I was in Watertown last week for a meeting of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. The meeting coincided with several community events designed to show the region’s support for Fort Drum, so I attended those as well.
It seems that Fort Drum is at risk, not because the country doesn’t need the base, but because of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts if Congress imposes federal sequester budget cuts.
Sequestration will affect bases across the country. The worst-case scenario would see the Army reduced in size from about 560,000 soldiers to about 420,000 by imposing similar cuts across the Army’s 30 installations.
Fort Drum, one of the nation’s 10 largest bases, could be mothballed if the sequester cuts come to pass. If that were to happen, most of the base’s 17,000 soldiers would leave.
Some argue that it would be better to close one or two bases as opposed to equally damaging all 30.
But that’s how we got into this mess in the first place — Congress’s inability to agree on what programs should be cut and by how much.
If you will recall, in 2011 the threat of sequestration was the “slash and burn,” across-the-board reductions intended to force the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to develop a 10-year deficit reduction plan.
It didn’t work.
No one seems to like sequestration, and they probably shouldn’t. Across-the-board cuts are a cowardly way of dealing with budget deficits.
Elected officials were elected to make choices, so they should make them — even if it means they might not be re-elected.
I support Fort Drum, but I also support every other facility facing a reduction because this isn’t the best way to be affecting our national defense readiness.
Why the focus on reducing the military installations?
It’s a proven strategy. Threaten to impact something that people are sympathetic toward, and they’ll fight to preserve it. A little of that might be happening here.
But what are the alternatives?
Could there possibly be other places in the defense budget to create savings?
So, where might the Defense Department find a way to reduce its budget in a way that mitigates the impact of the reductions to the nation’s 30 Army bases?
How about starting with a more sound procurement system and procurement policies?
Have you been following the issues around the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter? I know; me either.
The F-35 was supposed to be the first-generation fighter that would be “all things to all branches of the military.” To date, it’s three years behind schedule; development costs (originally budgeted at $306 billion) are 70 percent over budget; software development and build quality have been poor; and engine problems grounded the aircraft.
Not to mention that, according to an article in Defence Aviation magazine, the F-35 doesn’t have “the performance characteristics to be suitable for service as a fighter.”
Excuse me, isn’t the aircraft called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter?
It’s not surprising that some foreign governments that expressed interest in purchasing the F-35 are having second thoughts.
Nonetheless, there might be a penny or two to be saved by improving the Defense Departments procurement system and procurement policies.
As a matter of fact, both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees have issued reports pointing out the inefficiencies and waste in the “dysfunctional” federal defense procurement processes.
Neither report contained any specific solutions to remedy the situation. Big surprise, I know.
Back to Fort Drum.
My point is, why are we defaulting to the idea that the only way to meet the sequestration requirements is to reduce funding for military bases? Let’s put everything on the table — including the F-35, and any other project that is over budget and underperforming.
I’m not sayin’ we don’t need modern weaponry; I’m sayin’ that we need to find a more efficient and cost-effective way to procure them.
Being an old infantry guy, I might be biased, but for me all the flash of modern weaponry is so much eye candy. At the end of the day, I agree with the Vietnam veteran poet who eloquently wrote, “Where planes, and ships, and tanks may fail, the soldier with a rifle will prevail.”
So let’s stop the nonsense about cutting military installations and deal with the real problem.
Paul A. Grasso, Jr. is the President and CEO of The Development Corporation (TDC)