Senator Coburn’s Disastrous Defense Cuts Proposals
Among the deepest, and most destructive, proposals of defense cuts made in recent years are those made by Sen. Tom Coburn in his “Back to Black” pamphlet, which he advertises in his newest book as necessary.
If implemented (God forbid), his proposals would cut over 1 trillion out of the defense budget over the next decade (i.e. over 100 bn every year), and defense would take by far the biggest share of the hits under his plan. All other federal agencies and programs, including the Big Three entitlement programs, would see only small budget cuts by comparison – nothing even comparable to the massacre that Coburn wants to inflict on the military.
While some of his proposals would target and eliminate truly wasteful programs, the majority of his proposals, including those with the biggest budgetary consequences, pertain to crucial, absolutely needed weapon programs and force structures, cuts to which would dramatically weaken, if not outright gut, the US military and its ability to protect America. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Specifically, he proposes to:
Also in 2010, the CSBA – which Coburn likes to cite as a source – released a report (authored by retired USAF Colonel Mark Gunzinger, who has participated in all defense reviews to date) stating that an NGB is an urgent requirement which must be met by 2018 at the latest and that consequently, the NGB program must not be delayed any longer. Another CSBA analyst’s report reached the same conclusion in 2009. Successive SECDEFs from Rumsfeld to Panetta have said the same, as have the current CSAF and SECAF, their predecessors, their colleague Adm. Greenert, former LTG David Deptula, numerous former Air Force Secretaries, Chiefs of Staff, Generals, and other officials, and numerous outside experts from the CSBA, Air Power Australia, and the Heritage Foundation. (Please read their studies; they explain very well why the NGB is absolutely needed.) This requirement has also been validated bySecretary Gates, who started the NGB program and said that China’s A2/AD weapons will put a premium on America’s ability to strike from the horizon and require a family of long range strike systems. As Gates rightly said in January 2011:
“It is important that we begin this project now to ensure that a new bomber can be ready before the current aging fleet goes out of service. The follow on bomber represents a key component of a joint portfolio of conventional deep-strike capabilities – an area that should be a high priority for future defense investment given the anti-access challenges our military faces.”
Delaying, or even worse, cancelling the development of the Next Generation Bomber would cause the Air Force to completely lose its already small (due to the small size of the B-2 fleet) long-range penetrating capability by the time B-2s lose that capability. This, in turn, would cause the USAF to be unable to strike any targets protected by modern IADS and/or fighters, thus creating huge sanctuaries for America’s enemies – a scenario that America cannot accept.
It is therefore imperative to begin the NGB’s development NOW – not a year from today, not in 2023, not in 2024, but NOW – and to complete it BEFORE the B-2 loses its penetrating capability. Especially since it’s the centerpiece of the AirSea Battle strategy of defeating China if need be.
If procured, the NGB will frequently be called into action, as have been the three existing bomber types, which have seen extensive action in the First Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. It won’t spend much time in hangar. The demand for USAF bombers vastly outstrips the supply.
AirPowerAustralia’s peer-reviewed analysis shows that:
“Advanced Russian technology exports present a major strategic risk for the US, whether operated by China, or smaller players like Iran or Venezuela. These systems will deny access to most US ISR and combat aircraft, with only the B-2A, the “2018 bomber” and the F-22A designed to penetrate such defences. With its compromised X-band optimised stealth, the F-35 JSF will simply not be survivable in this environment.
The fallback position of standoff bombardment with cruise missiles is not viable. Only a fraction will reach their targets through such defences, and the economics of trading $500k cruise missiles for $100k interceptors, or hundreds of dollars of laser propellant, favour the defender. Time of flight is problematic given the high mobility of air defence targets, and targeting the cruise missiles no less problematic given denial of ISR coverage. (…) Current planning for 180 F-22As and the legacy fleet of 20 B-2As is simply not credible given the diversity of roles and missions, and sheer sortie count required to deal with anything above a trivial opponent.”
Likewise, CSBA expert Thomas Erhard warned in 2009 that without a Next Gen Bomber:
“The proliferation of sophisticated Russian air defense systems means the only US systems that can reliably penetrate and maintain a high survivability rate in the presence of integrated air defenses populated by SA-20B and SA-21 surface-to-air systems and modern Russian or Russian derivative (e.g., Su-35BM) fighters will be the F-22 and the B-2.” 
The V-22 is an excellent, unmatched aircraft, as validated unanimously by all USMC leaders past and present, including the current Commandant, who is a Naval Aviator by trade. He, the expert, should be listened to – not anti-defense POGO hacks. It has proven itself in three wars in three different countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. (When an F-15E crashed in Libya, it was a pair of V-22s that rescued the pilots.) It underwent its baptism of fire in Iraq in 2007, during the fiercest fighting there. POGO’s claim that it is “neither cost- nor operationally-effective” is a blatant lie.
Most importantly, its primary users, Marine pilots, like it. Just listen to them. And watch this film about how the V-22 proved its mettle, proved itself to be far more capable and useful than any helicopter (its speed and service ceiling really matter in combat zones), and what the Marines say about it. Also listen to USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos, a Naval Aviator by trade, who has strongly praised the V-22 and urged its continued production. (Whom will you believe – a real Marine general or armchair generals?) Also listen to his predecessor, Gen. James Conway.
And as defense expert Dr. Robbin Laird writes:
“The beauty of the speed of the Osprey is that you can get the Special Operations forces where they need to be and to augment what the conventional forces were doing and thereby take pressure off of the conventional forces. And with the SAME assets, you could make multiple trips or make multiple hits, which allowed us to shape what the Taliban was trying to do.
