Aaron Mannes in Politico on Defense Spending Priorities

Politico‘s Arena recently asked:

On Monday, May 9 POLITICO will publish a special section on defense. Assuming Leon Panetta is confirmed as defense secretary,with Congress looking to cut the budget, he’ll face tough choices on which Pentagon programs to scrap or continue.

Which Pentagon weapons systems and other programs would you cut? Which would you keep?

Rather then arguing over specific weapons systems (about which I am not an expert, I gave a more conceptual answer:

It has been noted endlessly that the soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta does not have extensive military experience. But his time at OMB and as White House chief of staff means that he does know something about budgets and has demonstrated the political savvy needed to push through needed changes.

Panetta’s time at the CIA has introduced him to the capabilities, and limits, of drone warfare. This could be critical. There are a number of expensive platforms that could conceivably be replaced by robots. This will not be popular — pilots dominate the Air Force and ship captains command the Navy. But if drones and mines can do much of the work far more cheaply, then these options should be developed.

Another difficult area where programs are becoming expensive is DoD’s health care system. A former GM CEO once noted that he went to GM to build cars but found that he was running a health care system. DoD could be headed the same way. Just a year ago, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated, “Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive.”

In the past decade, they have increased from $19 billion to $50 billion. No one would want our troops to get less than the best health care, but DoD also includes a vast number of civilian employees and their dependents. Determining ways to control costs while continuing to provide quality care would not only improve the Pentagon’s budget situation, it could also identify best practices for the rest of the health care sector.

On the robotics front, notice I focused on the Navy and Air Force. Because those abilities are somewhat proven. But robots that can carryout the OBL raid seem awfully far off. Also, there will always be a place for human-run ships and aircraft. But smaller platforms that let the drones and mines do their thing may be the way to go.

As for healthcare, this really is the strategic danger. If these costs cannot be controlled the US won’t be able to afford anything – military or civilian. I do hope the DoD can be a national leader on this.

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