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Congress Short-Changes Defense

By | April 21, 2008

      The federal government needs to step up to the challenge and fully fund myriad defense programs, specifically including procurement of ships, tanks, planes, missiles and more, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) stated in a new report.

      The AIA noted that its warning comes as war costs, bills to pay for replacing or repairing platforms damaged or destroyed in the war, operations and maintenance expenses and personnel outlays are rising to squeeze acquisition programs funding.

      Worse, the warning comes as many procurement programs are moving from development into far more costly production.

      A multi-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II plane is in development, but in a few years will enter full rate production of thousands of planes, in a program that carries a $300 billion price tag, the costliest defense investment in history. The number of planes in the program already has been cut.

      The Navy is moving from a long-delayed and deferred development into production of its next-generation aircraft carrier, formerly known as CVN-21 or CVN(X), at a cost of $7.5 billion per flattop. But the number of carriers may shrivel from 12 to 11 to 10 or even nine.

      And some lawmakers are balking at the $3 billion-per cost of the new DDG 1000 destroyer as it enters production, speaking of cutting off the program at a mere two ships instead of the seven planned. It would replace or augment a class of more than 60 Arleigh Burke destroyers.

      And the Navy has cut off at two, for now, plans to buy 55 Littoral Combat Ships.

      The Air Force needs 381 F-22 Raptor supercruise supersonic stealth fighters, but for now is told to get by with 183.

      And the Air Force has seen years of delays in attempting to buy new aerial refueling tanker planes. It also may have to cut off buying more C-17 transports.

      As well, the Missile Defense Agency is striving to develop a multi-layered ballistic missile shield to protect the United States against incoming enemy missiles.

      The AIA argues that defense spending should be at least equivalent to 4 percent of U.S. economic output, and that procurement funding should be at least $120 billion to $150 billion a year in regular accounts, which would be adjusted upward to offset inflation each year, compared to about $80 billion to $90 billion spent on procurement annually in recent years. That doesn’t include another $70 billion to $80 billion yearly range for research and development programs that often involve acquiring military hardware.

      In statements aimed at the candidates seeking election as president in November, the AIA stated that they must realize that a massive defense funding crunch is approaching that will hit home during the next four-year administration.

      The AIA asserted that "the United States has long relied on possessing the world’s most advanced aerospace systems. Manned flight was invented here, and air power is now an enduring national asset. That asset, however, is now in serious danger.

      "Across the fleet, aircraft are aging as never before. All of our military services are in need of modernization and recapitalization as a result of deferred procurement following the fall of the Soviet Union. But the need is particularly acute for the air arms of our military forces."

      Some aircraft are 30, 40 or even 50 years old.

      "Emerging national security challenges of the 21st century require renewed national focus on the relevance of air power and attention to accomplishing long-delayed defense modernization," the AIA argued. "Upgrading key national defense capabilities and maintaining readiness will require a generation-long national security investment strategy that provides sufficient and stable levels of resources to enable the recapitalization of all our defense sectors, especially aerospace."

      While the financial screws have been tightened on defense procurement and R&D programs in this decade, other programs including domestic services also have faced mean economic times.

      Clearly, the government requires far more revenues to support already-approved and running programs.

      While Republicans oppose increasing taxes, about $2.7 trillion worth of new revenues would be available in the next decade if Congress does nothing and permits tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 to expire automatically in 2010 and 2011, as Republicans provided when they wrote those tax-cut measures.

      However, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, has proposed not only extending the tax cuts that he once opposed, he also is proposing even more tax cuts that would cost a total of more than $7 trillion in the next decade.

      Democratic candidates, in contrast, would permit many of the existing tax cuts to expire automatically.

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