The Pentagon’s Budget Time Bomb

With plans for military spending on a new Cold War — as well as on old fears about terrorism — spinning out of control, the next U.S. president will face a budgetary time bomb, explains Chuck Spinney.

By Chuck Spinney

Pentagon spending has not really been an issue in the 2016 Presidential campaign. With the exception of Ted Cruz, the positions of the remaining candidates have been vague about even the size of the defense budget.

As near as I can tell: (1) Hillary Clinton’s position on the size of the Pentagon’s budget is that she will establish a blue-ribbon commission to review defense policy and spending levels; (2) Trump claims without detail he can make the military great again but cut the budget at the same time; (3) Cruz says he will copy President Ronald Reagan’s spending spree by using tax cuts to stimulate the economy and ramping up defense spending to 4 percent of GDP (more on this plan in a subsequent blaster); and (4) Bernie Sanders seems to want to cut the Pentagon’s budget, but has not detailed how.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

No candidate appears to have noticed that President Obama has allowed the Pentagon to plant a defense budget time bomb in the form of modernization bow wave, although Obama’s bow wave has been reported repeatedly in the defense circles. [See 1, 2, 3, 4.]

Mr. Obama’s bow wave is similar to those planted during the exit from Vietnam in the early and mid 1970s while Vietnam was winding down and at the end of the Cold War in late 1980s through the mid 1990s.  Each of those earlier budget time bombs blew up, the first after 1978 and the second after 1997, albeit the latter explosion was masked over by the politics of fear and budget gimmicks unleashed by 9/11.

The time bomb bequeathed by Mr. Obama is now being wired to explode during the next presidential administration, with ripple effects lasting perhaps to 2030.

This essay introduces an early propagandistic aspect of setting the fuse. Job 1 is to set the foundation for budget future growth by building a psycho-political barrier to further budget reductions. The Secretary of Defense’s recent testimony explaining President Obama’s defense budget to the Senate Armed Services Committee is a case in point.

On March 17, President Obama’s fourth Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to defend the Pentagon’s share of Mr. Obama’s budget request to Congress.

[The total national security budget (OMB budget category 050) includes the Pentagon’s budget, nuclear weapons programs in the Dept. of Energy and other programs in the State Dept., FBI, and elsewhere.  Carter’s testimony related only to the Pentagon’s share, technically known as budget category 051.  Another technicality is that Carter’s budget numbers are for discretionary New Budget Authority, or BA.  That does not include a small amount of non-discretionary budget authority carried over from previous years.  BA therefore represents the annual amount to be added to the Pentagon’s checkbook.  That money can be spent, or outlayed, over a number of future years.]

Obama’s budget wants Congress to appropriate for the Pentagon a total of $583 billion in new Budget Authority (BA) for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins next October. That money would be divided into two parts: (1) the so-called Base Budget of $524 billion; and (2) a separate appropriation for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, or OCO, amounting to $59 billion.

The Base Budget is the nuts-and-bolts budget that is supposed to sustain our military forces in peace-time. The OCO budget is a special gimmicky appropriation to pay for war fighting in the ongoing Global War on Terror (GWOT). The OCO was invented in 2001 in response to 9/11 to fund the wartime operations in the GWOT, and it is a bit squirrelly, to put it charitably.

Prior to 9/11, all of America’s wars — for example, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War [2], Kosovo — were funded out of what we now call the Base Budget. [The US share of funding for the First Gulf War was thru the Base Budget, but most of the funding for U.S. activities in that war was paid for by our allies, especially Saudi Arabia. The money was transferred into a unique account set up for that purpose.]

It is important to understand that the request for Base Budget is the first year of a five-year plan (see OMB Table 5.1). The four future years are supposed to account for the future consequences of appropriating the FY 2017 base budget. The Overseas Contingency Operations fund, in contrast, is a one-year pay-as-you-go appropriation. There is no programmatic tail for OCO requests into the future years in the Pentagon’s plan.

