Commentary Magazine

The Defense Budget and Israel

There is a huge and increasingly notorious contradiction at the very core of mainstream American Jewish political attitudes. The vast majority of American Jews passionately support Israel's struggle for survival and are permanently concerned for its security. At the same time, most American Jews are liberals, and qua liberals, they are prominent in calling for the “reordering of national priorities”—a slogan which in practice translates into the attempt to make further cuts in the defense budget and further to reduce America's general activism overseas. The great artillery battles of 1915 sufficed to persuade even the most dashing and bird-brained of cavalry officers that modern war was not just a matter of guts and good breeding for man and horse: seeing a goodly share of the national product flying overhead in the shells of each artillery barrage, scarcely anyone could miss the essential connection between industrial capacity and military capability. By contrast, even in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War—the display of American deterrence in action and the airlift—many liberals—Jews and non-Jews alike—who are loud in their verbal support for Israel still act in the political arena as if there were no connection between Israel's security and the level of American military preparedness. Quite recently, in New York State, a good many liberals, among them many Jews, did their level best to send a man to the Senate whose platform placed equal stress on strong support for Israel and a 25 per-cent cut in the defense budget. Oddly enough, Ramsey Clark found himself in considerable difficulties with Jews of all stripes because of some insufficiently ambiguous language on the Palestinians and their claims. But while a wide variety of views on the Palestinians—including all the different positions imputed to Ramsey Clark—are perfectly compatible with firm support for Israel's security, such support is not at all consistent with any drastic cut in the defense budget, let alone Mr. Clark's 25 per cent.

It is obvious that not every valet in navy service, and not every air-force band, is essential to insure an adequate American contribution to Israel's security. But it should be equally obvious that it is entirely illegitimate to press for drastic cuts in the scale of the American military effort on the one hand, and then to try and squeeze what Israel needs out of what remains. For one thing, the spectrum of Israeli logistic needs does not exactly correspond with that of the United States. Hence the supply of arms and ammunition to Israel does not merely diminish pro rata the level of U.S. stocks but also threatens to distort the structure of defense acquisition, with American priorities displaced by “Israeli” ones: hardware rather than men, tactical weapons and not strategic, and equipment for today, rather than research for tomorrow.

Confronted by the demands of liberal Senators and Jewish leaders for prompt and generous aid to Israel in the crisis of October 1973, defense professionals in and out of uniform could take some quiet satisfaction in witnessing this abrupt reversal of attitudes toward all things military. There was particular satisfaction in air-force circles, since one of the primary instruments of re-supply, the ultra-heavy C-5 Galaxy transport, had long featured as exhibit “A” of “Pentagon waste and inefficiency” in countless speeches on the floor of the Senate, including a good many by those prominent in asking for the airlift. But the military were bitterly disappointed by the final outcome. It seems that by appropriations time the war and the airlift had been thoroughly forgotten. As the military men see it, while the Pentagon delivered, the liberal supporters of Israel, and the Jewish liberals in particular, have not: instead of showing greater understanding of the importance of adequate defenses, they are still pressing for cuts in the military budget. Yet the truth is that such cuts could seriously damage America's capacity to deter Russian activism in the world at large, including the Middle East; they could even undermine America's ability to supply Israel with the weapons, ammunition, and high technology it needs for its survival.


At the height of the Indochina war, in fiscal year 1968, the total outlays of the Defense Department amounted to $78 billion. In 1974, the last full fiscal year, outlays amounted to $79.5 billion. In other words, as the Pentagon's critics never tire of pointing out, the end of the Indochina war with all its very heavy additional costs has seemingly failed to bring about a reduction in U.S. defense outlays. But in this comparison no account is taken of inflation. When account is taken of inflation a very different picture emerges.

Thus in an assessment by Barry M. Blechman et al. of the Brookings Institution1—not by any stretch of the imagination allies of the Pentagon—the planned outlays for fiscal year 1975 are estimated at $86.2 billion, while those of 1968 are estimated to have been $127.6 billion in 1975 dollars. Defense outlays for fiscal year 1964, the last “pre-Vietnam year,” are estimated at $95.7 billion, also in 1975 dollars. In short, 1975 defense outlays as planned would show a decrease of $41.4 billion between 1968 and 1975 in current dollars, and a decrease of $9.5 billion even as compared to 1964.

Still more revealing are comparisons of defense expenditure with other current money flows. For example, defense outlays for fiscal year 1974 amounted to 5.9 per cent of the Gross National Product, 27.9 per cent of all federal outlays, and 17.8 per cent of net public outlays, federal, state, and local. In fiscal year 1968, these percentages were very much higher: defense outlays amounted to 9.4 per cent of the GNP, 42.5 per cent of federal outlays, and 29.2 per cent of all net public outlays. Nor is the above comparison distorted by the fact that fiscal 1968 was the peak year of the Indochina war expenditures; in fiscal year 1964, the last truly pre-war year, defense outlays amounted to 8.3 per cent of the GNP (vs. 5.9 per cent in 1974); 41.8 per cent of all federal outlays (vs. 27.9 per cent), and 28.1 per cent of total public outlays (vs. 17.8 per cent).

As may be seen, American military expenditures have in fact declined quite drastically over the last decade except in terms of paper money. It is a curious reflection on the supposedly pervasive and skillful propaganda of the Pentagon that the vast majority of the public continue to believe that military expenditures have been steadily increasing, relative to everything. In particular, the myth that the defense budget accounts for three-quarters of the total federal budget and thus preempts all sorts of welfare programs shows an astonishing persistence.

