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'Don’t Cut Defense'

5:55 PM, Jan 7, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Tom Donnelly, Mackenzie Eaglen, and Jamie Fly write:

"We shrink from our global responsibilities at our peril, as retrenchment brought about by short-sighted cuts could well lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later — indeed as they always have in the past."

That’s how Defense Secretary Robert Gates concluded his presentation about why the Obama administration would cut $78 billion from the Pentagon’s five-year budget. Not the most effective sales pitch: After 30 minutes of explaining the need for relatively small near-term savings, in 15 seconds he made it clear that the long-term price was unacceptably large.

These reductions were direct orders from the White House. While Gates managed to limit the damage, perhaps by as much as $50 billion, this is simply a continuation of the pattern begun in 2009. Obama’s defense cuts will have a compound, long-term effect on the overall purchasing power of the military. We won’t know the total extent of this year’s cuts for some time, including whether the “two-year probation” given to the Marine version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is simply a stay of execution. Nonetheless, the Obama years have seen more than $350 billion in weapons modernization alone eliminated from the defense budget.

The collective cuts have taken a huge toll on the military. Killing the Army’s Future Combat Systems program not only deprived the service of a new generation of ground combat vehicles — for the fifth time since the end of the Cold War — but threw a monkey wrench in an innovative plan to “network” the force (which means, roughly, bringing it from the age of the Atari to the age of the iPhone). The shrinking of the Navy to fewer than 280 ships means the smallest fleet since World War I, when it shared the ruling of the world’s waves with the British Royal Navy.

The “Age of American Air Power” of the 1990s crashed with the 2009 termination of the F-22 Raptor. The Raptor had been the ultimate don’t-even-think-about-it message to potential adversaries; indeed, reports recently surfaced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il hid underground for over a week last year when the U.S. was hosting exercises in the region out of fear of attack from an F-22. And with the fate of the short-take-off version of the F-35 uncertain and the killing of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, the Marine Corps’s future as a “forcible-entry” amphibious force — that is, the Marines as they’ve existed since World War II — is in serious doubt. In sum, Donald Rumsfeld’s idea to “skip a generation” of weapons modernization is being realized.

Whole thing here, at National Review Online.

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