05 March 2003

Byliner: "Defense Needs Dollars," Says Congressman Duncan Hunter

(The Wall Street Journal 03/05/03 editorial) (800)
(This column by Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calf.), who is chairman
of the House Armed Services Committee, was published in The Wall
Street Journal March 5. This column is in the public domain. No
republication restrictions.)
(begin byliner)
Defense Needs Dollars
By Duncan Hunter
Washington -- With nearly 250,000 troops deployed in the Gulf, some
16,000 in Afghanistan, and B-1 and B-52 bombers ready to depart for
Guam if needed to address the North Korean threat, some in the media
still think we spend too much on defense. The headlines are telling:
"Largest Defense Increase Since the Reagan Administration," "Massive
New Buildup," etc. The casual observer is left with the clear
impression that the nation's military is well-funded.
Should the same casual observer visit the flight deck of one of our
aircraft carriers, however, he will find a lineup of aging fighter
aircraft, few of which will be younger than 15 years old. Should he
then step onto the tarmac of an Air Force base, he will discover that
aircraft now average 23 years of age -- the oldest average in Air
Force history. Most B-52s are older than their pilots. Army
helicopters average 18 years in age. The list goes on.
America isn't spending "more than ever" on national security. The
current budget proposal is $62 billion less in current dollars than
the 1985 Reagan defense budget. Our defense-force structure was cut
massively in the 1990s. The Army had 18 divisions in 1991, the last
time we fought in the Gulf. Under the Clinton administration, it was
reduced to 10 divisions. During the same period, the 24 Air Force
fighter airwings were cut to 13 and the 546-ship Navy was slashed to a
level barely above 300. The '90s force structure is, therefore, an
inappropriate metric against which current defense spending should be
So, what does America need for defenses and what should it cost?
Unfortunately, the $399 billion proposed in the new defense budget
falls short. The $73 billion recommended for procurement of new
equipment, for instance, is less than the necessary level of
investment merely to sustain the current force. The rest of the budget
includes over a billion dollars for the continuing dismantlement of
weapons in the former Soviet Union. Billions more will go toward
environmental cleanup at current and former U.S. military facilities,
and to military retirees, who recently won lifetime medical care.
These budget accounts have one thing in common: They don't provide for
a single bullet, aircraft, tank, truck or ship for the armed forces.
What should our priorities be? First, it makes sense to provide modern
equipment for the military forces that survived the Clinton budget
axe. According to the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, which
analyzed the longevity and replacement costs of the military's larger
platforms (planes, tanks, trucks and ships), the annual modernization
requirement is at least $90 billion per year. This year's
modernization budget proposal is some $20 billion short. Making up
this shortfall should be a priority.
Second, a munitions shortage in excess of $10 billion exists. This
shortage should be attended to over a two-year period. Third, an
additional $5 billion dollars a year is needed for enhanced
maintenance of the aging platforms we will be stuck with for the
foreseeable future.
The Bush administration deserves great credit for reversing the
decade-long decline in defense spending that characterized the Clinton
years. Also, Donald Rumsfeld's businesslike approach to reducing the
Pentagon bureaucracy will pay long-term dividends.
But the harsh reality is that the funding gap created during the past
decade will require more than two years of significant increases in
defense spending. John F. Kennedy spent 9% of gross domestic product
on defense. Ronald Reagan spent 6%. The 2004 budget request calls for
just 3.4% to be spent on defense. We need to increase that number over
the long term.
Congress has a constitutional duty to provide for the common defense
by ensuring that we sustain the same level of increase requested by
the administration last year of roughly 13% over 2002. This represents
$431 billion in total defense spending for 2004. Such increases must
be sustained for several more years in order to get all elements of
our national security back on an acceptable and sustainable course.
With war looming in Iraq, a crisis brewing on the Korean Peninsula,
and the war on terror likely to last for years, it would be unwise to
underfund the transformation and modernization of our armed forces at
the start of a dangerous century.
(Mr. Hunter, a Republican congressman from California, is chairman of
the House Armed Services Committee.)
(end byliner)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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