Department of Defense

Proposed Spending Cuts

Benjamin H. Friedman and Christopher Preble

November 2010

The Department of Defense will spend about $721 billion in fiscal 2011, of which $159 billion will be for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even aside from these expensive wars, the department's budget has almost doubled since fiscal 2001. The problem is that the Defense budget includes much more than just “defense” activities. The bloated spending stems from the many extraneous missions we impose on our military services aside from the basic requirement to defend Americans.

The United States would be better off taking a wait-and-see approach to distant threats, while letting friendly nations bear more of the costs of their own defense. There will always be disorder in various places around the globe, but that doesn't mean that all foreign problems are a threat to America.

By avoiding the occupation of failing states and limiting our commitments to defend healthy ones, we could plan for fewer wars. By shedding extraneous missions, we could cut our force structure, which would mean reducing the number of U.S. military personnel and the related costs of weapons, vehicles, and operations. The resulting U.S. military force would be more elite, less strained, and less expensive.

To further this strategy, we propose 19 reforms that would reduce U.S. military spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. These reforms are described in a related essay and listed in the table below. By 2020, the savings would be about $150 billion annually. These cuts would not preclude other reforms, such as reducing cost overruns in the Pentagon's procurement process. Further force reductions may also be possible. However, it would be prudent to first adopt these changes, and then see if our leaders could adhere to a more restrained military strategy.


Department of Defense
Proposed Spending Cuts
Program   10-Year Savings
($ billion)
Strategic Capabilities    
  1. Cut the nuclear weapons arsenal   $87
Army and Marine Corps    
  2. Reduce the size of the Army   $220
  3. Reduce the size of the Marine Corps   $67
  4. Reduce Marine Corps expeditionary strike groups   $7
Navy and Air Force    
  5. Build/operate fewer aircraft carriers and naval aircraft   $40
  6. Build/operate fewer tactical submarines   $32
  7. Build/operate fewer destroyers   $34
  8. Terminate the Littoral Combat Ship   $14
  9. Build/operate fewer Air Force fighters   $89
Other Weapon Systems    
  10. Terminate the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle   $11
  11. Terminate the V-22 Osprey   $15
  12. Realign the missile defense program   $60
Workforce and Compensation    
  13. Cut the Pentagon's civilian workforce   $105
  14. Reform military compensation   $115
Infrastructure and Administration    
  15. Reform maintenance and supply systems   $13
  16. Cut military construction and housing   $30
  17. Reform command, support, and infrastructure   $100
Other Savings    
  18. Reduce intelligence spending   $112
  19. Reduce research, development, testing, and evaluation   $73
Total proposed cuts (FY2011-FY2020)   $1,224
Total department outlays (FY2011-FY2020)   $6,864