$54 Billion Is Chump Change - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
$54 Billion Is Chump Change

In his February 28 speech to a joint session of Congress, President Trump proposed a $54 billion increase in the Pentagon budget for FY 2018, amounting to about a ten percent increase over this year’s budget. He also proposed to do away with the budget “sequester” mechanism imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

$54 billion is a lot of money in anybody’s book. But to repair the readiness crisis in our armed forces, it’s pretty much chump change.

Liberals and budget hawks will howl with rage at that last statement. It wouldn’t be true, if we hadn’t been at war for almost 16 years and our military leaders hadn’t let the readiness of our forces fall to political convenience. The costs are still being measured in terms of lost lives, wounded soldiers, and worn-out machines.

Since 2009, we’ve had a president who insisted on cutting defense spending again and again, refusing to invest in our current capabilities as well as our future needs. Obama never believed that our military was anything other than a waste of money.

The result of eight years of Obama’s maladministration of our defense system is the current disastrous state of our military. Trump’s $54 billion isn’t nearly enough to repair the damage. The entire amount could — and probably should — be spent in one afternoon on contracts to fix what’s broken.

We all know the basic grim facts. The Navy is smaller, at 284 ships, than it has been since World War One. The Air Force has the oldest fleet of aircraft, since the service was created in September 1947. The Marine Corps and the Army both need more warriors and new equipment — helicopters, aircraft, trucks, and armored vehicles — to enable them to fight.

Those facts are a big yawn for most people because they don’t relate to what’s going on in the world. Let’s paint a more vivid picture.

The question is combat readiness. Last month, Military.com reported, “Only three of the Army’s 58 Brigade Combat Teams are ready to fight; 53 percent of Navy aircraft can’t fly; the Air Force is 723 fighter pilots short; and the Marine Corps needs 3,000 more troops.”

Starting in late December and for the first time since 2015, there was no U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle group in the Middle East. That meant — until the USS George Bush sailed there in late January — there were no carrier aircraft to strike ISIS targets or to defend U.S. diplomats, in the event of another Benghazi attack.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has reportedly read the riot act to the Joint Chiefs. How could they let it get so bad? The answer is simple: These leaders have enabled the decay of our fighting forces by refusing to stop the hemorrhaging. Faced with the decision to either quit or remain, they chose to keep the stars on their shoulders, rather than resign in protest.

As I’ve reminded you before, the last time one of our generals quit in protest of an outrageous situation such as this was in 1996 when Air Force Chief of Staff Ron Fogelman quit rather than allow then-Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall to blame the Khobar Towers attack on a general who was innocent of negligence.

Last year, Fox News reported that about 70 percent of the Marines’ F/A-18 aircraft were incapable of flying combat missions. The situation is proven redundantly by the latest reports.

According to the March 5 edition of Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine, 26 percent of all of the Marines’ F/A-18s are flyable.

The Navy fares only slightly better: 39 percent of all Navy F/A-18s are flyable.

The Air Force’s strike fighters — A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-25s — are in better shape: 71 percent are available and flyable.

Thus the readiness crisis extends throughout our armed forces. To fix it will require much more than Mr. Trump’s $54 billion.

For example, the Navy’s F/A-18s — even the newer models — have been flown so often and for so long that they’re approaching their planned service life of 6,000 flying hours. They can be fixed, but the cost of the repairs — the Air Force calls such repairs “service life extension programs” — can be as much as 50 percent of the initial cost of the aircraft.

The cost is so great because to repair an aircraft to restore its mission capability requires taking most of the aircraft apart. Replacing an engine is relatively easy, but taking the wings apart isn’t.

In 2013, the initial cost of an F/A-18 (E-F) was about $61 million. If you have aircraft that initially cost that much, the cost of repairing and refitting each one can be as much as $30 million. The Navy has about 550 of these aircraft. To repair each one to its designed mission capability would cost about $17 billion. And it will take about a year, meaning each aircraft would be unavailable for duty for that period of time.

Most Air Force aircraft — F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s — have seen almost as much combat duty as the Navy’s, which means that they also need the extensive repairs which will cost about as much. The Air Force has 220 F-15 Strike Eagles, 805 F-16s, 187 F-22s, and 283 A-10s. (The F-22s, having only recently been introduced into combat, have less wear and need less drastic maintenance. Air Force bombers — B-1s, B-2s, and the ancient B-52s — pose different and more expensive problems.)

So if the Air Force has more than 1,300 aircraft — not counting the bomber force — in need of major maintenance, the cost could be another $40 billion.

Adding just the cost of essential aircraft repairs to the Navy and Air Force inventories, you just absorbed more than Mr. Trump’s $54 billion.

That’s only part of the price of the current readiness crisis.

Bringing the Army up to combat readiness will take more billions of dollars and t least a year — probably two or three — to accomplish. (More than a year ago, Obama’s Army secretary ordered combat commanders to compromise readiness for lactation needs of female soldiers. This sort of politically correct nonsense has to be reversed, and quickly, if the Army is ever going to return to readiness.)

The Air Force, as mentioned earlier, is short of more than 700 pilots. It takes more than a year to train a pilot and ready him (or her) for combat. Pilot training costs more than $5 million. That’s at least another $3.5 billion.

The Navy is also suffering a pilot shortage, and it has — according to my Navy experts — too few carrier decks to train new ones.

Worn out weapon systems aren’t just ships and aircraft. The Army and Marines need new small arms — rifles and pistols — and a whole lot more equipment. And that’s before you buy needed new uniforms, helmets, socks, and such.

So far, Mr. Trump hasn’t said how the $54 billion he wants to add to the defense budget will be spent. His military leaders — Secretary Mattis and the Joint Chiefs — need to provide him with a detailed list of requirements aimed solely at restoring readiness to the force.

It will cost a lot more than $54 billion to restore readiness. It will cost even more — in lives as well as cash — if it’s not handled promptly and properly.

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