A War Budget?

Secretary of Defense Robert M. GatesAs I have alluded to before – here and here – President Obama, despite his ongoing rhetoric of appeasement, is not a true “Dove.” He, when it comes down to actions as opposed to “nuanced” speeches provided by his teleprompter,  has some strong “Hawkish” tendencies.

The upcoming Pentagon budget as proposed by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is strong evidence of that. The proposed 2010 defense budget is actually – despite the complaints of many of my fellow Conservatives – one that  focuses on offensive capabilities as opposed to defensive or deterrent capabilities.

2010 looks like it could be a whole new ball game when it comes to military spending and therefor how the US Military will be used. The focus is shifting from static deterrence and defensive capability to the ability to bring steel to target rapidly and effectively anywhere in the world.

As I told the Congress in January, our struggles to put the defense bureaucracies on a war footing these past few years have revealed underlying flaws in the priorities, cultural preferences, and reward structures of America’s defense establishment – a set of institutions largely arranged to prepare for conflicts against other modern armies, navies, and air forces. Programs to directly support, protect, and care for the man or woman at the front have been developed ad hoc and funded outside the base budget. Put simply, until recently there has not been an institutional home in the Defense Department for today’s warfighter. Our contemporary wartime needs must receive steady long-term funding and a bureaucratic constituency similar to conventional modernization programs. I intend to use the FY10 budget to begin this process.

— Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates
Defense Budget Recommendation Statement, April 6, 2009

At first read, it does sound pretty grim – especially to those people who have always been civilians. Under Gates’ proposal, the US Navy will have its new aircraft carrier program significantly slowed, and its Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer (DDG 1000) effort scuttled. The US Air Force will see the curtailment of production of ihe F-22 Raptor after only 187 planes – slightly less than 50% of what the USAF desired. The Missile Defense Agency’s interceptor portfolio will be reoriented around the threat from rogue states. Finally, the US Army will see its “Future Combat Systems” program gutted.

This is what has my compatriots upset, the destruction or deferral of our military’s progress and future. I don’t really blame them. They don’t – perhaps can’t – understand the changing face of war.

So a number of high-dollar programs are being slowed, deferred, or destroyed. While that’s not good, it is pragmatic, especially since these programs were heavily biased towards defensive capabilities and towards conflicts vs. another military superpower with similar technological capabilities.

What the proposed 2010 defense budget does – IMHO – is retool the US military into a fighting force that can fight multiple smaller wars at the same time. It seems to be based on the fairly sound theory that the US can project force across the globe as needed to put down rogue states, terrorists, and insurgents rapidly and efficiently as needed.

Secretary Gates’ proposed 2010 defense budget calls for increases in medical and support services for US servicemen and their dependents. This would improve enlistment and retention. It also indicates a planned for need to keep troops in the field for longer periods. See the excerpts below:

  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.
  5. 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.

Much of Gates’ budget proposal is geared towards increasing the number of servicemen and women at our nation’s disposal, both through making enlistment somewhat more attractive and improving the support for currently serving personnel and their families – especially during long deployments overseas.

What is striking – I’m sure some will find it chilling – is the change in nomenclature. Both in the Defense Budget Recommendation Statement and the DoD News Briefing, Secretary Gates did not refer to soldiers, sailors, and marines. Nor did he refer to servicemen or military personnel. Secretary Gates’ instead repeatedly used the term “Warfighter” as the sole descriptor for American servicemen and women.

Given that President Obama’s administration has made quite clear that, to them at least, words and nuance matter, this shift to using the term “Warfighter” when refering to US military’s personnel may be very important. It is perhaps “only a nuance,”  but it might demonstrates that they want to move away from the strategies of defense toward a strategy of aggressive response and “deterrence in force.”

There’s also a significant shift in funding for arms and equipement. Strategic defense systems seemed to be “back burnered” as do cutting edge technologies that haven’t been proven in conflict and/or use as of yet. All of this seems to be in favor of expanding the current proven offensive and defensive capabilities that we already have.

  1. 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.
  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 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

These projects indicate a fundamental shift in the US defense budget – a shift to a current wartime mindset. It shelves or slows down development in favor of increasing our current battlefield capabilities. There is also a shift towards funding those projects that support the soldiers in the field. It’s a soldier-focused budget as opposed to a technology based budget.

From the look of this budget, I’d hazard the guess that the Obama administration is expecting to field troops to a variety of theaters over the next few years. Both the planned expansion of the the number of troops and the shift in focus towards equipment and vehicles designed to either transport troops to the engagement or support and protect them during engagements seem to indicate this.

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12 Responses to “A War Budget?”

  1. Andrew Says:

    What remains to be seen is whether or not President Obama will be butchered by the public for military adventurism as they did to President Bush. Why I even bother asking the question is beyond me, I already know the answer; President Obama will likely be hailed no matter what he does. It will be just like under President Clinton and his misadventures with the military, no matter what the outcome of the operations President Clinton remained highly regarded by the public.

  2. jonolan Says:

    That is probably true, Andrew. I think that will be more of a case of Obama’s “pet media” refusing to publish dissent than a lack of it though.

  3. Phil Says:

    What remains to be seen is whether or not President Obama will be butchered by the public for military adventurism as they did to President Bush.