Unlike liberals of all kinds, fiscal conservatives may object that the sharp decline in the proportion of defense expenditure to public outlays in general between 1964 and 1974 proves absolutely nothing, since, in their view, the last decade has seen an uncontrolled and ruinous growth in federal, state, and local expenditures which have cut deeply into the personal income left to the citizen. But if inflationary effects are eliminated, by measuring everything in constant 1958 prices, the per-capita figures show that defense expenditure has declined quite sharply from $245 in fiscal year 1961 to $202 planned for fiscal 1975; by contrast, during this period total private outlays per capita increased from $1,896 to $3,005. And fiscal year 1961 was of course both a pre-war year and the last year of the Eisenhower administration—i.e., before the supposedly ruinous increase in taxation and redistribution of the 1960's.

As a matter of fact, even these figures understate the real decline in the scale of the American military effort. The abolition of the draft has also imposed a sharp cut in the real resources devoted to defense. The compulsory service of hundreds of thousands of young men in the military represented a hidden tax of major proportions, and one which was strongly regressive, since the (able-bodied) poor were much more likely to be drafted than middle-class youth. The poor and their families were in effect forced to subsidize the defense budget by surrendering the prospect of higher earnings in the civilian economy for the nominal pay of compulsory military service. In the absence of the draft, the armed services have been forced to attract men who would previously have been compelled to serve, and the financial incentives to voluntary service have become a heavy burden on the defense budget: pay, allowances, and related costs have increased from 43.3 per cent of the total defense budget in fiscal year 1964 to 55.2 per cent in 1974. And of course this means that the real resources available to the defense establishment have declined proportionately by 11.9 per cent.

Many thoughtful observers are opposed to the very idea of an all-volunteer force. Some fear that it will make the military even more of a closed society, a body apart, increasingly remote from the values and ideas current in civil society, and perhaps even vulnerable to political exploitation. Others see the danger of a military coup in the United States as totally fanciful, but remain disturbed by the wider social implications of the all-volunteer force, for its enactment by Congress reflects the belief of the legislators that young Americans, unlike young Russians, or for that matter young Israelis, are no longer willing to serve their country, and if need be, fight for its ideals—or interests. But whether or not one favors an all-volunteer military establishment, one must recognize that its adoption has not entailed any increase in the cost of military manpower to society as a whole. The only difference is that the cost is fully borne by the taxpayer instead of being divided—most unfairly—between the taxpayer and those young men who happened to be drafted, and their families. For all practical purposes, the increase in manpower costs represents another net reduction in the defense budget.


Among those who are still pressing for further reductions in defense expenditure—a group which includes the heirs of McGovern in the Democratic party—there are two schools of thought. The first, more extreme but also more honest, advocates drastic reductions in the scale of American military power, eliminating the navy except for a force of small patrol boats to serve as an adjunct to the coast guard, reducing the army to two divisions with a corresponding tactical air force, and eliminating all strategic-nuclear forces except for a “minimum deterrent” of ten or so Polaris submarines. As a result, the defense budget would be reduced to a tenth or so of the present level, or even less. Those who support this policy are frank in recognizing its implications: they acknowledge that the United States would no longer be capable of guaranteeing or even contributing to the security of Europe or Japan, let alone Israel. If pressed, its advocates also admit that such a policy would in effect abandon the world to a Russian hegemony, if not actual conquest.

The second school of thought is altogether less honest. Its members call for drastic reductions in defense expenditure, typically of the order of 25-30 per cent, but they deny that this would entail any real reduction in military capability. Instead, the money is to be saved by eliminating “waste and inefficiency” in the Pentagon as well as “unnecessary” weapons and “useless” forces, especially strategic weapons and strategic forces.

No myth is seemingly more ineradicable than that of the strategic arms race. Hearing Henry Kissinger talk of his exploits in “capping the arms race” and “saving billions of dollars” on strategic-nuclear weapons, one would imagine that there has been such a “race,” and that it has caused “spiraling expenditures.” In fact, on the American side at any rate, the reverse has been true. According to the Pentagon's computations, the planned budget for all strategic forces (long-range B-52 bombers, Polaris/Poseidon submarines, land-based ICBM's, and six squadrons of air-defense fighters) would amount to $7.6 billion in fiscal year 1975; the figure for fiscal year 1964 was $8.5 billion, in much more valuable 1964 dollars. In other words, the strategic budget has declined very sharply in terms of real resources.

Much more revealing is the authoritative comparison by Blechman and his Brookings colleagues, which includes a variety of support and research costs in estimating the strategic slice of the budget: the figure for 1975 will reach $18.3 billion, as opposed to $29.7 billion for fiscal year 1964 computed at 1975 prices. For all the talk of spiraling defense costs, it can be seen that even in current dollars the reduction in expenditure has been substantial, while discounted for inflation it has been downright phenomenal—no less than $11.4 billion in 1975 dollars.

Indeed, there are some who argue that the decline in the strategic budget has been too great, and that it has allowed the Soviet Union to overtake the United States in the number of land-based strategic missiles (ICBM's), and lately in the number of submarine-borne missiles (SLBM's) also. In 1964, the United States had net numerical superiorities in both classes of weapons, with 834 ICBM's vs. 200 Russian, and 416 SLBM's vs. 120 Russian. As against this, while American ICBM and SLBM forces have remained static at their planned levels of 1,054 and 656 units (already reached in 1967) the Soviet Union now has more than 1,590 ICBM's and 750 SLBM's. Moreover, the Russian missiles are much larger, so that while the overall payload of U.S. strategic missiles amounts to roughly three million pounds, that of the Russian missile forces is 300 per cent greater at nine million pounds—this being the “throw-weight imbalance” of which so much has been said of late in conjunction with the SALT negotiations. (Senator Jackson, for example, has called for substantial reduction in the strategic forces of both sides, but a reduction which would equalize overall missile payloads.)

