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“It’s hard to argue against efficiency,” said Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute to The Times. “But I don’t think anyone really believes [the savings] will be enough to compensate” for a defense budget squeezed between a one percent rate of real growth and a three percent rise in real costs.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz acknowledged this week that “the reality is, defense budgets will likely continue to flatten even as we contend with rising personnel costs, operations, sustainment and acquisition costs as well.”

With the purchasing power of Pentagon dollars in decline, he added, “we still have to do more with the same or fewer resources, squeezing every last bit of capability from our current and future weapons systems.”

Benjamin H. Friedman of the libertarian Cato Institute, which supported Mr. Frank’s letter to the deficit commission, argued that greater efficiency is not enough to achieve the scale of the cuts needed to eliminate the deficit.

This is not about “doing the same thing more efficiently,” he said. “We want to reduce military spending by limiting the ambition it serves.”

U.S. defense spending dwarfs that of the rest of the world. China, which has the second-largest defense budget, spends about a fifth of what the United States does — although some observers think official figures may understate Beijing’s real level of spending.

Although the letter to the commission does not set out a target figure for defense cuts, a study earlier this year identified nearly a trillion dollars in spending reductions that could be made over the next ten years, according to Charles Knight of the liberal-leaning Project on Defense Alternatives.