In recent years, advocates of higher Pentagon spending have relentlessly asserted that the department has been starved of the funds it needs to pay for training, maintenance, and other basic items that ensure that our troops are ready to fight. The readiness argument figured prominently in the budget deal reached earlier this year, which brought spending on the Pentagon and related activities up to $700 billion, one of the highest levels since World War II. But when it comes to readiness, Congress too often says one thing and does another.
As we have noted in a recent report from the Center for International Policy, a hefty portion of the tens of billions of dollars in additional Pentagon spending for Fiscal Year 2018 went to pad the bottom lines of major contractors like Lockheed Martin, not to support the troops. Over a dozen major weapons programs were given more money than the Pentagon asked for, with many of the increases — for systems like the F-35, the F-18, the M-1 tank, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) — coming in large part due to pressure from members with production facilities for those items in their states or districts.
The biggest increases in numbers of systems between the FY 2018 request and the final FY 2018 budget include the M-1 Abrams tank, 29 additional vehicles; the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, 24 additional units; the F-35 combat aircraft, 20 additional units; the AH-64 Apache helicopter, 17 additional units; the C-130J aircraft, 16 additional units; the THAAD ballistic missile defense system, 14 additional interceptors; the CH-47 helicopter, 12 additional units; the Aegis ballistic missile system, 10 additional interceptors; and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, 10 additional units.
The billions in excess funding lavished on major weapons makers would go far indeed if they were allocated to more urgent priorities like providing more flight hours for pilots in training.
A handful of contractors were the biggest beneficiaries of these Congressional add-ons, including Lockheed Martin (F-35, C-130J, CH-47 helicopter, Aegis, and THAAD); General Dynamics (M-1 tank); and Boeing (F-18, KC-46, V-22, P-8A Poseidon and Apache helicopter). Many other companies will be involved in production of these systems as well, but these are the prime contractors that will get the largest share of the additional funding.
The billions in excess funding lavished on major weapons makers would go far indeed if they were allocated to more urgent priorities like providing more flight hours for pilots in training. And readiness is once again receiving lip service in the deliberations over next year’s budget, as in the current debate over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019. But there are early signs that Congress is once again going to spend funds that could have been used for bread and butter training and maintenance expenses – or freed up for other purposes – on weapons we don’t need at levels beyond what the Pentagon has asked for. A Congressional analysis of the version of the bill put forward by House Armed Services Committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) shows add-ons for additional Black Hawk helicopters, Stryker and Paladin combat vehicles, Gray Eagle drones, an extra aircraft carrier, and more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), plus extra money for nuclear warheads, nuclear-armed cruise missiles, and land-based ballistic missiles. And this is just the start of a year-long process during which other add-ons are likely to occur.
If Congress is serious about readiness, members need to refrain from engaging in business-as-usual pork barrel spending and focus on buying equipment that aligns with our defense needs, not with the needs of major contractors – and campaign contributors – like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. To do otherwise will mean that we will continue to overspend on defense even as we fail to provide for the most urgent needs of our military personnel.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author, with Ari Rickman, of “Ready to Profit: Corporate Beneficiaries of Congressional Add-Ons to the Fiscal Year 2018 Pentagon Budget,” Center for International Policy, May 2018.