I decided to write a post vice just responding to a comment because the subject is part and parcel of the state of this nation. The question was raised whether we needed such a large modern military. This question is very loaded because you first have to decide what is important to this nation and then decide what type of military is needed to support that decision.
I truly believe that there are many paths, which we can follow in this area and some are better than others. First, we must step back and take a hard look at our place in the wide world and decide what we want our role to be. Should we be the world's policeman or should we be isolationist or maybe somewhere in the middle. Think that where we decide to fall in that spectrum truly dictates the level of military we are going to need (I will hold modernization for later).
As it stands right now we support (spend lots of money) on the UN, NATO, and our own military, this to me seems to be redundant. Why are we still supporting NATO, when the other countries seem to reap all the benefits and we pay all the costs? This doesn't make a huge amount of sense to me because we are footing the bill and providing the equipment to prevent Russian aggression, but as we have recently seen that NATO is not going to stand with us if the crap starts hitting the fan. They have their own self-interests to worry about like Russian oil and gas. So this leaves us with the question of why do we bother spending money and troops in their support? This is where things get more complex like that it is good to have lots of friends around the globe who will allow you put your toys in a time of need and supply needed support for your global objectives. This leads us back to the where on the spectrum we want to be.
As for the UN, this organization is not our friend and does very little in reality other than drain resources around the world. In a recent report they have billions of dollars that most countries don't realize they have, but lots of it is wasted on their self-licking ice cream cone of administration. The UN is helpful in organizing relief or other feel good things, but when it comes down to anything globally productive there is just too many fingers in the pie and nothing is ever accomplished because of national self interests. We need to stop supporting the parts that don't work. This once again leads us back to our decision on global strategy. Do we keep going through the motions at the UN, wasting our time and money just so that we have a legitimizing front man(which it no longer is) or do we gather our paid for friends around the globe and enforce our will.
The fact that we provide a service to the rest of the world on our dime and then take crap for it really chaps my butt, so maybe a little isolationism is not such a bad thing. I know that we can't really do that and expect positive results because evil isn't going to take a vacation. The real question is where is Pres. Obama going to place us on the spectrum, can we really afford to be there and for how long. Next we have to tackle modernization, which is a very tricky beast to tackle.
There are parts of our military that could do with some serious modernization or else they will start to fail in a big way and we might not be able to quickly fix them at a later date. The question about submarines came up as part of the discussion, so I will try to address it. We are losing submarines to decommissioning faster than we can build them at the moment, so in reality we are reducing this capability without any additional action needed. This may or may not be the right answer based on all the missions that keep getting laid on the submarine force. There are some bright spots in all of this, like the fact that we are building them faster and cheaper then we planned for and that we are re-utilizing the Tridents as they are no longer needed for the strategic mission. The submarine force is leading the way on doing more with less and maximizing the stuff they have, but a point will be reached where there is just no more blood that can come from that stone without serious loss in capability. That is the reason that we as a nation must decide what our role is going to be so we can prioritize the losses of capability.
As we look at other programs across the military there are things that are in need of replacement or there will be a complete loss of capability, like tankers. If we don't start building some new ones there will be a time when the ones we have will no longer be able to fly, so what do you do then? What about those dirty little nukes that have been around for ever and need to be replaced? Congress has spoken and there will be no new nukes, but at some point if we still want that capability then we are going to need new ones, so why not build safer and more reliable ones? Right now we are pretty solid on tanks and machine guns, but there are plenty of other stuff that we are going to need to replace and/or upgrade just to make sure that we don't end up fighting Panzers with Shermans.
That isn't to say that we need to maintain huge fleets of ships and aircraft, but it does mean that we have to set priorities and replace the stuff that truly needs replacement. Additionally, we need to seriously consider the level of craziness that we are adding to these new systems, such as F-22 verses F-35 or Seawolf verses Virginia. In both cases, we shot the moon, but soon realized that all the bells and whistles are really expensive and we needed to back down to good is good enough. It is great that we have built some of the very best fighting machines in the world, but they come at a cost. We need to take the parts we really need and incorporate them into actually cost effective mass produced machines (think concept car vs production car). We need a few super cool versions and then a whole bunch of mortal version, but then take the super cool versions to the next level to start the process all over again.
So you asked do we really need a military that costs $650 billion a year and I say it depends on what you want it to do. Do I think that we could cut some of the wasteful spending and shrink forces sizes and still get the job done, sure. Can we cut programs and eliminate modernization, not completely. Do I think that we run the risk of not being able to meet our global commitments, yes but it depends on what you want the commitment to be. We have to all sit down and look at what we want this country to be able to do and where we should spend our money, do we want affordable health care, do we want to keep people from being tossed out on the streets, do we want to keep our citizens safe here at home (or abroad), or do we want to pay down the national debt and strengthen our global financial position? Those are just few of the "priorities" the new President faces.
Let's hear how you feel about the "priorities" and what we can do to solve this nation's biggest problems.