Defense cutbacks became less of a theory and more of a reality Wednesday, as Boeing announced the planned closure of one of its oldest airplane plants in Kansas and a separate report indicated a coming reduction of the Air Force's fleet.
Both events were attributed to the Obama administration's austerity order calling for $450 billion in cuts, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to explain Thursday while addressing America's new defense strategy—a strategy that's sure to startle those who believe the U.S. has the bandwidth to wage two foreign ground wars simultaneously (Surprise: It can't). The close of Boeing's Wichita, Kansas plant, which has built airplanes since 1929, casts a shadow over the the plant's 2,160 workers, reports Bloomberg. "The departure from Wichita will be 'a historic moment, but reflects the economic reality of a changing and shrinking defense budget,' Howard Rubel, an analyst with Jefferies & Co. in New York, said."
Obviously, private sector workers aren't the only people in danger of getting laid off. As Danger Room reports this morning, the Air Force is planning on slashing about 200 airplanes, amounting to a 5 percent reduction of the 4,000-strong fleet. "Exactly which planes will go is unclear. But under any scenario, the positions of thousands of airmen who fly and maintain those planes will be phased out. The majority of those airmen will be reservists and Air National Guardsmen."
The two stories reveal the concrete domestic consequences of getting the military's budget under control, which is never easier during an election year. Both GOP presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have vowed to increase, not decrease military spending and the debate has bled out into the public square. In today's New York Daily News, Kieran Lalor rails against the impending cuts. "Supporters of the cuts claim we spend too much on defense, but our defense spending is actually quite low," Lalor writes. "Today, we spend 3.9% of our Gross Domestic Product on defense. In the 1960s, we spent 9.5% of our GDP to secure the nation. As recently as the 1980s, 6.2% of the country’s economic output was spent on defense."
Meanwhile, Reason's Jacob Sullum hits back, saying the proposed cuts could, and should, be far steeper. Assuming all the 'cuts' are enacted, total military spending will be about 8 percent less than currently projected," he writes. "If you add the $500 billion in 'automatic' defense cuts imposed by the legislation that resolved last summer's debt-limit dispute, the total reduction from projected spending is about 17 percent, bringing the Pentagon's base budget all the way down to a level last seen in 2007, when the country was not exactly helpless against its adversaries."