How I’d slash defense spending

Current defense spending adjusted for inflation has been higher than at the height of the Reagan administration. The problem is that defense spending has been producing less than half of the forces and capabilities of those years.

As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman writes in the Wall Street Journal:

There is one great numerical advantage the U.S. has against potential adversaries …the size of our defense bureaucracy. While the fighting forces have steadily shrunk by more than half since the early 1990s, the civilian and uniformed bureaucracy has more than doubled.

Lehman points out there are more than 1,500,000 full-time civilian employees, 800,000 civil servants and 700,000 contract employees in the Defense Department In the military, more than half of our active duty service members are in offices and staffs, yet we are cutting the “trigger-pullers” and the capability and capacity to fight.

We reported here that Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno admitted we have only two trained and combat ready brigades, and the Army had not trained in 6 months. We also reported cuts to Marine combat formations — namely artillery and armor — and the potential cutting of 5-6 Marine combat infantry battalions, their core war fighting unit.

Lehman says:

The many failures and disappointments of American policy in recent years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Russia and Iran are symptoms of the steady shrinkage of the shadow cast by American military power and the fading credibility and deterrence that depends on it.

For example, instead of a 600-ship Navy, America now has only 280 ships — and the world’s seas certainly have not shrunk. I entered the military when the Army had nearly 20 combat divisions. Today there are only 10-division “equivalents.” Our Air Force has fewer than half the number of fighters and bombers from 30 years ago, and some 25-30% of our fighter squadrons have been grounded recently. We are entering an era during which America will have its smallest military, in some areas, since World War I.

Some may say today’s ships and aircraft are far more capable than those of the ’80s and ’90s. I remember a quote often used by the late Army General Cavazos, “quantity has a quality all its own.” In other words, having lots of stuff to fight with is a deterrent.

But the truth is we’re not necessarily more capable. Lehman offers some examples:

Today’s LCSs—the littoral-class ships that operate close to shore—have their uses, they are far less capable than the Perry-class frigates that they replace. Air Force fighter planes today average 28 years old. Although they have been upgraded to keep pace with the latest aircraft of their potential adversaries, they have no greater relative advantage than they had when they were new.

According to a Government Accountability Office report released in October, there could be as much as $411 billion in unfunded cost growth for current Pentagon programs, almost as much as the entire 10 years of sequester cuts, if they continue. The solution is simple: reduce the bureaucracy of the DoD and conduct a strategic bottom up review of the necessary force capability to defeat the enemies of our nation and support our allies.

Not every dollar in DC is equal and defense is our number one priority. But we must spend responsibly, and that also means “accountably.” The world is a far more dangerous place and we cannot defeat the enemy by throwing computers and pencils at them — drones may be “cool” for President Obama, but there are times when you have to send a special calling card from Uncle Sam.


  1. This began when Obama and his regime began new rules of engagement, made the manual public and online for the enemy to follow and made Miranda rights a part of the combat/engagement system. I went to Army Ranger school and waiting to be fired upon is more like a suicide tactic than a strategy of disarming, capturing or killing the enemy. They didn’t teach that at Ft. Benning.

  2. Would have liked to see more of a plan, Sir. We are aware of our shrinking forces but who would you cut from the civ/contract workforce and give us the how/when you would implement those cuts. I would love to see numbers, data and a time line.

    • “The solution is simple: reduce the bureaucracy of the DoD and conduct a strategic bottom up review of the necessary force capability to defeat the enemies of our nation and support our allies.”
      I believe Allen West does have a specific plan but now is not the time to divulge. As we move closer to the ’14 and ’16 elections, you will hear more.

      • Take these bureaucratic people out of their comfy, cushy offices and put them back on the fighting line. Bring our equipment up to date. Turn loose our military to do what they have been trained to do.

  3. Thanks, I needed that laugh for the day. The computers and pencils one. LOL. That hit me like a blind side punch. Didn’t know it was coming.