Congress has no idea of the extent to which the OCO appropriation might imply any future spending commitments. This lack of planning transparency opens the door for all sorts of budget hijinks. Even stalwart defenders of increased Pentagon spending, like Sen. John McCain, have said the OCO is really a slush fund for hiding funding that would be more appropriately assigned to the Base Budget.

Defense Secretary Carter claims the Pentagon’s FY2017 base budget request has been tailored to meet the main threats facing America, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Global Terrorism. [See slide #1 of the Feb. 9 Pentagon’s budget rollout briefing.] Nevertheless, at the March 17 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Carter told Congress and the American people  that America’s gravest strategic danger stems from the domestic politics surrounding the Constitution’s assignment of the power of the purse to Congress, and I quote:

“If the bipartisan budget agreement were to fall apart, as everyone has said, that is our biggest strategic danger because that would affect in future years our ability to recover full-spectrum readiness. … That is the greatest risk to the Department of Defense — the reversion to sequestration. We very much hope to avoid that,”

Let’s examine the implications of Carter’s rather bizarre threat analysis.

I did not attend the Senate hearing, so I have not seen any budget slides Carter might have used in defense of this threat analysis. But if he used slides, they were likely to be versions of those the Pentagon Comptroller released to the press in the Department of Defense’s rollout briefing on Feb, 9. Figures 1 and 2 below are reproductions of slides #2 and #5 used in that briefing.

Figure 1 places Carter’s defense budget request for FY 2017 in a short-term historical perspective by comparing it to the stream of actual budgets since Fiscal Year 2001.

Figure 1

Pasted Graphic

Figure 1 depicts defense budget authority in current dollars. It includes the effects of inflation. It shows the Pentagon’s total budget peaked in FY 2010 at $691 billion and that the base budget peaked a few years later in 2013. Therefore, the FY2017 budget request represents a total budget reduction of $108 billion from that peak.

However, most of that reduction has been in the OCO account and, theoretically, should not impact the base budget. The 2017 Base Budget $524 billion request is only $6 billion or 1.1 percent less than the peak Base Budget of $530 billion in 2010.  So Carter’s 2017 Base Budget request represents only a small reduction from the peak Base Budget of five years ago.

So, where is the “biggest strategic danger” facing the future of “full spectrum readiness”? This question logically relates to the five-year plan for the base budget and its relation to “sequestration,” because the OCO slush fund is programmed on a year-by-year basis, and it is exempt from sequestration and only relates to the GWOT.

The threat of sequestration is shorthand for the budget reduction implied by the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). This federal statute was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 2, 2011. The caps were put into effect for 10 years, beginning with Fiscal Year 2012.

The BCA is intended to control the federal deficit by limiting the discretionary spending in both social and national security programs. In theory, if spending exceeds these limits, brute force automatic across-the-board spending cutbacks would be triggered. Such reductions are known as budget sequestrations. Let’s take a look at them.

We can use Figure 2 (which replicates slide #5 of the Feb. 9 Pentagon rollout briefing) to ascertain the strategic nature of Carter’s sequestration “threat.”

Figure 2

Pasted Graphic 2

The dashed line in Figure 2 depicts how the Pentagon’s share of the original BCA spending caps relate to three past budget plans as well as the 2017 budget plan Mr. Carter briefed to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 17 (i.e., the green line labeled PB 2017 — PB meaning President’s Budget). The red line shows how, to date, the caps have been relieved by a pair of two-year bipartisan budget deals between Congress and President. The red line shows that, absent another budget deal, the caps will return to their original levels between FY 2018 and FY 2021.

The difference between the Pentagon’s three earlier budget plans and the caps reveals that the internal Pentagon planning process pretended the caps do not exist. It is also clear that Carter’s 2017 budget simply is another round of the Pentagon just saying NO to the budget caps. (Note: Figure 2 shows PB’s 2013, 2015 and 2016, but 2014 is missing. PB2014 did not violate this “just say no” pattern.)

Figures 1 and 2 enable the reader to quantify the size of Defense Secretary Carter’s claim that the “biggest strategic danger” facing the United States is a “reversion to sequestration” — i.e. the magnitude of this “reversion” is simply measured by the vertical distance between the green line and the red line in Figure 2.

