Published December 1975 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Defense: More Dollars Buy Less The U.S. Defense budget for the current fiscal year is about $90 billion; and, since that is more than twice the $43 billion spent for defense in 1960, a number of critics have been pushing for massive cuts. development, and production of military equipment. New men and women can be recruited and trained in a relatively short period. But shortcomings in military hardware cannot be so easily overcome. But the dollar figure is far from the be-all and end-all to the story of military spending. In fact, an examination of what kind of defense America is actually getting for the $90 billion shows that any additional, large-scale reductions could pose a threat to our national security. For instance, 59 percent of the 1960 defense budget went for military equipment, while only 41 percent went for personnel. Because of increases in pay and retirement benefits, 55 percent of the current defense budget is used for personnel costs, while just 45 percent goes for military hardware. And there rrre about 500,000 fewer servicemen today than the 2.5 million Americans who were in uniform in 1960. The Pentagon estimates that our armed forces are about 14,000 men below strength, and adds that budget cutbacks have resulted in shortening the traditional training period for new recruits. Even seasoned servicemen-such as pilots who need periodic re-training-are feeling the crunch. Still, personnel reductions do not pose as serious a long-range threat to our national security as do cutbacks in the research, development, and production of military equipment. New men and women can be recruited and trained a relatively short period. But shortcomings in military hardware cannot be so easily overcome. The ship strength of the U.S. Navy will decrease from 502 to 491 by July of 1976, and the U.S. Air Force and naval air units will also be operating with 100 fewer planes by the middle of this year. Additional slow-downs and outright curtailments are planned for a number of research programs which the Pentagon considers essential. The fact is that the $90 billion in the current defense budget buys 10 percent less in goods and services than the $43 billion in 1960: and at least one analysis claims that defense spending now has "the least impact on the American economy in a quarter century" -accounting for just six percent of total government outlays, compared with nine percent in 1960. I have never believed that the defense budget was sacrosanct, and I have supported reductions when I felt they could be made without jeopardizing our national security. But it is important for all of us to keep military spending in proper perspective. In our justified desire to reduce government spending, we must make certain that our defense posture is not irreparably weakened.