by George Landrith

The Obama Administration has already gutted missile defense in Eastern Europe that would neutralize Iran’s growing missile threat. The Obama Administration has already slashed the Airborne Laser, which is a powerful defensive tool against potential hot spots like Iran and North Korea.

The Obama Administration’s has killed a “next generation” bomber, the Air Force’s F-22, is on the verge of ending the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and appears ready to prematurely end production of the most advanced carrier-based fighter in the world, the Navy’s F-18.

Meanwhile, these Obama “budget cutters” are intent on running record-setting trillion-dollar annual deficits for the next ten years, with no limits on government growth whatsoever—except on our national defense. Does this make sense to you?

The failure to continue production of the F-18 could result in a shortage of almost 200 F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets for our premier power projection platform—the aircraft carrier. Since the strike-fighter complement aboard an aircraft carrier is roughly 50 aircraft, those cuts could shut down four of our ten aircraft-carrier battle groups.

I’ve always been a budget hawk. That has meant wanting the federal government to spend dramatically less. And the Defense budget needs to be reviewed every year, just like everything else.

But spending cuts have to be smart. Despite the obvious need to cut federal spending, we will spend hundreds of billions of dollars on so-called “stimulus” while slashing tens of billions on vital national security programs. Why, precisely, does everything except defense spending count as “stimulus” with the Obama people?

The Navy’s F-18 shortfall is a serious national security matter. The truth is the Navy needs a large multi-year buy of F-18 Super Hornets. Compared to the troubled, more expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighters we are still waiting on, this will save taxpayers billions and it will solve the critical fighter jet shortfall. Unfortunately, it is not clear that the administration or Congress has a plan to deal with this growing gap in our defense readiness. Those who bother to talk about the problem, speak of buying 125 fighters. But even that would still leave us nearly 75 planes short of what we need.

Those who say we don’t need the F-18 because we are developing the new Joint Strike Fighter need to consult a calendar. The Joint Strike Fighter is years from being ready for duty. Years. But the shortfall is here today. And it’s getting worse every year.

We live in a dangerous world, and we cannot afford to be shutting down up to four carrier battle groups in the next decade while we wait for new—and untested—technology to come on line.

Even if the new Joint Strike Fighter comes online as advertised, we will still need the F-18 Super Hornet. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighters are a complement to, not a replacement for, the capabilities of the F-18s. Even the Stealth B-2 Bomber requires the advanced capabilities of the F-18 to safely complete its critical missions and the same goes for the Joint Strike Fighter. For decades to come, the electronic warfare version of the F-18 will be an important part of all carrier-based strike missions as well as supporting Air Force missions.

So when you hear that the administration now plans to buy 125 F-18s over the next five years, that is a decent start and committing to a multi-year buy will save taxpayers money. But it is not a serious plan to maintain our Navy’s ten carrier battle groups. It is only a start.

If this administration and this Congress get their way and do not purchase additional F-18s, we will have a substantially weaker Navy. We must purchase enough F-18s to close the almost 200 fighter jet shortage.

Beyond buying enough jets to keep our Navy strong, if the administration wants to further boost high-tech U.S. jobs, it should strongly support sales of the F-18 to our allies such as Brazil, India, and others. Failure to do this will only encourage our allies to buy military aircraft from the French or perhaps the Russians and boost employment in France and Russia.

I opposed the bail outs and the stimulus packages from the get-go. They merely wasted money, paid off political constituencies, and created essentially no jobs. But if the government were to fund missile defense, the Airborne Laser and the much needed F-18s, that would certainly create real jobs—high-tech jobs—and it would not be a waste. It would create good high-tech jobs and our nation would obtain much-needed technologies we will need to defend and protect our nation for years to come.

Congress needs to make the right choices. Adding trillions of wasteful annual deficit spending while cutting only vital national defense programs is simply bad judgment, and the American people know it.

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George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. Mr. Landrith is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was Business Editor of the Virginia Journal of Law and Politics. In 1994 and 1996, Mr. Landrith was a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District. You can follow George on Twitter @GLandrith.

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