Ever Less Bang for the Buck

A pacifist administration and an irresponsible Congress have made an unholy bargain that cuts muscle to preserve fat. The administration, which distrusts the armed forces under its command, wants fewer troops—on the principle that the smaller the military, the less it can do, and less U.S. military engagement is good for all the world. For its acquiescence in cuts that chop seasoned veterans from the rolls, Congress gets continued funding for key weapons systems whose lack of relevance is exceeded only by their lack of reliability.

In a system of “legal corruption” within the U.S. defense industry cartel, there is no serious accountability for how defense dollars are spent. A side-by-side comparison of global defense budgets convinces the layperson that our defense spending guarantees that we shall remain without peer. Yet, potential competitor states, despite undeniable corruption, get more useful weapons systems per unit of expenditure than we do. Worsening the situation, their personnel costs are much lower.

Thus, we are left with the paradox of a mammoth defense budget and a shrinking, weakening force.

A striking example of the lack of accountability is the F-22 multi-role fighter, which now has been in our inventory for over a decade—without having flown a single combat mission. A breathtakingly expensive, fragile aircraft, it was promoted as a universal answer to defense requirements (including, laughably, defeating terrorists). Hugely costly, the program has added nothing to our national defense. Now we are buying an equally troubled, less-agile fighter, the F-35. Even its defenders cite program costs of half a trillion dollars, while critics believe that total costs will exceed a trillion. At no point has there been a serious value-added-for-cost analysis. Nor has anyone calculated the sortie rates for such delicate aircraft in a war that lasts more than a month or two. Meanwhile, the most important players in the defense industry are no longer the engineers, but the lawyers who insure that the government pays, whether or not the weapons work.

Congress never stints on praise for our troops, but it willingly sacrifices them to preserve funding for favored defense industry titans. And that most-versatile weapon system, the individual soldier or Marine, has few defenders willing to take to the legislative barricades.

It has become fashionable for those who support higher troop levels to note that our Army will soon be at a level of manning lower than at any time since the eve of World War II. In terms of trigger-pullers, that’s incorrect. Given the tooth-to-tail ratio in today’s ground forces, the number of front-line soldiers will be closer to the Army of the Indian Wars.

Military personnel are expensive, indeed. But defeat is a great deal costlier.

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