Many analysts, including the present writer, are disturbed by the medium-term implications of the growth in Russian strategic capabilities, which neither the SALT-1 accords nor the Vladivostock agreements have done anything to arrest. Detailed projections2 which avoid any sort of “worst-case estimate” show that within five years or so the Soviet Union is not only likely to widen the throw-weight gap still further, to reach four times the level of the American, but will also undoubtedly utilize its missile payloads much more effectively, through the introduction of multiple warheads. Together with a modest increase in accuracies, this would create a real gap in strategic capabilities. Even the Brookings estimates show the Russian missile forces as three times more powerful than the American in actual destructive capacity, while other estimates are a good deal more pessimistic.


Nevertheless, no serious analyst argues that the Russians have already achieved any kind of meaningful strategic superiority. For one thing, the Soviet Union has no real counterpart to the American strategic bomber force which, though much reduced (from 696 heavy B-52 bombers in 1964 to 396 planned for 1975), is still far superior to the Russian (140 much inferior aircraft). While U.S. heavy bombers are of a very old design—the first B-52's were operational in 1955—they have been repeatedly modernized, and are thought to be several times as effective as their Russian counterparts. Moreover, the American strategic missile force, though it has only one-third the overall payload of the Russian, remains much more effective at present, since almost two-thirds of U.S. missiles are equipped with very efficient multiple warheads, and they are also substantially more accurate.

What all this means is that the United States has remained ahead while actually decreasing its expenditure on strategic forces. This hardly suggests that there has been all that much “waste and inefficiency” in the strategic budget: in fact, since 1964 there has been a sharp increase in effective capabilities together with a decline in cost.

None of this will impress those who argue that all strategic forces other than the few weapons needed for simple deterrence are ipso facto useless and wasteful. If driven into a corner, they may concede that the Pentagon has managed to increase strategic capabilities while continuing to cut costs, but they will argue that strategic superiority is a meaningless concept, and that once the ability to strike back at an enemy with some nuclear warheads is assured, all additional forces are quite useless. Recently these voices found a powerful ally in no less a person than the Secretary of State, who was quoted as asking, “What in the name of God is strategic superiority? What do you do with it?”

According to this school of thought, the outcome of confrontations such as the Cuban missile crisis was solely due to the balance of naval power in the waters around Cuba, and had nothing to do with the strategic balance, which favored the United States by a very wide margin in those days. It was the military balance in place which made the difference, and not the fact that while the United States could have destroyed most of the Russian strategic force, the Soviet Union could not have destroyed the American. The argument seems plausible, but those who explain the outcome of the Cuban missile crisis and all other confrontations in terms of local military power alone have so far failed to explain why the Russians did not then prevail in the repeated crises over Berlin, where Russian superiority on the ground was at least as great as American naval superiority around Cuba.

In support of the contrary view, there is moreover the impressive testimony of Russian actions: following the Cuban missile crisis, an accelerating increase in Russian strategic deployments could be observed, an increase that did not level off until the “meaningless” superiority of American missile forces had been cancelled out. The Russian investment in strategic forces since 1964 has been enormous, certainly several times as great as that of the United States, and in the Soviet Union there is presumably no capitalist arms industry to foist “useless” weapons upon the military.

To be sure, one can construct all sorts of theories to explain why bureaucratic pressures in the Soviet Union should have led to exactly the same results as “military-industrial” pressures in the United States. But the wholesale denial of the utility of strategic power beyond that needed for simple deterrence is not convincing. The advocates of “minimum deterrence” claim that ten invulnerable missiles would suffice to deter a nuclear attack upon the United States, and this may even be so. But then no sane Russian (or, for that matter, Chinese) leader is likely to launch such an irrational attack anyway. The real utility of strategic power must be found in its political value, in guaranteeing the ultimate security of NATO Europe and other allies, formal or informal, against nuclear coercion, and in deterring a much wider range of hostile acts than a purposeless nuclear attack on American cities. And the latter is the only threat—and a remote and fanciful one to boot—that a minimum deterrent could possibly deter. To do more, one needs greater and more flexible forces so as to have a much wider range of options than a single fire button. One also needs men on the ground, ships at sea, and tactical aircraft, all known as “general-purpose” forces in Pentagonese.


In the official breakdown of the defense budget planned for fiscal year 1975 (since reduced by Congressional action), general-purpose forces accounted for $29.2 billion of the $92.6 billion total obligational authority, as opposed to only $7.6 billion for the strategic forces. This is to pay for all full-time (“active”) fighting forces that are not both nuclear and long-range—specifically air force, navy, and marine fighter, light-bomber, and reconnaissance “wings,” army and marine divisions, and navy carrier task-forces, escort ships, attack submarines, and amphibious assault ships—together with all their direct logistic support, headquarters, and so on.

Once again, a straight comparison which takes no account of inflation shows a startling trend: in spite of the end of direct American participation in the fighting in Indochina, general-purpose expenditures have hardly decreased at all since the peak year 1968. In that year, the general-purpose budget amounted to $30.4 billion, as opposed to the planned level of $29.2 billion in 1975. But once again, the deflated figures reveal a quite different picture. In the Brookings estimate, the 1975 budget for the general-purpose forces is $63.4 billion, while that for fiscal year 1968 was $92.3 billion in 1975 dollars, including the costs of the war in Indochina. This time, however, a net increase in expenditure has taken place, for without the incremental costs of the Indochina war, the general-purpose budget in 1975 dollars is estimated at $61.1 billion for 1968, with $58.1 billion for 1964 as compared to $63.4 billion in 1975.

