The same day he called for U.S. troops on the ground in the Middle East to combat ISIS, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also offered a detailed – and potentially very costly – plan for how he would “rebuild” the U.S. military if he were commander-in-chief.
The 13-page, four-part strategy is largely a rehash of many of the national security policies Bush and other GOP presidential contenders have talked about in the past, such as reinvigorating ties with NATO and allies in the Asia-Pacific.
But Bush’s plan also goes into the details about the level of personnel and the kinds of weapons programs he wants to see. The proposal should be taken with a grain of salt, though, as the former governor doesn’t provide a price tag for all the moves he wants to make.
For instance, Bush wants to scrap the plan enacted by the 2011 Budget Control Act that will reduce the Army’s size to 450,000 soldiers by the end of fiscal 2018. If it holds, the force reduction will shrink the Army by 120,000 soldiers, from a peak of about 570,000 at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2011.
Earlier this year, the service estimated the cuts would save $7 billion over four years. An Army spokesman told The Fiscal Times that the plan is still place, despite the budget deal struck last month by President Obama and congressional leaders.
Bush says the Marine Corps should also be maintained at 186,000 soldiers, reversing the service plan to shrink to 174,000 by the end of 2017.
For the Navy, Bush wants to keep building two Virginia-class submarines a year. Each ship costs in the neighborhood of $3 billion. The Navy’s 2016 shipbuilding plan calls for a fleet of 50 Virginia-class submarines by the mid-2040s; around 10 have been delivered so far.
Bush also vows to “halt the mothballing of certain ships, such as cruisers, slated for premature retirement due to budget cuts,” a move that could cost hundreds of millions.
With respect to the Air Force, Bush endorses buying a “minimum” of 100 Long Range Strike-Bombers, an effort that would cost more than $100 billion.
And while he backs continuing with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter -- which at $400 billion is the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history -- Bush “would explore other options for air supremacy. This could include restoring the F-22 line or accelerating development of a new air superiority combat system.”
Bush is also calling for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear forces. At the beginning of the year the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the country would need to spend $348 billion over the next decade maintain its atomic arsenal.
As for the Pentagon, Bush suggests there could be savings in acquisition reform; he says service secretaries and chief should have the ultimate say on buying weapons, which would reduce bureaucratic red tape and keep costs down.
His proposal lines up closely with reforms drafted by Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-AZ) that were incorporated into this year’s defense policy bill.
Bush maintains that the government could find savings in the roughly $100 billion the Pentagon spends each year on clerical and management costs. He says “there are useful comparisons to the private sector where implementing best practices can result in substantial productivity gains. This would result in savings that could invigorate neglected defense capabilities.”
He also takes aim at the department’s civilian and military workforce. Bush estimates that 720,000 civilians work for the agency and cites a Government Accountability Office study that found the Army’s leadership staff grew 60 percent since 2001, while the number of unfirmed soldiers dropped.
“The Pentagon should begin to address this overgrowth by trimming redundant agencies as well as by enacting a program consisting of early retirements and voluntary separation packages that can free up money for uniformed military and combat operations.”
The biggest pot of savings would come from making cuts to high-ranking personnel at Pentagon headquarters, who cost $40 billion annually, according to Bush’s estimates.
He says he would order his Defense Secretary to appoint a task force aimed at reducing the enterprise.
“The goal would be a 20% reduction, freeing up billions to support critical defense programs. The effort would be short and intense. Final recommendations would be made within 6 months, with implementation complete one year later,” Bush says.