Defense cuts | WORLD

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MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: military funding.

President Biden released his proposed budget for 2022 just before Memorial Day weekend. It includes $173 billion for the U.S. Army. That might sound like a lot, but according to our next guest, it’s not enough.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: General Thomas Spoehr served for over 36 years in the U.S. Army and now directs the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation. He says the Army would lose $7 billion in purchasing power, thanks to inflation, if Congress adopts the president’s budget.

General Spoehr says that would take the Army back to the days of the Obama administration. That’s when just three of its 58 brigade combat teams were fit to go to war.

General, good morning. Thanks so much for joining us today.

THOMAS SPOEHR, GUEST: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: Seven billion dollars is a lot of money. But it’s not a large percentage relative to the Army’s overall budget. So tell us what could get cut under this scenario and how it would affect readiness.

SPOEHR: You’re right. It’s not a large percentage of the Army budget, but a lot of the Army budget is fixed costs, as they say in the business world. It pays salaries, it pays fuel costs. And so there really is not a lot of flexibility in the budget. And we’re already seeing the early indications of what would be cut in this budget. So the Army has had to cut back on their training, you know, they go to the field, and they train in their Army skills and that has been cut back 30 percent in this proposed budget for 2022. Their rotations to the National Training Center and other combat training centers also cut about 25 percent. And then there are a number of cuts to their equipment programs. They’ve been steadily trying to modernize their helicopters, for example, maybe your listeners have heard of the Blackhawk helicopter or the Apache helicopter. Those programs have been cut by one-third. And I had a friend that used to tell me that anything that defies gravity, you really ought to not take a lot of risk with and so they’re slowing the modernization of these helicopter programs, which concerns me, and I think it should concern your listeners greatly.

REICHARD: What does that tell us about the Biden administration’s priorities for the military and U.S. foreign policy?

SPOEHR: You can look at the budget they released and they are very proud of some aspects of it. They’re nearly silent on anything to do with national security. And that silence speaks volumes to me. And so both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, neither one’s budget went up even to compensate for inflation. And so the Biden administration is clearly focused on domestic priorities. That may be the right sense of what America wants, but it ignores some pressing national security threats that the United States has in the form of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, that I think merit as more attention than they’re getting in this budget.

REICHARD: Does the president’s proposed budget reallocate funds to other defense needs, say cyber defense or space-related programs?

SPOEHR: Really, in this budget, if you don’t get cut, that means you’re successful. And so there is a small bit of growth for cyber and most everything else in the defense budget either stays the same or gets cut. And so for example, in the Navy, they had planned to build two destroyers starting in 2022 and that has been cut back to one and the Air Force not buying as many fighter jets as they probably ought to. And so across the board in the Department of Defense, you can’t really see anywhere where there’s been an increase in money. I think success in that particular budget is just staying the same and not getting cut. And so it’s hard to find something that got better in that budget.

REICHARD: Just to argue a little from the other side, some might say that we need to spend less money on a physical army because today’s warfare is less about boots on the ground. What do you say to that?

SPOEHR: There is merit in saying that, you know, warfare is changing. And so the domains of space, the cyber, electronic warfare are all becoming more and more important, especially since our adversaries are investing so much funds in there. So that is not an area where the American military can afford to take risk. We need strong cyber. These hacks of the Colonial Pipeline and all these other recent hacks, you know, kind of demonstrate what power cyber has. And the reality is, though, we have to have both. We have to have a strong cyber posture and we have to have a military that can defend U.S. interests around the globe. And so in some small measure, countries like China and Russia challenge us in the cyber world because they know we are so strong in our conventional forces. And so if we allow our conventional forces to degrade, you know, they will see opportunities there where they will come back and challenge us on the ground. And so I wish there was an easy answer to say, Hey, we can just, you know, neglect our conventional military and focus on cyber, but cyber probably will not win wars and defend U.S. interests in the future.

REICHARD: So, this is just a proposal, and as we’ve already noted, Congress has the final say. Do you think lawmakers are likely to stick with the president’s number?

SPOEHR: Mary, I’d like to think they will increase it. There’s not enough probably leeway in the federal budget with all the pressures that are on it right now to radically increase the defense budget. But I’d like to think a modest increase of, you know, right now, the defense budget goes up by 1.6 percent. I’d like to think that Congress could take that up to perhaps a 3 percent increase that would relieve a lot of the pressure. I’ll just give you one example. Congress has been very kind to the military and they grant, usually, a pay raise of 2 to 3 percent. Well, they don’t give any more money for that. And so even when the military funds this pay raise for 2022, you know, and if their budget only grows by 1.6, and they have to fund a pay raise of 2 to 3 percent, they’re already, again, behind the curve. And so I think Congress sees that, and I think they’re gonna try and do the best they can to take care of the United States’ priorities, including a strong national defense.

REICHARD: General Thomas Spoehr is director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation. Thanks so much for joining us today!

SPOEHR: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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