Starting earlier this month and continuing for much of February, perhaps the most consequential—and polarizing— development out of Washington will be the proposed Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2013. The official request is expected Feb. 13. Look to Aviation Week editors to go behind the numbers and analyze the implications for national security, the aerospace/defense industry, and the ability of the U.S. to counter major threats that will only grow more worrisome. There will be a special budget wrap-up in Aviation Week & Space Technology, Aerospace Daily and online (Aviation Week Intelligence Network or AWIN).
To suggest that the Pentagon’s budget cannot be cut significantly over the next 10 years, of course, would be indefensible. The issue is what should be cut and by how much. While guidance from both Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Obama White House generally point toward a measured approach to balancing capabilities with the broader, government-wide effort to address the nation’s federal deficit, there is good reason to worry.
Isn’t it amazing how Congress is filled with defense strategy experts, all 538 of them, around this time each year? I, for one, expect Congress yet again to demonstrate its inability to rise above partisan politics and act responsibly—either out of self-interest or out of mean-spirited politics. For example, some programs popular with many members will be protected for no other reason than because they represent jobs in their home states and congressional districts. Such engagement in the Department of Defense budgeting process is not making tough calls in the interests of the greater good—it is pandering to voters to enhance their own re-election prospects.
The defense industry is not a jobs program. In what is sure to be a protracted era of constrained resources, there will be many difficult choices that must be made, and all such decisions must be in the interests of the war fighter. Period. Pooling resources, reducing the U.S. military’s footprint in Europe, and insisting that our allies carry more of the burden, as was the case in Libya, are the sort of smart adjustments that ought to be made in order to sustain as much weapons modernization as possible.
No one can predict whether Iran, North Korea or some other potential power-hungry foe will miscalculate and draw the U.S. into a war. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was right when he said you go to war with what you’ve got. Let’s hope all stakeholders in Washington will keep that in mind as they weigh choices against priorities.