By Liam Sigler
Military spending has become one of the biggest ongoing struggles within the annual U.S. government budget battle. Conservatives claim that the U.S. military is overworked and spread too thin. Sadly, this is true. Leftists counter that U.S. defense spending has increased dramatically, and they are correct as well. According to The Hill, in 2010, the U.S. government passed the highest defense budget ever—clocking in at an astronomical $774 billion (adjusted for inflation). Eight years later, after the wind down of two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), the U.S. military budget is as bloated as ever. In 2018, $700 billion was allotted for defense spending with $716 billion earmarked for 2019. Even with all this spending, the question remains, how is “the world’s best military” still deemed insufficient for current demands?
- More Committed Enemies, Less Devoted Allies: The United States currently faces five major threats: China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Islamic terrorism. Russia and China rank 2nd and 3rd overall in military power according to Business Insider, with only the United States ranked ahead. Among North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, only France ranks in the top six, and Japan is ranked number four. Although most of the top twenty militaries seem to be friendly to the United States, there are several issues that might cause alarm. For instance, China possesses about the same number of military aircrafts as Japan and France combined. Furthermore, the Chinese Army, the world’s largest land force, contains more military personnel than France and Japan several times over. Additionally, the Russian arsenal, which has 15,398 tanks dwarfs Japan and France’s combined tank force of just 1,101. Moreover, NATO itself is shouldered mostly upon the back of the U.S. Treasury. According to Philip Reeve of NPR, “Ask experts here if Europe is pulling its weight in NATO, and you’ll likely get the same reply. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is quite right, they’ll say. Europe’s obviously not shouldering its share.” Besides this dereliction of duty by the European nations of NATO, our enemies are more fully committed to military superiority than our allies. This is demonstrated through Russia and China’s eagerness to build military bases to neutralize our capabilities in disputed territories such as the South China Sea and Crimea, and in technological leaps in anti-air capabilities, especially in the field of radar. All of this leads to the U.S. staring down five threats, two of them particularly grave, with insufficient help from our key allies. The theaters of conflict that the United States is involved in are simply too expansive for us to deal with alone. This inevitably leads to an insufficient and vulnerable American military presence in all of these disputed territories.
- Technological Failures: One of the largest thorns that has plagued the military in recent years is its F-35 fighter program. After the markedly premature cancellation of its F-22 fighter program (which some are looking into reversing), the F-35 fighter has demonstrated to be an unqualified disaster, simply from a funding standpoint. Neglecting its failures as a jack-of-all-trades master-of-none, the F-35 will cost American taxpayers more than one trillion dollars to build and maintain. In America’s search for a sixth generation fighter to match growing threats from Russia and China, it has completely shut down its incredibly effective F-22 Raptor in favor of the highly overrated and costly F-35 Lightning II. The F-35 debacle is so bad that the aircraft is not even capable of performing missions without the presence of other aircraft (such as the Raptor) to handle air-to-air threats. Further, according to merryjane.com, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has taken a whopping $30 billion to stay afloat. Despite this mammoth sum, the LCS continues to be plagued with computer problems and failing generators. The LCS is so horribly designed that it has suffered four major breakdowns in the last year. Of the six LCS crafts built, only two remain seaworthy, and none are currently actively deployed.
- Wastefulness: Wastefulness in military spending is nothing new, yet it continues to be widespread in all levels of the federal government. According to The Washington Times, then-Inspector General of the Defense Department, Jon T. Rymer, found that there had been a mind-blowing $2.8 trillion spent in wrongful accounting adjustments just in one quarter of 2015. In general, there is a disturbing trend of congressmen lobbying for pet military projects for their states and districts, even though these are deemed unnecessary by the armed forces receiving these unwanted gifts. As revealed by warisboring.com, Liberal-leaning Sen. Susan Collins (R) lobbied for a $1 billion destroyer, despite the protests of the Navy. Meanwhile, Sen. Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi was able to get $640 million for a new Coast Guard Cutter, against the wishes of the Coast Guard. From the Air Force sponsoring NASCAR with millions in taxpayer dollars to $1,580 spent on lip balm (yes, lip balm), the fat on the defense budget is just too harmful to not be a factor in America’s military decline. To sum up all this waste, the Project on Government Oversight’s Winslow Wheeler, Director of the Straus Military Reform Project, estimated that the U.S. military has accumulated $125 billion in overhead waste in the last five years alone.
What is the solution? The good news is that, under President Donald Trump, the U.S. government is demanding that our allies step up to the plate and contribute more to our collective security in NATO. Before we go all-in on a military project, we should more heavily stick to the military’s policy of “fly before you buy” and look more closely at the realistic potential of a given piece of military equipment. The Department of Defense can stick with what works, such as by keeping and improving the F-22 until a sixth-generation fighter is truly available. With reformed leadership, we can begin to realistically look at rolling back unnecessary programs and calling defense contractor’s bluff on their exorbitant price tags. Despite America’s defense issues, the country can take solace in knowing that our fate, as it has always been, is within our own hands.