Congress has passed (unanimously in the Senate) a $448 billion Defense budget. The budget largely maintains the status quo, trimming a little less than 1% from the President's request, and calling for 22 new C-17 transport aircraft rather than the requested 8.
About $70 billion of the total is for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special appropriations for the war in Iraq now total $379 billion, while special appropriations for the war in Afghanistan now total $97 billion.
The core bill contains $86 billion for personnel costs, enough to support 482,000 Army soldiers and 175,000 Marines. That would provide for a 2.2 percent pay increase for the military, as Bush requested in his February budget.
The bill provides $120 billion for operations and maintenance costs, just less than the Pentagon request. And $81 billion goes for procurement of new weapons, with $76 billion dedicated to research and development costs.
A continuing resolution for the rest of the federal budget until November 17 was tacked onto the bill.
Congress has made constructive improvements to the budget over the past few years. It has killed the DD(X) after just two ships due to budget overruns and a lack of military necessity, was influential in preventing the military from moth balling the valuable A-10 which is the aircraft best suited to the kinds of conflicts we are now fighting, has restrained Pentagon demand for the F-22 and F-35 in the face of cost overruns and an excess of supply of air to air combat oriented and multirole fighter aircraft, and has boosted the C-17 to address a shortage in airlift capacity. On the other hand, it has also made some bad moves, like delaying a new fixed wing small transport plane for the Army.
But, ultimately, Congress is in a poor position to make up for Donald Rumsfield's mismanagement of the war in Iraq and lack of strategic vision for the U.S. military.
Are We A Nation At War?
For a nation allegedly at war, the Defense Department isn't acting like it.
The Army and Marines are at peace time levels, with both smaller than they were during the Cold War, while we are trying to fight two regional wars. Yet, reserve and national guard resources are increasingly tapped out.
In every other war the United States has ever fought, the number of soldiers in the Army was dramaticallly increased to respond to the increased need. Troop levels set by President Clinton in an era of peace and prosperity, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and before 9-11 may be adequate if we withdraw from Iraq. But, they are not sufficient to fight two regional wars as we are doing now.
There have only been minor and belated efforts to even shift resources within the military itself to shift resources to the needs of the current war, from forces currently in garrison, training and routine operations modes. It is good that Congress has put $1 billion into this year's budget to fund body armor for troops. But, we have been fighting at war for almost as long as it took to fight World War II, so this effort isn't exactly timely.
We are spending tens of billions of dollars to develop a national missile defense, a new long range strategic bomber, new naval ships, and more. But, we are spending far less than we need to learning lessons from this war and implementing those lessons learned. Instead of building language schools to teach soldiers Middle Eastern languages, and upgrading military pistols which have been widely condemned since the very early days of the conflict, we are building systems costing hundreds of millions and billions of dollars for conflicts that might happen someday.
There has been no national mobilization of any kind. The President has told the people to shop, rather than to save. He has pushed for tax cuts and increased spending, both military and domestic, rather than marshal resources for any kind of war effort. He has minimized and underplayed the sacrifices made by the thousands of troops who have been killed and the more than ten thousand who have been seriously injured. Soldiers remains returned to the U.S. have been shrouded in secrecy to avoid negative public opinion. The absence of a draft has helped delay a full fledged national outcry in opposition to these wars, but has only delayed and not prevented this reaction.
Aghanistan and Iraq: Wars Without A Plan
In hindsight, it is clear that simply going to war in Iraq at all was a bad idea supported by flawed intelligence further warped by the administration's personal desires. But, it is hard to fault the military for its overwhelming victory over the Iraqi Army in the early days of the war with few casulties. The early days of the war in Afghanistan likewise fit Rumsfield's vision of small numbers of special forces and air power being used to decisive effect to change the course of a war.
Yet, despite the fact that the State Department and military made plans for what to do after control was seized in each case, those plans were abandoned. The occupation of Iraq has been grossly mismanaged. Iraq is worse now, years later, than we found it. In Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency campaign has gone better, but the objective of the mission, to shut down al-Queda headquarters, was not achieved, and the Taliban are now resurgent.
The pace of insurgent attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq is at an all time high. Overwhelming public opinion in Iraq is that the U.S. presence is counterproductive, and strong public opinion in the United States is that the war needs to end. The NIE confirms the status quo is simply making the problem worse in Iraq. But, the President has called this summary of his own intelligence agency's informed assessments "naive" and openly committed to maintaining a status quo, staying the course approach to Iraq through the end of his Presidency, in January of 2009.
Staying the course is not a strategy. If we are going to stay at current troop levels, we don't have enough troops to do it without sending overtaxed troops that are at low levels of readiness into the field. If we are going to stay at reduced troop levels, we need a new strategy that uses U.S. troops more effectively, so that they have have a positive impact on the situation in Iraq. If we are going to leave, we need to make plans to do so. Instead, the Bush Administration has taken the deer in the headlights approach of doing nothing.
An Absence of Long Term, Big Picture Vision
Whatever long term vision for the military Donald Rumsfield had when he started serving as Bush's Secretary of Defense has grown so hazy it is no longer recognizable. The Office of Transformation has been disbanded. The end of the Cold War, and the start of an era where terrorism and counter-insurgency, nuclear proliferation in nation-states we don't trust, and the continuing threat posed by China to our ally Taiwan are the dominant military considerations, has not been addressed with a sufficiently bold response.
The ultra-high technology Future Combat System vision Rumsfield had for the Army has withered on the vine, in the face of technological constraints, an urgent need for systems that work now, and a $200 billion price tag. Lower budget, shorter term innovations, like new, more reliable small arms with working prototypes ready to field, and the need for increased troop levels to maintain current operations have been ignored or cancelled.
