—Michael C. Sirak
February 29, 2008— Despite the hundreds of billions spent on the US military each year, the defense budget is still the lowest in terms of percentage compared to any other time of war, Gen. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff, said yesterday.
Even with the addition of wartime emergency supplementals, the Air Force and its sister services face continual challenges in fighting the current war on terror and preparing for tomorrow’s threats, he told the Defense Writers Group Thursday in Washington, D.C. And the short-term focus of the supplementals makes it difficult to plan and execute more stable, long-term programs, he said.
A better idea, Moseley said, is one that has been percolating in Pentagon circles and making its way to the Administration: tying the amount of the annual defense budget to four percent of the Gross Domestic Product.
“What some of us have been saying is why don’t we look at something that is about four percent as a floor and try to get the supplemental business into the baseline budget,” he said. “That is the discussion that we are having in the tank,” he said referring to the secure meeting room of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. “That is the discussion that we are having inside the Administration right now.”
No decisions have been made, he emphasizes.
Current defense budgets run at around 3.5 percent of GDP, Moseley said. When recent emergency wartime supplemental appropriations are factored, that figure does rise to around 4.6 percent. But working with the supplementals makes it harder to lay in long-term capital investments and achieve, for example, efficient orders of quantity on production lines that would be easier to reach if baseline budgets were bolstered, he said.
In rough numbers, increasing the defense budget to four percent of GDP would bring in an extra $80 billion to $100 billion annually over current levels, Moseley said.
“It would help all of us,” he said, referring to USAF and the other services.
The Air Force estimates that it is running short about $20 billion each year in covering its needs. Without more funds, USAF’s leadership has warned it can no longer assure that the US will enjoy air dominance in coming decades since the fleet continues to age and grow smaller.“If you don’t build satellites and airplanes, you don’t have an Air Force,” Moseley said. “If you don’t build ships, you don’t have a Navy.”
Deflecting criticism over the Air Force’s hefty $18.75 billion list of unfunded requirements in Fiscal 2009, Moseley said the document is not a wish list, but rather reflects that annual shortfall.
“It shouldn’t be lost on you all that we have said over and over again that our deficit is about a $20 billion bogey,” he said. “So that is the wedge.”
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