But note the axes of Figure 2; let’s put Carter’s “threat of reversion” into a better perspective to get a feel for the calibration of Carter’s threat meter.

The scales of the “x” and “y” axes of Figures 1 and 2 are constructed to magnify the impression of the size of the sequestration threat relative to past budgets and past budget plans. Historically, Figure 2 only compares historical budgets from 2010 to 2016 to compare with those projected in PB2017 to 2021 and the vertical scale for defense budget is limited to between $470 billion and $590 billion, whereas the vertical scale of Figure 1 does start at “0” but the horizontal scale only goes back to 2001.

Let’s place the current plan in a longer view. Also, let’s take a cut at estimating how the effects of inflation might shape our view of Carter’s definition of “strategic danger.”

I constructed Figure 3 to this end, by comparing the Pentagon’s base budget request to the Pentagon’s historical budgets, including the OCOs, dating back to the dawn of the Cold War in 1951. All this data comes from the March 2015 edition of the Pentagon Comptroller’s Greenbook updated with data from President Obama’s February 2016 budget submission Congress (OMB tables 5.1 and 10.1)

Figure 3

Pasted Graphic 3

The left hand graphic in Figure 3 places current dollar number for PB 2017-21 (blue line) and the original BCA sequester levels. The yellow and purple bars depict the historical data for the Base Budget and the OCO respectively (similar to the Figure 1). The lines are the same as those in Figure 2.

The middle graphic, which removes the effects of past and future inflation by assuming the rate of inflation for the Pentagon’s sub-economy, is the same as that for the general economy (using the official GDP deflators in OMB table 10.1). The rightmost graphic uses the Pentagon’s special deflators. The Pentagon’s deflators are clearly biased to make the earliest budgets look larger, thereby reducing the perception of long-term growth in the Pentagon’s budget.?Most defense think tanks and contractors like to use a variation of the data in the right hand chart, for obvious reasons.

Defense Secretary Carter’s measure of strategic risk is the tiny vertical difference between the “blue” and “purple” lines in Figure 3. By his own testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carter said this tiny difference is the greatest strategic threat facing the Pentagon!

Regardless of if or how one accounts for inflation, Carter’s assertion rests on a degree of precision that is obviously vanishingly small. In terms of annual variations in past budgets, it vanishes altogether, when one melds it with the uncertainties surrounding any predictions of future budgets. (I will address the question of predictive accuracy and the role the bow wave plays in the boom-bust nature of defense spending in a subsequent essay.)

This definition of strategic risk becomes wildly bizarre, when one adds the obvious fact that DoD’s accounting, finance, and program planning systems are a shambles that cannot be audited. (I described the nature and consequences this shambles as a witness in a congressional hearing in 2002.)

Annual audits are required by law in accordance with the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990. These audits are intended to put teeth into the Accountability and Appropriations Clauses of the Constitution. Every member of the federal government, including Mr. Carter and Senators take a sacred oath to uphold the Constitution.

The CFO Act requires the Inspector General of each executive agency to issue an annual audit of that agency’s bookkeeping systems. Yet the DoD has never passed an audit — in effect making a mockery of the Constitution everyone has sworn to uphold.

So each year, the DoD IG has been has been issuing a string of “disclaimers of opinion” since the mid-to-late 1990s. Moreover, deadlines for cleaning up the Pentagon’s books have been repeatedly shifted further into the future. The current deadline is 2017, or 27 years after the passage of CFO Act!

And that deadline is still a fantasy. A recent email to Sen. Charles Grassley’s office from a very knowledgeable ranking official the DoD’s Comptroller’s Office stated unequivocally that the 2017 deadline cannot be met, to wit:

“What I see and know tells me that the department is not on a fast track to meet the 2017 deadline. In fact, the goal seems unattainable. And current trends are not encouraging. I keep coming back to the same old root cause problem: the department does not have control at the transaction level. Transaction data is unreliable and incomplete. That is the problem that leads to persistent disclaimers.”

