Future Weapons Development Could Help Stimulate Ailing Economy
Weapons development funds weren't a part of the $787 billion stimulus package the president signed this week, but some say boosting defense spending and innovation could create jobs and help the ailing economy bounce back.
By Matt Sanchez
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A series of short videos released on YouTube recently showed the U.S. Army's vision of the military to come with infantrymen maneuvering robots, electronics and guided missiles that moved at lightning speed with James Bond coolness.
Called the Future Combat System, the short videos show the many moving parts of the modern military using state-of-the-art equipment to fight a common foe. But despite the cheers at the end of each presentation, the FCS program may not have a happy ending.
While the stimulus bill President Obama signed into law on Tuesday includes $10 billion to upgrade military barracks, hospitals, clinics and child-care centers, it doesn't add a single dollar for weapons development. And some observers think that's a mistake.
A stimulus in defense spending, they say, would be a victory not only for American servicemen and women -- but for the nation's economy, as well.
The Lockheed Corporation, linking defense spending to immediate economic stimulus, says 95,000 Americans' jobs across the country depend on the Defense Department buying more of its F-22 Raptors.
"This is shovel-ready," said Larry Lawson, executive vice president and general manager of the F/A-22 Raptor program. "Our point is, this preserves jobs, and it is immediate. You don't have to develop anything."
But a new administration means new priorities, and the Defense Department is now reviewing future purchases.
The F-22 has Mach speed capabilities, but speed comes at a price. Each F-22 costs $350 million -- a sum that could make the fighter jet a target for budget-cutters.
"It does not make sense to cut defense procurement and eliminate high-paying, middle-class union jobs, in order to fund other government programs to create jobs. That's just plain stupid," said James Carafano, military affairs expert for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"We really haven't significantly increased the core defense budget," Carafano added. "Most additional money has gone for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the military still has not fully recovered from the 'procurement holiday' of the Clinton years... and we've used up a lot of equipment since then."
"The world becomes a more, not a less troubled place, in tough economic times," said Carafano. "It is not a good time to cut the defense budget."
But some observers say defense budgets have been fraught with overspending and poor oversight for years.
"Last year, [defense contractors] got 127 of the F-22s," said Larry Korbs, a former Navy flight instructor and author of "Building a Military for the 21st Century."
He said conservatives and defense contractors are playing politics with the Obama administration.
"Under Bush," Korbs said, "defense spending went up 40 percent from 2001 to 2008 in real dollars," he said. "There is no defense spending cut."
"The last eight years have been a defense spending Mardi Gras," said Collin Clark, editor of DODD Buzz and the Pentagon correspondent for Military.com.
"I wouldn't say there was a lot of wasteful spending," he said. "Waste is a loaded term, these are complicated systems. Contractors will just be given a smaller margin of error now."
Defense officials planned the modernization of the military during the money-flush years of the Bush administration. Among the projects that they say would boost the nation's defense capabilities -- and conceivably stimulate the economy through the jobs created to build them -- are:
-- The Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), an all-terrain, multi-purpose robot platform that is already used by Explosives Ordinance Disposal units to handle IEDs. The Army has bigger plans for the durable little robots -- if more can be built.
-- Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs), remote-controlled "robo-bugs" that the Air Force says could be deployed for a variety of purposes, including close reconnaissance. These small, sophisticated devices -- as little as six inches long -- can achieve a variety of disguises through "collapsible wings" and "sliding skins."
-- More air drones, which work around the clock and can sense human targets through voice and face-recognition. They can quickly send back real-time footage and aggressively attack their targets.
-- Quick Kill, an active protective system designed to destroy enemy weapons and literally deflect incoming projectiles, like a rocket propelled grenade. This high-tech "hit avoidance" shield may crack under budgetary constraints, a concern for Raytheon, the 72,000-employee aerospace and defense company in Waltham, Mass., that produces it.
Whether these programs will stay on course in a time of economic hardship remains to be seen.
"Cutting any major modernization program is just cutting into muscle and bone. The excuse that 'we don't need this' or 'this is a Cold War' system is just smoke and mirrors," Carafano said.
But absent any future funds, Future Combat Systems will remain a concept for YouTube.
Future Combat Videos: