Bush's View: America Must Lead against New Generation of Threats

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In this exclusive commentary to Military.com, the Republican presidential candidate makes the case for greater investment and reform in defense to address new threats to national security.

America is once again called to lead the world against a new generation of threats. When we call on our warfighters, we must make certain they have the tools equal to the task. From the terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris and the carnage in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, to the invasion and occupation of Ukraine, to the growing Taliban and ISIS threat to Afghanistan's fragile stability, to aggression in vital waterways like the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf, the tenuous peace we have worked so hard to secure around the world is slipping into chaos.

The peaceful international order America helped create at the end World War II, which endured despite Cold War tensions, was built on the foundation of a powerful American military, strong enough that no country dared test it.

Today, in the wake of President Obama's devastating defense cuts, that military is atrophying. Longer deployments, equipment in disrepair, and too many missions done with too few resources are symptoms of an Armed Forces that needs a healthy injection of support. Our military needs more funding -- no one can deny that -- but we cannot and must not simply throw money at the problem.

The Pentagon has grown thick with inefficiency and waste. The number of managers and administrators skyrocketed, even as the number of uniformed military personnel dropped. The time needed to design and field a new airplane has gone from a few months during World War II, to a few years during the Cold War, to several decades today.

Large weapons programs have frequently been canceled, many of them "5 yards from the goal line." After billions were spent in research and development costs, programs like the Comanche Helicopter, the Army Future Combat Systems, and the Joint Tactical Radio System were deemed too costly without ever having been deployed.

This is partly due to an unfettered passion for adding new military requirements. A "requirement" is a list of something that a new weapon must be able to do. Requirements for a new jet, for example, would list performance criteria like "fly at Mach 2" or "carry 20,000lbs of ordnance." The lists were once simple. Today, as part of an unhealthy habit called "gold plating," they have grown out of control. A request for a new service pistol, for example, recently came in at 350 pages.  If the requirements for something as simple as a handgun clock in at longer than a Tom Clancy novel, imagine the list for a new nuclear missile submarine.

Further, the way that the Pentagon allocates money is irrational. A study found that the Defense Department's logistics agency over-purchased equipment to the astounding tune of $7 billion dollars. One former Air Force officer told me that his squadron leadership would go on annual shopping sprees ahead of each fiscal year. Annual unit budgets were based on the prior year's spending, so the onus was on commanders to spend the same or more money each year. Otherwise, they'd face a budget cut. Flat screen TVs, this officer told me, were an easy way to get squadron spending up. Brand new televisions would often replace sets purchased just 11 months earlier.

The Pentagon is long overdue for reform, and we have a moral obligation to fix it. That's because the loser here isn't just the taxpayer. It's the soldiers with rifles in their hands and sand under their boots. Money needs to be spent intelligently and directed to our troops, who should never find themselves in desperate need of equipment that never made it to the front lines.

Last month, I introduced my plan to reform the Pentagon and its wayward spending practices. It calls for fewer civilian bureaucrats to free up resources for more uniformed military personnel -- including 40,000 new soldiers and 4,000 new Marines. It mandates reductions in overhead and administrative costs. It requires greater competition for new programs, because competition is a proven tool that keeps costs down.

The plan would change the way we purchase equipment. It mandates a reduction in requirements for new equipment. Buying and flying a new jet, for example, shouldn't take more than 5-6 years. Upgrades can and should be made, but these can come after new equipment is already in service.

Senator John McCain and Congressman Mac Thornberry, chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, have devoted serious study to these problems and should be commended for their work. That, perhaps, is the most important part of my plan. Recognizing the expertise and role of Congress, and working closely with leaders there, is the only way a new president can fix this mess. Come January 2017, I intend to do precisely that.

Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is a Republican candidate for president.

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