with technological advances never before seen in a fighter aircraft. Yet now we hear talk about buying legacy 4th generation aircraft which are supposedly cheaper as a cost cutting measure. Yet some studies have shown that attempting to maintain a legacy fleet for 3 more decades could cost as much as 4 times the cost of the JSF. And, we’d be consigning our young pilots to aircraft older than they are, 4th generation fighters in a 5th generation world.
These are the things that should concern us all as we watch a group of politicians with vested interests in other areas, many of whom look at defense spending cuts as a way to pay for other programs they are interested in, get ready to swing the budget axe.
Do we keep and improve the technological edge which has made our military the most powerful and predominant military in the world for decades? Or do we refuse to pay the price necessary to keep our military’s edge and continue to make it the most powerful and flexible force in the world and risk our national security?
No one knows how many wars and conflicts our military has been able to avoid simply because we’re as powerful as we are. But if history is a teacher, as soon as we’re perceived to be in decline militarily, there are those who will test us. This is one area of the national budget with which we must be very careful. Budgetary fat is always fair game, but the systems that will be the heart and soul of our national defense capability for decades to come should not be cut heedlessly. To do so would be a tragic mistake.