The explanation is simple. Strategic weapons, for all their faults, are either unmanned or controlled by small crews; even maintenance is largely computer-controlled and heavily automated. But it still takes a complete human body to fire a rifle or even to clean one, four men to operate a tank, and three or four thousand to man an aircraft carrier. It is thus the general-purpose slice of the budget that has borne the major part of the increase in manpower costs.


In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, the army had 1,570,000 men on active duty; before the war, in 1964, it had 972,-000; but the planned level for 1975 is only 785,000. As a standard of comparison, the Soviet Union has 1,800,000 men in its ground forces (excluding air-defense troops). Even. more striking at first sight is the apparent difference in actual combat capability: while the Soviet Union has no fewer than 167 divisions, the United States has only 13 ?army divisions, and three separate brigades.

Over the years, critics have talked of bloated headquarter staffs, luxurious logistic echelons, and a swollen army bureaucracy, in contrast to the supposedly spartan Russian army, which can seemingly field almost twelve times as many divisions as the U.S. army with not much more than twice its manpower. A less superficial comparison reveals a rather different picture. First, it turns out that of the 167 divisions in the Russian army, only 50-60 are manned in full strength, the rest being either half-strength or “paper” units, with one-third or less of their theoretical manpower on board. Second, even on paper, Russian divisions are much smaller, with an establishment of 12,000 for the mechanized divisions, 9,500 men for the tank divisions, and 7,000 men for the air-borne divisions, as opposed to 16,300, 16,500, and 13,000 men respectively in their American counterparts. Moreover, while only 213,000 of the men of the U.S. army serve in divisions, this does not mean that the remaining 572,000 are all cooks, valets, typists, PX speculators, or officers relaxing in air-conditioned headquarters. Above the level of the division, there are “corps” and “army” echelons, with fighting and logistic troops assigned to each. In fact, the division slice amounts to roughly 40,000 men.

For practical purposes, the army share of the budget, planned at $23.6 billion out of a defense-wide total of $92.6 billion for fiscal year 1975, pays for 158 “maneuver” battalions of mechanized, airborne, tank, armored cavalry, and finally helicopter-mounted air-cavalry troops, supported by artillery forces, missile troops equipped with tactical nuclear weapons, anti-aircraft units, 10,000 helicopters, and 1,000 fixed-wing aircraft, as well as a variety of logistic units.

There is no doubt that many more men are used for supply and maintenance in the U.S. army than in the Russian. But this is not entirely due to the well-known proclivity of the U.S. army for hot food and iced beer in the field, as well as sauna baths and air-conditioned barracks. Part of the difference is due to the fact that while the Russian army is entirely deployed within the Soviet Union or in lands directly adjacent, the U.S. army must supply 190,000 men in Germany, another 4,400 men in a separate Berlin brigade, a small force in Italy, and 26,000 men half a world away, in South Korea, as well as two brigades in Hawaii. In spite of this, twelve additional battalions have recently been formed by thinning out logistic and support units.

Moreover, American equipment is more complex than the Russian, and therefore requires more men for its maintenance. Some of the added complexity is due to the national passion for advanced technology (a passion which, however, now shows distinct signs of waning even in the military), but the larger part is simply due to the fact that American equipment, being more advanced and more effective, is thus more difficult to maintain. The Russian army does not, for example, have anywhere near the 10,000 helicopters of the American, and except for the very latest stuff, much of its equipment remains rather crude. During the October war, the Russians supplied the Arabs with some of their best weaponry, and the Israelis captured a great deal of it, including more than 500 modern battle tanks (more than they lost and twice as many as the U.S. supplied during and just after the war). As always before, the Israelis found that Russian equipment was of “simple and rugged” design, cheap to build and easy to maintain. But they also found that it was often far too “rugged” for real effectiveness. Israeli tank crews who fought for days at a stretch in American M-60 tanks or British Centurions, discovered that the clumsy controls and cramped crew spaces of even the best Russian armor were utterly exhausting after a few hours, and that much essential equipment was simply absent. In fact, Russian vehicles seemed to have been designed for very muscular dwarfs who could somehow shoot accurately without proper range-finders.


None of this is to say that there is no waste and inefficiency in the army budget. Far from it. The army, more than the other services perhaps, has historically been subject to political pressures which among other things have forced it to maintain facilities at too many scattered locations, especially in the South and Southwest. A glance at a map of army posts would suggest, indeed, that it is still deployed to fight the Indians, rather than Russians et al. But every time attempts are made to close down obsolete arsenals or unnecessary bases dating from the Indian or Mexican wars, a coalition of local interests is instantly formed, and instantly represented in Congress; these coalitions have defeated the army reformers with great regularity, for their political clout always counts for much more than the feeble Congressional instinct for managerial efficiency.

An altogether greater cause of structural inefficiency is the existence of a separate marine corps, which has 196,000 men in three divisions as compared to the 785,000 men of the army. Marine-corps divisions have their own headquarters, uniforms, doctrine, training camps, equipment, and so on, and they come under the ultimate supervision of the navy, at least in theory. But though they do have special training, and some special equipment, for amphibious landings in the grand manner, the three marine divisions are essentially ground forces. In fact, the marine corps is a not-so-miniature independent military force with its own artillery, logistics, and even its own air force (comprising 550 combat aircraft). The men and the money going to the marines could certainly be used more efficiently, if they were distributed between the army and the air force respectively, adding substantially to both, and eliminating massive duplication built into the system. There is an excellent argument for preserving the special esprit de corps of the marines, and also their special skills in amphibious warfare, but both of these things could be done with a much smaller all-amphibious force: at present the marine corps alone has more men than the entire British army, and more aircraft than the entire British air force.

