- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The federal budget for fiscal year 2003 contains a $48 billion increase in defense spending, the largest such increase in a single year since the height of the Reagan era buildup.

Too large, say some critics, who allege wasteful spending on irrelevant and outdated weapons and capabilities. Where is the much-ballyhooed "transformation" of the U.S. military in response to post-Cold War circumstances, they ask. Why do we need to spend more when our military already dominates wherever it goes?

It is important to remember that armed conflict is a come-as-you-are event. The troops and weapons employed are the products of previous investments, and whether they are up to the task depends on the level of commitment over time to providing adequate and consistent financial resources. No amount of battlefield adjustments can remedy gaps in training, flaws in systems or shortcomings in logistics all of which can have fatal consequences.

Essentially, for the past 15 years, we tried to buy defense capability on the cheap avoiding hard choices about how to restructure the post-Cold War force while neglecting to adequately fund the forces we inherited from that era.

At the same time, our military was being used as peacekeepers at an ever-increasing clip: such deployments doubled during the 1990s, further straining personnel and equipment. The result was predictable: All the services but the Marine Corps experienced recruiting and retention shortfalls, while housing and installation facilities continued to deteriorate and cannibalization of parts became routine to maintain near-term readiness. The families of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen and women were asking "why are we staying?"

Readiness has also suffered as aging systems were not replaced. Forty-year-old bombers and tanker aircraft; 20-year-old fighters; 30-year-old trucks and tanks; all require ever-increasing amounts of ever more expensive and time-consuming maintenance, draining funds from procurement of newer replacements and reducing combat capability.

In addition, homeland security emergency requirements, unpaid bills, increased costs for everything from fuel to personnel callups and increased operational tempos account for all but about $10 billion from this budget. This amount one-thirty-eighth of the total allocation is all that is now available to fund new requirements and increased procurement of new weapon systems. This is not enough.

For the foreseeable future, we will continue to depend upon many major systems that date from the 1970s and '80s. An adequate recapitalization program for these assets would benefit both national defense and the defense industrial base. That base, upon which the U.S. military relies to maintain its overwhelming technological edge, requires skills and personnel skills that are becoming scarce and personnel that are not being replaced.

The Defense Science Board recently noted that many firms are leaving the defense business, severing the vital connection between commercial and defense research and manufacturing. This trend has also resulted in an uncomfortable number of single-source suppliers. In some critical areas, such as supply of certain munitions, U.S. sources no longer exist.

What this budget does recognize is the continuing need to invest in the volunteers who serve in the nation's armed forces. About one-quarter of the budget is going into quality of life programs cutting the gap between military and civilian pay, recognizing the special responsibilities of the noncommissioned officer corps, improving the military health care system and beginning to tackle the serious problems in on-post housing and facilities.

This budget also recognizes more than any other in the past decade that operations and maintenance must include the training dollars that make our armed forces the finest in the world.

Many have criticized this budget for not adequately funding "transformation." But the military leadership and industry have been transforming our forces since Vietnam, with revolutionary advances in stealth, precision standoff weapons, armor, navigation, communications, command and control, joint operations and mobility. Most recently, we have seen the linkage of old and new platforms in revolutionary ways to enable them to be used synergistically to achieve outstanding operational results.

The military has also canceled important programs the Navy's DD-21 destroyer, the Navy's Area Missile Defense, and 18 Army programs that did not correspond to changing requirements.

This budget makes important and long-postponed improvements in the welfare and morale of our service personnel arguably our most important national security asset. The equipment and capabilities with which they are supplied, and which enable them to win quickly and at minimum cost, will need further attention in coming years.

Lawrence P. Farrell Jr is president and chief executive officer of the National Defense Industrial Association and is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general.

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