America just had an historic choice that could, and likely will, change the direction of our national security paradigm. Will America continue to build its defenses, strengthen our military service (in numbers and equipment), or go back to the fantasy that because the world is now an enlightened place, we no longer need all those expensive security supplies?
Regardless of their orientation, most experts believe that President-elect Joe Biden’s defense policy will be different. A good look at a possible Biden plan was provided by surrogate mother and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who introduced this vision in the November / December issue of Foreign Affairs. Political dreams should not result in national security decisions being made. Unfortunately, maybe that’s exactly what Biden has in mind.
According to the article, there are innumerable items or programs that could land on the chopping block, either severely cut or eliminated entirely. These include the nuclear triad, aircraft carriers, heavy ground forces, and a ton of general structure. This piece is too short to address them all. So let’s look at two: the fifth generation F-35 fighter aircraft and our national ballistic missile defense system.
The F-35 is the only fully functional fifth generation fighter today. It can be used in the most demanding aerial combat environments and has the flexibility to complete any missions required in war to aid our strategies and protect our armed forces. It started out as a slow and very expensive program.
Clinton makes these points but then rejects the F-35 as a legacy program that should be dropped. The truth is that the F-35 took in enormous steam after that awkward start. Operational problems and concerns have been successfully resolved, production numbers have sped up to meet demand from all services, and most importantly, the cost per aircraft for production and maintenance / use has fallen below the most optimistic estimates of any. Why would anyone ask that the program be discontinued?
At a time when competitors close to like-minded people are on the rise – the very scenario that calls for a fully committed and dedicated, world-class fifth-generation fighter – she says we should change paths. Clinton calls for all of our eggs to be put in one basket, and one that is still conceptual, the B-21 Raider. This bomber is still under development and no one knows how long it will take to set up and deploy.
The B-21 is a good idea, and no doubt we need a next generation bomber, but to say we can dispose of the F-35 because it isn’t really needed is a sham. The F-35 is just reaching its sweet spot in terms of cost and production and has proven itself in real applications. America needs the F-35 today. We cannot wait two, five or ten years for security, which is based on the dubious premise that we will only need bombers in the future.
It also seems to forget that strategic bombers alone are never “enough”. They need to be protected to be truly effective and they are not flexible enough to do all the required tasks without reinforcing the fighter. Imagination tends to forget about history.
The same imaginative mindset calls for limiting improvements in our ballistic missile defense infrastructure. At a time when several serious enemies are openly expanding their ballistic missile attack capabilities, why should we stop upgrading our defenses against them?
Our ballistic missile defense system is not perfect, but it does give the US today a certain level of legitimate and necessary defense and deterrence against Russian, Chinese, Iranian and North Korean designs that are harming America. We urgently need the next generation interceptor and updated radars to keep up with research, development, and deployment to enhance that capability. Stop now to lean on impotent arms control efforts as our “shield” is the height of stupidity and naivete at the level of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich.
Here, too, Biden should be convinced to go this way.
It doesn’t matter if the purpose is to make better use of the money “saved” by killing today’s security to build for a mythical tomorrow, or if they really want (again) to starve defense programs out for money to put in projects for pets. Either way, the price for such stupidity will be and ultimately live American security. We need the F-35s to continue on their current positive trajectory, and we need the next generation interceptors to keep our ballistic missile defense system as robust as possible.
Reject fantasy, protect America. A “national security bill” should not be allowed to fulfill America’s dreams of national security. We need practicality for adults, not childlike imagination and empty promises.
Steven P. Bucci is a visiting scholar at The Heritage Foundation. Previously, he was an officer in the US Army Special Forces and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Security. The Heritage Foundation does not receive funding from any government. Donations are accepted from companies that make up an average of around 4 percent of their total funding in a given year. The think tank reports that it does not take a position based on donations, nor that donors make editorial contributions.