I got this chart from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Todd Harrison’s brand-new paper on the imminent Fiscal 2011 defense budget. (Conveniently released today!) As you can see, all this chart details is spending on aircraft. In last year’s budget, that spending represented 5 percent of the budget, or between $38.6 billion and $40.1 billion, depending on whether you want to include funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in your calculation or not.
You see that bright green line? The one at the top? The one that’s way higher than all its colorful competitors? That represents procurement funding for combat aircraft.
Has it sunk in yet?
It’s only a slight exaggeration to say we don’t use combat aircraft in the wars we’re fighting. You have to come up with a baroque set of Michael Bey-esque geopolitical calculations by which we would use combat aircraft in any conceivable war. The U.S.’s area of combat-aircraft dominance is called Planet Earth. No Air Force is going to challenge ours. No actual U.S. adversary has an air force, and the list of real-potential U.S. adversaries that do starts with Iran and ends with North Korea, neither of which are remotely stupid enough to test us in the air. The most likely scenario for using combat aircraft in a U.S. war is an alien invasion.
What is relevant to the wars we fight are (a) remotely-piloted aircraft like drones, (b) surveillance aircraft like drones, (c) helicopters, and (d) especially airlift, to get our ground troops from Point A to Point B. And as you can see from the chart, we don’t spend nearly on that stuff what we spend on combat aircraft. [Update: Todd has helpfully clarified to me that attack helicopters are included in the combat-aircraft line. So, fair enough.]
But by all means, freeze spending on school lunch programs and Head Start and shit like that.