How Not To Cut The Defense Budget
A link at The Sub Report to a story on a Russian announcement that they've started construction on a third Borey-class SSBN reminded me that I've been meaning to post about the proposal from a group called "Business Leaders For Sensible Priorities" on how to "(i)ncrease funding to meet the needs of our children and children around the world (at no additional taxpayer expense) by reducing money spent on the Pentagon for Cold War weapons systems no longer needed to protect America."
I've been having a good E-mail debate with someone about this "proposal", which, as near as I can tell, seeks to wipe out the high-tech advantage the U.S. currently enjoys over potential adversaries. They don't put it that way, of course; they just proposes stopping spending on new weapons systems for the next 15 years to save $60B. What they don't say (or don't recognize) is that to save this money, we couldn't buy any new airframes or ships; by building no new units, while the old ones continue to get older, we'd end up with almost no modern weapons at the end of the 15 year moratorium.
They propose eliminating funding for most of the new systems in the pipeline: the F-22, F-35, C-130J, Virginia class submarines, DD(X), and Ballistic Missile Defense. As justification, they point to a report by Lawrence Korb, who was an Assistant SecDef under President Reagan, and is now with the Center for Defense Information. Since I'm a submarine guy, I've been arguing mostly about the plan to stop building submarines. Here's how Korb "justifies" stopping the building of new submarines:
"The Virginia class submarine was originally intended to combat the next generation of Soviet submarines, vessels that will never be built. The Navy plans to buy 30 of these boats to replace the SSN-688 Los Angeles class submarines at an estimated cost of $94 billion, or over $3 billion for each submarine. To date, the Navy has spent about $25 billion developing and producing the first SSN-774. For 2007, the Navy is asking Congress to appropriate approximately $2.6 billion for one boat and plans to build one vessel per year through 2011 and increase to two per year beginning in 2012. As these Virginia class submarines are commissioned, the Navy plans to retire the existing Los Angeles class submarines early – that is, before their normal service life is reached. However, not only is the Virginia class submarine not cost-ineffective, but it also fails to provide significant new capabilities beyond those of the Los Angeles class. Canceling the Virginia class and refueling the reactors of the Los Angeles class at a cost of $200 million per vessel can save $2.3 billion in 2007 and $62 billion over the next 15 years."
Here's how I answered this "analysis":
Refuelling the Los Angeles class boats would be great (actual refuelling overhaul costs are closer to $400M, but that includes other upgrades -- some info is here; the $200M number is actually "in excess of deactivation costs", so it's valid), but as I said, subs have a hull life of about 33 years. That means that they cannot dive after that amount of time (stresses in the hull make it unsafe; there's no way to anneal the whole hull -- you'd have to cut down on the engineering design factors, and we can imagine what would happen to anyone who signs off on that if a boat ends up going down). By Korb's plan, at the end of 15 years of building no attack submarines (in 2022), we'll have the three Seawolfs, the four Virginias that are fully funded, and 22 Los Angeles class boats, which would be going away at the rate of 2-3 a year -- less than 30 SSNs. (The Korb article is also intentionally misleading in talking about "$25B for the first submarine" -- intentionally misleading in a way that turns me off to rest of their message. Yes, the program cost has been $25B to date, which includes the R&D, plus the first boat, plus another sub that's over 90% done, another over 50% done, another over 25% done, plus long lead item purchases for two other boats. If he has such a strong point, why resort to such hyperbole?) The Center for Defense Information (which, in the past, has opposed every single large weapons program -- I'm sure that's just coincidental) would probably be happy with those numbers, but many other people who have studied the required numbers wouldn't be. The only realistic way to save money, while maintaining our submarine capability, would be to reopen the 688 production line...
As I said earlier, it's not just about cutting new programs, although that's defensible. You still need to build new hulls for the existing weapons systems -- individual airframes and hulls only last a certain amount of time. It's a materials engineering fact, not political wish. And these new copies of old designs will still cost money, so the proposed savings only work if you don't build anything new, which seems to be what the CDI wouldn't mind.
Oh, and regarding the "Soviet submarines that will never be built" -- that's true. The Soviet Union isn't building anything. Russia, on the other hand, apparently has plans for several new classes of submarines. (True, they probably don't have the money to build them, but you never know.)
It was getting late when I wrote that, so I didn't even mention the problem of destroying the industrial base needed to build submarines. If you want to start building them after 15 years, where are you going to find the trained nuclear welders?
Seriously, if someone wants to save money from the submarine construction budget, we can start the 688 production line back up again -- it's still better than anything a potential adversary can throw at us. They'd still be over a billion bucks a pop, though, so you're not looking at that much savings.
I have a feeling that budget savings aren't really what this group is after. I have a feeling that the Congresspeople involved in this project, including Representatives Barbara "Don't Attack Afghanistan" Lee, Dennis "Department of Peace" Kucinich, and Jim "Baghdad" McDermott, wouldn't mind seeing the military reduced to a shell.
Yes, I know this proposal doesn't have a chance in hell of even being looked at seriously, but it's still a good example of the mindset of the anti-military left, and the crap they're foisting on their well-meaning but ill-informed supporters.