Tough times for armed forces calls for transformational change

In Reforming entitlements is key to a strong military, an April 8 commentary by Byron York in the Washington Examiner detailed the strain Libyan operations have had on Britain’s military.

Nearly lost amid reporting on the early days of the Libyan war was a revealing look at the deteriorating military strength of Britain, the United States’ oldest and most important ally. The Daily Telegraph reported that the British navy fired a dozen cruise missiles in the initial attack on Libya. The problem was, that was a significant portion of the Brits’ entire arsenal of 64 cruise missiles.

“At this rate we are using up five or ten per cent of our stock per day and soon it could become unsustainable,” a British defense industry source told the Telegraph. “What if the strikes go beyond a second week? We will simply run out of ammunition.”

It was, at the least, a disheartening comment on the state of what was once the most powerful naval force on the planet. European countries, saddled by enormous social welfare commitments, are going broke right and left, and Britain is no exception. A once-formidable military force is gradually being dismantled to pay for health care and pensions.

Budgets are tight in Europe. Several articles the past couple of days indicate ominous times for the Dutch and British armed forces. The prime ministers of the Netherlands (Mark Rutte) and Great Britain (David Cameron) have made substantial cuts to their armed forces because of budget issues and spending.

The Dutch will cut 12,000 military jobs, possible half of them through “forced firings,” according to Dutch cutting tanks, 12K military jobs at The cuts are 1/6th of the Dutch military. In addition, the cuts also “include selling 19 F-16s, 17 Cougar transport helicopters, four de-mining ships and scrapping all of the country’s 60 tanks.”

In Great Britain, the Ministry of Defence will implement a 12-month spending moratorium, as reported in 12-Month Moratorium on U.K. Defense Spending at The only items not affected are critical items for Afghan or Libyan operations. This is on top of previous reductions of manpower and equipment The Guardian newspaper detailed in Defence review: see the list of cuts in full.

Recently, the Royal Navy – and Britain’s pride – suffered a blow with the decommissioning of the flagship HMS Ark Royal. “Originally due to be retired in 2016, the current flagship fell victim to the Government’s Strategic Defence Review which saw [Prime Minister] David Cameron slash the defence budget by 8 per cent over four years.,” chronicled The Telegraph March 11, Ark Royal: decommissioning marks end of a long and celebrated history. “The decision to decommission the Ark Royal means that no plane will be able to fly from British aircraft carriers until 2019.”

What about the Department of Defense? The National Journal in Tough task awaits next Defense secretary reported on a potential successor to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. The article noted the tough budget decisions facing a future defense secretary:

…[T]he Navy secretary has had a long and varied government career that could make him a good fit for the Pentagon’s changing mission. Gates has been a wartime Pentagon chief who spent his first years in office helping to bring Iraq back from the brink of civil war. More recently, he’s been a central player in the administration’s decision to sharply escalate the Afghan war. His successor will face a fundamentally different set of challenges: overseeing the American withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan while reconfiguring the Defense Department to adjust to a new era of mounting budgetary pressures.

As Navy secretary, Mabus “made broad cost-cutting and contracting reforms. There was the controversial decision to shelve a Marine expeditionary fighting vehicle. And he launched an ambitious effort to cut the Navy’s use of oil in half by 2020 and replace it with renewable energy sources.”

The secretary explained his decision-making philosophy in the article: “Today, I think you have to make some hard choices. You have to think very critically about what the mission really is and what the nation really needs.”

The National Journal described what the administration expects of the next secretary of defense.

“Cost-cutting skills will be a core part of the next Defense secretary’s role, which plays to one of Mabus’s strengths. The Pentagon’s budget has effectively doubled in real terms since 2001, but the Obama administration wants the department’s funding to increase by less than 1 percent in fiscal 2012 (the smallest such increase since the wars began), increase by even smaller amounts in fiscal 2013 and 2014, and then see no growth whatsoever in fiscal 2015 and 2016.”

Could Europe’s defense funding woes be a harbinger for what the United States might have to endure? The need for Defense Business Transformation has never been greater. The Department needs to achieve greater efficiencies in all its activities to make the best use of every tax dollar it receives.

Secretary Gates gave a speech about defense spending at the Eisenhower Presidential Library May 8, 2010. At the Abilene, Kan., address, Secretary Gates said his fellow Jayhawker also struggles with defense fiscal issues.

Eisenhower told his senior defense team that he wanted the Pentagon cut down to a [QUOTE] “Spartan basis,” lamenting that “people he had known all his life were asking for more and more.” He went on to say: “I say the patriot today is the fellow who can do the job with less money.”

A few moments later, Secretary Gates recounted the department’s immediate fiscal past and future.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001, opened a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade, not counting supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which brings us to the situation we face and the choices we have today – as a defense department and as a country. Given America’s difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny. The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time.

In closing, Secretary Gates stated the need for transformational change.

What is required going forward is not more study. Nor do we need more legislation. It is not a great mystery what needs to change. What it takes is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices – choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon and out.

I say this fully aware of the fact that I am not the first in this office to make this case and or call for this effort. Indeed, one of my predecessors said the following: “A person employed in a redundant task is one who could be countering terrorism or nuclear proliferation. Every dollar squandered on waste is one denied to the warfighter.” That was Secretary Rumsfeld on September 10th, 2001.

Only time will tell.


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