Bored defense analysts may amuse themselves in drawing up plans to “rationalize” the ground forces by abolishing the marines, but for the time being any such reform remains a political impossibility. It would also be illegal. Acts of Congress now force the Secretary of Defense to preserve an independent marine corps, and moreover specify that it is to have three active divisions. Always fearful of being absorbed into the army, the marines, strongly supported by their retired veterans, have built over the years a formidable political base in Congress, and also a legal wall around the corps, which guarantees its independent survival—and which restricts very severely the freedom of action of its nominal civilian masters, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy.

How much real military power is there in the 16⅓ ground-force divisions? Of this total, l⅓ infantry, two marine, one armored cavalry, one airborne, and one air-mobile divisions are held in the U.S. as a central reserve for worldwide use at short notice.3 The third marine division, in the Pacific, would also be available for ready intervention, but most of the remaining ground forces are either deployed in Europe or Korea, places where they are likely to be needed anyway in the event of major trouble, or else are kept in the U.S. but committed for reinforcement to Europe.

The ground forces of the strategic reserve would be amply sufficient to carry out an operation such as the Persian Gulf intervention of which there has been so much talk recently: two marine and the two air-deliverable divisions would suffice to seize and hold securely every asset of value in the western side of the Persian Gulf. But in order to guarantee the area against an Iraqi (or a Russo-Iraqi) counterattack, armor would be needed, at least one armored division, and possibly more. This would exhaust the strategic reserve for all practical purposes, and any additional troops would then have to be taken away from the forces earmarked to reinforce Germany: the thin margin thus creates a built-in incentive to the Soviet Union to start applying pressure in Europe in the event of any American deployment in the Middle East, whether in defense of Israel, or in the Persian Gulf. A fortiori, this same argument applies to any more serious commitment of forces.

Chronic reports of drunkenness, drug addiction, insubordination, and racial violence among U.S. army and marine troops have raised serious doubts as to their morale and battle-readiness. There is no doubt that all these problems exist, as they do in civil society, but experience, even in Vietnam, suggests that once the bullets start flying, American troops are invariably willing to fight. With their superior equipment in virtually all classes of weapons, with their highly developed mechanical aptitudes, and essentially sound training, the GI's need only good leadership and some knowledge that their efforts are not entirely futile to fight hard and well. The problem is not quality but quantity. The U.S. army is small and ought to be larger. It should not under any circumstances be reduced further, for otherwise even its qualitative edge will not suffice to equalize the balance.


Since 1968 the share of the navy in the total defense budget has increased steadily: in fiscal year 1974 it amounted to $27.6 billion, as opposed to $22.1 billion for the army, and $25.5 billion for the air force. Of late there has been a great deal of contradictory talk about the strength of the navy or the lack of it. Upon his retirement, the last Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Zumwalt, proclaimed that the U.S. navy had become inferior to the Russian; his successor, Admiral Holloway, promptly went on record with an opposite view. Actually it all depends on the time period one has in mind.

The U.S. navy emerged from World War II with a huge fleet and one that was very modern: in 1946 the average age of navy vessels was only five years. Aircraft have life-spans of ten years or so (though the B-52 bombers are approaching twenty), but ships are a good deal more durable and less vulnerable to obsolescence, for naval technology develops slowly. Thus, throughout the 50's and 60's, the navy remained with its wartime fleet, supplemented by some new aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and a few other modern ships.

By the late 1960's, the average age of U.S. war-ships had increased to eighteen years, and the navy was facing block obsolesence, as the vessels built in between Pearl Harbor and VE-Day became too old to be usefully modernized yet again. At the same time, the Russian navy, built around anti-ship missiles instead of the American combination of aircraft carriers and guns, was presenting an increasingly serious threat. And while old warships were decreasingly effective, their maintenance costs were rising steadily.

In an uncharacteristically bold move, the decision was therefore made to scrap a great many ships, accept a drastic decline in the size of the fleet, and use the money thus saved to build as many new ships as possible so as to modernize the fleet in one forward leap. The result of this policy was that between 1968 and the end of fiscal year 1975, the number of navy ships will have decreased abruptly, from 976 to 508. The latter, however, will mostly be modern ships. In the meantime, the Russian navy has been growing in size as well as quality and now includes 221 “major” warships as opposed to 177 for the United States, though the tonnage and overall quality of American vessels are much higher.

The Russian navy is now in the process of deploying two new classes of missile warships, the Kara cruiser and the Krivak destroyer. Modern analytical methods have not made much progress in the naval field, and these warships, very fast, of sleek design, and “bristling with weapons,” have received extravagant praise, not least from Admiral Zumwalt who described the Krivak as “ton per ton the most effective warship afloat.” But in reality it seems that Russian navy planners have made an error of catastrophic proportions, and given the ten-year lag between design and construction, this is an error that will continue to perpetuate itself for another decade at least. Not that the Russians have been incompetent or backward. It is merely that the unpredictable evolution of military technology has played a cruel trick on the Russians, the pioneers in the design of missile warships.

