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35 ways to cut the defense budget.

At the time we began publishing in 1969, there was not one liberal democrat in the Congress who took a truly responsible attitude toward national defense-asking what works and what doesn't and what the nation really needs. Defense was not a fashionable issue among liberals because of their opposition to Vietnam. It was remarkable, then, in 1969 when Robert Benson told Monthly readers of his "Modest proposal' '-an outline of how $9 billion (which was worth something at the time) could be cut from the Pentagon budget without reducing our national security.

But the need for defense reform was vital then and remains so today: we need a Navy that won't be hamstrung by a few Iranian mines and an Army whose troop carriers don't sink when they're supposed to float, as in the Bradley fighting vehicle. We also need to save these exorbitant sums to put them into things that are important-whether it's civilian needs or more of the weapons we really need, like cheaper, smaller, quieter submarines.

We've tried to do more than just offer a list of do's and don'ts for the Pentagon. We've tried to go after the culture of the Pentagon-howforces like the need to protect, defend, and increase budgets have made well-intentioned men and women turn outso many lousy weapons.

In 1982, Jonathan Alter and Phil Keisling's enormous piece chronicled 35 specific ways to cut the defense budget without injuring American security. "at's amazing is that papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times, with the same information and far more resources than two young editors, didn't publish similar pieces.

How can more money equal less defense? The answer, as many have been discovering, is that the enormous sums too often are devoted to small numbers of highly sophisticated weapons. We are putting too many of our eggs in too few baskets. The more money we spend, the fewer planes, submarines, and tanks we seem to get. But it is increasingly clear that the so-called "quantity versus quality" debate does not convey the whole story. Often, large numbers of simple, practical weapons are preferable to small numbers of complex ones, not only because they are cheaper and more effective en masse but because even one-to-one the simpler weapons work better.

Our argument for large-scale cancellation will cut our losses. Even some sophisticated members of Congress and the press don't understand that even weapons already in the pipeline can be cancelled with enormous savings. The government is liable only for lost profits and expenses incurred, which are usually far less than the face amount of the contract. It's time to stop throwing good money after bad and start providing an incentive for the right kind of performance by the defense industry. As Alain Enthoven, one of Robert McNamara's "whiz kids" puts it, "Without the clear and present danger of cancellation, it is very hard to get contractors to even begin to control costs.'"

It's also important to understand that cost overruns, as egregious as they are, are not at the root of our defense problems. Too often they serve as a handy way for liberals to jump into the defense debate without becoming involved in the more difficult issue of whether particular weapons and other elements of the defense program are working as they should. This requires a sustained effort to learn about "probability of kill," depot management, and all sorts of other things many people don't find very appealing or interesting. Of course, if that effort is not made, the nation will have no choice but to accept the judgment and assumptions of those who believe the way to make the military perform is to throw money at it.

On the other hand, if we can bring ourselves to look closely at these problems, substantial savings are possible, not only in weaponry, but in the more prosaic realm of paychecks, airplane hangars, army bases, and the like.

So it's up to Congress to delve into the specifics of how defense money is spent and not rely just on across-the-board increases or decreases of this percentage or that. [Several of the authors ' suggestions have been accepted but many more remain to be dealt with including these two:]

Cancel the AEGIS Cruiser

At better than a billion dollars a pop, these air defense vessels cannot possibly be acquired in enough quantity to perform their mission-defense of aircraft carrier groups. This is true even if the Navy doesn't go to large numbers of carriers. The Navy, defying such logic, is asking for three AEGIS cruisers next year and 17 eventually. That will account for a sizable percentage of its budget for ships.

But there's another problem: the high-tech systems that make the AEGIS so outrageously expensive also make it highly vulnerable to attack. This is the great irony of advanced radar technology-it turns weapons into targets instead of shields. AEGIS will become the brightest target in the sea, allowing, according to Senator Gary Hart's aide, Bill Lind, radar-homing missiles to lock onto it quite easily. A much better, and cheaper, idea would be to equip all naval vessels-from fighters to carriers-with their own anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons. That way carriers would no tonger be dependent on such expensive accessories.

Budget authority savings FY 1983 $3 billion

Total program savings $22.2 billion

Reduce the Size of the Officer Corps

Today there are eight times as many admirals per ship as there were at the end of World War II and seven times as many air force generals per plane.

While the World War II ratio is unrealistic in peacetime, the 1964 standard of seven enlisted men to one officer seems reasonable, especially since there are far fewer planes, ships, and tanks today. Adhering to this ratio would reduce the current 290,000-person officer corps to 260,000. Yet the Pentagon actually has worsened the problem by increasing the number of ROTC scholarships, some of which cost the government more than $10,000 a year, from 80,000 to 110,000 since 1979. And between 1981 and 1983 Reagan projects the number of officers will grow at nearly twice the rate as enlisted men. Congress should cut the scholarships immediately; reducing the number of officers through attrition will take several years.

Budget authority savings FY 1983 $250 million

Total program savings $2.5 billion
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Title Annotation:The Culture of Institutions
Author:Alter, Jonathan
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Previous Article:So hard to remember, so easy to forget.
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