What military will the United States need in the future, and how much will it cost? In an era of apocalyptic terror and other threats, there is little doubt that the country must do what it takes to protect itself. That said, at a time of $400 billion federal budget deficits, the country must also ask how to spend defense dollars wisely and efficiently.
The Bush administration’s planned defense budget increases of some $20 billion a year into the future are indeed necessary. Half of those increases account for inflation, roughly speaking, and the other half represent real growth in the defense budget. In particular, the administration should increase the size of its ground forces by a total of roughly 40,000 additional active-duty troops for the foreseeable future. This is necessary in order to treat soldiers and Marines fairly and to ensure that the extraordinarily high pace of overseas operations does not drive people out of the military, thereby putting the health of the all-volunteer armed forces at risk
Given fiscal pressures, at the same time that it carries out this temporary increase in personnel, the military must look harder than ever for economies and efficiencies in other parts of the budget. That is most notably the case with weapons modernization accounts. Thankfully, the promise of modern high technology, and especially electronics and computers, can allow the United States to continue to innovate and improve its armed forces somewhat more economically than in the past. Once the Iraq mission ends or declines significantly in scope, the ground forces can be scaled back to their present size—or perhaps even slightly less—and it may become possible to hold real defense spending steady for a number of years. But not yet.