The military and air force are locked in battle for the missions and the dollars that go with them. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs – a guy from the military – has predicted “bloodshed” with the military, the likely loser as the country grapples with how to handle growing rivalries with China and Russia.
Ending rivalries and unifying the country behind the need for a strong military will require both a White House willing to negotiate a higher defense budget with Republicans in Congress, and Pentagon leaders willing to articulate the need for resources. sufficient and to curb internal fighting.
Tight defense budgets have always caused the services to fight each other for scarce dollars and we are already seeing those fights return. Such brawls unnecessarily distract from today’s fundamental question that the proposed level of defense funding is insufficient to develop the military needed to counter China and others.
In essence, the Biden administration’s budget request asks the Pentagon to do more with less. While calling for a 16% hike in domestic spending, he calls for a paltry 1.5% increase in defense spending in 2022 – not enough to cover inflation.
The army has already found itself in this difficult situation. In 2013, cuts brought about by the Budget Control Act of 2011 hit the DOD, which, although accounting for only 16% of federal spending, suffered the brunt of 49% of the cuts. Before that, there were reductions in the 90s, late 80s and late 70s. These came in addition to withdrawals after the Vietnam and Korean wars and World War II.
In each of these times of scarcity, the military services often fought among themselves for the dollars needed to maintain their combat capabilities.
Perhaps the Pentagon’s most famous brawl was the “Admirals’ Revolt” of 1949, when the Navy clashed with the Air Force over the role of each service in the strategic mission of nuclear deterrence. The heart of the fight was the Navy’s desire to retain its super aircraft carrier, while the Air Force struggled to fund its strategic bomber. Triggered by the Defense Department’s declining budget, the rivalry distracted attention from the miserable conventional readiness of the military, which became horribly evident to all in 1950, at the start of the Korean War.
While the “revolt” is perhaps the best-known example, the Pentagon funding rivalry becomes routine whenever money tightens.
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War and in anticipation of budgetary struggles, bitter disputes arose over the role air power played in winning the war and whether it was decisive to it. alone. This rivalry also distracted attention from the military procurement holiday that began in 1993 and saw a sharp decline in equipment purchases.
When there is real growth in the defense budget, services are generally able to reasonably resolve inter-agency disputes, allowing each branch to retain the strengths at its disposal and to conduct modest modernization programs.
Today, internal tensions are resurfacing.
Last month, just weeks after the commander of the Indo-Pacific region called the army’s precision ground-missile efforts “critically important,” a senior army general air called them “stupid”. A think tank associated with the Air Force piled up, calling the military’s missile initiative “unnecessary duplication,” a point they had been insisting for some time.
The jockey for money of course goes back further. Last year, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday argued for a larger share of the defense budget: âMy service should get a larger share of the Pentagon budget at the expense of the other two. One-third, one-third, one-thirdâ¦ doesn’t necessarily correspond to what we have to deal with the pace threat we face. And the military immediately retaliated with its own account.
Sun Tzu advised that “if the forces against you are united, separate them”. By engaging in this unnecessary inter-service rivalry, military service leaders allow those with reduced budgets to defeat them in detail.
The biggest problem isn’t with the army’s new missiles. It’s also not that the Air Force and Army are reluctant to give the Navy more of their budget. No, the existential question is a misguided attempt to limit defense spending at a time when the Pentagon is tasked with being ready to face an emboldened China, an aggressive Russia, and a host of other issues, including new directions for the DOD. as a leader in the fight against climate change.
To align strategy with budget, the Biden administration must recognize that it has placed the Department of Defense in an untenable position and be willing to work with Congress to establish a superior line of defense. For their part, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, must simultaneously articulate the need for sufficient resources while resolving self-defeating rivalries before they become public.
It is only with a team effort that America will be ready to respond to threats that directly affect our security.
Thomas Spoehr, member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, is director of the Heritage Foundation National Defense Center. He is a retired army lieutenant general.