The federal budget situation has never been more dire; either Washington does its job, or the defense budget is slashed. The defense budget has already seen nearly $500 billion in cuts, and will see another $500 billion lost if the president and Congress fail to act this year. The prospect of $1 trillion in defense cuts over the next ten years would be, simply put, disastrous.
Defense cuts on this scale would leave America with the smallest land force since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and the smallest fighter aircraft fleet in our nation's history. This is not to mention the draconian cuts that would surely come to the next generation systems for all the services. America's ability to maintain "peace through strength" would be severely eroded.
Preventing this disaster is possible, and will require difficult choices on all sides. The largest portion of our budget—entitlement programs—should see the largest reforms. But in order to get a budget deal this year, advocates for defense spending must also be willing to cut—and end—Pentagon programs that provide little or no real benefit to warfighters.
It's easy to deride the Pentagon "procurement" process writ-large, but more instructive in this case to highlight a particular line item, among many, that could be eliminated—namely the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). The MEADS program is so fraught with delays and cost overruns that everyone, from the Pentagon on down, agrees that it will never be fielded. Regardless, there is still $400 million that could be earmarked for MEADS in the FY2013 budget.
Even though MEADS—a joint venture with Germany and Italy—is years overdue, billions over budget, and will never be operational, supporters of the system are pushing for another payout to "harvest" technology from the program. But rather than argue for this earmark on the merits, they claim that spending another $400 million of American taxpayer dollars will bolster trans-Atlantic cooperation because the MEADS program has “an incredibly relevant political aspect."
This is absurd, for many reasons. First and foremost, we should not preserve programs for "political" relevance—defense decisions should be based on strategic needs. Second, our good relations with Germany and Italy do not hinge on a single weapons system, especially since neither country intends to ever use the MEADS system.
If MEADS worked, was on budget, on time, and provided a capability the US does not have, that would be one thing. But, unfortunately, none of that is true. US missile defense is currently provided by a variety of systems, both on land and at sea. The administration is proceeding with its Phased Adaptive Approach to European missile defense, and between the Navy's AEGIS class warships and our upgraded Patriot missile batteries, our European allies are well defended.
MEADS is a white elephant; great example of a well-intentioned defense endeavor we cannot afford. Wasting another $400 million earmark on the program only ensures that our debt and deficit problems grow, and we delay more effective and cost-efficient solutions to theatre defense. The Patriot system, with upgrades already in the pipeline, has proved its worth to my generation of warfighters, and will overwatch my peers in future, unforeseen conflicts.
This soldier certainly doesn't enjoy cheerleading for defense reductions, but these difficult days require tough choices. Either we find wasteful or redundant programs to cut, or deep, dangerous, and indiscriminate defense cuts will be made across the board. Making the intellectually consistent argument against unnecessary defense programs also gives budget hawks a leg to stand on when insisting on equivalent cuts to bloated entitlement programs.
Peace through strength works; but the flip side is war invited by weakness. We can't afford the weakness that would be brought about by sequestration and therefore need to have the courage to cut programs that preserve an effective defense budget.