Rumsfield started off on a tack that looked good. He rightly ended the Comanche and Crusader weapons programs, both of which were over budget, gold plated, and didn't serve pressing military needs well. He also had the good fortune to be in charge when the Stryker, an medium sized, lightly armored, multi-purpose military vehicle, which was developed at the end of the Clinton administration, was first fielded. This unambitious "interim" vehicle proved ideal for the demands of the Iraq War.
Rumsfield has implemented a generally worthwhile redesign of the Army's division structure, pushing divisional headquarters resources down to the brigade level, to create increased flexibility. He has also revised personnel policies that will keep units together longer, instead of making soldiers the nation's largest group of nomads. But, while these would be admirable innovations in peace time, it isn't a good idea to try to focus scarce resources on implementing bureacratic organizational chart and personnel policy changes in the middle of fighting two regional wars.
The U.S. Army still doesn't have any unit designed from the ground up for counterinsurgency operations (although the Stryker Brigades come close), despite the fact that this had been the primary demand placed on the Army for the last four decades.
Rumsfield has refused to take the bold steps necessary to downsize our blue sea navy, which is ill suited to current military needs, while he has allowed ships much more likely to be necessary, minesweepers, to be removed from the fleet before replacements are in hand.
The contracts to build the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, and for the San Antonio, an amphibious transport ship, have badly bungled. In the case of the Zumwalt, the project has bloated to about a dozen times the cost of the previous U.S. destroyer. In the cas of the San Antonio, construction quality has been subpar.
Virginia class submarine contruction continues as much to keep the knowledge base required to build it together, just in case, as it does from any pressing need for new attack submarines.
The Littoral Combat Ship program has provided an inexpensive ship which is well suited to likely future American naval needs. The development of high speed intra-theater troop transports is also good. But, these programs, which represent the future of the American navy, has received relatively modest attention.
Underlings and contractors have put careful thought into designing particular new military aircraft. Most military observers agree that the F-22 and F-35 are improvements over the F-15, F-16, F-18 and AV-8B that they will replace. But, at a strategic level, the Air Force is running on autopilot, simply replacing old aircraft with new ones that serve the same purpose without seriously rethinking the number and mix of military aircraft that American military strategies put in place decades ago. Trying to, as the Air Force did for a while, sell the F-22 as a close air support and even an anti-land mine aircraft is just idiotic.
The Air Force is dragging its feet on the project of developing unmanned combat aircraft, despite the overwhelming success of these aircraft in surveilance and close air support roles. The Air Force still has no plans in the works for successors to the A-10 and AC-130 attack aircraft tailored to a close air support role that have proved indispensible and effective in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force has still failed to look seriously at a homeland defense interceptor to respond to errant non-military aircraft in the continental United States at a fraction of the cost the F-16s that have been called upon to carry out that mission thousands of times since 9-11.
The Air Force has delayed an Army project to develop a small fixed wing transport aircraft to replace its less reliable, more fuel hungry, shorter range and more expensive cargo helicopters in many circumstances, while making its own parallel program a low priority. Its C-130J program to upgrade and replace existing C-130s with an upgraded replacement has been technologically flawed, despite the fact that the technology involved in unambitious. It has bungled efforts to procure new tanker aircraft with its own corruption.
The Air Force has failed to identify any sucessor to the B-52 in the dumb bomber/cruise missile delivery platform role, despite the fact that a large share of the ordinance dropped in our most recent wars came from these half century old aircraft.
The Air Force has been given a large role to play in developing a national missile defense, but its efforts have largely been screw ups.
The American Air Force is second to none. But, it is also extremely expensive, and has neglected most of its important roles in favor of the priorities of the fighter mafia in its political decision making.
The Marines are doing better.
They have, at least, tried to rethink their operations with their new "over the horizon" strategy, have done a better job of controlling office bloat than the other services, and have been more intelligent is balancing and coordinating air, sea and land operations than the other services. They have not ignored the logistical issues of getting their forces fully equipped to distant battlefields and have worked hard to make their forces modular.
The V-22 is finally coming to fruition, their expeditionary fighting vehicle achieving its purpose of eliminating the need for separate landing craft, and a willingness to settle for safe, but unambitious programs has allowed them to upgrade their small arms more quickly.
They also have the best developed doctrine for fighting counterinsurgency missions and "small wars" of any of the services. But, no one, not even the Marines themselves, have pushed for a major expansion of that service, and the Army has been slow to replicate the Marines' innovations.
Mission Matching To Services
Joint operations are unnatural for the U.S. military. So is joint military planning.
The Key West agreement allocating air power between the Army and the Air Force has grown counterproductive. The Army, which has an interest in developing it, needs to have authority over its own airlift resources, its own sealift resources, and its own fixed wing close air support resources. The Navy and Air Force have both failed dismally at planning for these needs and coordinating with the Army to achieve them in a way that is mindful of the technical requirements of the Army and of the systems that will carry Army equipment.
Too little attention has been paid to the possibility of providing the cruise missile basing resources of the Navy through aircraft instead, which would provide greater flexibilty and responsiveness, while putting fewer American lives at risk. Indeed, the Air Force generally, ought to play a large role in anti-ship combat.
While another Defense budget has been passed unanimously (in the Senate, at least), this doesn't mean that all is right in the world. The U.S. military is still deeply mismatched to the missions it faces, too expensive for the capabilities it does have, and doing a poor job in its primary mission of fighting two regional wars, do to poor planning and strategy, much of which is a product of poor political leadership.