"National debt has become perhaps our top national security threat," according to Brookings. "And neither major presidential candidate is doing enough about it."
Of course, the campaign Brookings describes is now a quaint memory, back in 2012, as was the debt – then merely $16 trillion. One year ago, some stalwart Republicans tried to get the then-$22 trillion debt declared a national security crisis, but even that seems mild compared to the new COVID-levels of debt, which will hit $27 trillion by the end of the year.
Democrats are quick to point to Republican hypocrisy as the cause of the debt-explosion, with Republicans even quicker to point that trillion-dollar deficits started under President Obama, and will look tame compared to what a President Ocasio-Cortez and her Green New Deal would do to America.
Debt is something that's always easier to complain about when someone else is doing the spending, and presumably, winning the short-term political points. Republicans don't want to budge on defense or tax cuts, Democrats don't want to budge on entitlements.
But everyone needs to budge on everything. This simply can't continue.
Something admirable (and long overdue) President Trump has done to save the United States money on defense is to demand our "allies" pay their fair share for their own defense. Compared to levels they were paying in 2015, virtually every NATO country is closer to contributing their agreed-upon 2% of GDP to the NATO budget, except for the U.S., which is now (only) contributing 3.42%. The president is making similar, completely appropriate demands that the robust economies of Japan and South Korea pay more for their own defense.
This is progress, but the U.S. must tighten its own belt at home. Our military needs to stay the strongest in the world, which it can't be if money is misspent.
One way the Pentagon can save some taxpayer billions at home is reducing unnecessary purchases. A clear example right now is the CH-53 "King Stallion" Helicopter, which Popular Mechanics describes as "The helicopter that's more expensive than the F-35."
The CH-53 series of helicopters dates back to the Vietnam War, when the Marines and the Air Force used them for combat search and rescue – you've probably seen them in montages about the 1960s set to a Bob Dylan song. But the CH-53 series is very expensive and have demonstrated serious problems in the field. The "King Stallion," or CH-53K, is the latest – but less expensive and field-tested alternatives exist that can both keep the military personnel in the field safe and save billions for the taxpayers.
In 2006, the Marine Corps signed an $18.8 billion contract for 156 CH-53K aircraft to replace the rapidly aging fleet of CH-53Es. In the intervening 14 years, the estimated cost of one King Stallion has gone from $56 million to $138.5 million – each. Including all peripheral costs, the total cost for the fleet of 200 King Stallions is $31 billion.
All while there seems to be no dire need for 200 of these giant helicopters today.
Defense contracting is one of those worlds where the sky can be the limit, because there is no Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for giant attack helicopters the way there is with, say, microwave ovens.
So this is (yet) another "Too Big To Fail" government contract that benefits the seller at the expense of the taxpayer, who has already sunk billions into the program – no matter what the final cost and no matter how many years final delivery is delayed. These delays come from multitudinous manufacturing flaws, including airspeed indication anomalies, an unreliable main-rotor gearbox, structural problems in the tail, overheating, etcetera etcetera.
One defense writer had to ask why the Marines were buying a "troubled aircraft again."
One option is a mix of King Stallions and Chinook helicopters to decrease cost for the Marine's fleet of helicopters. The Pentagon and Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, both have been favorable to considering the option of a mix because of lingering concerns about the King Stallion.
The CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is not the war machine we need now, and the military must find less expensive alternatives. We don't need Marines combing the Vietnamese jungle, and even if we did, the new age of war uses other tools to complete the same tasks. More affordable ways to get Marines to and from the battlefield are required during these times of extreme financial duress.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's Reports — More Here.
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