In the article “US Sen. Mark Udall: Plan B for Afghanistan” published in the Nov. 20 Steamboat Pilot & Today, Democratic Sen. Udall asserts, “Pakistan is the major obstacle to stability and the potential key to an overall resolution to the conflict (in Afghanistan).” As a student of military strategy and as an officer in the Air Force, I’m happy to know Colorado’s political leadership is thinking about near- and long-term military and political strategy in the Middle East. As a consequence of our military involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq, the importance of our relationship with Pakistan has escalated in the past decade, and as its importance grows, our relationship becomes a fragile one. I am growing increasingly concerned, though, with another issue pressing on the minds of our military men and women, and I would expect greater attention be paid to it. I’m talking about the budget and the proposition of dangerously large defense cuts.
On July 15, President Barack Obama delivered a speech from the White House broadly discussing his plan for economic recovery. He explains that getting our fiscal house in order “requires cuts in defense spending, and … in addition to the $400 billion that we’ve already cut from defense spending, we’re willing to look for hundreds of billions more.” For anybody concerned with national security, cutting the defense budget by hundreds of billions of dollars should raise warning flags. To be clear, I’m not saying defense spending should be immune to cuts. Rather, large cuts to the defense budget throughout a short time span may result in large deficiencies in military capability. The old adage — “You get what you pay for” — is not always true, but in the case of military operations, it mostly is.
Admittedly, the U.S. military is a bureaucracy, so there are inefficiencies small budget cuts may help remedy. For example, research and development of new weapons technologies, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, are costly, and the application of those technologies to the current battlefield will not yield any significant or measurable progress toward our national objectives. Nor will the absence of such technologies create strategic vulnerabilities that would make us terribly more susceptible to future threats such as China. It is economically immature, then, to continue to finance the testing and procurement of these technologies until such time as doing so will yield greater damage to our enemy than our national debt. Large budget cuts on the scale of hundreds of billions of dollars will transform our military communities and can compromise the combat capabilities of our armed forces.
The military already is downsizing, doing more with less. Quality training of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines has resulted in greater efficiency across the spectrum of military operations. Consider military pilots, for example. You will be hard-pressed to find a pilot in the military whose sole purpose is to fly. Most pilots wear two or three hats, serving in a variety of leadership roles as an officer and also serving in any number of administrative positions, such as scheduling, standardization and evaluation or training. Military career fields such as finance and travel management have been downsized and replaced by automated systems controlled and maintained by a smaller, better-trained staff. Service members unable to pass their respective service branch’s physical fitness test are being kicked out. So are officers in the Air Force who have not sought to improve themselves through advanced educational degrees or professional military education.
Evolving from the pressures of the economy and the uncompromising expectations of a country at war, the military is changing. There are limits, though, to how much a military can change and how quickly. Cutting the military’s finances by a measure of more than $1 trillion, as has been proposed, will force radical changes during the span of less than a year, creating capability vacancies and endangering existing war efforts abroad while exposing the U.S. to new threats. As the military molts, one of two outcomes will be realized. The military will emerge as a smaller, better-trained, equally capable force, or it will be the shell of the great military that once was.
Taking these thoughts into consideration, I challenge Colorado’s political leadership to make stronger efforts toward seeking a resolution to our budget and urge them to stand against any plans to reduce the military budget by unrealistic and unsafe margins. Plan B for Afghanistan isn’t a bad idea, Sen. Udall, but let’s get plan B for the economy on track first.