The Defense Budget

We are obviously in recessionary times, and the federal budget is at unsustainable levels. The real backbreakers are Social Security and Medicare, but plainly, every department is going to be staring budget cuts in the face. The Department of Defense is a favored whipping boy for cuts, since every penny of its budget is discretionary money, and not “entitlement” money. Rough seas are ahead for the DoD.

If you were in charge, and had free reign, what would you cut? Programs? Staffs? How about a revision to Goldwater-Nichols? Troop units or major ships?

Since we’re just indulging in a fantasy here, let’s pretend that we don’t have to fool with Congressional interference and patronage, and that politics don’t intrude upon national security budgeting decisions.

I can think of any number of things I’d cut from the budget. Heck, there’s a few I’d cut even if money weren’t an issue.

Part One


The FCS system would be deader than a doornail. Having said that, some of the technologies and ideas behind it would remain. For the short to medium term, next generation vehicles would be suspended. The R&D emphasis would be on improving communications and intelligence gathering and distribution at the brigade and lower level.

I’d be prepared, if pressed, to reduce the standing US presence in Korea to one combat brigade. I’d really rather not pull completely back from Europe, but I could be convinced to leave the 173rd in Italy, and rotate 2 combat brigades to Europe much like the Marines Unit Deployment Program.

Procurement wise, the Army is actually in pretty fair shape. A lot of the fleet of logistical vehicles is fairly new. Of course, they are putting on mileage faster than anticipated due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a good depot program should be able to manage that concern. With the combat vehicle fleet, the Stykers are relatively young. The Bradley and Abrams fleet are another matter. Both fleets have been in service for almost 30 years, with an average age somewhere around 20-25 years. Both systems are running out of room for growth, but should suffice for the medium term with a strong depot maintenance program.

Army aviation is similarly in decent shape. Blackhawk and Chinook procurement is going well, and should be continued. The Apache fleet is similarly on glidepath. There are some issues with other aspects of aviation though. The Army can’t seem to buy a simple replacement for the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The ARH-70 program was riddled with cost overruns and performance shortcomings. Maybe it’s time to set aside the JetRanger family and go back to the MD-500 family. The other option is to do away with observation helicopters, and just go with Apaches in the scout role. I’d also pull the plug on the Army’s MQ-1C Predator program. Let the Air Force be the sole manager for the platform. The only UAVs the Army would operate would be smaller observation platforms that give the local ground commander situational awareness and reconnaissance.

On the staff side, there’s a lot of duplication. Sometimes, it isn’t a terrible burden. For instance, 3rd Army exists as the field Army at CentCom, and also goes by the name of ArCent.  But why does every headquarters in Iraq and Afghanistan need a separate “Joint” or “Multi-national” designation laid above the tactical unit that makes up the force? For instance, if the 4th ID headquarters is in charge of the Green Zone in Iraq, does it really need a headquarters named Multi-National Division blah, blah, blah whatever it is with all the administrative burdens beyond just what the 4th ID already has?

What do you think? Where would you cut programs in the Army? What money would you save? Would you trim troop unit levels?

We’ll get to the other branches in later installments of this topic.

13 thoughts on “The Defense Budget”

  1. I would decrease contractors and increase end-strength. Add a couple of heavy brigades. Reduce Korea, move a couple of brigades from Germany / Italy into eastern Europe. Close Fort Bliss, just to ensure I don’t ever get assigned there. End the policy of year-end spending and replacing furniture on a semi-annual basis, and closely watch both GWOT and garrison expenditures which are incredibly wasteful. And reduce the contracting for food in OEF/OIF by about 33% since Soldiers are getting fat during deployments. Concur on FCS.

  2. This can work, but only if we are realistic about our expectations, worldwide. We must also realize, there will be a time when we must selectively rebuild a new force. “The Total Force Approach” will most likely be very different. “The Amateurs Study Tactics, The Professionals Study Logistics.” The old saying says a GREAT deal.

    Brad, when you wrote, it was about your own world, my respects.

  3. Would decrease the number of generals, and their attendant staffs. If the choice has to be made, in the short term, between new projects and troops, ditch the new projects. Once you lose troop strength, it seems like it is gone for good.

