The Budget Crisis Should Usher in a New Era of Innovation in Defense
By Mark Johnson
The Pentagon revealed last month that it would cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion to buy and maintain a fleet of F-35 joint-strike fighter jets over the long term. Even defense hawk Sen. John McCain called the number "jaw dropping." Building enormously complex and expensive weapons systems not only busts the budget but requires years, even decades, to complete—the F-35 program is already a decade old. Meanwhile, we increasingly face mobile, adaptable enemies who are good at attacking our weaknesses with deadly innovation on the cheap.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged those realties when he cut 20 big-ticket weapons last year to save $330 billion in future spending. Leon Panetta, who is expected to take over next month after confirmation hearings on Thursday, is likely to continue the Gates budget strategy: Spend less preparing for a theoretical threat against a conventional large Chinese army and focus instead on the more amorphous threats posed by stateless enemies, terrorists and unpredictable revolutions in the Middle East and failed states like the Sudan and Congo.
For the U.S. military to succeed and prevail, and to equip America's men and women who risk their lives fighting unconventional warfare, the Pentagon has no choice—no more blank checks from the American taxpayer. The Department of Defense must innovate.