  4. In light of China’s move into the East China Sea & encroachment upon Taiwan, Japan & the Philippines, the US is in danger of not being able to do anything about it. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote of “Speak softly & carry a big stick” has been lost for 20 years. These days, it is rhetoric & a twig.

    • “Rhetoric and a twig”…Good analogy.

      And the only ones we fool…are the zealots who deeply cut our military fighting capabilities. We will NOT fool our frenemies/enemies.

  5. Like your idea to cut the bureaucracy big time but we could save a lot more money and lives if we outlawed nation building countries we just defeated military. We would fight for as short as it took to defeat our enemies military. We would do the maximum damage until we won and they would never be able to attack us again. Then we should come home. If the defeated nation decides to try and rebuild to get even we should bomb everything they had till it;s dust and send it into the Stone Age. We would only have to do this once. Then our budget could concentrate on developing our defense needs.

  6. There is value to staff work; logistics is an integral part of any operation however we surely do not need a totally over stuffed support staffing. In WW2, Korea and VN it was considered that we needed about 10 people in the support chain to put one man on the line….with all of the computer systems we have today that number should have been reduced, not increased! I am trained in disaster planning [more like war planning than most people understand] and believe me we do not have these huge layers of personnel to put our operators into the field. I agree with Col. West and would love to see his detailed planning.

  7. Start by cutting all o fthe DoD Depts that do nothing but “write” policy on Touchy Feely, Unicorn and Butterfly Fart programs!

  8. a good quote “…The solution is simple: reduce the bureaucracy of the DoD and conduct a strategic bottom up review of the necessary force capability to defeat the enemies of our nation and support our allies…” Also, the Col. thinks our military capacity is proportionately as low as it was after WW1.

    Why do US leaders NOT learn from history? Maybe because so many of us are NOT taught history!

    • They do not learn history in school and few, these days, have military experience. Also, almost none in this administration have business experience either. Yet they are so arrogant, they think if SOUNDS good, they can bring it about! They devised a national health care plan without consulting doctors, insurers, hospital administrators or anyone else who had real world experience In a the medical field. They apparently approached the development of their website the same way, and without regard for proper testing. I’m not surprised they load the pentagon with policy writers, and cut short those with the most current experience in materiel or tactics. Despite this, the Obama administration has never formulated a coherent foreign policy. It seems they only alienate our allies and favor our enemies. When you think about this, along with our crippled military, it’s truly terrifying. As a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict (as a nurse not a combat soldier) I’m greatly concerned about the state of our military

  9. being retired military and having both my boys in the service rotated out after 15 and 7 yrs because their combat units have been down sized , I think that may be they are getting rid of all the people with combat experience like they did after viet nam. which left use so short handed for Training incoming personal that we were using people from out side for part of the training cycle. This makes no sense what so ever. It is sounding more and more like the purges from Russia after WW1 the biggest deference is we have no place to run. our enemies are coming across are border and the Washington bubble wants to give them amnesty. We as a country are in a deep hole and digging down aint going to get us out.

  10. Question Col.
    if we have no, battle ready NCO corps available, who is going to teach the new officers how to read a compass, all kidding aside. you and i both know that 2nd Lt.’s cannt find there [email protected] with both hands an a rear view mirror. Yet we will be forced to let our boys be lead by personal with no experience in combat , an you know that does not end well.
    we have too many senior officers by any standard but not enough experienced war fighters to make up a full brigade.

  11. In 2000 a Destroyer overhaul was reassigned from private sector to public in Bremerton, WA. It would have cost $4.5M if done by the private contractor; it cost $12M to do it in the public yard. The entire difference in cost is the buracracy in the public sector

      • Now, nmfd72, just how do you think is the proper way to fund our defense? I’m all for stopping wasteful spending, but right now, I don’t think that is the first place to start.

      • You apparently don’t know or understand (or both) the way our military is funded. Defense receives the “Lions share” of our national budget, yes more than any “entitlement” program combined! and yes, they are still paying $256.00 for each hammer they purchase!! You really have no clue!

