A B-2 Spirit bomber
By BEN FREEMEN, Ph.D. and MIA STEINLE
Yesterday, POGO called for congressional support of nine amendments to the gargantuan defense budget bill, the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year (FY) 2013. These amendments would result in savings without compromising security and / or would lead to more accountability for the government and its contractors. Here’s a look at the amendments that touch on national security generally—stay tuned for a look at those oriented towards government contracting and those that relate to the nuclear weapons complex.
Deferring Development of a Super High-Tech Bomber for Which There is No Urgent Need
If you owned three cars, all of which had many miles to go before the end of their lives, would you buy a fourth, top-of-the-line car? What if you were in debt? By, say, $15 trillion?
This is exactly the nonsensical spending plan the U.S. government is implementing, as the Air Force plans to spend at least $6.3 billion over the next five years developing a new long-range penetrating bomber aircraft. The thing is, the Air Force’s existing fleet of B-52, B-1B, and B-2 planes is undergoing upgrades and is expected to be operational for decades to come.
An amendment from Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Conyers (D-MI) would delay development of the new bomber until FY 2023 and reduce funds for the program by about $291 million. The delay will give the Air Force and Department of Defense time to truly determine what sort of bomber fleet they need—something that even one of the military’s highest-ranking officers said last year was necessary.
The Administration initially cancelled the program in FY 2010, saying there was “no urgent need” for a new bomber and that the program was expected to cost more than it could afford. As we argued last month, deferring the program not only saves money the U.S. doesn’t have, but it’s a low-risk move, given the country’s existing bomber fleet.
The amendment would still allow plenty of time for development of a next generation bomber. The B-52s and B-2s aren’t scheduled for retirement until 2040 and 2058, respectively. Given that the B-1 and B-2 bombers went from development to operational status in 16 years, we wouldn’t need to start developing a new bomber until 2024 at the earliest.
Buying Fewer Fighter Jets that We Can’t Afford
The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (the F-35 B) is the most expensive variant of the most expensive Department of Defense (DoD) weapon program ever, and, according to the DoD’s own figures, the planes have been plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays.
An amendment by Representative John Conyers (D-MI) would cut all funding for the Marine Corps variant of the F-35 in FY2013 and all future years. The amendment would allow the DoD to replace these planes with the proven F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Though the Super Hornets lack the F-35 B’s ability to land vertically, they have many capabilities that rival the F-35. In fact, a specialized version of the Super Hornet, an EA-18G Growler, scored a kill against an F-22, the U.S. military’s king of air-to-air combat.
Perhaps more importantly, Super Hornets cost far less to buy and operate than the beleaguered Marine Corps F-35. Every single F-35 B costs taxpayers over $250 million to buy and more than $11 million per year to operate. Three Super Hornets can be purchased for the price of one F-35 B and they cost half as much to operate.
With 281 F-35 B’s still planned to be procured, Rep. Conyers amendment will save taxpayers nearly $50 billion just in procurement costs, and billions more in operating costs over the life of this program.
In this tight fiscal climate, we simply cannot afford to waste more money on the overpriced, underperforming F-35 B.
Trimming the Bloated Pentagon Bureaucracy
Since 2001, when the war in Afghanistan began, the top ranks in the U.S. military, Generals and Flag Officers, have grown faster than all lower ranks—a phenomenon known as Star Creep. The very top ranks—three- and four-star General/Flag Officers—have grown even faster than one- and two-star General/Flag Officers.
While there have been some reductions in this top brass, there are still 945 Generals and Flag Officers—more than there were at any point during the first seven years of the war in Afghanistan. Those Generals and Admirals were also commanding more troops than the current cadre of Generals and Flag Officers. For example, at the end of 2004, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fully underway, there were approximately 17,000 more active duty military personnel than there are now.
Fortunately, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) has issued an amendment to the NDAA that will rein in this bloat. His amendment would cap the number of General/Flag Officers at “0.05 percent of the combined authorized strengths for active duty personnel.” In other words, for every 2,000 troops, there can be no more than one General or Admiral. Based upon calculating the total number of active duty and reserve personnel, this amendment will reduce the General and Flag Officer ranks by a little more than 5 percent. But, will save taxpayers millions.
The enlisted ranks have been shrinking, and even deeper cuts are planned. With fewer personnel to command and a major conflict ending there is no rationale for allowing the top ranks to grow.
Ben Freeman and Mia Steinle are POGO investigators.
Photo of B-2 bomber via the Air Force.