“The Taliban has a very rudimentary but effective early warning system for counter-air. They spaced guys around their area of interest, their headquarters, etc. Then they would call in on cell or satellite phones to chat or track. It was very easy for them to track. They had names for our aircraft, like the CH-53s, which they called ‘Fat Cows.’
“But they did not talk much about the Osprey because they were so quick and lethal. And because of its speed and range, you did not have to come on the axis that would expect. You could go around, or behind them and then zip in.”
As Dr. Laird rightly writes, the V-22 isn’t just a great performer, it has revolutionized warfare and the way Marines think about it. (Please read his entire article.)
Super Bug has no such capabilities. Not turning capability, not thrust, not TTW ratio, not speed, not range and combat radius, not stealthiness (and thus survivability), and not weapons possible for integration (the F-35 can, for example, be fitted with Meteor A2A missiles; the Super Bug cannot). And the Super Bug’s combat radius (350 nmi) is DECISIVELY inferior to that of the F-35B (450-500 nmi) and F-35C (650 nmi, making the F-35C the longest-ranged of the 3 F-35 models). Range and endurance are absolutely vital for strike aircraft, as is stealthiness, because it determines survivability, which is key to winning ANY war. If a plane is not survivable, it’s worthless – and that’s exactly true of the Super Bug. And as stated above, stealthiness is necessary for any aircraft due to the proliferation and sophistication of enemy air defense systems.
The “proven” Super Bug, like B-1s and B-52s, has “proven itself” only in permissive environments (Afghanistan and Iraq) where the only opponent is an insurgency unable to contest control of the air. It is useless for any war theaters in which the enemy is a country with advanced IADS and/or fighters. It’s not even fit for any real A2A combat (and has not partaken in any), because it’s not a real fighter, but rather an attack jet, and is decisively inferior against current and projected enemy fighters by all criteria.
And it doesn’t have the STOVL capability required to take off from and land on amphib ships and primitive airfields, which is an absolute non-negotiable USMC requirement, as confirmed by USMC Commandant Gen. Amos. Without the F-35B, the Marines won’t have their own air cover when disembarking from ships and the Nation will lose 50% of its carrier-based strike aircraft fleet when the Harrier retires. Furthermore, cancelling the F-35 would relegate Marine and Naval Aviation solely to COIN environments, emasculating these services and barring them from any contested airspace – the kind of environment American servicemen will face in the future.
Put simply, the Super Bug is not an alternative to, or even a substitute for, the F-35. It’s a facelifted model of an attack jet that first flew in the 1970s. The F-35 is a 21st century strike fighter. Both are strike aircraft with jet engines… and that’s where the similarities end.
With 11 carriers, 7 are operational and 4 are in drydock or in homeport at any one time. 7 is barely enough to provide enough carrier strike groups where they’re needed. CENTCOM’s commander has requested a third carrier group (to deter Iran), which leaves just four for use elsewhere, e.g. in the WestPac.
But if the carrier fleet is cut to 10 (and they’ve suggested cutting it to just 9, by retiring the George Washington and foregoing CVN-80′s construction), no more than 6 carriers will be available for duty at any given time. Assuming that CENTCOM will get the 3 carriers it says it needs, that leaves 3 flattops for duty elsewhere, e.g. in the WestPac. Now, suppose that China starts a war over the oil/gas fields in the South China Sea at the same time that CENTCOM needs to deter (and possibly strike) Iran? That ain’t a farfetched scenario – China is close to provoking a war right now, and the time for eliminating Iran’s nuclear program is running out.  Yet, if Coburn gets his way, the Navy would have only 3 carriers to deploy to the WestPac to deter/defeat China… unless you deny CENTCOM the 3 carriers it needs.
Carriers have participated prominently in every war the US has partaken in since WW2: Korea, Vietnam, Operation Eldorado Canyon, the two Gulf Wars, the Afghan War, Bosnia, Kosovo, and the bombing of Libya. There’s a huge demand for them. Without carrier air wings and intercontinental bombers, the US wouldn’t have been able to strike Afghanistan after 9/11.
In short, it would be a deep cut in America’s military strength and capability to defend itself. It epitomizes Coburn’s destructive proposals.
“forward basing U.S. troops in Europe is just as important today as it was during the Cold War, albeit for different reasons. U.S. military bases in Europe provide American leaders with increased flexibility, resilience, and options in a dangerous world. The garrisons of American service personnel in Europe are no longer the fortresses of the Cold War, but the forward operating bases of the 21st century.
The U.S. military presence in Europe deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests—the U.S. reduces the number of these troops at its peril. U.S. can project power and react to the unexpected because of its forward-based military capabilities in Europe. Reducing these capabilities will only weaken America on the world stage.”
So Coburn’s proposals would, if implemented, “only weaken America on the world stage.”
 Mark Gunzinger, Sustaining America’s Advantage in Long Range Strike, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Washington DC, 2010. Available online here.
 Thomas Erhard, An Air Force Strategy For the Long Haul, CSBA, Washington DC, 2009, pg. 83.
 Robert Haffa and Michael Isherwood, Long Range Conventional Strike: A Joint Family of Systems, Joint Force Quarterly issue #60, 1st quarter of 2011, National Defense University, Washington DC, 2011, available online here.
 According to retired LTG David Deptula, the need for a next-gen bomber was validated as early as the 2001 QDR, pointing to anti-access/access-denial threats and to contested airspace in particular. See here.
The opinions expressed on Ziggy’s Defense Blog do not necessarily reflect those of ReaganGirl.com.