- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama’s administration has managed to brilliantly frame the budget debate with a mantra that an economic crisis requires huge amounts of money for domestic programs. President Bush’s team, though very well intentioned, teed up this issue.

Unfortunately, the result of this huge domestic spending tidal wave, along with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates giving his best shot at a Defense Department budget, has put the Republicans on Capitol Hill in a very difficult position. They can make speeches, but with a filibuster-proof Senate, the Republicans lack direct power.

Consequently, as the budget battle is joined on Capitol Hill, there are two obstacles. If your core principle is fiscal conservatism, the Democrats can argue that increased defense spending means the deficit increases even more. The second obstacle is the significant media praise received by Mr. Bush’s and now President Obama’s defense secretary for making the “hard call” to focus primarily on current war-fighting needs.

It is now up to Congress, especially the Democrats, perhaps even by overriding a presidential veto, to take the long view to ensure that the U.S. military across the board has enough of the most capable 21st-century technology to guarantee we can vanquish all enemies.

It comes down to a simple argument: Without enough 21st-century military to keep America safe, the domestic spending surge will have been all for nothing.

National security must remain the ultimate priority. The constant drumbeat of the recession and a very troubled economy cloud this fundamental truism.

To directly focus the defense budget in 21st-century terms, it is now up to the Democrats in Congress to set priorities and express the will of the people for a strong visionary defense budget.

Those on Capitol Hill must show their collective wisdom on the coming budget priorities. Each branch of the military, through their surrogates in the media, industry and think tanks, may ultimately turn on one another to defend their specific needs. This internecine sniping will go on and on as hundreds of billions go to domestic priorities such as “community organizers” like ACORN, failed bailouts as companies move into Chapter 11, and mysterious “bank stress test” economics.

So rather than try to get it just right on the margin, it is important to be, as the Air Force says, above the fight to determine what is truly important. The United States faces a quickly modernizing Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that includes China’s air force, navy and missile “artillery” as well as its cyberwar and military space programs. To counter this growing, very real threat while fighting and winning our current wars in Iran and Afghanistan, a longer view for spending priorities should include:

c More Zumwalt-class destroyers. The current growing pains involved in this ship’s hard innovative technology are just a work-around. Zumwalt destroyers balance the anti-submarine capabilities of our surface fleet. The PLA sub threat is a huge and growing danger.

c A fleet of Littoral Combat ships. This could be built under the current budget, but not as a substitute for destroyers, which can go anywhere any time.

c More, more and more USAF F-22s, with an export version to Japan and the Israeli air force — if they want it. This will send a huge signal of U.S. support to Japan and Israel. The F-22 is aimed directly at the PLA’s air force, and it also puts North Korea on notice especially, given the North’s nuke tests and missile threats to Alaska and Hawaii. And Iran’s brutal rulers will be told America stands with the defense of Israel. As the office of the secretary of defense’s former director for international technology security assessment, a position responsible for protecting defense critical national assets, I can attest that this is very, very doable.

c An end to the mission creep of the intelligence community trying to take over all things “cyber.” This is much more of an issue for the Defense Department, Homeland Security Department or FBI.

c More combat employment of Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) pods and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including a promising UAV logistical helicopter and a state-of the-art Israeli identification technology to deal with improvised explosive devices. Specifically continue to increase special operations forces — Mr. Gates has been a visionary on all these fronts.

c Robots now! And forever! This is really brave new world technology.

c A secure number of Carrier Battle Groups. The PLA is considering its own flattops, although it should remember the Miracle at Midway (four Japanese carriers destroyed) and the men of Torpedo 8, who lost all but one pilot. That squadron is still alive in spirit, watching over the fleet.

c Air Force heavy-lift aircraft and tankers. Enough until you can’t see the sun if we must surge into combat.

c Navy fast-attack submarines. U.S. submarines killing enemy subs is a very good thing.

c Intensive research and development for the next-generation bomber. Understand that UAVs, robots and conventional missile technology advances, intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional munitions and supersonic global strike cruise missiles may be in the near future. Production might be unnecessary, but plan to build in detail the next generation.

c Service academies. Attention to media and political operators: Hands off trying to kill the service academies. This is a nasty, unnecessary and very harmful debate. It sets a band of brothers and sisters against one another over their source of commissioning — horrible at any time but especially while we are at war.

c Marine Air. Finally, good news: All Americans should pause and give a much-deserved victory lap to Marine Air. The Marines ultimately stood alone for two decades up against the media and unrelenting congressional fire to defend the V-22. Now the Osprey is the tipping-point aircraft to fight and win in Afghanistan. Semper fi to the Marines.

With China on the rise and Iran and North Korea showing true evil, it is not the time for Democrats to play off one weapon or technology against another while spending trillions on domestic programs. And I haven’t even mentioned space or medical and any other critical needs.

The party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy must not let America down or should be swept from power in the next election.

Ed Timperlake is a Naval Academy graduate and former Marine fighter pilot and just finished a six-year tour as director for international technology security assessment in the office of the secretary of defense.

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