… as the Pentagon’s budget documents note up front, in the “Summary Justification,” Congress has yet to approve $102 billion left over from the supplemental for FY 2008. And so—in terms of how much Congress is being asked to authorize this year—that brings us to $713 billion.
But let’s delve into the Pentagon’s base line figure—the $515.4 billion that has nothing directly to do with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s in there? Do the U.S. armed forces really need that much for the everyday maintenance of national security?
About a quarter of that sum—$125.2 billion—is for personnel costs: understandable. Another third—$180 billion—is for operations and maintenance of equipment (a bit more mysterious, since this is apart from the O&M costs brought on by the war). But a larger sum still—$184 billion—is for what the Pentagon calls “major weapons systems.”
This includes $45.6 billion for military aircraft, including $6.7 billion to buy 16 more F-35 stealth planes. The F-35 is still in its early stages; the Pentagon has, to date, spent only about one-tenth of what it estimates to be a $300 billion program. It’s not too late to ask if we need such a costly, sophisticated fighter jet, given that air-to-air combat is not likely to be a major element of future wars and, to the extent that it might be, we’re way ahead—in numbers and technology—of any prospective foe. Or let’s accept the proposition that China’s air force is going to be a formidable rival by the year 2020: Do we need to tear full-speed ahead on the F-35 now? Could we slow the program down and see how things shape up? [complete article]