Is the US Military Spending its Way to Self Destruction?

The Pentagon continues to carry out Osama bin Laden’s plan to hobble America. Remember, he outlined his strategy on video. He said he would sucker the US into very expensive, unwinnable wars. He wouldn’t defeat the US military. Instead, he would allow it to spend itself to self-destruction.

The strategy is working:

US’s Afghan Headache: $400-a-Gallon Gasoline
Military Air Drops Fuel Barrels to Avoid Dangerous Convoys

With more American troops on the ground, and to avoid the perils of ground transportation, the military is more frequently using cargo planes to deliver supplies. But as WSJ’s Nathan Hodge reports, the cost is putting a strain on military budgets.

OVER EASTERN AFGHANISTAN — Parachuting a barrel of fuel to a remote Afghan base takes sharp flying skills, steady nerves and flawless timing.

It also costs a lot of money — up to $400 a gallon, by military estimates.

But the Pentagon is stuck with the expense for the foreseeable future, especially given the recent deterioration in US-Pakistani relations.

“We’re going to burn a lot of gas to drop a lot of gas,” said Capt. Zack Albaugh, a California Air National Guard pilot deployed with the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. He spoke just before a recent mission to supply a remote base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, scene of cross-border rocket attacks that have heightened regional tensions this fall.

But for now, nearly 100,000 US troops are on the ground in Afghanistan, often stationed in difficult-to-reach outposts that depend on pallets of food, water, ammunition and fuel that are dropped by parachute out of cargo planes.

Since 2005, the Air Force has increased by nearly 50 times the amount of supplies it air-drops to remote bases, partly as a way to avoid dangerous land-based fuel convoys.

*** Bin Laden was wasting his time. Even without his help, the Pentagon was turning into a zombie army.

The Most Top-Heavy Force in US History

In September, I testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel about the military becoming increasingly top-heavy as a result of growth in the proportion of general and flag officers at the Pentagon. This trend, which we at POGO dubbed Star Creep, is costly to taxpayers who have to foot the large bill for every new general and admiral. It also hinders military effectiveness by leading to what Gates referred to as a “bureaucracy which has the fine motor skills of a dinosaur.”

My fellow witnesses at the hearing — several generals and admirals as well as former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley — assured the concerned Committee that they had everything under control. They cited Gates’ Efficiency Initiatives, which purportedly eliminate 102 general and flag officer positions, as evidence of the DoD’s commitment to combating Star Creep. Stanley confirmed to Chairman Jim Webb (D-VA) that Gates’ successor — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — supported these efforts and, “has accepted the policies and the things put in place by his predecessor.” (Stanley tendered his notice of resignation in late October.)

What Senator Webb and I did not know at the time — and perhaps Stanley did — was that Gates’ initiative to cut general and flag officers had already come to a screeching halt. Data that were released recently on the DoD personnel office’s website tell the tale.

Between May and September, more than 10,000 enlisted personnel were cut by the DoD, possibly in preparation for the end of military operations in Iraq, while more than 2,500 officers were added. Consequently, for the first time in the more than 200 years that the US has had a standing military, there are fewer than five enlisted personnel for every officer. In other words, today’s military is the most top-heavy force in US history.

The Costs of Star Creep

The cost to taxpayers of uniformed military personnel increases markedly with their rank. In just basic compensation, these six new generals will cost taxpayers more than $1.25 million per year. Over the next ten years, they’ll cost taxpayers more than $14 million (methodology).

The total cost to taxpayers of Star Creep is not trivial, even in the Pentagon’s bloated budget. Since the war in Afghanistan began, the Pentagon has added 99 general and flag officers, a rate of growth that’s tops among all DoD uniformed personnel groups… In 2012, these general and flag officers will cost taxpayers more than $22 million in just direct financial compensation. Between 2012 and 2021, they’ll cost nearly $250 million.

But the cost of Star Creep only begins with direct compensation. Other costs that surround generals and admirals — such as staff, contractors, and travel — increase with higher ranks. For example, Bloomberg recently reported that taxpayers in Huntsville, Alabama, footed a $3.8-million bill to build luxurious homes for generals in a successful effort to keep Pentagon pork flowing into the area. One such home, built for a major general, was a sprawling 4,200-square- foot mansion that included granite countertops, hardwood floors, and stainless steel appliances.

Luxurious homes are just the beginning of the extravagances available to top military commanders. According to Raymond Dubois, former DoD director of administration and management from 2002 to 2005, there are other perks:

A four-star has an airplane. A three-star often doesn’t… Can a three-star get an airplane when he needs it? Not always. Does a four-star get an airplane when he needs it? Always. Many times he’ll already have a G5 sitting on the runway, gassed up. [These] are the kinds of costs that are fairly significant when you add them all up.

In his August 2010 speech on Efficiency Initiatives, Gates referred to these perks as “the overhead and accoutrements that go with” senior positions, be they military or civilian, within DoD. In an interview with Newsweek, Gates bemoaned these accoutrements and entourages that surround generals and admirals, which he believes are indicative of a military leadership that is “suffering from an inflated sense of entitlement and a distorted sense of priorities.”


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail Markets and Money.

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