      • Yes, I really do understand both and how it is being funded. Like I stated nmfd72, now is not the time too cut allocations in Defense. Our world is too unsecure to do so. I agree that the DOD can find ways to spend the money they get better, but in laymen’s terms, it would be a fatal mistake to do so. Our next attack is just waiting to happen and we better be ready. That I do have a clue!

      • Not meant to insult you but I really don’t think you understand, if you did you would know that the Dept of Defense spends billions of dollars in administrative and non-contractual costs. They also spends billions on contracts by government agencies that can be done more efficiently and more cost effectively by private industry, the examples are too numerous to list here. To imply that the department can’t or shouldn’t look at those costs in terms of overall savings is naive at best and stupidity at it’s worse. The reality is we can provide our armed forces with the very best and latest technology at a much more cost effective way then we are doing now. Would you pay $2500.00 for a pair of Fratelli Borgioli’s through the military exchange when you could purchase the same pair for $420.00 at the local mall?? I think not! To suggest that this isn’t the time to cut the defense budget is just silly.

  12. If we appear to certain other nations to have a weak military, they will most assuredly consider firing on us first. I believe we need a larger and more visible military. They need to be seen training and practicing war games. Our military is overburdened with civil employees, and I think some slashing should be done here. We need more new planes and ships, big ones that tell the world “we will never back down”. This is where our budget needs to be increased. It is obvious to everyone that our “peaceful” days are numbered and we must be prepared to fight if necessary. But of course, our liar in the White House does not think this way. He will learn the hard way, and because of this reduction we will NOT be ready when North Korea or Iran decides to lob a nuke over this way. Good bye east coast, good bye west coast! It was nice knowing all of you!
    Col. West, we need you in the White House and I would certainly vote for you!! YOU
    know what we need!!

  13. I am one of the Retiree’s that is about to be betrayed. I gave my youth, opportunities for a competitive salary and as a woman the opportunity for a family. What would I tell some in at 6-12 years-get out and do not look back.

  14. Commander’s understand the importance of a staff — that’s why all commander’s have one. Totally agree that bureaucracy has gotten out of control, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. JFCOM, the Joint Forces Training COCOM, was disestablished and most say that was needed as it was draining resources from the warfighting COCOMs (sign of the times – training is always the first thing cut). Now, SECDEF has ordered all HQ staffs from DOD down to service major commands to reduce their staffs by 20% from the 2012 levels. Another good step. The military services have frozen hiring for the past 3 years with very limited exceptions for critical positions, and along with that the administration has frozen civilian pay. We’re getting to the point where THE BABY IS CIRCLING THE DRAIN. Overall, DOD is down by ONE MILLION personnel (active duty, guard/reserve, civilians) since the end of the Cold War. Name one other Department that has shrunk by even a fraction of that number. Let’s stop playing the blame game on the people that are SERVING their country — after all, civilians deploy, civilians (and contractors) have been KIA in the past 12+ years, and its not like they magically created their own positions. Let’s focus on what is costing us — make that draining us — of warfighting capability. Despite the reductions, costs have escalated, due in part to the increased costs of technology, but more significantly to a completely broken acquisition system. The attorneys (on both sides, gov’t and industry) have raked the taxpayers over the coals with a convoluted maze of reviews, redundant and unnecessary documentation, and analysis paralysis so that it requires months and years to get a contract underway, and then there are built in delays and roadblocks to the process. Bottom line, if we had to go to war during WWII with today’s acquisition process, we would all be speaking German.

  15. “Senator Sessions wanted to instead eliminate an estimated $4.2 billion in annual spending by reining in an IRS credit that illegal immigrants have claimed.”
    That alone tells you all one needs to know about the Democrat Party and the PINOs in Congress. The Senate would rather cur pensions of retires military than tough support tyo ILLEGALS. Shamefull, and those that defeated Sen Sesson’s idea shoud be run out of office ASAP!


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