Critics say U.S. defense budget approaching $800 billion doesn’t buy what the military really needs

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) emerged from the House Armed Services Committee in September with a major addition: $23.9 billion for more weapons, research and development, and maintenance. The House version of the annual defense budget now totals nearly $778 billion with $738 billion of it for the Pentagon, well above the Biden administration’s proposed $753 billion with $715 billion of it for the Pentagon.

In addition to boosting the total 5% over last year’s bill, Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, the committees top Republican, said the money authorizes all combatant commanders’ unfunded priorities — the “wish lists” submitted alongside budget requests. “Most importantly, this amendment ensures we have the resources necessary to counter the growing threat from China and other adversaries,” Rogers said.

Both chambers must reconcile their versions and then pass a final bill, but the Senate Armed Services Committee already added a similar amount to its version. The increases aren’t unexpected — Republicans and hawkish Democrats criticized Biden’s proposal for months, but they come amid growing calls for smaller defense budgets better tailored to the challenges the United States faces.

After the war in Afghanistan and other overseas interventions, “it would be logical that we shouldn’t have a defense budget that is more than Donald Trump’s budget and more than the height of the Cold War,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) said on September 2, hours after voting against advancing the NDAA, “Progressives already were compromising” on Biden’s budget, “but then to have the Republicans add $23.9 billion in addition to that when we have control of the House, the Senate, and the presidency, that’s just unacceptable.”

Another member of the committee, Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-California),said during debate on Rogers’ amendment, “It’s remarkable to me that as we end our long and expensive campaign in Afghanistan, so many are concluding that what we need is more war, more weapons, and billions of dollars more than even what the Pentagon is asking for.”

Speaking to a member of the news media later, Khanna said, “The way we’re going to compete with China is doing things that increase our technology lead,” citing cybersecurity, space tech-nology, and “the effective use of AI [Artificial Intelligence] and quantum computing. But to just provide a blanket increase, as $23.9 billion did, without any consideration of all of the sole-source contracts [and] without any consideration of the excessive profits that defense contractors’ executives are making is not positioning us to have a strong, modern military.”

Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), who voted against Rogers’ amendment, said during debate on it that “the single most important thing” the Pentagon “needs to do right now is spend its money wisely.” The department should improve its acquisition process and better assess future threats, and an additional $23.9 billion “makes it easier for them to just keep doing what they’ve been doing.”

Smith added, “We have too many programs over the course of the last 20 years that we’ve spent billions of dollars on and gotten nothing for the taxpayer out of it. Simply throwing more money at the problem does not solve it.”

That view is shared by some in the Pentagon. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in September that 3% to 5% annual increases might not be needed if inefficiencies in the budget process were eliminated. Buying platforms the military doesn’t need and paying contractors when they can’t work because the budget isn’t passed before the fiscal year starts both increase costs. If we could just get that [budget] stability, if we could make sure we focus our investments on what’s required for the threat only, then we can actually do it with $700 billion a year. If we continue to do it the same way we are, we have to have bigger budgets.”

– edited from Business Insider, September 17, 2021
PeaceMeal, Sept./October 2021

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