Yet, despite the wildly large uncertainties implicit in the auditing shambles, Carter asserted Congress that the tiny reductions caused by moving future budgets from moving blue line down to the BCA line in Figure 3 are the gravest strategic threat facing the United States.

And there is more to Carter’s weird claim. If the threat of a budget sequester is a grave strategic threat, it stands to reason that level of spending by our adversaries must also relate in some way to an appreciation of this strategic threat.

Figure 4 depicts total defense related spending for each of the top 25 countries in the world. In addition to the United States, it includes allies (green), adversaries (red) and neutral countries (yellow). (Total defense spending in the U.S. includes nuclear weapons programs in the Energy Department and a variety of defense related programs in the State Department, FBI, etc. By some estimates it could have been as high as $1 trillion per year in 2014-2015.)

In effect, The Secretary of Defense just told Congress that the tiny difference between the budget plan and the budget caps in Figure 3 erases any comparative advantage we and our allies might have from the fact that the U.S. and its allies are spending a far greater amount of dollars on our defenses than any of our potential adversaries or any potential combination of those adversaries.

Figure 4

World Military Spending

To be sure, the data in Figure 4 is two years old, but in a relative sense not much has changed since then. Note that North Korea, Iran and global terrorism did not even make the top 25.

So, while the difference between the PB 2017-21 and the current budget caps is a little like counting the fairies on the head of pin, Carter wants Congress and the American people to believe those fairies outweigh the effects of any dollar differences in Figure 4.

Or conversely, using Carter’s metric of choice — spending levels — Carter wants Americans to believe that each dollar of Russian and Chinese spending is far more efficiently spent than each dollar of the Pentagon’s spending — and therefore we need more that twice as many dollars to defend ourselves. Secretary Carter’s threat meter may be calibrated to count the number of fairies on the head of pin, but his bullshit meter is off the scale.

Given the contents of the debate over defense spending, one wonders if the defense members of the Armed Services Committees in Congress or any of the four remaining Presidential candidates have a clue about or an interest in what it will take to defuse the budget time bomb President Obama is bequeathing to his successor? To answer this question is to answer it.

Chuck Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who was famous for the “Spinney Report,” which criticized the Pentagon’s wasteful pursuit of costly and complex weapons systems. [This story originally appeared at Spinney’s blog.]

14 comments for “The Pentagon’s Budget Time Bomb

  1. John Penman
    March 30, 2016 at 11:25

    I asked my congressman, Jeff Duncan, (R-SC) why the Pentagon should be exempt from budget cuts. I cited the F-35 and a few examples of waste. His response was that while there is waste, fraud and abuse, national defense is mandated by the Constitution.

    He doesn’t like answering hard questions.

  2. John
    March 30, 2016 at 01:08

    Why should we be worried about “threats to the Department of Defense”??? What nonsense is this? We should be worried about threats to the United States! Overspending on useless gewgaws and then starting foolish wars to try them all out is a threat to the USA.

  3. March 28, 2016 at 18:48

    In October 1981, we entered Humanity’s Next Cycle. There will be peace in this world. All military budgets will be shrunk to nothing. The business of this world’s people will be that of saving lives.

    • Eddie
      March 29, 2016 at 22:12

      OK, LM, you win – – – you’ve stumped me and piqued my curiosity – – – pray tell what exactly you are referring-to/parodying?

  4. alexander gianis
    March 28, 2016 at 08:57

    I have to agree with some of the comments above, Mr Spinney.

    I appreciate your calling attention to the spending catastrophe that is our military budget…but the article seems to obscure rather than reveal the heinous overspending which has been ongoing since 9-11.

    In 2000 our National debt was @ 5.7 trillion dollars.

    Today our National debt is a “Humongous” 19 trillion dollars.

    This represents an unconscionable “overspending” of 13.3 trillion dollars in a mere 15 years.

    This is so outrageous……it is criminal.

    One has to recognize,( given the absence of any and all audits in this extremist spending spree) the Neocon assault on the solvency of our nation as the most vicious terrorist attack we have ever experienced.

