The U.S. Defense Budget: Balancing Need Against Cost

by Greg Giaquinto, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

According to The Guardian, President Donald Trump’s call for a major boost in U.S. military spending has been met with an uproar from opponents warning that such a policy would waste millions of taxpayer dollars.  To lend perspective on the issue, in fiscal year 2015, military spending in the United States accounted for 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.  Right now the U.S. military has the ability to fight just under two world wars simultaneously.  The International Institute for Strategic Studies says the U.S. accounts for more than a third of the world’s military spending.

This begs the question, Why does the United States spend so much of its taxpayer dollars on defense?

In part, the answer lies in a concept called the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC).  The MIC can be defined as an informal coalition between a nation’s military and the defense industry that supplies it, seen together as a vested interest that influences public policy. The military industrial complex definition states that a propelling factor behind the relationship between the government and defense-sector corporations is that both sides benefit – one side from procuring war weapons, and the other from being paid to supply them. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the term is frequently used in reference to the military framework of the United States, where it is most prevalent and gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. According to the Washington Post, in 2011, the United States spent more (in absolute numbers) on its military than the next 13 nations combined.

So how does the U.S. Department of Defense get all of these taxpayer dollars?  Fear.  The DoD can easily alarm U.S. citizens of the potential for attack by other nations, with the result that the legislative and executive branches give the DoD whatever money it requests.  The U.S. does need an adequate amount of funding to protect its citizens, and should get that funding.  However, there are many DoD projects that fail and needlessly waste taxpayer dollars.  One such example is the Joint Tactical Radio System.  This was a 15-year project to build a software-defined radio.  The radio was to simulate a computer in that different types of software could be installed for different missions.  The JTRS program failed and cost U.S. taxpayers $6 billion.

So how much money should the U.S. DoD get to protect U.S. citizens?  According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, President Trump is asking for a DoD discretionary budget for FY19 of $617.1 billion, which is $90 billion higher than the FY18 budget.  Is that too much money?  Is it not enough money?  The answer, in part, depends on whether or not the U.S. can make to-date unsuccessful military equipment work and has an enemy to fight.  The other part of the answer lies in what other policies U.S. citizens want to invest in.

U.S. defense spending has been a delicate issue for years, and will continue to be so as the debate goes on between the legislative and executive branches and their attempts to heed the will of the American public.

As a senior analyst on Forecast International’s Military Electronics Systems series, Greg provides strategic counsel and services to clients regarding the defense communications and computer technology businesses. Regarded as an industry authority, Greg has served as a moderator for a discussion panel of corporate executives at the annual Military Communications Conference in Washington, DC.  Greg is widely recognized for his strong relationship with the media, and his commentary on the defense technology industry is cited frequently in publications that include Investor’s Business Daily and Bloomberg News.

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