GAFFNEY: Disastrous transformation of U.S. defense

Hollowing out the American military

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Barack Obama came to office promising to “fundamentally transform” America. As president, he has done so with most obvious and dramatic effect in the government’s takeover of more and more of the private sector of the U.S. economy. Almost entirely lost in the hue and cry precipitated by such actions as the stimulus bill, Obamacare, student loans and financial “reform,” however, are Obama initiatives that threaten an arguably even more momentous transformation: changing the United States from “the world’s sole superpower” to a nation that may require the permission, or at least the help, of others to project power and defend its interests around the globe.

The backbone of America’s power-projection capability is its ability to get to a fight “the firstest with the mostest.” In today’s world, that requires two things: airlift and aerial refueling. Currently, the United States has an unmatched ability rapidly to move heavy military equipment by air around the world. But a mainstay of our airlift fleet is made up of 59 C-5As that are more than 40 years old. Twenty-two of these huge planes are expected to be retired in the near future. At present, it seems likely the rest will soon follow as they become prohibitively costly to maintain and operate.

The only American candidate for replacing the loss in rapid-transport capacity associated with sending the C-5As to the boneyard is the C-17, a substantially smaller but modern and highly capable strategic airlifter. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is determined to prevent Congress from approving production of more C-17s under threat of veto if lawmakers do as they have in the past and put in unrequested funds for additional airlifters.

Because India is expected to place an order for 10 C-17s within the next six months, the U.S. industrial base for heavy airlifters theoretically could be maintained for several more years. But without an additional order of five more C-17s for the American armed forces in 2011, there would be a gap in production. This would, at best, entail a suspension and restart that would cost an estimated $6 billion. More likely, reopening the line would prove not to be an option because of the loss of suppliers and skilled workers during the hiatus.

In the event the United States does allow its heavy-airlift industrial base to disappear, it would have just two alternatives to simply accepting a dramatically reduced ability to bring U.S. forces to bear - whether for combat purposes or those associated with humanitarian and disaster relief: to rely upon European or Russian suppliers to make up the shortfall.

The first would involve depending upon the manufacturers of the Airbus, EADS - a European consortium whose work force is represented by hard-left unions with records of hostility toward the United States. The second could entail leasing or purchasing Antonov airlifters from the Kremlin. No matter how much the Obama administration enthuses about its “reset” relations with the Russians, it would be irresponsible to entrust Moscow with any role in decision-making about whether and when American forces are deployed around the globe.

A similar conundrum looms with respect to tankers. Earlier this year, President Obama promised his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, that EADS would be allowed to compete for the long-overdue replacement of U.S. aerial-refueling aircraft initially bought during the Eisenhower administration.

To enable a foreign-owned company to bid on this expensive modernization program, the Defense Department has not only had to allow a European-manufactured aircraft that manifestly cannot meet the Air Force’s requirements to participate in the competition. It also has had to waive long-standing rules restricting foreign access to some of the crown jewels of the national defense: secure communications technologies. The latter is of particular concern insofar as EADS is owned in part by two of the most serious perpetrators of espionage against U.S. industries, France and Russia.

Even if those problems did not exist, the question recurs: Can America safely rely on potentially hostile foreign workers and suppliers for equipment so vital to our national security - and the ability to safeguard it far removed from our own shores?

Regrettably, these are just two examples of the sorts of far-reaching - and possibly dangerous - implications for the U.S. defense industrial base of programmatic decisions that Team Obama is taking or has under active consideration. Others likely to have such repercussions include the cancellation of the state-of-the-art F-22 fifth-generation air-superiority fighter; the veto threat over funding for a cost-reducing second engine source for the hoped-for alternative, the F-35; cancellation of the deployment of long-range anti-missile systems in Europe; shrinking the Navy’s ship-construction budget; eliminating planned orders for more solid-fueled rocket motors for access to space, strategic-missile-defense interceptors and nuclear-armed ballistic missiles; and dispensing with the Marines’ mission to insert forces over the beach.

Ronald Reagan espoused and practiced the time-tested philosophy he called Peace Through Strength. President Obama is reverting to the failed alternative of hoping for peace despite American weakness. In the process, he is hollowing out the military and its vital industrial base and thereby transforming this country in ways that are going to make the world much more volatile and get some of us killed.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio,” heard in Washington weeknights at 9 on WTNT 570-AM.

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