    Truly shameful ,

    and truly unconscionable.

  5. J'hon Doe II
    March 28, 2016 at 08:19

    How’s THIS for war monger inspired insanity and absolute waste of tax dollars even as the US infrastructure crumbles.



    The Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces recently fought a CIA-armed militia. Such clashes have become routine.

    Nabih Bulos, W.J. Hennigan, Brian Bennett
    Los Angeles Times

    Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old civil war.

    The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other as they have maneuvered through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

    In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

    • ProNewerDeal
      March 28, 2016 at 21:22

      Thanks Chuck Spinney for this interesting article. Perhaps you have your own proposed MIC rough/estimate budget? It would be interesting for a MIC subject matter expert, with anti-war, anti-MIC Corp Welfare values, propose such a budget. I’d like the MIC budget get crashed to China’s level, end the Empire, end the wars, bring all US troops home from everywhere, the warzones like Afghanistan & the bases in allied nations like Germany.

      Like J’hon Doe II says, there is money for the > $1T MIC (broadly defined if Defense + “intelligence” agencies + Homeland Security, etc), including for funding 2 warring factions of the countless Syrian factions in the complicated Syrian Civil War.

      Or how about the fact that the MIC, or at least Gen. Petraus, has advised arming “moderate Al Qa3da” Al Nusra Front in Syria. The stated reason for the War on Terra TM was to eliminate Al Qa3da, who was stated as having done Sep 11. Has The War on Terra gone on so long that arming Al Qa3da is suggested, is this seems to be ignored by BigMedia, BigPolitician, & the Public, when it should be a scandal.

      Ditto for the fact that Zacarias Moussaoui, the Al Qa3da, accountant/bookeeper, claimed in US court that a faction of Saudi Royals including the new King, Bandar “Bush”, & the billionaire investor that is the #2 shareholder of NewsCorp/FauxNews. Shouldn’t this be a huge scandal? How was it so vital to murder B1n Lad3n, but his Saudi Royal funders do not even get sanctions, much less prison or murder?

      Ditto that HSBC Bank was caught laundering $ for Al Qa3da & the Sinaola MEX narcotics cartel, among others. Attny General Holder said HSBC is 2 Big 2 Fail & Jail. After this story, I assume the War on Terra, & Drugz are not earnestly done for their stated purpose, & do not help me or other “regular” USians. Again should be a huge scandal, & again BigElite doesn’t seem to care.

      But even if the MIC were earnest in actually “defending Muricans” from foreigners actually killing USians, it would still be a ridiculous waste of money, as long as 0bama/H Clinton/Rs & their Sickcare Mafia owners continue to block Canada-style MedicareForAll. Per Harvard Public Health Profs’ analysis, post-ACA by 2022 IIRC the lack of having civilized CAN-style MedicareForAll kills “only” 30K USians/yr, whereas pre-ACA it was 45K. In addition, medical bankruptcy is the leading reason for bankruptcy, which makes both vaunted “property rights” & “retirement/investment planning” in the US a joke for the 99%+ of us who don’t have a massive ($0.5M – $2.0M ?) net worth to be able to absorb a $500K+ loss that is possible in a medical catastrophe like cancer, even if 1 has insurance. So there is the equivalent of 10-15X Sep11s catastrophic deaths ANNUALLY. I seem to be the only on saying it, but AFAICT this makes the Sickcare Mafia & their owned puppet BigPols like 0bama/Paul Ryan far bigger killers of USians than T3rr0rist Boogeyman Du Jour like Al Qa3da or 1S1S could ever dream of being. Furthermore, it makes the $1T+ MIC budget seem to be a joke of wasted money, given this internal mass murder of USians is being ignored.

      Am I overstating the MedicareForAll vs T3rr0rist constrast? What do you think?

