One of the key problems facing the U.S. military is the pressing need for force modernization. Most of its defense hardware -- tanks, jets, fighting ships -- are leftovers from the Reagan era defense build-up. And some are even older: like the KC-135 Stratotanker, the B-52 bomber, the M102 howitzer, and the AC-130 gunship -- all of which were developed, produced, and fielded before the Vietnam War.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has laudably been a strong supporter of modernization. In a House Armed Services Committee press release this week, McKeon said:
U.S. House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) today highlighted several key areas of a new report from the bipartisan independent panel tasked by Congress to review the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The panel’s co-chairs are scheduled to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday. “The Independent Panel report accomplished what the 2010 QDR failed to do: it took a look at the challenges our military will face beyond the next five years and made recommendations—free of budgetary constraints—about the type of force and capabilities our military will need for tomorrow,” said McKeon. “The report rightly states that our nation ‘cannot afford business as usual’, and warns that a ‘potential train wreck coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition and force structure.’ Most importantly, the report offers a realist view of the global security environment: to maintain and grow our alliances will place an increased demand on American hard power and require an increase in the military‘s force structure,” continued McKeon. “This bipartisan report repudiates those seeking a peace dividend and reaffirms the need to prioritize investment in our national defense,” concluded McKeon.
The report hits all the right notes. It calls for a larger Air Force and Navy, both of which are critical in sustaining global stability (though do play a smaller role in the infantry-heavy war on terrorism). It lays out the need for the upgrade and replacement of crucial weapon systems, most notably in the USAF, where the median aircraft age is over 30 years old. And it takes the administration to task on acquisition reform, correctly noting that the savings yielded from an overhaul of the DoD's decrepit defense procurement infrastructure will --even in a best case scenario--fall short of the resources needed for a robust revival of forces and equipment.
The bipartisan panel is the latest in a growing chorus of voices cautioning that efforts to reduce the deficit should stick to bloated domestic entitlement programs, and avoid slashing funding to a military heavily engaged in two wars.