  4. A radical re-think of strategic priorities needs to drive where we maintain facilities and deploy troops. Heavy brigades should be kept back in strategic reserve or deployed into areas where high- or medium-intensity conflict may break out. Thus, I concur with the raising of additional heavy brigades, and have them stationed in Eastern Europe and along China’s periphery (South Korea and Japan).

    Also, as a thought I’ve kicked around for a while: an aggressive immigration/assimilation campaign whereby 125,000 foreigners will be inducted into the military as a means of fast-tracking citizenship. An honorable discharge after a 4 year enlisted hitch earns citizenship for themselves; while 6 years earns it for themselves, their spouses, and children. Death in the line of duty will earn the same, of course. This could potentially give us another 500,000 bodies to work with across the four services.

    Of course, we’d have to make sure that America is still a place where people want to flock to.

    1. The problem isn’t really the up front cost of finding bodies. It’s paying for the bodies we have. Troops are expensive.

      Now, draftees were artificially cheap. But no one outside Charlie Rangel is calling for a draft. And I don’t think bringing in huge numbers of unassimilated people would work well in our military culture.

      Besides, foreign troops smacks too much of mercenary troops. If we can’t do our own fighting, we’re doomed.

  5. I’m with Brad on bringing in foreigners. If we did something like that it would need to be in the form similar to the French Foreign Legion which is a very small part of the French Military Establishment.

    People are expensive, and that fact can’t be avoided. Alas, we really can’t afford to cut below where we are in troop strength. I would increase the active component to 15 divisions. I would really put effort into the reserve components. I would require military training for every able bodied male. Most go to state militias with the option of serving in federal reserve components. Defense of the country is a duty of a citizen. Anyone refusing to serve is a slacker. The State Militias could be inducted to Federal Service in times like WW2 or Korea, otherwise they can take care of the borders and other domestic duties. The Feds handle the foreign wars.

    We can’t afford to cut research either.

    Not sure why the Army didn’t keep the OH-6. I thought it was a much better chopper than the Jet Ranger. I saw the Jet Ranger AD notices many years ago (mid 70s) and it consisted of two 3″ binders that were full. If it could happen to an AC, it happened to the Jet Ranger. The Hughes 500, by comparison, was a trouble free machine (or about as trouble free as you could get with a fling wing). The lings are still being built as “Little Birds” so their no serious start up costs. I pretty much agree with you on the Army’s AC picture. I’d like to see tactical fixed wing assets transferred from the AF where the Army can call the shots and control all of it’s tactical air power needs and not have to rely totally on Choppers.

    We do need to look at Armored assets, particularly main battle tanks and the Bradley IFV. To old, too many miles. Some are worse off than that old M-60 I took my Company Co for a ride in across a DZ at Campbell.

    Basing can be a touchy subject, but one that needs to be dealt with.

    I would withdraw all our troops from Korea. ROK troops are some of the toughest in the world. They well trained and equipped and can handle what the NORKS are able to dish out. The NORKS are actually in worse shape than Ivan was in the mid 70s. That doesn’t mean they don’t have teeth, but the ROK can handle them. And if we leave, they know they’ll have to stand and at least take the first blows. If they take the Israeli approach to military service, they would have a good reserve component that can allow the Army to go on the offensive against the NORKS when they have the entire establishment in the field. Forward base the troops in the Marianas along with equipment ready to go. The problem with the Marianas is training space. That could be solved if we keep some equipment in Korea in case we needed to return quickly and allow exercises with the ROKs.

    I’d pull all but a couple/three of Brigades out of Europe. An Armored and Infantry Brigades in Germany, maybe the 173rd in Italy. I don’t know if it would be wise to station our troops in Eastern Europe as Russia is touchy and there is no telling what that bunch would do. As a foreign policy matter, I don’t think it’s wise. Bringing Ukraine into NATO gets us nothing. Georgia gets us less than nothing. We don’t need to make the mistake that the Brits and Frogs did in 1939 with Poland. If you can’t defend something, as a practical matter, you have no business making guarantees.