What happened is that the Russian warships reflect in their design the advanced technology of the anti-ship missile, but not the still more advanced and indeed revolutionary electronic warfare technology for missile defense. In essence, this technology, together with good training, allows ships which are attacked by surface missiles to dodge or intercept quite a few of them; a well-equipped ship with a well-trained crew can still be destroyed, but its electronic defenses and anti-missile weapons must first be saturated by multiple missile firings. During the October war, the Israelis sank thirteen Russian-built missile boats in Syrian and Egyptian hands without suffering a single loss of their own. The small Arab boats fired at least 50 Styx missiles at Israeli missile boats; in November 1967 a pair of Styx missiles had sufficed to sink the Elath, one of the two largest warships in the Israeli navy. But in the 1973 sea battles, owing to good training, skillful maneuver, and various jamming devices, the Israelis did not suffer a single hit. And when the Arab boats had fired all their missiles, the Israelis went over to the attack, sinking them with impunity with both guns and missiles. Now the missiles on board modern Russian warships are far superior to the old Styx missiles given to the Arabs, but the Kara, Krivak, and Kresta missile ships all have one thing in common with the small missile boats of the Arabs: they carry only a small number of missiles, five or ten per warship, and have absolutely no room for reloads.

By contrast, the new Spruance-class destroyers of the U.S. navy, of which thirty are to be built, can carry more than eighty missiles of all types, including any proportion of the new U.S.-made Harpoon anti-ship missile. What this means is that in the event of combat with the American navy, the Russians are apt to repeat the unhappy experience of the Arabs at the hands of the Israelis: for once the Russian warships fire off their five or ten missiles apiece, not enough to saturate the electronic, missile, and gun defenses of a comparable number of modern U.S. warships, they would still be confronted with Spruance destroyers each capable of firing dozens of missiles at the rate of four every three or four seconds. No prudent Russian navy planner can envisage the future naval balance with any optimism, at least as far as surface warfare is concerned.


A side from the surface fleet, whose size is now reaching its low point, but whose quality will improve sharply in the near future—if there is reasonable funding (and the cuts made to the 1975 shipbuilding budget were quite drastic)—the navy maintains two types of forces which are so different in outlook and doctrine that they virtually constitute separate services.

First, there is the large and still growing force of nuclear-powered attack submarines, 61 of them at present and building toward 90. The Soviet Union has 70 such submarines and it is likely to maintain or increase its numerical edge in the future also. Moreover, the Russians, unlike the Americans, have not lost faith in diesel submarines and continue to build them: some 175 are in service, including 25 armed with anti-ship missiles.

Quite aside from the dictatorship of Admiral Hyman Rickover and his total opposition to anything afloat that is not nuclear-powered, there is logic in the different composition of the two submarine fleets. The Russian submarine fleet is designed to be used against both warships and merchant ships, since in the (unlikely) event of a prolonged struggle in Europe, the North Atlantic shipping lanes would be as essential in the future as they were in two world wars. As against this, the Soviet Union would remain unaffected by attacks on its merchant shipping, and so the only targets that matter for the U.S. submarine fleet are enemy warships, and especially Russian submarines. And while diesel boats could still be very usefully employed in sinking merchant ships and especially oil tankers, their margin of survival in attacks against warships would be far too narrow.

At present, it is planned to build five new attack submarines, all nuclear, every two years; soon the oldest types built in the 1950's will begin to approach retirement age, and this is just about the minimum level of construction that can be tolerated if the strength of the submarine fleet is to be maintained. It is possible, however, that a rather smaller and cheaper type of submarine could be built than the present Los Angeles class, which are very large (6,900 tons) and very fast, but which also cost more than $150 million each.

The centerpiece of the U.S. navy remains the carrier force; reduced from 24 ships in 1964 to 15 at present, the force will decline further, to 12 units by 1980, even if Congress funds all present programs. The carriers are all very large, and very expensive: the nuclear-powered Nimitz, which is to join the fleet in 1975, will have cost $1 billion. With 80-90 aircraft on board each, the pair of aircraft carriers on station in the Mediterranean provide the powerful and long-reaching arm of the Sixth Fleet. In the event of a major emergency, it is the aircraft of the Sixth Fleet, roughly equivalent to one-third of the Israeli air force, which would provide the most capable force of ready intervention. Three more carriers of the Seventh Fleet are available in the western Pacific at any one time, with the remaining ten carriers in maintenance, modernization, or training. Of these, however, at least five would normally be available at very short notice to reinforce the Sixth or Seventh Fleets.

Once the carrier force declines to 12 units, however, normal deployments are liable to go down to two carriers in each forward fleet, with another four normally available at short notice. (Homeporting in Greece and Japan was intended to increase the ratio of forward-deployed carriers by cutting out the cruise periods.)

The great problem of the aircraft carrier is vulnerability. Powerful though a live carrier may be—a single carrier could destroy every enemy warship within a range of hundreds of miles in a matter of hours—there is no doubt that in the event of a nuclear war, where carriers could be attacked by nuclear missiles and torpedoes, they would have slim chances of survival. It is true that the whole purpose of the carrier task forces is to deter—and, if need be, fight—limited wars such as those that might be entailed by an intervention in the Middle East to break the oil cartel, or to bail out Israel. But serious analysts are beginning to question whether carriers could survive even non-nuclear attack by the Russian navy.

In essence, the danger derives from the very effectiveness of the carriers. Knowing that none of their warships could survive for more than an hour or two within range of the carriers, Russian fleet commanders are likely to commit every available submarine, bomber, and missile ship to attacking them. Moreover, they are likely to do everything in their power to obtain permission to launch a surprise attack, for given any warning at all, the strike aircraft of the carriers are liable to destroy the opposition first.

It is primarily to meet the threat of missile attack that the very advanced and very expensive F-14 fighters are being procured by the navy. On present plans, 16 squadrons are to be equipped with the F-14 for a total cost of $8 billion; even this will not be enough to replace all the F-4 Phantom navy fighters now in service: 24 squadrons of F-14's for fleet defense (two per carrier in 1980) would cost roughly $12 billion at 1975 prices, including stocks of the extraordinarily effective and expensive Phoenix missile.


