Too often in the past, the Pentagon has seemed like an out-of-control shopper - trying to buy everything in the military hardware store. This has led to waste, abuses by defense contractors, weapons that don't work, pie in the sky projects and costs that have soared out of sight.
It's therefore a relief to see Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney propose $10 billion worth of cuts in the Pentagon budget, cuts that make sense without jeopardizing the nation's essential security.Cheney's proposals include lopping $1 billion from the $5.6 billion 1990 budget for the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as Star Wars. This postpones any questions of deployment, yet leaves enough funding for a large research program.
Almost $4.1 billion would be taken from fiscal 1990 and 1991 budgets for the B-2 Stealth bomber, the radar-evading plane. Production would be pushed back a year to 1993. At $500 million per plane, it is the most expensive aircraft in history.
The Midgetman, a single warhead nuclear missile small enough to be mounted and fired from a truck launcher, would be held to $100 million, despite a decision by the Bush administration to go ahead with the project as well as the rail-based MX missile program.
The proposed V-22 Osprey, a Marine battlefield aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane, would be dropped for a savings of $1.3 billion in 1990. Eliminating this project may draw the most opposition in Congress.
Other savings would come from reducing the 2.1 million people in uniform by 16,800 and by slashing spending for a high-speed transport plane that could fly around the world in just hours.
Each of these projects has its backers and critics in Congress, but despite some concerns by various lawmakers, there appears to be bipartisan support to accept the Cheney proposals as a package deal.
The proposed cuts are significant because Cheney is an acknowledged hawk. Reducing the Pentagon budget by $10 billion must have been difficult for him. But it is an example that ought to be followed by others who are reluctant to drop a pet project or cut spending on a favorite program.
Getting rid of federal budget deficits is absolutely necessary and it won't be an easy task. Everybody should share in the pain. And one fact must to be faced: Future cuts in spending will have to be bigger and carry more consequences than Cheney's choices this time around.