  6. Andrew Nichols
    March 28, 2016 at 07:58

    As a Kiwi based in Australia, it’s always amused me that US rightwingers (including HR Clinton who decry the proposals of the likes of Bernie Sanders for single payer health funding (ie what the civilised world has done for near on 50 yrs now) and taxpayer funded tertiary ed. as irresponsible and unaffordable, have absolutely no problem at all in supporting significantly greater amounts spent on war – as if they didnt come from the same pool of taxes. Cognitive dissonance?

  7. Zachary Smith
    March 27, 2016 at 18:17

    My take on this: the inmates are running the asylum. The Pentagon has been allowed to run wild because 1) Congress is lazy, or 2) Congress is stupid or 3) both of the above. Until the money wasters are reined in, this will continue.

    On another note, the Air Force has announced that the A-10 will be taken out of service beginning 2018. This despite the F-35 not being even remotely able to replace it. In my opinion the A-10 ought to be transferred to the US Army – presumably that organization will be able to find enough people to maintain it. In the course of doing that, end the Key West Agreement giving the Air Force everything. If the USAF won’t do its job, the US Army will be given that job.

    • March 29, 2016 at 12:14

      Dear Zachary. I agree that assigning the A-10s to the Army is a great idea in theory. Unfortunately it is very complicated in practice. It turns out I have personal experience in this matter.

      In 1987, I wrote an budget issue paper arguing that it was time begin planning for a replacing the A-10 in the mid to late 1990s. To that end, I proposed a competitive design competition that would build on the A-10s strengths and correct some of its few weaknesses (e.g., make it smaller with a higher power to weight ratio to improve its acceleration and sustained turn, while maintaining its lethal gun, its unequalled loiter capability, its ease of maintenance, etc.) This was all doable with off the shelf technologies and real design discipline. I also argued that because the AF was not interested in planning for an A-10 replacement, and that we should consider transferring the Close Air Support (CAS) mission to the Air National Guard (which would be chopped to the Army in time of war) or the Army itself. One reason the Guard was attractive was that they had (and still have) a cadre of CAS enthusiasts. Moreover, in peace time they were under the command of the State Adjutant General who also had command of the Army National Guard. Therefore, you had the command ingredients to insure combined arms training during peacetime.

      The Deputy Secretary of Defense signed off on this issue paper and formed a committee of AF, Army, and JCS generals and their civilian equivalents in the Office of the Secretary of Defense to make it happen. Since it was my idea, I had a ring side seat in their meeting. The AF immediately identified me as the cause of their problem, and it formed an alliance with the Army and the JCS to squelch the whole initiative.

      For example, the Army has a bureaucratic mafia wedded to the Attack Helicopter (the AH-64 Apache). That mafia hated the idea of having the A-10 in the Army because every one knew the A-10 was more lethal than the Apache and far less vulnerable. It would break their lock of aviation-related budgetary rice bowl. In a brilliant piece of bureaucratic legerdemain, the AF also promised the Army that (1) if the Army went along with their program of not replacing the A-10 with a dedicated CAS fighter, (2) the AF would give up its control of the air space immediately behind the theoretical battle lines. This would enable the Army to use their short range ground to ground missiles (the ATACMS) without needed to coordinate with and get clearance from the AF. So the Army supported the AF and said it did want the A-10, and the AF never made good on their promise.

      The Air Guard option was a more dangerous one from the AF perspective. The Guard was quasi independent and had its own tentacles reaching into Congress. The AF bureaucratically bribed some senior ANG officers by offering to give them more F-16s and to upgrade other F-16s. And over time, the AF insured that new Guard officers who were nominated for General would be more accommodating to the AF world view. As a result, the CAS cadre in the ANG leadership was gradually replaced by a more accommodating leadership, although there is still a strong cadre in the remaining A-10 squadrons.

      The end result of the 1987 gambit was that the A-10 replacement and transfer initiative was squelched and the AF claimed the A-10 replacement would be a special variant of the F-16, called the A-16. The A-16, equipped with the inaccurate 30mm gun pod proved to be a disaster in the First Gulf War, and it quietly reverted into a std F-16. The F-16 is a great airplane, but it simply is not designed for Close Air Support.

