August 12, 2011

In his Aug. 5 op-ed, “Cut defense — but don’t gut it,” written in response to Fareed Zakaria’s Aug. 4 op-ed column supporting defense cuts, Michael O’Hanlon contended that reducing military spending by close to a trillion dollars over the next decade is not doable.

However, the military-industrial complex is, in fact, out of control — and such cuts are possible. In real terms, total defense spending is higher than at any time since World War II, including the peak years of the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Reagan defense buildup. Even if the defense budget were reduced by the entire $1 trillion, or about $100 billion a year over the next decade, it would amount to a reduction of about 15 percent. This would, in real terms, allow the Pentagon to spend at its 2007 level for the next decade. Our equipment is aging not because of a lack of funds but because of poor management of this gusher of defense spending. Over the past decade, the Pentagon has spent about $50 billion on weapons it had to cancel, and cost overruns on major weapons programs have neared $300 billion.

While Mr. O’Hanlon is not concerned that the United States spends a lot more on defense than other nations, I am. Over the past decade, as the U.S. share of the world’s military expenditures has increased from one-third to almost 50 percent, the U.S. share of the global economy has dropped to about 23 percent, and a projected budget surplus has morphed into a massive deficit.

Lawrence J. Korb, Washington

The writer, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, served as assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985.

●Fareed Zakaria is a credible political analyst, but his Aug. 4 op-ed column critiquing the military budget overlooked some basic facts. We have yet to replace the aircraft, vehicles and weapons worn down by a decade-long military operation. We need more investments in advanced reconnaissance drones such as the RQ-170 Sentinel that helped us find Osama bin Laden, fighter jets such as the F-18 Superhornet that allows us to keep U.S. ground troops out of Libya, and missile defenses that can help contain emerging threats from adversaries around the world, including Iran and North Korea.

Every government agency can find savings in its budget, including the Defense Department. But until the pundits and would-be military experts can identify which of our already underfunded defense programs can be cut without significantly compromising our capabilities, we are just speaking in abstract and meaningless terms.  

William G. Boykin, Farmville, Va.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army.

●Regarding the Aug. 8 news story “Afghan helicopter crash reflects peril for Special Operations forces”:

The loss of 38 lives in the Aug. 6 downing of an MH-47G Chinook in Afghanistan is a tragic exclamation point on the loss of more than 400 helicopters and nearly 600 American lives since Sept. 11, 2001, due to hostile action and mishaps. The toll could have been much less; it reflects, in part, a lack of adequate investments in rotorcraft technology by the Defense Department over the past 25 years.

The first Chinook flew in 1961 — 50 years ago — and, with the exception of the V-22 Osprey, all currently deployed rotorcraft were designed during the Vietnam era and have received only incremental upgrades. Most disturbing, there are no all-new development programs underway.

The Pentagon must recognize the importance of vertical flight aircraft in achieving our national military strategy objectives and invest accordingly.

Mike Hirschberg, Alexandria

The writer is executive director of the American Helicopter Society International.

●Robert J. Samuelson’s Aug. 8 op-ed column, “A welfare state victory,” and the Aug. 8 obituary of former senator Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) provided quite a contrast in regard to military spending. Mr. Samuelson fears that Pentagon budget cuts will threaten our military readiness. The United States spent $698 billion on its military in 2010, more than six times as much as China, which ranked second in spending at $114 billion. This country has a big military edge over the rest of the world, and budget cuts do not pose a threat to its ranking.

Another reason to consider cutting the military budget is found in words Mr. Hatfield spoke as a senator. “There comes a time in a nation’s life when additional money spent for rockets and bombs, far from strengthening national security, will actually weaken national security — when there are people who are hungry and not fed, people who are cold and not clothed.” Perhaps, just perhaps, right makes might.

Jacalyn Kalin, Washington