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“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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Friday
Jan132012

If you can spend it...

The strategic guidance released last week affirmed one, and only one, hardware investment by name: the strategic bomber.  (See .pdf page 11.)  That’s a clear indication of priority – but why?

Despite being just a year old, this isn’t the first head-scratcher on its record.  Last July Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), ranking member of the House Appropriations committee, offered this explanation for the panel’s decision to fund the newly-requested bomber at 51% above the Pentagon’s budget submission ($297 million vice $197 million):

Our committee held hearings with the Air Force and found, from a lot of dialogue with the three companies that are competing, that we might be able to accelerate this bomber replacement program if we could get an additional $100 million.

Conspicuously unaddressed, of course, was a rationale for why we need a bomber replacement program at all.  Yet the House’s plus-up won the day in conference, with the manager’s report explaining the change in two words: “Program Increase.” (See .pdf page 249.)  And the strategic guidance offered no better clues, simply binning the jet as part of our program to overcome anti-access/area-denial tactics.

These are no mean oversights.  OMB terminated a bomber program in FY10 precisely because “the current fleet is performing well… [and] current aircraft will be able to meet the threats expected in the foreseeable future.”

A random and single fiscal allusion in a studiously non-budgetary strategy document?  A mysterious 51% increase?   Taken separately, it’d sound like the regular hem-and-haw of political posturing – especially when the program in question got cut just two years ago.  But it isn’t.  The program not only is surviving, it beat the spread at both major decision points.

Clearly some motivation is propelling the bomber program forward even in this austere budget environment.  Given OMB’s FY10 position, that motivation probably isn’t just the future strategic environment.  But, absent a justification that rebuts OMB, debate about a new bomber is likely to sharpen.  More to follow – will we finally get a real defense of this program in Secretary Panetta’s budget briefing on January 26th?

Reader Comments (1)

There arem't a whole of fighter development programs going on these days, other than than the F-35. There aren't any other bomber R&D programs, or any tanker programs. There's NO talk of starting any other military manned aircraft programs in the next decade or two -- the emphasis is on unmanned drones and missiles. Space spending, at least at NASA, is going down, with no near-term revival expected. There aren't many large civilian aircraft programs outside of Boeing's 787.

So employment in aerospace is about to drop off the edge of a cliff -- like from 700,000 employees to 250,000 or less, judging from past experience (remember when aerospace employed 1.6 million people?). Which is enough for maintenance and small improvements and the occasional satellite. Most of the laid off employees will not be coming back and there won't be work to justify much new hiring. And once enough people with the skills needed to build military aircraft have retired, it will obviously not be cost effective to train a new generation of production workers, so ...

Building a new bomber or at least studying a new bomber seems a way to keep up employment numbers and skills Just In Case there's some indication that new military aircraft will be needed in the 2020's. Of course, if the USA ever needs new manned fighters and bombers it probably won't be until the 2030's or 2040's and it really isn't likely that the US is going to preserve "stand by" aerospace production manpower all that long ... But that's another issue, to be "debated" during another presidential campaign.

January 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermike shupp
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