There’s Room for Defense Cuts

Pending sequestration cuts are hanging in the air over DC, with politicians squirming under the prospect of actually putting a limit of any kind on spending. There’s a particular debate raging over the propriety of the spending cuts set to hit defense and what they’ll means for military readiness, with some Republicans — typically the big spenders on defense — starting to balk. I’m no defense expert, but I have a hard time imagining that a nation that spends more than the next 15 biggest spenders on defense — including China — will suddenly be left vulnerable in the face of relatively small cuts, as put into perspective by Veronique de Rugy earlier this week:

Thanks to the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Pentagon is due for a cut of $500 billion over nine years, starting on Jan. 2, 2013. Next year’s cut comes in at $54 billion. That prospect has generated a lot of end-of-the-world-type rhetoric from Washington hawks.

…The sequester will certainly pose management challenges in its first year of implementation. Yet even under sequestration, defense spending merely reverts to its level in 2007 – a year in which America was ably defended and plenty of cash flowed to the armed forces. And that’s in real, inflation-adjusted terms. By 2018, the defense budget returns to its fiscal 2012 level.

In nominal terms, cumulative nonwar defense spending over the FY2012-FY2021 period will increase to $4.8 trillion with sequestration, as opposed to $5.3 trillion without it. In other words, even with sequestration, nonwar military spending will still grow by about 10 percent over the next decade.

Defense spending typically gets a pass during times of budget scrutiny, which also means it’s ripe for pairing, the wasteful programs having accumulated over time. In other words, programs to cut that won’t impact the core readiness of our forces shouldn’t be all that hard to find. One example was recently offered by CF&P President Andrew Quinlan in the Washington Examiner:

The weapons program is the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a joint venture with Germany and Italy that was zeroed out by three of four relevant congressional funding authorities. But the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense decided the program was worth a $380 million earmark, and the full committee passed the final bill along with a unanimous vote.

MEADS was intended to replace the Patriot missile, but has never lived up to its billing. Originally scheduled for deployment in 2008, MEADS is now projected to be ready no earlier than 2018. The program has already overrun costs by $2 billion, and there’s no reason to believe that pattern won’t continue. More importantly, there are serious questions regarding the program’s efficacy, which is why the Army itself has called for it to be shelved.

According to the Washington Post, an internal Army memo acknowledged that the program would not “meet U.S. requirements or address the current and emerging threat without extensive and costly modifications.” In addition, the Congressional Budget Office has recommended canceling the program, while the Government Accountability Office has reported that MEADS is “at risk of not meeting several technical performance measures,” which is rather important when lives are on the line.

That looks like a good place to start to me.

Brian Garst

Brian Garst is the Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-profit think tank dedicated to preserving tax competition and free markets. He also blogs at

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