    President Bush was hailed for 6 years before the public finally became fed up with the war. Foreign policy was the area that President Bush destroyed John Kerry with. Remember “We shouldn;t have to ask the world for a permission ship to defend America” or the national review putting Howard Dean on the front page with the title “Please Nominate This Man” because Dean was a major anti-war candidate and the war was still popular.

    The American people tend to be supportive or unconcerned about foreign policy issues until it directly effects them or there’s massive American causalities. After being bogged down with a lack of progress for 6 years in Iraq and Afghanistan the American people finally got fed up. Had the Surge come earlier then there probably would’ve been a big difference in the way we view the war and Bush foreign policy.

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  5. jonolan Says:

    “After being bogged down with a lack of progress for 6 years in Iraq and Afghanistan the American people finally got fed up. Had the Surge come earlier then there probably would’ve been a big difference in the way we view the war and Bush foreign policy.”

    I’ll give you this, Phil – you’re right about what would have happened, insofar as public opinion is concerned – had the Surge come sooner, or if – as Sen. McCain pushed for – we had gone into Iraq with that level of force to begin with.

    Where you’re wrong though is in your false assertion that the US was “bogged down with a lack of progress for 6 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.” There was, and continues to be progress in both theaters. Such things were just discounted by the Liberals and unreported by their media shills.

    The Surge just made no longer feasible for them to continue their lies and attacks.

    But – to both Phil and Andrew – what do you think about Obama’s new defense budget proposal?

  6. Phil Says:

    Where you’re wrong though is in your false assertion that the US was “bogged down with a lack of progress for 6 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.” There was, and continues to be progress in both theaters. Such things were just discounted by the Liberals and unreported by their media shills.

    Well actually yes and no.

    The problem with the United States military is that we’re good at blowing stuff up and bad at rebuilding. During the invasion phase the war was popular. Of course, we were winning. And in fact, a major misconception, is that we WERE being greeted as liberators after the intial invasion. This period lasted for over a year, roughly 2003 to 2004 right before the midterms.

    But the administration ignored the neoconservatives like Fredrick Kagan and Richard Perle who stated we needed at least 200,000 troops to keep the peace. As part of Donald Rumsfeld’s philosophy of reorganizing, and yes downsizing, the military to make it quicker and faster like the EU’s rapid reaction forces the Administration went in ultra lite.

    But once it became apparent that the US had no idea what it was doing in rebuilding the country, schools shut down, streets unsafe, lack of water, people shifted their support for the insurgency and all hell out. This became progressively worse from mid 2004 until the “civil war” prompted the Surge.

    So long story short the war, like the popularity of invasion, the war initial started out very well and then became progressively worse until the surge. The big difference in coverage during the pre civil war period is that conservatives pointed out the good things occurring in Iraq, while liberals pointed out the rapidly decreasing stability.

    Its like saying one person saying “wow, your $10 investment is now worth $30 per share” while another person says “yeah but that share has been steadily losing $10 a week and is estimated to go into the red within a month”

    The two aren’t mutually exclusive, its all about relative interpretation and statistic trending.

    Sorry for the wonky post.

  7. Phil Says:

    But – to both Phil and Andrew – what do you think about Obama’s new defense budget proposal?

    Eh, I don’t have any strong feelings.

    I think the Pentagon’s worse enemy has often been its unsustainable and often unnecessary spending. I don’t think its controversial to say all military spending is not good military spending. Its much better to cut ineffective programs and force the research to more effective and innovative technology. Seems like basic capitalism to me.

    If we were smart, I think we’d invest more money into technology and research that would help us rebuild and stabilize countries instead of just blowing them up. This isn’t a slam on the US foreign policy, since ideally I think the US needs to be more active militarily …Sudan…Burma..etc.

    BUT, a widely agreed upon, but rarely spoken truth is that the US is bad at nation building. And unless we’re going to DRASTICALLY change our foreign policy, we’re going to be rebuilding nations, even those we don’t dissolve, for a long time.

  8. jonolan Says:

    To some extent we’re in close agreement. I’ve said more than once that the US “won the Iraq War” but seemed determined to “lose the Iraq Peace.”

    We’re not well-suited to police actions – though much better than we were in decades past – and the long slog of rebuilding a nation’s infrastructure and government while under fire from various quarters is not very satisfying to the bulk of the American people.

    One thing this new budget shows is that Gates, and by extrapolation President Obama, do seem to be able to learn from these past events. Manpower and the ability to deliver it are essential for the rebuilding phase of such engagement.

    As you might guess from my post, I have few if any problems with the 2010 defense budget – and I try to post the good with the bad.

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  10. Josh Brandt Says:

    Well, the problem I see is a decline in defensive techniques. We need to be investing in more missile defense systems in my opinion. Making our troops more effective on the field is great, these guys got it mostly right. I give the budget an A-.

  11. jonolan Says:


    Yes, there is a decline in defensive systems in the 2010 defense budget. That’s somewhat worrying, but I do think we have a fairly robust domestic missile defense profile. Shifting those particular funds to missile defenses vs. rogue states makes sense to me right now. Since we’re sort of broke, it’s pragmatic to focus the budget on the current threats.

    On thing though to ponder — Since the defense budget strongly favors offensive capabilities and troop use over static and/or high-tech defensive systems, what does this say about the Obama administration’s plans or expectations for the coming years?

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