What We Bought: Defense Procurement from FY01 to FY10

October 28, 2011

By Russell Rumaugh - As the congressional super committee grapples with the problem of lowering the nation's deficit and controlling its debt, defense budgets have taken center stage.  Some have argued that defense budgets cannot be cut, in part because a decade of war has exhausted the military's stock of equipment, forced the military to "defer" investment in advanced equipment, and made it necessary to invest billions in repairing and reconstituting its inventory.  Yet  the military services have spent $1 trillion over the past decade on procurement.

The Stimson Center's Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program released today a new report - "What We Bought: Defense Procurement, FY01-FY10," - which analyzes this apparent contradiction.  The report, by project co-director Russell Rumbaugh, describes in detail the substantial investment the military services have made in modernizing, upgrading, and expanding their inventory of equipment since 2001.  As Rumbaugh put it: "We have not been deferring investments; the services have used a trillion dollars to modernize and improve our equipment inventory across the board."

The report makes a valuable contribution to the continuing debate about the defense budget and the need for budgetary discipline.  Rumbaugh's report finds that each of the military services significantly modernized their inventory.  As the report notes: "Each of the services has followed a different approach in allocating its procurement funding, but they share a similar result of successfully modernizing their forces, especially the major weapons programs that constitute the heart of the services' capabilities."

As opposed to the "decade of neglect" that is the conventional wisdom on defense modernization, the report analyzes the budget decisions of the past decade to find the following:

  • Despite the cancellation of three major future acquisition programs, the Army actually modernized its forces, buying two new fleets of combat vehicles-Strykers and MRAPs, and upgrading virtually the entire inventory of its Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks to state-of-the-art digital technology and communications. The service also dramatically expanded its stocks of support vehicles and small arms. Its ability to modernize was substantially enhanced by the use of supplemental funding the service received because of the wars.
  • In contrast to the conventional wisdom that the Air Force inventory is aging due to neglect, the report points out the Air Force actually acquired the Defense Department's two largest procurement programs in the past decade, the F-22 fighter and C-17 cargo aircraft. The aging of the fighter fleet is not the result of neglect, but of a conscious choice the Air Force made to pursue high-end, expensive systems like the F-22. Moreover, although the Air Force does not like to point out this reality, it also expanded its air fleet by adding more than 350 unmanned Predator and Reaper aircraft over the decade.
  • The report notes that the Navy's ship acquisition plan was underfunded 10 years ago, but additional funding, provided in part because of the war, allowed the service to acquire virtually the entire shipbuilding plan over the decade. Additional funds also allowed the Navy to cover cost growth that grew out of design flaws in its shipbuilding plans, and provided the resources to start-and then cancel-systems not even in the Navy's original plan.

The report provides a useful corrective to the current debate, based on assumptions and talking points, by providing a detailed review of actual procurement spending over the past decade.   As BFAD Distinguished Fellow, Dr. Gordon Adams noted, "We cannot evaluate future defense plans and budget needs without an honest accounting of the substantial improvements in the current force that doubling the budget made possible.  We are not worn down and unready; the force is well-armed and primed."

Read the complete report here.

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