National Defense

Defense Industry Does Not Support Cuts to Defense Budget

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Breaking news alert! People who are paid to represent the U.S. defense are not happy about proposed cuts to the U.S. defense budget, according to The Free Beacon

Congress, in its August debt limit deal, signed off on $487 billion in defense cuts over the next decade. Failure to agree on further cuts by December will lead to another $500 billion reduction in defense spending, otherwise known as "sequestration."

"We're looking at it all with a great deal of concern," said Cord Sterling, a vice president at the Aerospace Industries Association, explaining that quality is ultimately sacrificed as contractors are forced to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The cuts are expected to cost the industry a third of its active workforce, cause manufacturing plants to be shuttered, and lead to a reduction in the amount of money spent on research and development projects, which are seen as critical to the industry's ability to innovate.

"There are major shifts that will take place," Sterling said. "This is significant and long term. You can't turn it off and on."

Here's what turning it off would look like:

So if the sequester goes through, we'd cut defense spending all the way back to the lean and defenseless days of 2007 before letting spending start to rise toward record highs again. 

But what about all the high-tech space age weaponry we'd be supposedly be missing out on if the cuts go through? Granted, I like lasers as much as the next kid who grew up watching Star Wars. And guess what? We may be just a few years away from warships with frikin' lasers mounted on their decks, which will definitely come in handy when the Navy has to fight off an alien invasion.

But a lot of the fancy new military tech looks less like something out of sci-fi and more like something that should be headed straight for the junkyard. Take, for instance, the facepalm-worthy debacle of the Navy's next-gen Littoral warship, an oceanic minehunter that's only barely seaworthy and, uh, can't find mines. As Wired's Spencer Ackerman reported in January:

It's bad enough that the Navy's newest ship has had wicked problems with corrosion, missed out on thelatest naval wartime missions and is generally something of a Frankenstein's monster. Now the Pentagon's top weapons tester has found problems with its abilities to find and withstand mines — which is a big problem for a ship that's supposed to be the Navy's minehunter of the future.

That's the assessment of the director of the Operational Testing and Evaluation office, summing up a year's worth of trials for the Littoral Combat Ship, the Navy's cherished — and expensive — next-generation ship for warfare close to a shoreline. Little wonder that defense analysts think the ship is headed for the budgetary chopping block, even though the Navy wants 55 of the things and only has three.

The report finds that the Littoral Combat Ship's systems for spotting mines, the AN/AQS-20A Sonar Mine Detecting Set and the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, are "deficient" for their primary task. That deficiency, if uncorrected, will "adversely affect the operational effectiveness" of a ship that's already "not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment."

You know, the Rebels may have destroyed the Death Star in the end, but at least it worked. 

Like a lot of industries that rely heavily on government funds, the defense industry frequently acts as if it has a natural right to a certain amount of taxpayer money, as if previous spending levels set a floor for future spending. This is reinforced by politicians on both sides of the aisle who actually agree with them: Mitt Romney, for example, has proposed spending a minimum of 4 percent of the economy on defense, which would require substantial increases from current dollar totals. But what Uncle Sam giveth he can also taketh away, or at least he ought to be able to.

Indeed, the defense industry's main talking point often seems to be that, well, reduced federal spending on defense would lead to a smaller defense industry. Isn't that the whole point? When it comes to military budget, it sometimes seems like the defense industry is mainly interested in defending itself. 

I told you those Navy lasers might come in handy:

Here's Reason contributing editor Veronique de Rugy on the invincibility of the military industrial complex.