The last four years have been littered with orphaned capabilities and weapon systems that were thought of as irreplaceable less than a half decade ago. Much of the time the oldest hardware gets the boot, although these systems are still seen as effective in their roles. This week we have heard of two more “old soldiers” that are on the fiscal cutting block: The Australian C-130H fleet and the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias.
Australia’s decision to retire their “legacy” Hercules fleet early is no doubt a blow to the force, but not a massive one as the country has a good corps of new C-130Js to pick up the slack, as well as C-17s and new Airbus KC-30 tanker/transports for longer reach missions. Spain on the other hand has only two aircraft carriers. The Principe de Asturias is a dedicated Harrier/helicopter carrier and is decades old and in bad need of a major overhaul. Their other carrier, the multi-role Juan Carlos, is much newer and serves more as an advanced helicopter landing dock, with provisions for a large ground combatant force and a well deck for transportation of large combat vehicles via hovercraft and landing craft. With the possible mothballing of the Principe de Asturias looming the Spanish Navy may go down to a single ship for which it can operate it’s contingent of advanced AV-8B Harriers.
There is no doubt that these slashing budgetary cuts will continue not just abroad but here in the US as well. The “painful” cuts experienced recently by the DoD, where roughly half a trillion dollars was cut over the next ten years out of the DoD’s projected budget, may have been only a sprinkle before the looming downpour. The sequestration measures triggered by the Congressional “Super Committee’s” inability to recommend a bipartisan plan to cut the national deficient could result in much deeper cuts, ones that will inevitably hollow out the force. If the sequestration’s impact cannot be avoided the big questions will become what will get the axe? This time it may not be just a squadron or ship here and there, but it could be entire classes of ships or types of aircraft as a whole. Sadly, the it is inevitable that leadership in DC’s choices for what lives and what dies will most likely be mired in special interest politics and favoritism placed towards pie in the sky, one-size-fits-all, super-expensive weaponry. In the end the American war fighter will most likely suffer much worse than they would really have to.