The total air-force budget, which, like that of the navy, includes strategic weapons (heavy bombers and ICBM's) as well as tactical ones, has declined sharply in real terms since fiscal year 1968, the peak Indochina war year. In 1974, the budget stood at $25.5 billion as opposed to $22.1 billion for the army and $27.6 billion for the navy. For this money, the air force bought the services of 645,000 men, to operate roughly 5,000 combat aircraft (excluding some 1,100 strategic bombers and tankers as well as the home air-defense fighters). These men and these aircraft are more widely distributed than any other U.S. military force, with fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons in Britain, Spain, West Germany, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Philippines, and Taiwan, as well as Alaska and Iceland, all backed up by the Tactical Air Command in the continental United States which serves as the training base and general reserve.

Owing to the undoubted futility of much bombing and strafing in Indochina, the value of tactical air power has been questioned by many. Apart from those whose position is simply uninformed or purely emotional, there are a good many cold-blooded analysts who point to the limitations of tactical air power in World War II, Korea, and lately in the Middle East, where the densest anti-aircraft networks in the world undoubtedly undermined the combat value of the Israeli air force.

In particular, it is frequently argued that deep-penetration “interdiction” missions (for which the larger and more expensive fighter-bombers are built) have proved rather ineffectual in the past, unlike “close-support” missions, where fighter-bombers are called down by troops on the ground to attack the enemy directly in front of them. In fact, by 1969 this view had become the common wisdom. It was obviously a waste of time to try to “choke off” supply routes into South Vietnam by bombing jungle trails, and by extension it has been argued that it would be equally futile to try to interdict a Russian attack on Europe by attacking the supply system, the railway network in Eastern Europe and the Western USSR. Railway lines are surprisingly hard to destroy and destroyed tracks can be quickly repaired, or evaded by rerouting.


But then a series of unrelated technological breakthroughs upset the theories of these analysts. The introduction of laser-homing and television-guided bombs and missiles suddenly increased the accuracy of delivery by a spectacular 1000 per cent or more. As the last bout of post-election and pre-Christmas Vietnam bombing showed in 1972, “interdiction” strikes against bridges, power-stations, storage dumps, and indeed any target that was at all worth hitting had radically changed in nature. Instead of scattering bombs all over the place, missing the target much more often than not, and having to return many times to hit it again, exposing the aircraft to ground fire each time, fighter-bombers were suddenly performing as they had always done in the movies: one mission flown, one or two bombs dropped, and the target destroyed with pinpoint accuracy.

In October 1973 the Israelis did not initially have “smart bombs.” In essence, the first stages of the war featured a pre-Vietnam Israeli air force fighting it out against post-Vietnam Russian air defenses. Israeli losses to ground fire were not heavy (99 aircraft for 7,272 sorties), but the results were poor: pilots dodging a hail of shells and missiles could not fly slow and easy as they did in 1967 to make precision attacks. The situation changed dramatically when the smart bombs were finally released to the Israelis. Pilots with virtually no prior training and with improvised support gear scored phenomenal 95 per-cent kills with the Walleye TV bomb, 85 per-cent with the Maverick missile, and 75 per-cent with laser-guided bombs. In fact, the Maverick emerged as an absolutely lethal tank killer; some Israelis complained that it was too effective: Arab tanks hit by these missiles could no longer be repaired for Israeli use.

Not even the professionals, let alone the public or Congressional would-be experts, have yet come to terms with the revolutionary change that these precision-guided weapons have introduced. It is already quite clear, however, that there has been a neat reversal in the value of the two kinds of tactical strike missions: “interdiction,” where aircraft are sent to bomb targets of value and can therefore use smart bombs (which are not cheap) has suddenly become a much more promising mission than close support, where scattered troops on the ground do not offer scope for pinpoint attacks.

Incidentally, it is quite certain that the introduction of smart bombs has shifted the entire military balance in favor of Israel, for while Arab air defenses may improve further, it will take many years for Russian weapon designers and Arab anti-aircraft troops to catch up to the sudden leap in the effectiveness of strike aircraft. In Europe, where the USAF deploys some 400 F-4's and 72 swing-wing F-111's, it is not yet clear what the effect of this technological change on the military balance might be. For unlike the Middle East—where Arab aircraft cannot survive in air combat long enough to use any type of bomb, whether smart or not—in Europe both sides will have precision weapons sooner or later, and the new technology need not favor the defense.

The air force is also responsible for the so-called mobility forces, with 79 C-5 and 275 C-141 long-range aircraft (which featured in the 1973 airlift to Israel) and 325 C-130E shorter-range transports. Once the political hesitations were overcome, the U.S. airlift, masterminded by air-force commander-in-chief General Brown, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and repentant amateur sociologist, was outstandingly efficient: 22,395 short tons of equipment were flown to Israel in 566 missions; as against this, the Russians flew 930 missions in their airlift but carried only 15,000 tons, even though the average distance they had to fly was not much more than one-fourth of that flown by U.S. aircraft. The C-5's made much of the difference: they flew more than 10,000 short tons in only 145 sorties; the 79 aircraft in the force could have flown many more flights, had they been needed.

During the October airlift, U.S. transports landed at the Azores airfield, leased from the Portuguese. But that was in the bad old days of the dictatorship, and now there is a much more progressive regime in Lisbon but one which is also more easily purchaseable by Arab oil money. In order to reduce the dependence on the goodwill of the Portuguese, and indeed of anybody else—for it seems that all can be bought or intimidated nowadays—the Defense Department plans to spend $450 million (if Congress will allow it) to provide the C-141's with in-flight refuelling gear, which the C-5's already have.


