Hagel has given a sneak preview of his request for next year’s $496 billion defense budget. While all budgets need scrutiny, I fear the reductions in critical areas hurt our national security by undermining military readiness and morale.
The president and Congress must aggressively cut overall federal spending, but we need to refocus on restoring the “peace through strength” policy first outlined by President Reagan. Our military in recent years has been asked to do more with less. Now we have reached a point where our soldiers, sailors, airmen, reservists and guardsmen are being asked to do less with less. Consider:
n The president’s proposal would alarmingly shrink the Army to its lowest force size since before the Second World War. The number of active duty personnel would fall to 450,000 from the current 490,000. That may not be enough to adequately respond to threats around the world. (Remember that just two years ago, the administration claimed there wasn’t enough time or nearby military resources to effectively respond to the murder of our ambassador in Benghazi.)
n The Army National Guard would also be hit hard. It would be slashed to 335,000 soldiers by 2017. The Army Reserves would be cut from 205,000 soldiers to 195,000.
n The Air Force’s A-10 fleet would be eliminated. This would especially hurt Georgia’s Moody Air Force base where many of these aircraft are stationed. The A-10s, while aging, have been invaluable in our war efforts in Afghanistan. It is also not clear when the replacement F-35s would be ready.
n The Army’s ground combat vehicle program would be abruptly ended — and the plan doesn’t call for a replacement.
n The Navy would cut 20 of its littoral combat ships that it was planning to purchase — a drastic reduction from 52 to 32 ships.
n Military pay raises would be held at a 1 percent increase. For troops that have had as many as eight deployments in the past 10 years, is this morally defensible? Military families would also be hit with great reductions in commissary and housing budgets.
It is sad to note that our nation has been through these military cuts too many times since the end of the Cold War. Swinging the pendulum too far and too fast toward massive reductions often costs us more in the long run. It only takes a year or two to hollow out our forces, but it takes many years to recover when the next crisis hits.
Does anyone believe the world is safer today than two years ago, or five years ago? If this Obama proposal is implemented, rebuilding would cost more than maintaining an affordable, but robust, defense.
Regaining the experience and expertise is even more costly in time and money.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) has represented Georgia’s 1st Congressional District since 1993.