Thursday, June 09, 2005

Defense Spending: Good Money After Bad

In today's New York Times, Tim Weiner sheds light on the bottomless money pit the US military has become.

"After years of failing to control cost overruns," he writes, "the most powerful officials at the Pentagon are becoming increasingly alarmed that the machinery for building weapons is breaking down under its own weight... The Pentagon's new planes and ships are costing three, four, and five times the weapons they will replace."

The Pentagon has more that 80 weapon systems under development, Weiner says. These systems are $300 million over budget; their total cost: $1.47 trillion "and rising."

New weapon systems development costs $148 billion a year. 20% of those dollars are hidden from the public in the classified "black budget." Research and development costs, now $69 billion annually, have climbed 77 percent since 2000. Weiner says to expect the cost of buying new weapons to increase nearly 50 percent by 2011.

The growing price tag on new weapons is "A time bomb with a slow fuse that is now going off," says Franklin C. Spinney, a former Pentagon budget analyst.

What's sucking up all the money? Here are just a few examples.

--The 22-year old ballistic missile defense system program, which has yet to pass a realistic test, has cost $100 billion to date.

--The Navy's DDX destroyer program will need roughly $20 billion to produce five surface combatant ships.

--The Army's Future Combat System, first expected to cost $78 billion, could wind up costing twice that amount.

--Two decades ago, the Air Force's F-22 fighter aircraft program promised to deliver 760 jets at $35 million each. Today, the plan is for 180 jets at more than $330 million a copy.

How much will these and other high dollar programs really cost at the end of the day?

"No one has a clue," says Spiney.

Keep in mind, folks, that none of these big ticket items have a whole lot to do with directly fighting terrorism.

Also keep in mind that when you hear official government numbers on "defense" spending, you're not hearing the whole story. You may not even be hearing half of it. The Pentagon's authorized $442 billion budget doesn't include operating costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor does it include Homeland Defense spending, or intelligence spending outside the Department of Defense, or most law enforcement spending on Homeland Defense operations.

How much are we really spending on "defense?" It's hard to say, but the War Resistors League estimates that 48 percent of the $2.1 trillion federal outlays in 2006 will go toward military related expenditures. At a glance, I think their estimates are a bit inflated, but they're closer to reality than any number the government will give us.

To summarize:

The US spends upwards of half its budget on defense, nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. And most experts tell us we're no safer than we were on 9-11-2001.

In an era where economy has decisively overarched military strength as the dominant tool of national policy, it may well be that the greatest threat to America's security is its own military.



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