The Pentagon is Still Preparing to Fight the Soviets. But Why?

America spends more on its military than all other nations combined. Unfortunately, that military is designed to fight enemies that no longer exist, according to CIO.com blogger Constantine von Hoffman.

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Something good may yet come from the sequestration idiocy on Capitol Hill: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a reexamination of military strategy approved last year because budget cuts may force a readjustment of priorities. Let's hope this is the start of a trend.

For nearly a quarter century U.S. defense policy has been designed to fight an enemy that doesn’t exist, in ways that make less sense with every passing day. 

It’s an axiom that generals are always trying to fight the last war. They are seldom prepared for the changes in combat that occurred since the last time they were under fire. Well, the Pentagon is still designed to fight the Soviet Union.

Some examples:

  • The United States has 9,000 Abrams M-1 main battle tanks with its active forces and 3,000 more in storage. But those tanks are of little use. In the past 50 years America fought major wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; none of which required any significant number of tanks. U.S. tanks were designed to be deployed in Europe to counter Soviet tank forces. They are too big to be shipped quickly across the globe. They consume far too much fuel, and–because they use gas and not diesel–they are especially prone to problems in sandy environments.
  • America has 11 aircraft carrier groups, each with an aircraft carrier, two guided missile cruisers, two anti-aircraft warships and one or two anti-submarine destroyers or frigates. Pardon the pun but this is beyond overkill. This would only makes sense if the United States were facing a naval power of equal or nearly equal size. The next largest navy in this category is Italy. It has three carriers. The Chinese have one: A used Russian carrier it acquired last year–it is not yet ready to launch aircraft. America built the largest, most lethal navy in the history of the world to counter the Soviets, who had the largest land-based army in the history of the world. The current American rationale: The carriers give the United States the ability to "project power" anywhere in the world. And yet the U.S. Navy can’t stop Somali pirates who use inflatable boats.
  • The United States has more than 3,000 fighter planes. Russia and China, the next two largest air forces, combined have 2,300 fighters. Not only does America have more fighters than anyone else, it has better fighters than anyone else. It has been more than 40 years since the United States lost a fighter in combat. Despite numerical and technical superiority, America is developing a replacement for its current fighters even though it's not needed and is a terrible plane. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will cost the U.S. taxpayer nearly $400 billion by the time all 2,500 of them are completed. The current estimated cost of each plane is $162.5 million. They will replace the F-16s that costs about $45 million each. At one point during its development the F-35 had to be grounded because it could not operate in the rain.

Officially America spends about $561 billion a year on its military. That is more than all the other militaries of the world combined, and that's a low estimate. As David Cay Johnston reported earlier this year, that number excludes things like:

  • $88.5 billion spent each year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • $52 billion spent on intelligence gathering;
  • $19.2 billion to build nuclear weapons;
  • $10.5 billion for the Coast Guard.

The U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are all constructed and armed around the idea that America will have to defend itself from another major industrial power, even though no such enemy exists or is ever likely to exist.

The government would like its citizens to believe the Chinese are that enemy. To that end it has been redeploying U.S. military "assets" to the Pacific. It is difficult to make a convincing argument that the Chinese are a military threat and not an economic competitor.

However, for the sake of discussion let us say they are. It is militarily impossible for America to stop the Chinese anywhere in mainland Asia. America could not field and supply an army even remotely large enough to contest China. Fortunately the Chinese are awash in way too many internal economic and political problems to even contemplate expanding–if it even made sense to do so in the first place.

Allow me to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who is responsible for severely damaging the U.S. military to no good end): "[Y]ou go to war with the enemy you have. They're not the enemy you might want or wish to have at a later time."

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