Lots on the Virginia Defense Chopping Block

By Peter Galuszka

Barack Obama’s nearly $500 billion in budget cuts are certain to impact Virginia.

It’s only fair, of course, that if Obama is going to join the chorus of (largely Republican and often hysterical) budget cutters, then the military should be included. After all, we haven’t even begun paying yet for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even if the former was unnecessary and disastrous. Everything else, aid to the poor, education, medical care, is on  the block.

Most of the cuts appear to be aimed at the Army and Marine Corps, which did most of the fighting in South Asia. Perhaps that makes sense since there’s no similar war on terrorism on the horizon, not that one might be easily foreseen.

But there are some major, big ticket items whose value might be questionable. None is used directly by the Marines or Army and
some have a major footprint in Virginia.

Topping the list is large, nuclear-powered warships. These, of course, are made at Newport News shipbuilding, which is the only yard in the country capable of making nuclear-powered surface warships. It makes its fair share of submarines, too.

The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, now under construction at Newport News, costs about $13.5 billion. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can carry about 100 aircraft and is due in service in 2015. It has created thousands of jobs in the Tidewater area, but it has some question marks.

For projecting power, there’s nothing better. The aircraft carrier came into its own in World War II, replacing the battleship as the fleet’s most important surface vessel. For a half a century aircraft carriers have  been the most visible part of the Navy, although nuclear-powered submarines have much more stealth firepower.

During the most recent wars, the limits of aircraft carriers became evident. Its short-range aircraft were hard-pressed to sustain strikes within land-locked Afghanistan unless the Navy could organize complicated aerial refueling.

The most likely enemy of the future is China, and maybe Iran. The Chinese have been experimenting with a new ballistic missile whose major task is to explode on the crowded, munitions filled decks of American aircraft carriers. The missiles could hit targets 2,000 miles away. That would keep Navy strike aircraft about at the limits of their range.

Another big ticket item is the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, a sleek-looking stealth jet fighter. Langley Air Force Base, has a number of F-22s which are designed as interceptors. Unfortunately, they were planned to counter advanced Soviet jet fighters and are somehow jobless since the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. They proved useless in fighting Saddam’s forces in Iraq or the cave-dwelling Taliban in Afghanistan. They cost
$150 million a plane.

That’s also the approximate price tag for the F-35, a new jet fighter that is capable of hovering and taking off vertically. It had been planned for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, but faces cuts as planners wonder if updated but older model  F-15s, F-16s or F-18s can continue doing the job just as effectively.  The F-35 already has been a pork barrel item since Virginia politicians lead by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wanted Rolls Royce to be the second maker of its engines. Rolls’ American operations are based in Virginia, which explains Cantor’s pork. The Pentagon was perfectly happy with a sole engine supplier (not Rolls). Now, a lot fewer F-35s may be built which will impact both Langley and Oceana Naval Air Station. Meanwhile, unmanned drones are coming into their own as powerful and much cheaper alternatives to traditional military aircraft.

It isn’t clear whether the many high tech, military software firms in Northern Virginia will be cut back. Apparently, Navy SEALs based at Little Creek and Dam Neck will be boosted given Obama’s plan to keep a
keen counter-terrorism force. SEAL teams, however, are few in number and don’t use many resources. Their impact on the Virginia economy is probably limited to bar tabs during Happy Hour on Shore Drive.

In any event, defense will be cut and Virginia is going to feel the pain.

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3 responses to “Lots on the Virginia Defense Chopping Block”

  1. GEEZE – we’re talking about 50 billion a year out of a 700 billion annual budget that is really not the total amount we spend for national defense anyhow.

    We spend about 1.3 trillion a year all told on “national defense” and Obama is talking about cutting 50 billion a year.

    that’s not going to come even close to whittling down a 1.5 trillion annual deficit.

    that cuts will take us from 1.5 trillion to 1.45 trillion…

    who is REALLY SERIOUS about dealing with the 1.5 Trillion annual deficit that is adding 1.5 trillion to the currently 15 trillion debt that next year will be 16.5 trillion and the year after than 18 trillion, then 20 trillion, etc.?

    we are in deep doo doo and headed for disaster if we do not take this deficit more seriously.

  2. DJRippert Avatar


    Good article. Instead of burying your head in the sand and pretending that Virginia’s contributions to the US military will somehow be exempt from the cuts, you acknowledge reality. LarryG’s commentary is more of “the next shoe to drop”. He is right that these cuts are insufficient to fix the problem. In my mind, that means more cuts to come. And more bad news for Virginia.

    All of which brings us to the key question … what should Virginia do about this?

  3. I’m beside myself. We have world-class “churn” going on in our political system and our primary activities are blaming each other as the damn ship is sinking…..

    we refuse to deal with the simple realities that we are spending 1.5 trillion more than we are paying for and we refuse to even accept the realities of what we’d have to cut to reverse this disaster.

    Over and over, we say that the problem is our entitlements. But we could zero-fund the entitlements and STILL be a trillion in the hole.

    Bring this up to the folks who say we spend too much and must cut – and most of them simply refuse to deal with the numbers. They instead play see no evil, hear no evil, etc…. ” don’t try to confuse me with the facts”…

    these are the folks who represent us. these are the folks who say we have a “spending” problem.

    so we have folks who claim to be fiscal conservatives who refuse to deal with fiscal realities and instead prefer to play the blame game while the country is going down in fiscal flames.

    and they have Obama so flummoxed that he dare not ask for more than 50 billion in cuts from DOD…. a whole 500 billion over 10 years when in that same 10 years – we will easily spend 10 Trillion dollars on DOD.

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