      Today, advocates of the F-35 say it can perform as a CAS fighter. They are pumping out exactly the same kind of nonsense pumped by the AF in the case of A-16 — but of course, that is ancient history and in our sound byte culture it is forgotten.

      Note to Eddy in comment #1: Ranting about $600 toilette seats and $900 hammers in sound byte articles in USA Today may sell newspapers, but it is not going to make a dent in the deeply seated bureaucratic pathologies like those trying to consign the A-10 — arguably the most effective tactical plane ever built — to the dustbin of history.

      The problem is not just Congress — it is a product of the interplay of relations among the three wings of the Military – Industrial – Congressional Complex. Eisenhower understood this, and an early draft of his farewell address included the reference to Congress — but it was dropped for an unknown reason. (This has been confirmed by several source, including his granddaughter Susan Eisenhower.)

      • March 29, 2016 at 12:23

        correction: the last sentence of the 4th paragraph should read “So the Army supported the AF and said it did NOT want the A-10, and the AF never made good on their promise.

      • Zachary Smith
        March 30, 2016 at 20:05

        For example, the Army has a bureaucratic mafia wedded to the Attack Helicopter (the AH-64 Apache). That mafia hated the idea of having the A-10 in the Army because every one knew the A-10 was more lethal than the Apache and far less vulnerable.

        Wow! I’d heard of battleship admirals stifling the replacement of those obsolete dodos, and more recently how the “aircraft-carrier-admirals” are doing the same thing even though the day of the big carrier is long past. The existence of high-rank reality deniers within the Army came as a surprise. This is surely the equivalent of keeping horse cavalry long after machine guns were invented, and worse, promoting the “horse-cavalry-generals” into positions they couldn’t handle. That British Douglas Haig and American John Pershing were nearly untouchable because they’d married into the back-home elites made it even worse.

        So who else is on one of these “mafia” jihads? The Marines seem to be determined to get an airplane with VTOL capability, no matter how much the quest hurts both themselves and the nation. This entire issue is really crazy. I don’t really know who has been the driving force behind the V-22. How anybody expects that thing to last five minutes against a modern foe is beyond me.

        Regarding the A-16, that’s one reason I like this forum – I keep learning things. I’d never even heard of that piece of junk until you mentioned it!

  8. Eddie
    March 27, 2016 at 18:01

    This article has some good strong points — the ‘time bombs’ set in the Defense budget, the lack of info/transparency in the OCO budget, the DoD’s inability to pass its annual audit for the last 27 yrs, the gross exaggeration of US Def Sec Carter, but too much of it appears to be written for government ‘insiders’, with the emphasis on the charts and graphs related to the budgeting process. In my opinion, IF the author is trying to reach a larger audience down to the typical voter, he would need to stick to more ‘visceral’ examples — I always thought showing pictures/footage of the vast aircraft ‘boneyards’ in the US southwest, or malfunctioning military aircraft (i.e.; the Osprey, etc), the $900 hammers (or whatever), etc, etc and maybe juxtapose them next to our current major “GWOT” threats — suicide bombers with shopping carts & shoe-bombs, or the 9/11 hijackers with box cutters — would START to make an impression on the ‘undecided’ voter, who, after all, in the end-analysis is approving — tacitly or otherwise — all of this. Those individuals are NOT going to take the time/effort to delve-through the statistics (accurate though they are) presented above… if they DID do that kind of thoughtful analysis we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with! Make it quick and dramatic, USA Today style only more so. Otherwise you’re just preaching to the choir who already knows the hymns by heart anyway…

    • Greg Williams
      March 30, 2016 at 14:45

      On the one hand, I think this is fair criticism. On the other hand, I think it’s also fair to say that the military reform community has delivered a thoughtful and useful mix of information all along this spectrum, for at least the 30 years in which I’ve followed it. The $435 hammers, DIVAD guns locking onto latrine fans instead of helicopters, Littoral Combat Ships frequently sidelined by equipment failures are the dramatic examples. Mr. Spinney can always be counted upon to satisfy the needs of quantitative wonks like me.

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