What's at Stake
American military power is vital to the preservation of our own security and peace around the world. Twice in the 20th century, the United States was compelled to come to the rescue of Europe when it was engulfed in war. And it was American military power that enabled the United States after World War II to stand in opposition to brutal and aggressive Communist dictatorship. It was American fortitude and power that turned around the Soviet missiles on their way to Cuba. It was American resolve and power that helped to liberate the captive nations of Eastern Europe and precipitate the collapse of the USSR. It is America today that patrols the global commons and keeps them safe for trade and commerce. It is America today that is working to extinguish terrorism around the world. A weak America, an America in decline, an America that retreats from its responsibilities, would usher in an era of uncertainty and danger, first for the United States but also for all those everywhere who believe in the cause of freedom.
President Obama came into office with a military in serious need of modernization. However, instead of rebuilding our strength, President Obama has put us on course toward a "hollow" force. President Obama has repeatedly sought to slash funds for our fighting men and women, and over the next ten years nearly $1 trillion will be cut from the core defense budget. This budget cutting enterprise is proceeding while American troops are in combat in Afghanistan, returning from their mission in Iraq, and fighting the remnants of al Qaeda worldwide.
The Obama administration's cuts have left us with a military inventory largely composed of weapons designed forty to fifty years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. While the weapons in our arsenal remain formidable, they are well along on the path to obsolescence. Along with the aging process, there has been a precipitous decline in sheer numbers. The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline, and the additional contemplated cuts will cause it to decline even further. Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy's role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today. President Obama has cut funding for national missile defense.
The Obama administration is seeking to reap a "peace dividend" when we are not at peace and when the dangers to our security are mounting. This flies directly in the face of conclusions from the bipartisan Perry-Hadley Commission set up by Congress in 2010. Even before Congress had adopted its latest round of cuts and even before President Obama had proposed yet deeper cuts, the Commission warned that: "[t]he aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure." There is a price to strength, but a greater price to weakness, because weakness tempts aggression.
An additional factor must be considered. The men and women of America's military are among the finest who have ever served any nation at any time. They are all volunteers; they have all chosen to dedicate their careers in the service of their country. Many have spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last ten years than they have spent at home. Thousands of them went overseas and will never come home. They have willingly chosen this path of sacrifice. It is unconscionable that these men and women must fly in airplanes that are old and unreliable, must sail in ships that have cracked hulls, or must ride in vehicles that are urgently in need of replacement -- all because their government has had neither the vision to plan for their needs or the simple common sense to manage its own budget.
As Commander-in-Chief, Mitt Romney will keep faith with the men and women who defend us just as he will ensure that our military capabilities are matched to the interests we need to protect. He will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year. He will also modernize and replace the aging inventories of the Air Force, Army, and Marines, and selectively strengthen our force structure. And he will fully commit to a robust, multi-layered national ballistic-missile defense system to deter and defend against nuclear attacks on our homeland and our allies.
This will not be a cost-free process. We cannot rebuild our military strength without paying for it. Mitt will begin by reversing Obama-era defense cuts and return to the budget baseline established by Secretary Robert Gates in 2010, with the goal of setting core defense spending -- meaning funds devoted to the fundamental military components of personnel, operations and maintenance, procurement, and research and development -- at a floor of 4 percent of GDP.
Mitt will also find efficiencies throughout the Department of Defense budget that can be reinvested into the force. The Department's bureaucracy is bloated to the point of dysfunction and is ripe for being pared. In the years since 2000, the Pentagon's civilian staff grew by 20 percent while our active duty fighting force grew by only 3.4 percent. That imbalance needs to be rectified. During World War II the United States built 1,000 ships per year with 1,000 people employed in the Bureau of Ships, as the purchasing department of the Department of the Navy was then called. By the 1980s, we were building seventeen ships per year, with 4,000 people in purchasing. Today, when we are building only nine ships a year, the Pentagon manages the shipbuilding process with some 25,000 people. That kind of excess must be brought to an end along with the byzantine rules and wasteful practices that riddle the military procurement process.
With proper management, we can do far better in controlling costs and getting more for our taxpayer dollars. The measures Mitt Romney will take include establishing clear lines of authority and accountability for each weapons system so they remain on time and on budget. He will institute shorter design and delivery cycles for weapons systems to eliminate the current practice of relying on yet-to-be-developed technologies, which creates delays and cost overruns. This will foster more realistic planning, get equipment into the field at a faster pace, and save the cost of having to keep older weapons systems in circulation. He will institute greater competition at all levels of the procurement process. And he will work with Congress to pass budgets on time -- something the Obama administration has habitually failed to do -- to allow the Department of Defense and defense contractors to properly plan multi-year projects without delay and disruption. These and other reforms will ensure a functioning procurement system that redirects savings into the defense of our nation.
The burden of defense spending is substantial but in any honest accounting, the benefits need to be tallied along with the costs. Those benefits include, first and foremost, prevention of war. By patrolling the commons, our forces have also contributed to the maintenance of a worldwide system of free trade that has brought us enormous financial dividends, far more than we have spent on maintaining a military. And our strength has protected the development of democracy around the world, enhancing stability and providing new allies and partners in the cause of peace and freedom. The cost of preparedness may sometimes be high, but the cost of unpreparedness is almost always higher -- not just in tax dollars but in human life and in the survival of liberty and representative government.