America's Choice in a Dangerous Age: Lead or Follow (excerpt)
(Source: The Heritage Foundation; issued May 17, 2011)
A Way Forward

My remarks are not intended to be all gloom and doom. There is a way forward here, a way to be responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars without hollowing out the force.

Cutting military items wholesale, given the challenges I’ve laid out, is irresponsible and dangerous, but let’s be honest: In a $530 billion defense budget, there has to be room for some savings. The Pentagon is going to need to do some housecleaning. That’s just the fiscal reality that we’re facing. But any savings that are identified by the Defense Department must go back into defense: not to health care, not to Social Security, not to cowboy poetry—and that’s a real one, by the way—and not to any other pet project the Obama Administration deems a higher priority than our security.

I want to thank The Heritage Foundation for leading the charge on identifying efficiencies without compromising our security. You provide a valuable and credible voice to a debate that requires reasoned, strategic thinking.

This is the heart of our approach to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. To avoid the hazards of the President’s plan to cut $400 billion from defense over the next decade, we are crafting a smart piece of legislation that focuses on spending taxpayer money wisely without sacrificing military capabilities. I’ll give you just a few examples.

Ballistic Missile Defense.
The first is an issue near and dear to The Heritage Foundation’s heart: ballistic missile defense. Missile defense is an important part of homeland defense, so we must get it right, but getting it right means spending our dollars wisely.

The President’s budget request calls for $800 million over the next two years to fund MEADS, a joint American and European missile defense program that has had a poor record of performance and will never be deployed. I understand Heritage has been a proponent of this joint effort, but the program is broken. Here we need to harvest what benefits and savings we can and then redirect these scarce resources to more urgent priorities, including the Ground Based Midcourse Defense deployed in Alaska and Hawaii—the only protection we have to defend our homeland against long-range missile attack.

Armored Fighting Vehicles.
The Defense Department has plans to temporarily halt the production lines of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and the Abrams Tank. Friends, the defense industry cannot be turned on and off like a light switch. Shutting down production and then restarting at a later date costs more than just keeping the lines open!

This is a no-brainer. With ground forces heavily deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the threat of IEDs still very real, increasing cost to decrease our fleet of armored fighting vehicles is foolishness. We plan to fund both these production lines in fiscal year 2012. This will spare the Pentagon expensive shutdown and startup costs, keep a robust labor force working, and provide our troops with modernized armored fighting vehicles.

You know, there’s a great story from World War II on what our acquisition strategy should be. General George Marshall was approached by an aide who had found a new vehicle the Army was thinking about buying. The aide said it was sturdy and fast. General Marshall asked a few more questions and then said, “OK, do it.” That’s a little different from the way we do things now.

That vehicle was the Jeep, and the Army built more than 640,000 of them. We still see them around.

Next Generation Bomber.
We have another important acquisition program coming up: the Next Generation Bomber. I’m proud of how both the Air Force and my committee are approaching the development. First, the new bomber will replace both the B-1 and the B-2, and probably the B-52, so that it can be procured in sufficient numbers to meet our strategic needs. Second, it focuses on the integration instead of invention of new technologies. Most of this is classified, but I can tell you that we’re building a sturdy, capable platform that will do one thing very well: penetrate enemy air defenses to deliver a lethal payload.

We’ll continue to upgrade the bomber to fit new missions and new strategic needs, but those upgrades will happen over time to help alleviate the cost to the taxpayer.

Joint Strike Fighter.
Finally, there’s the General Electric engine for the Joint Strike Fighter. I don’t want to bore you with the details of engine acquisition strategy for fifth generation fighter jets, so here’s the bird’s-eye view. We are building upwards of 2,000 Joint Strike Fighters. Engine costs eat up almost a quarter of the overall airplane buy. To help soften those costs, the Pentagon originally planned to have two engines, built by a GE–Rolls-Royce team and a Pratt & Whitney team that would constantly compete for new production and sustainment contracts. History has demonstrated that these competitions enhance performance and reduce cost. With our future air superiority depending on the Joint Strike Fighter program, that struck me as smart planning.

Unfortunately, the Pentagon recently decided that a “second engine” is wasteful and canceled the program. The original engine, built by Pratt, is already fraught with cost overruns. The GE engine is 80 percent complete and already performing well. If finished, it could drive down the overall Joint Strike Fighter price tag by billions of dollars. That is significant.

I’m curious how protecting a monopoly for a program that will span decades and cost $400 billion is in the best interest of the taxpayer. It sounds like the classic “penny wise, pound foolish” purchasing strategy that has hounded the Pentagon for years.

GE and Rolls-Royce are aware of the current stresses on the defense budget and the taxpayer. I’m pleased to announce that instead of being part of the problem, they have decided to be part of the solution. Instead of lobbying for the final 20 percent needed to finish the engine, the GE team has committed to funding the engine for fiscal year 2012 on their own dime.

I will accept and support their approach. They believe in their engine, and they believe in competition. Thanks to their willingness to compromise, we’ll break up a monopoly and potentially harvest billions in savings while fielding a more capable, more robust fighter jet—all at zero cost to the taxpayer.

That sort of acquisition reform from the defense industry should be rewarded and applauded at every opportunity, and I thank GE and Rolls-Royce for coming to us with a smart, viable solution to a tough problem.

Choosing the Right Path

With the future of U.S. security on the line, there are two paths we can take. We can adopt President Obama’s plan and cut $400 billion from the defense budget. This won’t dent the deficit and doesn’t address the real federal money pit: entitlements. But it will hit the Pentagon and the troops hard. They will lose certain capabilities, and their ranks will be thinned.

Secretary Gates recently said, after trimming $78 billion earlier this year, that we were approaching the minimum level of defense spending needed to maintain our global commitments. We are projected to fall below that figure by an average of 7 percent each year for the next 12 years. That’s the Obama plan.

Or we can roll up our sleeves and get serious about oversight and reform. We can work the defense budget with a scalpel instead of a sword, securing the blessings of liberty for our children and our grandchildren.

If, God forbid, America does stumble, if we do lose our way, historians will ask for generations: Was America pushed, or did America fall? My challenge to you is to ensure that question never has to be asked…and never has to be answered.

The Heritage Foundation has sounded the trumpet’s blast on smarter defense spending. Continue your good work. Continue to offer your sage advice to Congress. Let’s work together to ensure that President Reagan’s “shining city on the hill” burns bright for future generations.

Twenty years ago, our nation liberated Kuwait and won the Cold War. America appeared invulnerable, and tyrants trembled. A decade’s worth of peace followed.

Let us stand up and be strong again. Let us meet the security challenges of the 21st century with the determination and resolve that has littered our history with the remains of despots and dictators. Let this Republic stand tall once more to protect our liberty, to preserve our prosperity, and to pledge to the world that America will always lead so that America will always be free.

—The Honorable Howard “Buck” McKeon (R–CA) is a Member of the United States House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Click here for the full text of the lecture, on the Heritage Foundation website.


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