Rich Lowry: We need a $1 trillion defense budget

Nothing is as helpful to the Ukraine national cause as Javelin missiles.

(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) US Army 2nd Battalion, 10th Regiment, 10th Brigade UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters take off during a joint US-Romanian air assault exercise at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, eastern Romania, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Romanian and U.S troops are staging joint exercises with U.S. Black Hawk helicopters, part of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade nine-month rotational deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which aims to reassure NATO's European allies in light of Russia's invasion in Ukraine.

U.N. General Assembly resolutions feel good. Twitter hashtags are nice. Cutting off corporate services is better than the alternative. But the situation on the ground in Ukraine demonstrates that, at the end of the day, nothing is as helpful to the Ukraine national cause as Javelin missiles.

There is a drastic imbalance between soft power and hard power in Ukraine. The Ukrainian resistance has all of the former — a righteous cause, an inspiring leader, the support of most of the world — and Russia has a preponderance of the latter.

It looks like the multiple launch rocket systems are going to win out, at least in reducing and occupying Ukrainian cities for now.

One lesson for the U.S. should be obvious: We need more and better weapons for a newly threatening security environment.

Russia’s aggression underlines the potential of the U.S. having to fight simultaneous wars in Europe and Asia, to defend NATO and to stave off a China attack on Taiwan or elsewhere, when our forces currently may not be adequate to winning one fight.

Just as the new era of great power competition was aborning, we decided to drastically reduce defense spending. From fiscal years 2010-2015, we cut defense spending from $794 billion to $586 billion (in terms of constant 2018 dollars).

Readiness took a hit and so did modernization. During these years, the Army and the Navy declined to their lowest end-strength, or number of active-duty personnel, since before World War II, and the Air Force shrank to the smallest it had been since its inception in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

An increase in spending in the first years of the Trump administrative relieved some pressure but was hardly transformative. In fiscal years 2020 and 2021, spending actually fell in real terms.

This is not a prudent posture for deterring, let alone fighting and defeating should it come to that, two ambitious and cynical revanchist powers. In war games conducted by U.S. analysts, Russia and China routinely defeat us.

As the National Defense Strategy Commission explained in 2018, “These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyberwarfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air and naval forces, and nuclear weapons—a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.”

Biden signed a $770 billion defense bill into law for 2022 after Congress bumped up his initial request by $25 billion. The next defense budget should be north of $800 billion, and we should be headed toward $1 trillion.

We’ll need to adjust to the new threats. The Army doesn’t necessarily need to be larger. It needs different tools, including many more anti-air and anti-missile capabilities to protect its bases and tank brigades, and more of it will have to be deployed in Europe.

The Air Force should put an emphasis on long-range, stealthy planes to stay out of range of enemy missiles.

The Navy will have to be much larger, more like 500 ships than the current 296. The Navy’s shipyards, which currently fail to keep up to the task of repairing our submarines, desperately need to be upgraded.

We should push hard for continued technological advance in our long-range, high-precision missiles, and ensure that we have the surge capacity to replenish the supply in crisis.

The nuclear force has to be modernized, both the triad of bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and subs, as well as the underlying infrastructure.

Finally, we must focus on innovation in cutting-edge areas such as space, cyber, A.I., quantum computing, and directed energy, once the stuff of science fiction but now potentially decisive in a future war.

Abraham Lincoln put it well in an 1862 message to Congress, “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” And, we should add, when ensuring that we don’t lose our military edge, spend anew.

Rich Lowry Courtesy photo

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry