As the Department of Defense prepares to move from an expeditionary force at war to a garrison force preparing for the next war, it is proposing a budget that could have significant impacts in both the near term and long term in Idaho.
The most immediate effect will, of course, be the proposed loss of the Idaho Air National Guard's A-10 squadron and the Army National Guard's attack helicopter squadron. That's a lot of jobs that could disappear, and a lot of combat firepower, but across the country the National Guard took it in the neck from the active-duty generals who drew up the budget. In the past, the Pentagon has tried to kill the A-10s before, but we always seemed to have a war pop up and those "flying tanks" turned out to be really, really valuable for close air support missions.
But the A-10s, which have survived years of combat against the Taliban, are likely to be shot down by our own politicians as DoD and Congress face a perfect storm of budget constraints.
First, we're finally winding down the longest period of continuous warfare against a single opponent in our nation's history. The nation is war weary and, unless attacked directly, is not likely to be supportive of any new foreign adventures. So everyone in Congress is scrambling for a chunk of the "peace dividend" that comes with a cessation of hostilities.
Second, the Pentagon is trying to move into a next generation of weapon systems before the rest of the world catches up with what we've got right now. That's expensive. Very expensive. And every service has its pet project. The Army wants a new IFV. The Navy wants a new carrier task force and some of the new Zumwalt class stealth destroyers. The Air Force wants 2,500 F-35s at an estimated $159 million per copy.
To pay for those new systems, and other next-generation upgrades of our high-tech military, DoD intends to cut troops. Hundreds of thousands will be dumped into an economy that can't find jobs for the millions already looking for work. The Army, for example, will drop to a level not seen since early 1940, before the start of WWII. The Air Force, Navy and Marines will also be trimmed of manpower.
In the long term, DoD is demanding another BRACC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission). Every base in the country has excess capacity. Every base has an argument for why it should absorb the forces from some other base. That's the danger, locally, and while some states and cities have already geared up their PR campaigns to save their facilities, Idaho has not. Plus, DoD is being smart. They want the BRACC approved now, but not to have it kick in until 2017 -- after this year's election and the following presidential election.
That's far enough down the road that people will forget who voted for what and the truth is, with a military force as small as we're going to wind up with, we simply can't justify keeping every base in the country open. Just ours.
So a BRACC will happen, eventually, whether it's in this budget or another in the near future. But we need to start fighting, now, however, for our base, with better organization and money for a major PR/lobbying effort from the state (because the city doesn't have the money to do that).
With this budget you can count on the fact that regardless of what DoD and the administration want, there's going to be an awful lot of "not in my district" opposition. So, a bunch of the cuts being proposed won't go through in the end, but the A-10 and cuts in the guard seem more likely than say, reducing the F-35 buy.
Still, the radical left wing will love this because, well, it's the military and they don't like the military very much in general, and the radical right wing will love this because it cuts the budget (which is their primary goal, no matter what that actually means) and pushes us toward the "no foreign entanglements" foreign policy position they want because we won't have the ability to do more than fight one regional war.
Only the moderates of both parties today are supportive of the military and there may not be enough of them to prevent a lot of this budget going through.
In the end, a lot of states will be fighting for their share of the military to stay, and while Idaho has a strong delegation in Congress, it doesn't have a large one. So any threats to Idaho facilities become very real. That's why we have to start building the political infrastructure to fight this now, and even then, we're already behind the curve.
Gowen Field is in the crosshairs. Mountain Home could wind up there. Both are vital components of our Idaho economy and our nation's military strength.
But this is what peace looks like.
Sometimes, it's no prettier than war.
-- Kelly Everitt