The Pentagon Goes Shopping, Clips Wrong Coupons

The English-speaking peoples have maintained their position in the world for more than two centuries, first by controlling the seas and then -- since World War II -- by dominating the air. From the HMS Agamemnon to the Joint Strike Fighter, we have been wise enough (and sometimes just lucky enough) to posses the foresight to design the most advanced weapons systems, the will and wealth to build them in sufficient numbers, and the science and manufacturing bases to accomplish it all. But are we about to throw away our advantages in a paroxysm of parsimonious pique?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has laid out the Pentagon's new spending priorities, along with a new procurement process. Supposedly an improvement over our current system, "let's wait and see" might be the best attitude for now. Although, in all fairness, sending out a few supply sergeants with giant expense accounts to Dick's Sporting Goods during the big fall sale would be an improvement on how the Pentagon usually buys things for the troops.

Overall, the new priorities look right. The New York Times reports that the Air Force and Navy won't be losing any more personnel, despite earlier planned cuts. (Although with the Air Force undergoing a virtual reduction in force (RIF) and the Navy not receiving enough ships, it's hard to see what all those extra sailors and airmen will do.) The B-3 bomber is on hold, the Army's Future Combat Systems is facing significant cuts, the president won't receive a new fleet of Marine helicopters dreamed up for Cold War contingencies, and the Pentagon won't receive a fleet of new communications satellites. These cuts all seem reasonable and prudent, especially given Washington's newfound thrift (there's acid dripping from that last word, fyi).

That's the good news. The rest is either bad or mixed.

President Obama has confessed to being hostile to missile defense. This, even though Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) uses the only "weapons" in the world that can never be used to kill other human beings. So the cuts there come as no surprise, no matter how stupid or shortsighted they may be. Sadly, what we have here is a situation where the Pentagon will have to learn how to do more with less in what might be the world's most technologically demanding field.