by Paul Quanrud
On March 13, President Obama held his first press conference in five months. In preparation, Lachlan Markay of the Heritage Foundation released Ten Questions Obama Should Be Asked at Tuesday’s Press Conference. Question 6 says, “Does China’s decision to boost its defense budget by more than 11% give you any pause about repeatedly slashing our own military capabilities?”
While highlighting China’s obvious military focus, this question exposes our own eroding military advantage and reminds us why Washington’s overall spending is so dangerous.
With a backdrop of budget cuts, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta announced in January 2012 a “strategic review” of our defense capabilities. They plan to reduce growth of military spending by deploying a smaller standing army (estimated reduction of 10 to 15% over 10 years) and other cuts, while emphasizing tactics such as drones, “cyber” warfare, and special operations forces.
The White House foundational shift raises further questions about our future military capabilities that must be answered by the President and his defense secretary.
* With “specialties” such as drones, cyber, and special operations increasing as necessary tactical elements, can they be deployed in a wide range of scenarios?
* Is it effective to thin out the number of rank and file soldiers to save costs? How will our military respond to two major deployments simultaneously?
The tide of war is changing as our economy crumbles. The U.S. ceased military operations in Iraq and will withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Planned military spending levels will be reduced while the American people are overwhelmed with 8.3% unemployment and $16 trillion in debt from bloated federal spending. Despite their own “recession,” China’s continuing laser-like focus on trade and security is a key to understanding their higher military spending and aggressive moves in the region.
With territory disputes involving Taiwan, Vietnam, The Philippines and other countries, China is expanding its military and trade presence in the South China Sea. With shipping routes estimated at $5 trillion in trade annually, the stakes for control are high.
China is speeding up their military development. The testing of a Chinese aircraft carrier and release of a new carrier-based jet fighter (J-15 Flying Shark) add new dimensions to China’s military future. China’s first aircraft carrier, a 1980s Russian warship retrofitted with modern weapons, will be online in 2012 and analysts say the J-15 made its first flight August 2009.
When former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing in January 2011, China conducted the maiden flight of a prototype of their new stealth fighter, the J-20 Mighty Dragon. “This thing is political; they really want to show some muscle to the U.S.A.,” said Andrei Chang, Hong Kong–based editor in chief of Kanwa Asian Defense.
While the U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter (first delivered in 1998) is more agile, the Chinese J-20 carries more weapons and fuel. A concern is that the F-22 will be aging as the Chinese J-20 comes online in several years.
In response to China’s rise in the region, President Obama announced plans for 2,500 U.S. troops in northern Australia and stated, “the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region.” The U.S. military will conduct joint military exercises with The Philippines.
While the President is supporting allies to help maintain their trade routes and defense, our military challenges would multiply if tensions with China grew much worse and other regions of the world triggered at the same time.
For example, while Israel and the U.S. are discussing action to destroy Iran’s potential for nuclear weapons, Iran is threatening to block the Straits of Hormuz to stop oil shipments. Multiple U.S. aircraft carriers are poised in the region to take action if needed.
American military capabilities face broad challenges precisely when plans are being made to reduce traditional weapons and troop levels. As Italy reduces the number of their F-35 fighters from 131 to 90, (they are being crushed by high debt levels and a lagging economy too), the U.S. could cut $1.6 billion from our F-35 fighter jet program as part of U.S. weapons cuts.
If there was ever a time, however, for retooling our military at high levels to maintain our tactical edge, it is now.
I recently spoke to a friend deployed in Iraq within the past 5 years. He asked an important question: As we shift away from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, will we retain our military capabilities gained during the last 20 years?
My friend’s concern should haunt the Obama administration over cutting levels of military spending and de-funding defense projects. The White House has limited our military options due to their excessive spending that brought our country to the edge of fiscal disaster. Our most pressing risk is out-of-control government spending.
With gut-wrenching irony, the American taxpayer is effectively funding China’s military build-up. China holds over 7% of U.S. debt ($1.1 trillion out of our $15.5 trillion total). Based on 2011 Treasury data, U.S. interest payments to China are estimated to be over $31 billion annually. We pay a large portion of the cost of China’s $106 billion 2012 military budget owing to the excessive government spending that resulted in crushing U.S. debt.
It is time for courageous leaders who will address global threats head on. Congress must demonstrate its leadership by challenging the President to protect our borders and not lower our military capabilities. The 2012 elections are crucial for the American people to select leaders truly committed to the defense of our nation.
Get informed on national defense and foreign policy issues, and consider, “Does China’s decision to boost its military defense while Obama is cutting ours give you any pause?”
 Heritage Foundation http://blog.heritage.org/2012/03/05/ten-questions-obama-should-be-asked-at-tuesdays-press-conference/
 New Pentagon strategy stresses Asia, cyber, drones http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/05/us-usa-military-obama-idUSTRE8031Z020120105
 Statement on Defense Strategic Guidance http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1643
 The Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2061914/South-China-Sea-dispute-Obama-increase-US-military-presence-Asia-Pacific-region.html
 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/world/asia/11china.html
 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/world/asia/china-new-aircraft-carrier-is-a-vintage-soviet-model.html
 Aviation Week http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story.jsp?id=news/asd/2011/04/27/02.xml&headline=New%20Chinese%20Ship-Based%20Fighter%20Progresses&channel=defense
 Time http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2041755,00.html#ixzz1pUosfJSM
 Business Insider Military and Defense http://www.businessinsider.com/chinas-j-20-mighty-dragon-fighter-jet-2012-3#
 Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/16/us-usa-australia-idUSTRE7AF0F220111116
 BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17295663
 Navy Times http://www.navytimes.com/news/2012/01/navy-carrier-carl-vinson-joins-stennis-5th-fleet-011012w/
 Bloomberg Businessweek http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-16/italy-to-cut-f-35-fighter-jet-orders-as-part-of-defense-revamp.html
 CNBC http://finance.yahoo.com/news/biggest-holders-of-us-gov-t-debt.html
 U.S. Treasury http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm
 Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-04/china-says-defense-spending-will-increase-11-2-to-106-4-billion-in-2012.html