The running joke in the military is that the Marines get the Army's old equipment. Should the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the "super-committee," fail to come to an agreement on federal spending, our nation's military will face up to $1.2 trillion in budget cuts phased in over a decade – on top of over $489 billion in cuts that are currently being made – and the Marines will continue conducting their missions with the Army's hand-me-downs … indefinitely.
When I went into combat in Baghdad with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, the only new equipment I had were the tires on my humvees and my combat boots. My unit's humvees were almost 20 years old, some of the first off of the assembly line; the .50-caliber machine guns assigned to my unit had been in and out of the maintenance shop for at least a month before being deployed; and our radios would only transmit a few miles. I'd hate to see what the Marines had to work with.
After 10 years at war, the men and women of our military are still using the same types of equipment developed for and during the Cold War. Recent reporting showed that in 2008 an Air Force captain had flown the same plane his father flew 30 years prior. America's air and bomber fleets (F-15s, 16s, 18s, B-1s, 2s, and 52s) are Cold War remnants – the beleaguered F-35 is the only new fighter to escape post-Cold War era cuts. The F-22 fighter, the Seawolf Class sub and the Army's Comanche helicopter have all been shelved.
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America's Navy is also treading water. The first shot across the bow came this week when it was reported that the Obama administration is possibly targeting the USS George Washington to become the first casualty of budget cutting. The Trident ballistic missile and Los Angeles Class attack submarines, Aegis-equipped destroyers and cruisers, and Nimitz Class aircraft carriers are becoming old technology fast. The USS Enterprise, America's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, has been sailing the seas since JFK was president and is set for decommissioning in 2013. Meanwhile, the Navy reports that only half of its deployed aircraft are ready for combat.
The Army and Marine Corps are still flying and driving equipment developed to fight a war against the Soviet Union on the Fulda Gap. Our soldiers and Marines continue using variants of the Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Blackhawk helicopter. These technologies and weapons platforms have served us well; I've personally seen them in action, bringing the fight to the enemy, but we cannot settle for these systems to defend us against future threats.
The budget constraints America faces are very real, and American voters have been crystal clear in demanding that the entire federal budget should be put on the table for debate. Since Barack Obama has been commander in chief, $489 billion in cuts have been made to our defense forces. These cuts are forcing the Pentagon to find efficiencies, cut waste, and eliminate fraud and abuse. The cuts also go deep, down to the proverbial bone. The next round of cuts will force an amputation – $1.2 trillion dollars in cuts will force us to cut capabilities.
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The question we must ask of ourselves is what kind of national defense do we want? According to the National Counterterrorism Center, the number of attacks over the last five years has more than doubled from 945 five years ago to 2,534 last year. The threats we face are not diminishing, just the opposite. China is investing in a sophisticated national defense strategy while Iran's nuclear capabilities grow each day. We must have a national defense that exceeds the capabilities of our adversaries – and that investment starts now, not a decade from now when boots are getting ready to hit the ground or aircraft are preparing to launch.
Enacting deeper cuts at this point will have a devastating impact on the ability of our forces to defend the homeland and will constitute a breach of faith with America's warrior class. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously stated that we go to war with the Army we have. Is this the Army we want to go war with – a Cold War-era force defending America from the threats of the 21st century?
Our troops are not asking for gold-plated equipment – armor will suffice.
Joel Arends is a veteran of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. He currently serves as a captain in the Army Reserve and as chairman of Veterans for a Strong America. Arends holds the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman's Badge for his time in Iraq. In 2006, the secretary of defense named Arends one of the 50 Heroes in the Global War on Terror.