In the “functional breakdown” of the defense budget (as opposed to the service-by-service breakdown), research and development accounted for just over $7 billion in fiscal year 1974 out of the total obligational authority figure of $87.1 billion for the defense budget as a whole. As we have seen, it is the technological edge, the product of the research and development of past years, that in so many different areas compensates for U.S. numerical inferiorities, and also for those of the Israelis (and other U.S.-supplied allies). And yet it is precisely against these $7 billion ($8.4 billion was requested for 1975) that much of the permanent offensive of the liberal budget-cutters is directed.

Their particular targets are the large, expensive, and highly visible weapons programs such as the ABM and C-5 in the past, and now the B-l bomber, Trident missile submarine, F-14 navy fighter, and F-15 USAF fighter. In fact, these are the programs that everyone seems to want to cut in the various “alternative budgets” that feature in the “position papers” of the anti-defense lobby. A great deal can be said for and against these large-weapon programs, and this writer for one has seen very persuasive cases being made by thoughtful analysts against the B-1 bomber and Trident submarine, both to be leading strategic weapons in the 1980's and beyond. Yet the alternatives, though cheaper, are not that much cheaper (perhaps 20 per cent).

As for the F-14 and F-15, described as usual as “useless multi-billion-dollar programs,” these are supposed to take over the missions now being carried out by the Phantom, an excellent aircraft but one which was designed in the 1950's and is beginning to show it. During the October war Israeli pilots shot down at least 50 Arab aircraft for every loss of their own in air combat. Pilot quality had much to do with this result, but it also reflected the mechanical superiority of U.S. Phantoms (and Israeli-converted Mirages). Now that the Arabs are acquiring a new generation of Russian aircraft, including the MiG-23 which is faster than the Phantom, and no less maneuverable, the Israelis, like the USAF, need new and better aircraft to retain a qualitative edge. Both the F-14 and F-15 aircraft are very expensive indeed—partly because of small production runs—but one has yet to see realistic alternatives being presented. Instead the critics glibly assert that the Phantom can be made to serve into the 1980's. Lighter and cheaper fighters, as well as older Phantoms, may usefully supplement a core of modern and sophisticated aircraft, but they cannot do the job alone.


Observers of the guerrilla warfare that goes on in and around Congress at appropriations time are familiar with the contradictory stances that the process imposes on both sides, a contradiction particularly acute when debate centers on the research-and-development slice of the budget. The armchair strategists who press for budget cuts insist before one committee that the U.S. need not worry about Russian (and Chinese and . . .) numerical superiorities since American forces retain a sharp qualitative edge. At the same time, the Pentagon's spokesmen stress the numerical differences and discount the qualitative edge in asking for money to maintain the strength of the baseline army, navy, and air force. Both then turn around and appear before the subcommittees on research and development, the budget-cutters to deny the need for more expenditure to retain the very qualitative edge that they cited to even the balance, and the Pentagon's spokesmen to argue the opposite case.

The blatant dishonesty of both sides has long since made cynics of all participants, but there is no doubt who is ahead in the “balance of dishonesty” and there is no doubt who has been winning: in spite of the vast increase in Russian strategic-nuclear forces and military budgets, and in spite of the 1973 Middle East war, U.S. defense outlays are now roughly 20 per cent below the figure of 1964, taking into account the hidden manpower deduction. And U.S. military manpower has declined by a fifth—from 2,685,000 men in 1964 to 2,152,000 planned for in 1975. It may be argued that all this simply reflects the detente and so on, but it should be noted that over the same period, according to the most conservative calculations,4 Russian defense expenditure has increased by almost 40 per cent, while Russian military manpower has not been reduced, but rather increased by 125,000 men.

If these trends continue much further, the ability of the United States to deter Russian activism overseas, to preserve the global political balance, and thus incidentally give Israel a fighting chance, will undoubtedly come into question. The many worthy liberal intellectuals whose names decorate the personality and staff lists of the Council for a Livable World, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, the Coalition for New Priorities, the Arms Control Association, the Center of Defense Information, the Federation of American Scientists, and other anti-defense lobbies are all entitled to their views. It is perfectly legitimate for Jews and non-Jews alike to advocate further reductions in American military power, and the general activism of the United States overseas, or indeed to call for an elimination of both. Others are perfectly entitled to hold the opposite view. But all must accept that any drastic reduction in the American defense budget will weaken deterrence and will also make it increasingly difficult for the United States to supply Israel with the tools it needs for its own defense.



1 Setting National Priorities, The 1975 Budget, by Barry M. Blechman, Edward M. Gramlich, and Robert W. Hartman, The Brookings Institution, 269 pp., $2.95 (paper) . The defense budget can be looked at in three different ways, with the total obligational authority divided either by the type of input—i.e., military personnel, retired personnel, operation and maintenance procurement, and so on; by the type of activity—i.e., strategic, general-purpose, intelligence and communications, and so on; or by department, i.e., army, navy, air force, defense agencies, defense-wide, civil defense, and military assistance. The Brookings Institution study allocates the entire budget to the ultimate deployed forces, with a three-way split of all outlays among general purpose, strategic-nuclear, and strategic mobility (i.e., airlift) forces.

2 See, for example, the present writer's The U.S.—USSR Nuclear Weapons Balance, Sage, 1974.

3 Given time, 8 divisions and 24 separate brigades or regiments could be manned by 620,000 combat echelon reservists.

4 Military Balance 1973-74, International Institute for Strategic Studies, p. 80. Other estimates are as much as 80 per cent higher.


About the Author

Edward N. Luttwak is senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

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