For most of last year, Democrats and Republicans in Congress agreed that the sequester was a defense calamity that would undermine military readiness and break faith with our troops and veterans. Itís hard to watch their prediction come true while the real waste at the Pentagon goes unchecked.
Already this year the sequester grounded a third of U.S. combat aircraft, slashed training for 80 percent of U.S. ground troops, and stranded the USS Harry Truman in port, dropping us to a single carrier in the Persian Gulf. Hundreds of thousands of Defense Department personnel have been furloughed, forcing them away from their duties even as tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women are serving under fire overseas. The furloughs even extended to the National Guard, which supports troops in Afghanistan and citizens at home during natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. Taken together, these cuts appear to be eroding our military strength from the inside. Secretary Chuck Hagel warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that the cuts could mean ďmore casualtiesĒ in combat and ďserious damage to our national security.Ē
Thankfully we havenít proved that prediction true yet because we havenít had to confront a major new military challenge beyond Afghanistan. (Operations there have been exempted from cuts.) Some argue that this demonstrates that these cuts pose no risk. Thatís like arguing that itís OK to drive the family car on loose axles because the wheels havenít fallen off ó yet.
Yet as deep as these cuts go, the sequester fails to address real wasteful spending in the Pentagon. For instance, underperforming and expensive development programs like the F-35 fighter jet are still burning a hole in the Pentagon budget. This new aircraft, which has been shielded from the sequester, is almost a decade behind schedule, expected to cost $1.5 trillion and yet critical systems still donít work ó from the pilotís ďaugmented realityĒ helmet to its 10 million lines of software code. Comparing the F-35ís acceleration, maneuverability and survivability, fighter jet experts have said that the F-35 performs poorer than many legacy aircraft. So even with its problems fixed, the jetís mediocre performance doesnít justify its skyrocketing price tag. The other Achillesí heel of the F-35 is one of its touted features: its stealth capability. The planeís defenders say that stealth will neutralize the F-35ís other defects and enable it to sneak deep within enemy airspace, hit its targets and escape without ever being detected. The F-35 has even compromised on other capabilities (like carrying fewer weapons) to achieve this stealth capability. But critics point out that adversaries like China and Russia are already developing stealth-beating radars and sensors. If stealth becomes obsolete, so will the F-35, effectively wasting more taxpayer dollars than the entire sequester.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.