7 percent Pentagon solution

Jerome Wiesner & Kosta Tsipis

March 05, 1993|By Jerome Wiesner & Kosta Tsipis

A NEW Massachusetts Institute of Technology study shows that President Clinton can save hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing the Pentagon budget -- without sacrificing the strength of our military forces.

Helped by a colleague, Philip Morrison, we have found how to save $681 billion (incurrent dollars) through the year 2000 -- $32 billion in 1993 alone.

That is $21 billion more than the cuts suggested by Defense Secretary Les Aspin. The $21 billion is the equivalent of 40 million families each paying $525 less in taxes next year.

Since money spent on the defense industry can employ twice as many people in civilian jobs, the cuts we propose would not create net unemployment so long as half the amount saved was spent on civilian projects.

Sixty percent of our military expenses during the Cold War went to defend the United States and its allies against the Soviet threat.

This threat evaporated by 1992; yet the Pentagon plans to spend only 17 percent less in 1997 than it spent in 1992.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin L. Powell, invoking the need for "strategic depth," insists America can cut only 2 percent to 4 percent of military costs a year through 1998 in order to "retain certain capabilities to protect our interests around the world."

This vague pronouncement does not justify the size of the military the Pentagon wants.

We recommend cutting the budget about 7 percent a year -- the same rate it was reduced for a few years after the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

BDuring the Cuban missile crisis, America had five aircraft carrier task forces. Now we have 14, each costing $3 billion a year to operate. We need no more than five; two can be decommissioned this year, at a $6 billion net savings at once.

The Army maintains 12 active divisions, the Marines two. In Operation Desert Storm, not quite eight were used. Now that Europe is not threatened, in this fiscal year we can The net savings would be $32 billion in 1993. By the year 2000, the budget can be reduced to $164 billion a year.

retire one division in Europe and one in America, saving $6 billion.

The Air Force has 95 strategic B-1 bombers and 175 B-52s and is procuring 20 additional B-2s at more than $1 billion each. None of these planes is needed for nuclear deterrence.

We should mothball the 81 older B-52s and half the B-1s this

year, saving $5 billion. We should stop procuring the not-so-stealthy B-2 bomber and the C-17, the flawed new transport plane. We don't need these aircraft because others can perform their functions. Total net savings: $7.3 billion.

Stop procuring the one new Sea Wolf submarine and the four new DDG-51 destroyers, saving $4 billion. This year, buy half the planned 20 F-18 fighters and 30 Trident-2 missiles for the Navy, saving $1.5 billion.

Cancel the contract for 60 redundant Army Blackhawk helicopters, and reduce by 10 percent the Army's purchase of ammunition and electronics, saving $1 billion. Curtail the unworkable Strategic Defense Initiative and save $2 billion.

Overall savings from these cutbacks would come to nearly $40 billion, but $8 billion would have to be spent for terminating contracts and mothballing planes and ships.

The net savings would be $32 billion in 1993. By the year 2000, the budget can be reduced to $164 billion a year, for a total savings of $681 billion between now and then.

Last month, the Congressional Budget Office, in its publication "Reducing the Deficit: Spending and Revenue Options," identified 61 cuts in the defense budget totaling $308 billion for 1994 through 1998. We suggest $346 billion for that period.

Mr. Clinton can safely order cuts in defense spending, based not on nebulous strategic pronouncements but on a reasonable assessment, to use defense community jargon, of "how much is enough."

Jerome Wiesner, president emeritus of MIT, was science adviser to Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Kosta Tsipis directs MIT's program in science and technology for international security.

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