Restoring America’s Military Might

Restoring America’s Military Might

© David Burton 2015

America's Military Might

     As a prelude to this article, I would urge the reader to read Let’s Cut Defense Spending, which I wrote in October of 2014. (Ref. 1)

     America’s once unequalled military prowess has deteriorated markedly in recent years. It is critical that this trend be reversed – and reversed quickly. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are being overworked and their numbers are dwindling. Our military equipment is old and tired and there are fewer and fewer of these weapon systems. The introduction of innovative new weapon technologies has slowed as defense budgets have shrunk as a percentage of GDP. Our defense industry has contracted, critical skills are being lost and companies are loathe to do business that involves government bureaucracies and inane regulations. At the same time, our potential adversaries are rapidly increasing their defense budgets, adding to the size of their militaries, modernizing their arsenals, and they are growing increasingly aggressive.

     America’s defense is founded upon three legs: our military, the defense industry, and the government / people. Weakness in any one of these three legs threatens the very existence of our country, of our allies and of those nations that are simply too small or too weak to stand up to the numerous threats that exist in today’s world.

The “Military-Industrial complex”:

     Nearly a century ago, America entered the first World War with little to no preparedness. France and Great Britain were bearing the brunt of the fighting and gave America time to start arming. Our military had to fight with artillery pieces and airplanes that were developed and manufactured in Great Britain and France because American industry had not geared up to do so. We were not prepared for war!

     Nearly thirty years later, America entered World War II, once more ill-prepared to engage in a major conflict against adversaries that had been preparing for war for several years prior. Fortunately, the United States had the time and the skills for its industrial base to change from peace time manufacturing into a magnificent manufacturing juggernaut that justified President Franklin Delano Roosevelt calling the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

     “The U.S. Defense industry that evolved after World War II is today widely acknowledged as the best in the world. As one scholar of national security affairs has noted, if a nation ‘had to choose a ‘military-industrial complex’ that has stood above all others since the early 1940s, and continues to do so today, the American military-industrial would surely be the one most people and nations would choose.’
      - - -
     “President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term ‘military-industrial complex’ during his farewell address more than 50 years ago. Since then, the image has persisted of a huge defense industrial base that is making a large impact on both the national economy and the national manufacturing base.
     “This was true at the time of Eisenhower’s speech.  . . . By some measures, {the defense industry} accounted for approximately 10 percent of the gross domestic product {during this period of time}.
     “But 50 years is a long time.  . . . Under any measure, the defense industry of today is a fraction of the one President Eisenhower referenced.
     “Consider this: the combined annual revenue of the top five defense firms in 2014 was less than half that of Wal-Mart – and the defense revenue figures include commercial aircraft and other items not directly related to defense. Only three defense firms can be found among the Fortune 100 companies. Of the 11 largest firms that designed and produced the major components of the space program, such as the Apollo lander, only two still exist as separate companies and only one of them is a major presence in defense. [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     In 2012, I wrote: “Today, we have ‘a military inventory largely composed of weapons designed forty to fifty years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. While the weapons in our arsenal remain formidable, they are well along on the path to obsolescence. Along with the aging process, there has been a precipitous decline in sheer numbers. The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, on track to hit the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline {further.} . . . Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy’s role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today.’” (Ref. 3) It’s now three years later and the situation has gotten worse, not better! The Air Force is smaller, its planes are older and the number of ships in our navy continues to dwindle. The same cannot be said about the armed forces of some of our potential adversaries, e.g., China, Russia and others.

