Tag: joint strike fighter

Thoughts on the F-35’s Extra Engine

I’m a bit late to the party in commenting on the passage of the Rooney Amendment, a successful effort on the part of 2nd-term Republican Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) to strip funding for the F-136, an engine that the Pentagon doesn’t want for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A few additional thoughts: unlike nearly all other amendments to the CR, Rooney’s passed, and fairly easily. Part of the reason is strong administration support for the effort, key especially to securing votes from Democrats – those who don’t have F-136 plants in their districts, that is. But Gates had signaled his displeasure many times previously, so that alone doesn’t explain this rare victory for budget hawks.

I would guess that an additional factor is the slew of new Republicans elected on a platform of fiscal prudence. Having Rooney as a champion for the cause certainly helped, with 110 Republicans voting for the amendment (vote tally here). A majority within the GOP still treat weapons contractors with kid gloves, but claiming that every single weapon system is essential to the nation’s survival can get pretty laughable, especially when the Secretary of Defense and all the relevant uniformed officers disagree. 

(Speaking of laughable, wouldn’t it be absurd for the Obama administration to threaten to veto the CR because it now has too little money for the Pentagon? Wait. That happened.)

Much as I would like to dwell on the defeat of the F-136 in the House, however, I am sobered by the reality of budgeting for the military. This is hardly the final blow in this battle. Opponents and supporters of the extra engine in the Senate have already lined up their forces. The engine might yet re-emerge. And we must not lose sight of the fact that the total amount saved – $450 million – is tiny relative to the Pentagon’s budget of around $540 billion in this fiscal year. Perhaps rather than debating the need for a second engine, we should be debating the need for a plane that is grossly over budget, badly behind schedule, and riddled with performance problems?

So kudos to Congressman Rooney for leading this fight, but there is still much, much more to do to bring military spending down to reasonable levels. (For example, removing U.S. troops from Europe, a policy that already enjoys considerable support.)

Korb and Thompson on Military Spending

Today’s Los Angeles Times features an op-ed by Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, that is worthy of attention. The theme, cutting military spending, isn’t particularly original. It has grown into a regular topic of conversation across the media spectrum, with the New York Times featuring an editorial this past Sunday making the case for real cuts in Pentagon spending, not the half-hearted cost-shifting that Defense Secretary Gates is busy selling these days. Ben Friedman and I wrote about cutting military spending in the LA Times a few months ago, and I collaborated with Larry Korb on this same subject at The National Interest Online. Nothing particularly newsworthy there.

Loren Thompson’s contribution is significant, however. Building on his entry at the National Journal’s National Security Experts blog earlier this month,he signals a willingness on the part of an established Washington insider to reconsider some fundamental propositions that have guided his work – and inside-the-Beltway thinking – for years.

One of Lexington’s bread-and-butter issues has been finding ways to grow the military budget. I don’t expect that to change entirely. Perhaps now, however, the focus will be on steering a finite and shrinking military budget to particularly worthwhile projects, and jettisoning the force structure that serves decidedly unnecessary or unwise missions (e.g. invading and occupying medium-sized countries in Southwest and Central Asia).

A related goal is to give U.S. taxpayers a break, and get others to spend more for their own defense. In this vein, I don’t agree with all of their predictions. I doubt that the Littoral Combat Ship will have much of a foreign market with a price tag exceeding $600 million a piece (when one includes the mission modules that each LCS will carry). I likewise am skeptical that the Joint Strike Fighter will attract a lot of buyers if the price continues on its current path – approaching $150 million a piece. Some countries that had previously committed to the JSF program, including Denmark and the Netherlands, are now getting cold feet.

That said, the bottom line in the Korb-Thompson collaboration is spot on, and worth repeating:

The big question for policymakers is not whether defense spending will be cut — that is inevitable — but how global security will be maintained as the U.S. role diminishes….

It appears the only way this can be accomplished without encouraging aggression is to expect more of allies and friends. In other words, countries such as Germany, Japan and India must help fill the strategic vacuum created by America’s retreat.


The White House has already embarked on a series of initiatives to engage allies in more robust security roles while loosening the export restrictions that impeded arming them. These steps may have trade benefits for America, but their real significance is that America’s eroding economic might makes unilateralism too costly to be feasible. Washington needs to help overseas friends play a bigger security role so it can concentrate on rebuilding its economy.

Congrats and kudos to them both for setting forth such a clear and convincing argument for a dramatic change of course.

The Pentagon Shouldn’t Get a Pass

Today’s Politico includes an op ed that I co-authored with Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network. It was the first time that the two of us collaborated, and I was very pleased with the end result. Most of the clever turns of phrase are Heather’s including the title, “The Wrong Manhood Test.” And I’m grateful to Harrison Moar and Charles Zakaib for helping me on Monday to sift through the gargantuan defense budget, and pull out the relevant facts.

Heather and I don’t agree on everything. We faced off at Bloggingheads.tv several months ago to discuss my book, The Power Problem, and I’m sure that we’ll continue to spar from time to time in the future. But the bottom line from the op ed is this:

…because our national security rests on our economic health as well as on the strength of our military, a liberal and a libertarian can agree that the Pentagon should no longer get a pass. Congress must stop funding projects to satisfy parochial domestic interests. The Pentagon must stop buying weapons systems that are already outdated, unworkable or both. And the administration must carefully define our vital security interests, reshape our grand strategy to more equitably distribute the burdens of policing the globe and reduce the occasions when our military will be called on to fight.

There is more than enough blame to go around. Congress is already girding for battle over some pet projects singled out for elimination or cut backs, including the C-17 transport and the additional engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Pentagon continues to plan for contingency operations around the world, and assumes that the U.S. security umbrella will remain open over Europe and East Asia for the indefinite future. And the White House has signaled (they have yet to formally produce a national security strategy) that while it would like the allies to help out, it doesn’t want them to get too capable. (See, most recently, Secretary Clinton’s remarks re: European defense.)

The governing assumption, therefore, is that, as the just-released QDR explains,

America’s interests and role in the world require armed forces with unmatched capabilities and a willingness on the part of the nation to employ them in defense of our interests and the common good. 

The time for finger pointing over the Pentagon’s budget is over. If we can’t address the obvious inefficiencies and waste in military procurement, then when can we? If we can’t today envision a time in the future when other countries will play a larger role in their own defense, then will we ever? “If the Department of Defense can’t figure out a way to defend the United States on a budget of more than half a trillion dollars a year,” in Bob Gates’s immortal words, “then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by buying a few more ships and planes.” (h/t Justin Logan)

Amen to that. So let’s stop defining our security by the number of ships and planes that we buy, and start thinking about ways to responsibly contain, and ultimately bring down, military spending.