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The Shrinking American Military

Abstract

Lake provides a much-needed analysis of the size and composition of the American military. This chapter shows that the propensity for overstretch identified in Chap. 1 is the result of a decades-long trend toward a smaller military, compounded by a relative decline in the share of combat forces within the military. Through an analysis of defense spending and procurement patterns, Lake shows that the costs and support requirements of military equipment are both steadily increasing. Building on that finding, Lake argues that an emphasis on procuring technologically superior hardware for the American military explains both the shrinking military and the declining share of combat forces.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The defense budget is not one value. It is usually discussed in terms of budgetary authority, since that represents what Congress appropriates in a given year. The DOD also calculates the defense budget in terms of Total Obligational Authority—an accounting term used by DOD to describe what it is actually obligated to spend in a given year, and outlays—how much is actually spent. Since these different numbers track each other fairly closely and the budgetary authority is the value normally discussed, that is the number I will be using throughout this analysis.

  2. 2.

    The OMB deflator is generated from 2017 Historical Table 10.1 Gross Domestic Product and Deflators used in the Historical Tables: 1940–2021. That table uses fiscal 2009 for the base year, so values are converted to fiscal 2018 dollars before generating the 2018 constant dollar defense budgets using the OMB deflator.

  3. 3.

    The Defense Business Board estimated 2007 Defense spending at only 7% greater than 1980 in real terms, but that was based on an incorrect budget estimate and use of DOD deflators.

  4. 4.

    Family housing, military construction, and revolving and management funds are omitted, since they rarely if ever exceed 5% of the defense budget and as such have little impact on the budget or size of the military. Military retirement pay accruals are included in the military personnel category for 1948 through 1984 even though they are a separate budget category during that period because retirement pay accruals are included as a military personnel cost after 1984.

  5. 5.

    For this analysis, the GDP deflator provided by the OMB is used but using DOD deflators instead would not affect the conclusions.

  6. 6.

    Including pay, retirement pay accrual, medicare contributions accrual, and other benefits but not including military healthcare spending (which is part of the Operations and Maintenance portion of the budget).

  7. 7.

    The constant dollar costs have increased nearly 70% using the DOD deflator.

  8. 8.

    Using the OMB deflator. The budget has increased threefold between 1948 and 2018 using DOD deflators.

  9. 9.

    Note that the pattern for commercial aircraft is basically the same, suggesting it is to some extent inherent to the technology being used (Augustine 1983, pp. 53–59).

  10. 10.

    Actual program unit cost is probably slightly lower for the F-35A due to higher development costs associated with the B and C models (United States Government Accountability Office 2017, pp. 165–166).

  11. 11.

    Even the Congressional Budget Office has been unable to get these data (Congress of the United States: Congressional Budget Office 2001, p. 3).

  12. 12.

    We see this happen with Marine Corps F-35Bs (United States Department of Defense 2016, p. 96).

  13. 13.

    “The actual shape of the curve is inherently uncertain, but will tend to follow Pareto’s law” (McNaugher 1989, pp. 6–7).

  14. 14.

    This also arguably compromised the F-16s air-to-air combat capability to some extent, though it remained an excellent aircraft (Fallows 1981, pp. 105–106).

  15. 15.

    Private sector R&D to production ratios are typically in the 2–5% range (Gansler 1989b, pp. 207–208).

  16. 16.

    The practice of rushing new technologies could also be considered as much a problem with the process as with design decisions.

  17. 17.

    Underestimating costs and overpromising performance is particularly easy when systems are undergoing concurrent development because there is no way to accurately project either until very late in the process.

  18. 18.

    Procurement plus RDT&E.

  19. 19.

    Procurement only, excluding RDT&E.

  20. 20.

    Note that to some extent the US military does this as well. For example, under the “Total Army” concept the Army has been putting critical support capabilities in the Army Reserve and National Guard for decades, so that the active component has a higher ratio of combat forces.

  21. 21.

    As noted below, this has been masked to some extent by the outsourcing of support functions to contractors. For the purposes of this analysis, the focus is on the real “tooth-to-tail ratio” (including support provided by contractors).

  22. 22.

    Again, support forces were stationed nearby but outside Vietnam and are not counted in this estimate.

  23. 23.

    This is probably underestimating the level of support provided by contractors. Some analysts provide higher estimates for the number of contractors supporting US troops, and if you use McGrath’s numbers for the share of combat troops among the Army forces deployed and other estimates of the number of contractors in support, the real share of combat forces is under 20% even if security contractors are counted as combat forces (for example see Cancian 2008; Schwartz 2009).

  24. 24.

    By 2009, the F-22 Raptor’s availability had improved as the mean time between failures rose to 3.22 flight hours (Niemi 2012, pp. 64–65).

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Lake, D.R. (2019). The Shrinking American Military. In: The Pursuit of Technological Superiority and the Shrinking American Military. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_2

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