     Today, in 2015, the “military-industrial complex” is long dead. “Defense spending reached its peak in 2008, when the base budget and wartime spending combined was $760 billion. Incredibly, the total defense budget plummeted by $200 billion last year.
     “Today, defense spending is only 16% of all federal spending, an historic low rivaled only by the post-Cold War period. To give some context, during the Cold War, defense spending regularly accounted for 60% of federal spending. [Emphasis mine] {We are currently on the path to having a mere 12% of all federal dollars spent going to defense by the end of 2016}.
     “The picture is no prettier when cast in the light of our economy. In the early Cold War, defense spending was approximately 9% of gross domestic product. Today, it sits at a paltry 3.5%.
     “. . . The consequences of these cuts are real, concrete, and immediate. As former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta explained, these cuts to defense spending have put us on the path to the smallest Army since before World War II, the smallest Navy since World War I, and the smallest Air Force ever. [Emphasis mine} . . .
     “Our Army has shrunk by nearly 100,000 troops. The Army has lost 13 combat brigades, and only a third of the remaining brigades are fully ready to meet America’s threats. Further, investments in modernization have fallen by 25%. If we continue on the current path, the Army will lose another 70,000 soldiers and every modernization program designed to preserve the Army’s technological edge will be eviscerated.
     “The Navy, meanwhile, has had to cancel five ship deployments and significantly delay the deployment of a carrier strike group. The Navy’s mission requires it to keep three carrier strike groups and amphibious readiness groups prepared to respond to a major crisis within 30 days, but the Navy can only fulfill a third of this mission because of cuts to maintenance and training.
     “Similarly, the Air Force is less than a third of its size 25 years ago. Moreover, the Air Force depends on modernization to preserve its technological edge perhaps more than any other service. But current funding levels could require cancellation of airborne-refueling tankers and surveillance aircraft, set back fighter and nuclear-weapons modernization, and shorten the life of tactical airlift and weapons-recovery programs.
     “Nor are these impacts just immediate; they will be felt long into the future. Key programs, once divested, will be difficult to restart. Manufacturing competencies will be lost, the skilled-labor pool will shrink, and the defense-manufacturing base will atrophy. Today’s weapons systems and equipment will age and begin to breakdown. Our troops won’t be able to train and their weapons and equipment won’t be ready for the fight. In short, we will have a hollow force, incapable of defending our national security.” (Ref. 4)

The Defense Industry:

     The defense industry has suffered a 15 percent decline in defense contracting from fiscal 2010 through 2013.[5]

     “As of early March 2015, “the three largest defense contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman – had a combined market cap of $202 billion. Facebook’s was $225 billion.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 6)

     “. . . today’s defense industry looks nothing like the ‘military-industrial complex’ President Eisenhower mentioned a half-century ago.” [Emphasis mine] (Ref. 2)

     “For a quarter century following World War II, the technology industry in the Bay area was fueled primarily by the Defense Department. Today, the technology industry doesn’t need the Pentagon’s dollars as much as the Pentagon needs cutting edge innovation.” (Ref. 6)

     The American defense industry is privately owned – it is not owned by the government. As such, the companies that comprise our defense industry are not non-profit entities – they are beholden to their owners to make a profit. Nearly all defense companies have the option of selling to the military or selling to commercial customers. Doing business with America’s military requires companies to incur significant costs that do not exist when these companies make non-military sales. Companies selling to the military are subject to rules, regulations, audits, and oversight that do not come cheaply. When a company sells a commercial product, it generally does so with no strings attached – the customer buys the product without the right to burden the company with a blizzard of rules, regulations, audits, or oversight. But if you want to develop products for, or provide services to, the military, such is not the case. We must make it more attractive for commercial companies to do business with the Pentagon.

     If “the government doesn’t make it easier to do business with them, commercial companies are going to walk away. They don’t need the military market.
     “. . . ‘The last thing a commercial company is going to do is subject itself to federal accounting regulations or cost accounting disclosures. It’s not worth the price.’ The exceedingly complex defense procurement regulations should only be used to make unique weapon systems . . . ‘There is no way they can use the current regulations to acquire the innovative technology from companies that don’t want to do business that way.’” (Ref. 7)

     Having worked in the defense industry for forty years, I can recall contacting a company and asking them to sell me some equipment they were manufacturing that I wanted to use on a government-funded project. They agreed to sell me the equipment only if I bought it as an “off-the-shelf” commercial item. They would have nothing to do with the government’s procurement system.

     The problem for the Pentagon is that private investors do not see the development of military technology as an attractive business. Considering the large investment that is required to develop advanced technology, the returns don’t please investors unless it involves technology the government will help the company develop and allow the firm to sell commercially.

America’s Armed Forces:

     The second leg of the defense stool is the American military. Back in 2008, I commented on the status or our all-volunteer military. (Ref. 8) The gist of my comments are summarized as follows:

     Our all-volunteer military has performed admirably for the United States during the past three decades. They are, without doubt, the finest armed forces in the world. BUT, the ongoing and frequent engagements against Muslim radical have shown that this country cannot repeatedly ask these men and women, along with reservists and National Guard units to be the only military defenders of our country. We simply cannot keep sending them back, over and over, to carry on the long term war against these Islamic thugs.

     Whether the American people admit it or not, the war against Muslim extremism is a war that will persist for decades and the all-volunteer military cannot be expected to be the only citizenry that must bear the brunt of this ongoing conflict. The all-volunteer military serves the purpose admirably well in conflicts that are limited in scope and duration - there are none better. BUT, the war against Islamic terrorism is limited neither in scope nor in duration.

     While the all-volunteer military has fulfilled this country’s needs in the years following the Viet Nam War, we must now adjust to the realities forced upon us by a relentless and pitiless foe. All Americans, and not just our voluntary military, must assume a greater role in this ongoing war. We must do what Americans have always done in times of war. More of us must serve in the Military - voluntarily or otherwise. If otherwise, then a form of military draft must be reinstated. In Israel, nearly all citizens of military age must serve in the military. There are no exemptions for college students or employment in defense related industries as was the case with the draft in the United States during the Viet Nam War. America does not need nor can it afford to have everyone perform some military service, but, it could put in place a lottery-based draft system with no exemptions for the needed number of men and women who would be required to serve for a specified period of time. I’m certain that other equitable systems can be developed. The main point is that the burdens of freedom must be shared equally and equitably and not by a patriotic few volunteers.

     The time to begin a reform in the Military is now rather than later. The volunteer military must continue and they must constitute the core of our defense, but they can’t continue to carry the entire load. The otherwise non-military segment of our population must join in and assume their responsibilities. Freedom is not free. The rest of us must pay our fair share. The time for letting someone else do the work is over.

     These comments were pertinent in 2008. In 2015, they are even more relevant. Russia’s growing aggression in the Ukraine, China’s naval buildup and saber-rattling in the South China Seas, the ongoing intransigence of North Korea, the Libya debacle, events in Iran, Yemen, and Syria, the emergence of ISIS, the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the seas of southeast Asia, along with the unsettling state of affairs in northern and central Africa all demand a strengthening of America’s military. Today, there isn’t any “R and R” for those whose job it is to defend our nation. The tempo of military operations is increasing and there is no end in sight. In addition, our men and women are constantly being called upon to perform humanitarian missions around the world whenever natural disasters strike. We simply cannot demand that those precious few who are now serving continue to face all of these evolving threats alone. The rest of us must pitch in and do our share.

     Funding for the military is not keeping up with defense needs. Part of the problem has to do with “fixed costs” – the costs that exist simply to keep the military and civilian staffs, facilities, and equipment in existence. The fact is that the “Defense Department’s fixed costs – most attributed to large ‘back office’ staffs and overhead – keep going up, and ‘we don’t have money for the things we really need’.” (Ref. 7) The things that “we really need” are things like, guns, planes, tanks, ships, etc.

     “’Pay, benefits, healthcare are eating more and more of the defense discretionary dollars. There aren’t enough dollars left to buy weapon systems.’ And Congress in this case has not helped as it continues to reject Pentagon proposals to close bases and shrink inventories.” (Ref. 7)

     Currently, America’s military is composed of an all-volunteer army. One of the inducements to serve in the military is retirement benefits. But, “the fact is that 83 percent of military personnel will never see a dime of retirement pay because they leave the military before serving the required 20 years [Emphasis mine], while their peers in the private sector rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in 401(k) retirement plans that move with them when they change jobs. Those same peers have choices about their careers and are able to stay in one location or move based on the best job options available to the family while military personnel are typically forced to move their entire family every three years, regardless of their spouse’s career prospects, children’s educational or housing situations.
      - - -
     “The military offers one of the most generous retirement plans in the United States, but only to those who qualify for it. For the 17 percent of military members who stay to qualify for retirement, they receive benefits that are increasingly rare in American society.  . . . The problem is that few veterans actually get to enjoy it.  . . . Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: abolish the current defined benefit pension in favor of a 401(k) style plan with immediate vesting that guarantees every member of the military will receive at least some retirement pay.  . . . Making this retirement benefit fully portable between the active duty, reserve components and the private sector would also provide greater flexibility for military service members.” (Ref. 9)

     “Since the end of the Cold War, America’s military has operated at a far higher operational tempo than it did during the Cold War. However, while the military has been busier than ever, its size and strength have declined. The Air Force is smaller and its inventory is older than at any time since its inception in 1947. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916. All three services are 30 percent to 40 percent smaller than they were during Desert Storm. As a result, the National Guard and Reserves have been constantly mobilized, and a number of Army units are on their fifth or sixth deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (Ref. 10) This trend is unsustainable and cannot be allowed to continue!

The American Government and its People:

     The third leg of the America’s defense stool is our government and the American public. In recent years we have seen a major decline in support of our military and of the military’s industrial base. The American government has gotten bogged down in debates over the procurement process and has invoked sequestration in its attempt to compensate somewhat for its inability to generate realistic budgets. While this has been going on, our nation’s adversaries are gaining access to technology that could eventually counter the current advantage that the U.S. holds.[7] To date, the American public has not rallied to the support of our military and of our defense needs – partly, or largely, as a consequence of the lack of government leadership in pushing for military preparedness. This indifference, on the part of our government leadership and the American people, has to stop! American Defense must be given top priority!

     The government has failed to heed the requests of the military because of political expediency. In recent years, “The Pentagon has sought to close excess military bases, reform benefits programs and shift money from aging weapon systems into procurement of new equipment, but Congress has rejected most of these proposals.  . . .
      - - -
     “Congress’ rejection of the Pentagon’s recommended cuts in fiscal year 2015 will add $70 billion in costs over the next five years. Critics on the right and left have blasted Congress for failing to bring fiscal discipline to the Pentagon. For the defense industry, Congress’ inability to tackle Pentagon bloat means future spending on equipment will be squeezed. Government watchdogs, while cheering defense cuts, worry that Congress continues to play political games with the nation’s defense. The 2015 defense budget is proof of that, said {the} executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The budget provides ‘unsurprisingly more funding of last century’s weapons, more budget gimmicks for the Pentagon, and more stuff military leaders don’t want or need.’” (Ref. 5)

     The Pentagon wants more internal R&D investment by the U.S. defense industry, but industry CEOs are not yet ready to shift corporate cash from share repurchases and dividend payments to R&D investments until they see a more predictable picture of the future in the area of defense and realistic profit margins from doing business with the government. While there isn’t an easy solution to DoD’s demand for more innovation and investment, DoD could fund more R&D programs, but in a tight defense budget environment, there would likely have to be cut in some procurement programs. To counter this trend, the Pentagon could seek to reform acquisition policies to encourage non-traditional defense contractors to enter the military market. If the U.S. is losing its military technology advantage, these changes could be implemented in the name of the overriding national security needs, particularly if these security needs were manifested in a very public way.[5]

     The American government, Congress and the Executive branch, must reverse the trend that is squandering away the American military superiority that we have enjoyed for 7 decades. Our government leaders must rally the American people to this task and they must stop their constant squabbling that has resulted in the current unacceptable state of affairs.

     The consequences of the failure of the American government to lead in the maintenance of our state of defense was addressed recently by the Obama administration’s Deputy Secretary of Defense. (Ref. 11) He made the following points.

     “The Services have been forced in some cases to divert resources from modernization – unable to fully fund both capacity an capability because of the budget uncertainty and restrictions imposed by Congress, and because of our unrelenting focus on readiness of forward deployed forces, we’ve been chronically under-investing in new weapons and capabilities. Today we see our potential competitors developing capabilities that challenge us in all domains . . . ” [Emphasis mine] Referring to sequestration-level funding, the Deputy Secretary said it “is a very real threat to the department {of defense} and its overall strategy and overall fundamental premise of technological superiority.”

     The Deputy Secretary concluded by saying that, ultimately, the modernization challenge could only be met by “Congress and the public coming together behind a long-term budget approach that dispels sequester once and for all . . . and provides the Department {of Defense} flexibility in making needed cost saving reforms.”

