Fort Worth Star Telegram (October 26, 2004)
If Sen. John Kerry is elected president next week, there will probably be little impact on the fortunes of workers at the Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter aircraft factories in Fort Worth.
Defense experts and analysts say there is no chasm between the defense policies of President Bush and those that a Kerry administration would likely pursue, regardless of what the presidential campaign rhetoric might suggest.
The Bush campaign has sharply criticized Kerry’s Senate voting record on defense and weapons programs. But many of those projects merited skepticism, says Winslow Wheeler, a former Republican staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee. «They have had cost and performance problems and were on (then-Defense Secretary Dick) Cheney’s chopping block.»
Indeed, analysts say that although Kerry would likely approach foreign policy and the use of military force differentlyBush, Kerry have similar priorities on military spending than Bush, there’s only one major difference between their defense budgeting and policy goals.
Kerry wants to bolster the size of the Army by training and equipping 40,000 more soldiers, a move Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have resisted. Kerry would raise the $6 billion cost of that plan, in part, by cutting back on the national missile-defense projects on which Bush plans to spend about $10 billion in 2005. That might be some cause for concern among employees of Lockheed Martin’s missiles division in Grand Prairie.
Constrained by Iraq
At the broad policy level, differences between the candidates are constrained by political, military and global realities, particularly the likelihood that major U.S. forces will be tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time to come.
«Kerry is stuck with Iraq whether he wants it or not,» said Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution analyst. Bush, he adds, «is constrained by Iraq,» even if he is tempted to use military force to pre-empt another perceived threat.
A second Bush administration would continue to spend heavily on defense. A Kerry administration, analysts say, would have to do so as well.
«The general level of defense spending is unlikely to change because defense spending is driven by perceptions of threat, not political philosophy,» said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a hawkish Washington think tank.
Kerry’s platform makes no claims about spending less than Bush. Congress has appropriated $390 billion for the Pentagon in 2005 fiscal year, plus $25.9 billion in supplemental funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
«In every other election in my lifetime,» O’Hanlon said, «there’s been a clear difference on how much to spend on defense.»
How the money will be spent is another issue.
The Pentagon, under Rumsfeld, has pushed ahead on research and development of expensive high-tech weapons systems: missile defense, space-based radar and the Army’s Future Combat System, a family of war-fighting vehicles, chief among them.
Such high-tech wizardry is the hallmark of Rumsfeld’s vision for transforming the armed forces into a lighter, faster and more lethal instrument for defending the nation and pursuing foreign-policy objectives.
‘We still need infantrymen’
Critics, Kerry among them, have charged that the Bush-Rumsfeld spending priorities are ill-suited for the kind of warfare America faces in the future — the low-tech, low-intensity guerrilla-style conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew says it was a «great revelation» to many so-called military experts that the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that «we still need lots of infantrymen.»
Analysts don’t doubt that Kerry would attempt to cut back spending on the numerous missile-defense programs, which include ground and sea-based interceptor missile systems and an even more complex missile-incinerating laser system mounted on converted 747 jumbo jets.
Virtually all of the major defense contractors with Texas operations and many smaller ones are involved in some phase of the missile-defense program. Lockheed Martin’s missiles division, which employs about 3,000 engineers and technicians in Grand Prairie, has a significant role in parts of that effort.
How big a priority?
Even Killebrew, an advocate of more troops on the ground, says missile defense should remain a priority, but not a $10 billion priority. He supports spending more to train and equip the ground forces that he says will be needed to track down terrorists and bring some degree of peace to Iraq or perhaps block a North Korean military foray.
Under Rumsfeld’s prodding, the Army is trying to get more combat troops from its existing ranks, but in doing so, Killebrew says, it is damaging its training capabilities that have made the U.S. Army the world’s best.
Thompson doesn’t think big-ticket programs like Lockheed Martin’s F/A-22 fighter, a portion of which is built in Fort Worth, or Bell Helicopter’s V-22 Osprey are in any danger of being substantially cut by Kerry.
A Kerry administration would probably be more inclined than Bush to slow spending on some programs, Thompson said, stretching the development costs and purchases out over more years than what is now anticipated.
Pentagon still loves F-35
Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter would be a prime candidate for a funding slowdown, Thompson said, because it is still several years from production.
But the F-35, which Lockheed will build in Fort Worth for the Navy, Marines and Air Force, was launched by the Clinton administration and remains a favorite of civilian Pentagon officials.
«The F-35,» Thompson said, «comes closer than any other big-ticket item to having bipartisan support.»
Beyond cutting missile defense to pay for more troops, analysts say a Kerry administration’s spending priorities would not likely differ greatly from Bush’s. That’s a problem, because, even if defense spending continues to increase at the recent rate, there still won’t be enough money to pay for all the new fighter jets, ships and other weapons the armed services want to buy.
At some point, analysts say, the costs of fighting the war on terrorism and replacing equipment and supplies used up in Iraq and Afghanistan will combine with vast budget deficits to force cuts in weapons programs.
«If this administration or a new administration actually wants to do something about the budget deficit, it will have to something with defense,» said Steven Kosiak of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.
«Defense is not the solution to the deficit problem,» Kosiak said, «but it’s part of the solution.»
Fort Worth Star Telegram (October 26, 2004)