Taking aim at the defense budget


(U.S. Army Photo)

The Pentagon says the defense budget must grow roughly 3 percent above inflation each year to sustain the military at current levels. As a result of the nation’s fiscal fallout, military spending will grow only 1.8 percent in 2012, and 1 percent in following years. That means the Pentagon must cut tens of billions from its budget to make up the difference.

How will this happen? Let’s first consider Iraq, where there are some interesting numbers floating around as that nation beefs up its military in the wake of U.S. troops departing.

In September, Congress was notified of a possible sale of 18 F-16IQ fighters – valued at $4.2 billion. Those came with increased performance engines and radar sets, hundreds of missiles and laser-guided bombs, and all kinds of other cool gadgets.

In comparison, Iraq in that same month bought 440 refurbished M113A2 Armored Personnel Carriers for a mere $131 million. Each came with an M2 .50 cal machine guns, single-channel ground and airborne radios and smoke grenade launchers. The U.S. even threw in crew helmets and a plethora of tools and spare parts.

Congress was again notified Monday of a possible $36 million sale of M1A1 Abrams tank ammo. It includes nearly 35,000 120 mm cartidges. That’s a lot of boom for the buck. And Congress also got word on a $68 million sale to the Iraqi Naval Force of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems.

To look at Iraq’s example, it would seem the big-budget items are the low-hanging fruit. Cut some planes and ships and, voila, we’re there. But it’s not that easy.

While it is true that the cost of aircraft is borderline ridiculous, the truth is the Army actually has the biggest piece of the fiscal pie, with $243.9 billion (31.8 percent) of the 2010 budget. The Navy has $149.9 billion (23.4 percent), the Marines got $29 billion (4 percent) and the Air Force nabbed $170.6 billion (22 percent). The rest went to intelligence and DoD accounts.

One may wonder – how can this be when the Air Force buys these expensive fighters and the Navy buys $10 billion carriers and $14 billion subs? And what will the Army do since it doesn’t have those big-ticket items? The answer is found in the number of people in the ranks.

Every 10,000 people cost $1 billion annually. And the Army’s active, Guard, Reserve and civilian components comprise nearly half of the DoD force. To look at it another way, the Army’s total force is nearly larger than the other three services combined. That’s why it’s budget is bigger … and that is likely where it will look when it comes time to cut the budget.


About Author

A Navy brat who spent eight years in the Marines (two years aboard the carrier Independence). Worked in journalism in Eastern North Carolina through the latter part of the 90s, then became editor of Air Force Times in 2000. Stayed there five years, then took a break to finish some school. Now back in the game with Navy Times.

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