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President Reagan's election was in part a mandate to restore America's military might. The ensuing debate has been over the size of the much needed buildup: whether military spending should rise by 7% after inflation, as Reagan proposes, or closer to 5%, as President Carter and others have urged. Now the spreading suspicion that billions are being wasted is chipping away at that consensus. Most of the attention has thus far been focused on apocalyptic strategic issues: How can we best deter or fight an all-out nuclear war? Should we deploy new MX missiles in the U.S. and Pershing II missiles in Europe? But only 9% of the U.S. defense budget is spent on nuclear deterrence; the rest goes to the materiel and manpower to fight conventional battles and prevent them from escalating into nuclear exchanges.
Now the debate is shifting to more fundamental issues. What Spinney's briefing clearly shows is that attention must be paid not only to how much is spent, but how it is spent. According to his sobering analysis, the Administration's proposed buildup presents funding problems that go well beyond the question of how to shave $10 billion or $15 billion from this year's budget. The traditional methods of assaultwhittling away at frills, stretching out weapons purchases, skimping on maintenance moneywill be as futile in the short run as they are wasteful in the long run. In a windowless office in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, where 18 congressional staffers known as the "bean counters" scratch for potential savings in the defense budget, a small sign on the wall sums up the dilemma: A BILLION DOLLARS JUST DOESN'T go AS FAR AS IT USED TO.
Enter the military reformers, a group essentially composed of several young Senators, Congressmen, independent research groups and a few Pentagon insiders like Spinney. The reform movement has attempted to focus attention on the need to build weapons that will work and to develop doctrines that are adaptable to fighting the battles of the future. It has also addressed the widespread evidence of waste and mismanagement in military spending, whether for major strategic systems like the B-l bomber or basic weapons such as tanks and rifles. The reformers argue that new systems should be carefully examined not only for what they can do on paper, but what they can do in actual combatand at what cost. The central question: how to get more bang for the buck.
Among the early reformers were two of Spinney's former mentors in the Pentagon bureaucracy, Air Force Colonel (Ret.) John Boyd and Research Scientist Pierre Sprey. It was the lobbying of Boyd and Sprey for simpler, more maneuverable weapons that made possible the development in the early 1970s of the F-16 fighter jet, an effective and affordable complement to the expensive F-15.
Today the military reform movement has