In Summary:

     Failure to equip our military to defend against potential threats is a sure-fire way to guarantee that these potential threats will turn into real threats. “The best way to avoid war is to be willing and prepared to fight a war in the first place.  . . . Our enemies and allies alike must know that aggressors will pay an unspeakable price for challenging the United States.  . . . When it comes to war, narrow margins are not enough, for they are nothing more than an invitation to war. We must have such hegemonic strength that no sane adversary would ever imagine challenging the United States. ‘Good enough’ is not and will never be good enough.” (Ref. 4) Today, perhaps more than ever, “we need a well-equipped, fully-staffed military that is able to remain at a constant state of readiness. On December 6, 1941, we had an ill-equipped, understaffed military and a nation focused solely or the Great Depression. On December 8, 1941, we had a nation reeling from the effects of an ill-equipped, understaffed military that had long been ignored by the American public and the politicians in Washington. On December 7, 1941, that all changed! Nearly instantaneously, America successfully geared up for war. But, the price paid for our inattention to national defense was enormous in terms of life and money – paid in part by the U.S., but mostly by the nations and peoples of Europe and Asia. The day after the end of World War II, America promptly forgot the lesson of Pearl Harbor and returned America’s national security to the back burner. 5 years later, Korea was once again an initial disaster and another wakeup call about defense preparedness. America and its allies were nearly pushed off the Korean Peninsula before the tide was turned. The reason? We were militarily unprepared. In today’s world, with nuclear-capable non-democratic regimes rising and fundamentalist Islamic terror and unrest spreading in the Middle East and the rest of the world, America's national defense is more important than ever and cannot be subordinated to partisan politics and indifference.” (Ref. 3) Unfortunately, defense always seems to be ignored until after it is needed and then it is almost too late. A strong defense can be successful in keeping America and others around the world less susceptible to blackmail and attack.

     “An alarm should be sounding in our ears. Our enemies, sensing weakness and hence opportunity have become steadily more aggressive. Our allies, uncertain of our commitment and capabilities, have begun to conclude that they must look out for themselves, even where it’s unhelpful to stability and order. Our military, suffering from years of neglect, has seen its relative strength decline to historic levels.
      - - -
     “Make no mistake: our military capabilities have declined. In recent years, we have dramatically under-funded our military to the detriment of our security.” (Ref. 4)

     There are always individuals who complain that since we may not be under direct attack, we don’t need a strong military and that the money needed for defense should be better spent on social needs. These people are the same ones who shout and scream the loudest when we are attacked and then look for scapegoats to blame for our military unpreparedness. We must ignore the blindness of these individuals and bring our military and our defense industry back to the point where no enemy would dare threaten the security of this nation.

     Instead of neglect and indifference to defense needs, we need to end sequestration, reverse the trend of declining defense spending as a percentage of overall government spending and rapidly increase our defense spending. We need to reform military procurement policies, reduce the defense department overhead, change military retirement benefits, and institute some form of compulsory military service. Today’s world is growing increasingly dangerous and lethal. When the next crisis arises, America may not have the time or the luxury to rebuild our national defense. We may have to go with whatever we have. Heaven help us if what we have is insufficient or inadequate.



  1. Let’s Cut Defense Spending!, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 203, 10 October 2014.
  2. Maintaining the Arsenal of Democracy, Craig R. McKinley, National Defense, Page 4, May 2015.
  3. National Defense, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 145, 18 October 2012.
  4. Ending America’s Retreat, Restoring America’s Military Dominance, Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, 16 March 2015.
  5. Defense 2015 Preview: Downturn Ends but Industry Troubles Not Over, Sandra Erwin, National Defense,
    30 December 2014.
  6. DoD Can Motivate Tech Industry to Work On Defense Programs, Teka Thomas, National Defense, Pages 22-24, May 2015.
  7. Procurement Issues That Congress Won’t Fix, Sandra I. Erwin, National Defense, Page 6, May 2015.
  8. Stop the “Stop Loss”, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 43, 26 May 2008.
  9. Why the U.S. Must Reform the Military personnel System, Mieke Eoyang and Ben Freeman, National Defense, Pages 26-28, May 2015.
  10. A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs and What They Will Cost,
    The Heritage Foundation, 5 April 2011.
  11. Deputy Secretary of Defense: “Sequester Poses Very Real Threat to US Technological Superiority”,
    The Journal of Electronic Defense, 1 May 2015.

  25 May 2015 {Article 221; Whatever_40 }    
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