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Editorial

The Pentagon's Cuts

Monday, January 10, 2005; Page A16

THANKS TO President Bush's tax cuts in a time of war, the Pentagon is beginning to contemplate significant reductions in weapons systems: a reported $55 billion over the next six years. Some should have been made years ago. Others seem to reflect a frantic search for savings when wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are costing $5 billion a month and the entire government is under pressure to contribute to Mr. Bush's pledge to reduce the budget deficit. Most will face stiff opposition in Congress. If they are pushed through, the net effect may be to shift the U.S. military closer to preparing for the wars it has actually been fighting during the past four years rather than the ones defense theorists -- among them Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld -- have imagined. Yet they may still leave U.S. forces unprepared to win in Iraq and elsewhere.

The easiest cuts are those in expensive Cold War weapons systems conceived to fight a sophisticated conventional enemy that no longer exists. According to a leaked Pentagon budget document, these include the F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet, the production of which would be cut by 96 planes worth $10 billion, and Virginia-class nuclear submarines, which would be reduced by three. Other reductions target programs more pertinent to the post-Cold War world but troubled by development problems, including the V-22 Osprey helicopter and the Bush administration's much-favored missile defense programs, which would be cut by $5 billion.

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These reductions are sensible and straightforward, though their congressional defenders, for whom they represent local jobs, can be expected to fight them tenaciously. More problematic are the deferral of weapons systems that the military has previously described as part of its 21st-century "transformation," including new cargo planes and amphibious ships and destroyers designed to fight along shorelines. A proposal to retire the oldest of the Navy's 12 aircraft carriers, the John F. Kennedy, will require administration officials to explain why the country can afford a loss in the power projection offered by carriers. Their value has been illustrated in an unconventional way this month by their role in supplying relief to tsunami-devastated areas of Asia.

The cutbacks will be accompanied by one important addition, $25 billion for an ongoing Army program to break down unwieldy divisions into more flexible brigades. This could make it possible to deploy more of the Army more quickly, which in turn would help with the burden of fighting two wars. Yet Mr. Rumsfeld, who clings to his pre-Iraq vision of a lighter, more high-tech military, still stubbornly resists the obvious need to expand the active-duty Army and Marines to accommodate the low-tech, manpower-intensive challenge of defeating the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He does so even as senior commanders -- most recently the head of the Army Reserve -- warn that the reserves and the Army itself are in danger of being broken by the stress of Iraq. Even if Iraq is stabilized and U.S. troops can be withdrawn in the coming four years, as Mr. Rumsfeld recently suggested, an investment in a larger Army and Marine Corps is more likely to help win the war on terrorism than is more high technology. Rather than fight the weapons cuts the Pentagon is preparing, Congress ought to insist that the administration use some of the savings to create the military needed now.


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