Defence budgets to remain flat for years, says SECAF

In other words, welcome to the hollow force.

090311-F-3050V-001Despite showing remorse and regret after its paddling by SECDEF Gates, and ramping up ISR support to provide 36 UAV combat air patrols a staggering 18 months ahead of schedule, the Air Force (and if we’re honest, probably all of the other services too) will continue to live in budget purgatory.

September 14, 2009—Air Force Secretary Michael Donley struck a somber tone in his keynote address at AFA’s Air & Space Conference Monday. Warning that defense budgets will likely remain flat for years, Donley asserted that “we can’t expect to do everything and buy everything” the service needs to fulfill its role.

Comparing today’s Air Force program to the Vision 2020 roadmap outlined by service leaders in 2000, he said that in almost all categories, USAF will buy far fewer things and at a more stretched out pace, than the worst-case scenarios of nine years ago. “We are not building the Air Force we thought we would build,” he said.

He forecast, “We can be assured of little-to-no-growth defense budgets,” and this will force “painful trades” in almost every area of USAF endeavor.

— Tirpak, John A.  “Welcome to Flatland.”  Air Force Magazine online, 14 September 2009.

This is an American administration intentionally ceding an asymmetric advantage of strategic importance.  Air power of the 21st century is akin to naval power of the 18th century; the most rapid, effective and lethal method of globally projecting power.  Imagine if Britain had begun an unprecedented naval drawdown in the late 19th century, and the Royal Navy was allowed to retire from its legislative requirement to be larger than the next two competitors combined.  As the 20th century dawned and the RN could call upon relatively few new, state-of-the-art warships, would that have made later contests with Germany more or less difficult?

Although ultimate responsibility must lay with the man at the top—President Barack Obama—I am equally certain that a President John McCain would have enjoyed and encouraged SECDEF Gates’ austerity budgets, too.  I can’t say I draw any comfort from that thought.  An intentional backing away from a position of strength does not bode well for American influence, nor for those allies (like Canada) who starve their armed forces and depend heavily on America’s security umbrella to keep the peace.

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