But it's not because of the amount of money the military services have to spend on personnel and readiness and the small size of the investment budget.
According to Thompson, the reason for the high cost of personnel is the fact that this nation has an all-volunteer force and, therefore, must compete in the marketplace for skilled workers. He ignores the fact that even if we had conscription, the military would still have to pay market wages for those who stayed beyond their two years' enlistment. Moreover, while the Pentagon must spend more to recruit a volunteer than to draft someone, these costs are more than offset by the much smaller turnover rate, which sharply reduces training costs. For example, in 1973 (the last year of the draft), personnel costs were 39 percent of the defense budget. Today they amount to about 25 percent, for a force that Thompson concedes is the most capable military force in U.S. history.
Thompson also blames the Pentagon's budget woes on ever-increasing maintenance costs, because the military is forced to operate and repair aging weapon systems. He blames this situation on the depressed procurement levels of past administrations.
During the 1990s, the average age of some weapons did increase, but for the most part, these changes were not very great and in some cases, the average age of major weapon systems actually declined. For example, in the past decade, the average age of all tactical aircraft and bombers increased by two years, but the average age of attack submarines dropped by one year and that of surface ships by three.
Nor has the Pentagon been starved for investment funds. Over the past decade, the Pentagon has spent more than $1 trillion on new investment. Research and development funds were significantly above their cold war average and procurement spending per troop was at cold war levels.
In the fiscal 2003 budget, the military will spend more than $120 billion on developing and purchasing new weapons. The problem was and still is that the Pentagon is not spending the money wisely. Too much money has been wasted on such cold war relics as the F-22 fighter, the technologically-challenged V-22 Tilt Rotor Osprey and the cumbersome Crusader artillery system (instead of on systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles).
President Bush promised to do away with many of these outdated weapons in his campaign, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waged a valiant but unsuccessful battle to kill them in the first eight months of the Bush administration. There are indications that he may take up the struggle again this year. If he is successful this time, we may even be able to reduce the budget below its current record high.
The writer served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.