Charles D. Pitman: U.S. military could use trimming

Charles D. PitmanSilverthorne

Re. by Alex Miller, opinion, June 4

Mr. Miller’s editorial on defense spending was on target. Subsequent letters to the editor talk in generalities and spout the overly trite “you have to pay for freedom” mantra. It gets quite tiring hearing that the only proper DoD budget is one that rises inexorably as other budget lines suffer.Our navy is definitely not seeing a decline in capabilities. On the one hand, the number of navy ships started declining during G.H.W. Bush’s administration (reduced by 121 ships), continued through the Clinton years (reduced by another 136) and Bush years (as low as 278 ships total, the lowest since the 19th century), only to level off and start increasing during the Obama administration (currently at 285 ships). The number of ships is anticipated (given funding) to increase by 10 ships a year until it reaches 313. But even at its greatly reduced size, the fleet is better able to defend itself and to project its presence than any time in history.Or look at the U.S. Navy’s strength by total ship tonnage. At 3 million tons, our navy already outweighs the next 12 navies combined. Even simply retiring old ships and replacing them with new ones, without increasing fleet size, our tonnage would continue to increase. This is because we are building larger, more capable ships.And while China has only one aircraft carrier, and having difficulty maintaining it, our Navy has 11 big decks and nine smaller ones. One can say the same about our submarine fleet (ours are “bigger, better, last longer.”)Defense systems are costly and take a long time to develop because they truly press the state-of-the-art, well ahead of the commercial sector. And the taxpayer has to be willing to pay for those advances. Yet DoD is certainly not immune to substantial waste. Why is the navy developing two different LCS hulls with the same mission, but with two different combat systems, two different contractors, two different ship yards, and two differing logistics and supply chains? There was originally supposed to be a down-select to only one.I spent 33 years testing the most complex, state-of-the-art ship defense systems in the world. I have the utmost respect for our military forces, and my number one goal was to keep our sailors safe and protected. I could spend hours talking about critically serious technical and operational issues my test team uncovered that would help prevent another USS Vincennes or USS Cole incident. I justified every appropriated dollar I received. But I also could go on ad nauseam about the waste I have seen in testing, target development, system development, and other purchases over the course of my career. One would be foolish to believe that DoD should not be subjected to scrutiny in their budget, and to “take the hit” that other budget lines have to take to get our country’s finances back on track. But make no mistake about it, our country is still better defended than any time in history.

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