US pays ‘a third more’ for defence now than in 2001

2011-07-19 11:09

Washington – The US military has essentially the same size, force structure and capabilities as it did a decade ago but it costs 35% more now, an independent public policy think-tank said.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in a 75-page report, also said the Defence Department had spent some $46 billion (R319 billion) over the past decade developing weapons systems that were ultimately never fielded, either due to cost overruns or technical challenges.

As a result, a significant portion of the Pentagon’s effort to modernise its weapons systems did not result in force modernisation, a task that will now have to be undertaken at a time of shrinking defence budgets.

“This was the opportunity of the decade, to really recapitalise and modernise the military’s equipment and that has been squandered,” said Todd Harrison, who authored the report.

“We’re looking at the prospect of a declining defence budget over the next decade and we’re not going to have the opportunity to do that again.”

With the United States facing unsustainable trillion-dollar budget deficits, President Barack Obama has asked the Defence Department to cut some $400 billion in spending over the next dozen years.

Some defence officials fear there may be a further request for additional cuts.

At the same time, the military faces significant capital equipment requirements in the coming years, from replacing aging aircraft carriers and building a new generation of submarines to fielding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and funding a new line of aerial refuelling tankers.

“We still have all these needs, all of these things we were supposed to modernise over the last decade. We haven’t done it, and now the funding is going to get tighter,” Harrison said.

That puts the Pentagon in the position of having to make difficult choices about whether to cut force structure – like the number of aircraft squadrons or carrier strike groups – in order to free up money for modernization, he said.

The centre’s analysis said half of the growth in defence spending over the past decade was unrelated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was attributable instead to a rise in the Pentagon’s base budget.

Personnel costs grew by 19%, even as overall personnel numbers remained relatively flat, the report said.

The cost of peacetime operations rose 10%, even as the pace of operations declined. And acquisition costs rose 16%, even as the inventory of equipment aged and shrank.

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