    We do need to keep some forward supply bases in the Med and Europe. Putting things on the Black Sea is too risky, though, as Turkey is turning from the west back to its historic roots in the east. There are ports in Italy where we could build supply dumps, and in southern Italy there are places that would welcome us. Places like Naples northward are not good. In fact, anything north of Messina probably isn’t good.

    I could keep going, but I’ve said enough and this your blog Brad, so don’t want to run on too much.

  6. Hey Brad, is there an interactive map somewhere that shows where major units of American ground forces are deployed?

    It would be cool if we could use the mapping function to design strategic deployments of our own.

    1. I’m sure there’s something out there. I’ve seen several maps showing where the major troop units are stationed (but it doesn’t reflect where they are deployed), but nothing interactive.

      Of course, with on 10 division equivalents, and two divisions at Ft. Hood, it isn’t that hard to keep track of where everyone is. I haven’t looked for a map in a long while.

  7. I disagree with you on the Kiowa Warrior. The MD is no better either, every airframe has their issues, it just looks and seems better because the Special Ops use it. There is no way an Apache or a UAV can do what the Kiowa does, and in reverse the Kiowa can not do what the Apache or the UAV can. They are a vital role in the war right now, all three put together is a very deadly combination. The only thing wrong with the Kiowa is that it has not had any upgrades in the recent years and is very old and tired. The new Fox model that is coming out will be very welcomed to the fight. The powers that be just need to suck it up and spend the little amount of money needed to upgrade it, it is a small amount of money compaired to what is used to upgrade the other airframes.

  8. Get out of Europe. It’s a jobs program for the brass. In OIF one, Turkey didn’t allow us to use their soil. Having units in Europe makes no difference.

    before cuts:

    1) Buy more sea and air lift. We should NEVER see American military equipment fly on foreign flagged aircraft.

    2) stand up more maintenance units, fire the contractors and TCN’s. They cost too much and are lazy. Give half to the Guard if full time soldiers are sooo expensive.

    Okay that out of the way:
    Disband the USAREUR. It’s done. Cut/reassign the staff. Give most of AFICOM/CENTCOM. A Joint office can do most of the tasks anyway. Send the troops home.

    Either cancel the new carbine competition or cancel the M-4. Better yet, have DOD and independent labs look at both. Pick either a new carbine or upgraded M-4.

    Scrap the FCS and GCV. For some reason, when a new vehicle is designed, the project office wants to put new EVERYTHING on it (new weapons, radios, computers etc).
    The F-117 was built with existing electronics and engines, the new tech was the stealth skin and IR sensors. Either upgrade the M1’s and Brads or build a new combat vehicle with with existing radios and electronics (to be replaced later).

    Can’t leave Korea yet, but start the downsizing. Downsize US forces in Japan. It’s time they pulled their own weight. Sell them THAAD, F-35 or F-18F. Put those forces in Guam, California (or Washington) and Hawaii.

    There are too many different models of MRAP. One of my SGT’s pointd out the waste of having models of MRAP that we don’t need. Pick 1 or 2 models of MRAP and stick with it. The rest can be sold to our allies.

    Stop with the waivers. Too many “soldiers” come in with waiver after waiver. No more criminal backgrounds, no more GED soldiers. If they fail the PT test in basic, send them home, get rid of FTC. Chapter for any drugs and PT failures in AIT. Too many “soldiers” are passed on to line units with UCMJ for drugs and/or can’t do a pushup from too many beer curls in 20 weeks. Give the chapter authority to Battalion level commanders and their S-1’s. Too many Brigade S-1’s are focused on numbers.

    The Army should take over housing again. Fire those contractors (all they do is gobble BAH). Have REAL auditors look at what should be contracted out and what can be done by soldiers. My squad leaver had a class on Up-Armored M1088’s. He was mad that it took all day (8 hours) and the only difference was 4 things that he could teach the platoon in about 30 mins ( not including the check ride).

    Go back to training NCO’s and having them train soldiers.

    Give troops e-readers and stop using the copy machine and printed TM’s. They just get lost and kill trees.

    Either shut down the D-FACs or make them worth out time (their are companies that know how to make food, having the units cook when half of them are deployed results in food that suck, low number, budget cuts in food etc…).

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