On the Radio

/ March 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense experts predicted a fierce battle this budget season during a discussion of the state of the military this morning on WAMU's Diane Rehm Show.

Andrew Exxum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and founder of the blog Abu Muqawama, alluded to three wars that are currently being fought: The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and the "really nasty battle that's getting ready to be waged between Secretary Gates and members of Congress and defense contractors."

He highlighted the debate around the Air Force's F-22, parts of which he said are built in 48 different states -- giving 96 senators a vested interest in keeping it alive.

"The F-22 will be justified not just in terms of something for national defense, but also in terms of a massive federal jobs program," said Exxum.

Gates will use the grim economic environment to make difficult choices in the hopes of creating a more strategic budget, the experts agreed.

"For the first time in this budget, you're going to see one that actually sets long-term priorities for the kinds of wars that he thinks this nation is going to fight," said Thom Shanker, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. "It's not going to be each service getting its fair, equitable share of the budget. And I think it's going to be released as a single, big package."

Robert Work, vice president of strategic studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, agreed.

"Generally, when you have real change inside the Pentagon it is in times when resources are constrained," he said.

The last two Quadrennial Defense Reviews occurred during defense build-ups, he said, "so hard choices have not had to been made."

"I do not think, that in this case, a bet against Secretary Gates would be a wise one," said Shanker. "This is his last public job ever. He has nothing to lose."

That the cuts are coming is not in dispute, but Robert Haddick, defense analyst at Small Wars Journal and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer, wants to know why.

"The question I would have is if these cuts do in fact occur the way it was described in the Boston Globe article, what is the reason? Is it because these systems are actually lemons or not able to deliver on the missions that are assigned to them? Or is the purpose of cutting these programs to free up money to add to ever more headcount to general purpose ground forces?" asked Haddick.

-- Kate Brannen