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Column: The Sky That Never Falls

May. 27, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Chuck Hagel, Jean-Yves Le Drian
(Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)
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For the US defense sector, the sky was supposed to fall in 2009. It didn’t.

Pentagon brass, industry executives and hawkish lawmakers have predicted a debilitating budget-induced crash every year since.

Yet the sky hasn’t come crashing down. Why?

The Pentagon still receives nearly $600 billion a year and arms makers are still making big money. And there still isn’t a world leader who wants to pick a fight with America’s best-in-the-world military. (No, I don’t think Russian President Vladimir Putin wants that.)

No one outside the US defense bubble worries about a sector that receives over half a trillion dollars from its main customer, the US government. Yet, inside the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex, warnings about a neutered US military and industry run rampant.

In March 2009, then-House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y. — now the Army secretary — predicted weapons program cuts.

“Which modernization programs will receive less funding or be canceled?” he asked.

Still, the 2010 request totaled $663.8 billion, including a $533.8 billion base Pentagon budget.

Since, the rhetoric has gotten only more dire. Driving the gloom-and-doom train was then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who in August 2011 warned sequestration would be a “doomsday mechanism.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and senior Pentagon officials warned sequestration amounted to a “sword of Damocles.” Pretty dire.

Did the sky fall? Nope.

Fast forward to early 2013. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said in February its effects would be, for US national security, “ruinous.”

Surely the sky fell in 2013, right? Not even close.

A few months ago, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said, “Congress continues to fail to provide our military leaders with financial security and stability.”

It’s surely going to fall this year, right? Don’t bet on it. In fact, odds are we’ll have another strong year for US arms manufacturers and a US military that, more often than not, gets what it wants.

Yet again, there are warnings from inside the sector that the 2016 budget will be the last one to which lawmakers can apply Band-Aids.

But we’ve heard that one before. Should we believe it this time?

“The United States continues to spend roughly three times more on defense than its nearest competitor and about as much as the next nine largest countries in the world combined, many of which are allies,” former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb and other analysts at Washington’s Center for American Progress think tank recently wrote.

After 2015, the defense sector’s congressional allies warn, the United States, the world’s lone superpower, suddenly will be unable to defend itself.

Yet some experts say there is evidence that, for the defense sector, the sky is historically high.

Scholars at Third Way, another Washington think tank, recently noted the Obama 2015 defense request “provides a robust level of military spending — less than wartime peaks but still more than President Reagan’s highest defense budget in real terms.” ■

Email: jbennett@defensenews.com.

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