The Wall Street Journal & CNBC – 2018-07-28 19:53:07
‘War Games’ Trump Said Were
‘Too Expensive’ Cost Less Than a Fighter Jet
Pentagon estimates US-South Korea military exercises,
canceled as too provocative and expensive, would have cost $14 million
Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold / The Wall Street Journal
(July 11, 2018) — At the Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un last month, President Donald Trump said he was canceling military exercises between the US and South Korea, because they were provocative to North Korea and “tremendously expensive.”
The cost? According to a new Pentagon analysis prompted by Mr. Trump’s statement, the military exercises known as Freedom Guardian, which would have begun in August, would have set the US military back $14 million.
It is a fraction of the military’s annual budget of $700 billion, which increased 15.5% for the fiscal year 2018, and is less than the cost of one new fighter plane. That has prompted some to say that the money saved isn’t worth the impact on military readiness and that the military may have to spend money in other ways to ensure pilots and sailors receive the real-time experience the exercises offer.
“It’s penny wise and pound foolish,” said Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who served as assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985.
“It doesn’t save you as much as you think and may cost you more,” he said.
The White House didn’t provide further comment.
Others say Mr. Trump’s focus on the cost of exercises has had the benefit of forcing the Pentagon to assess the price and make it public. The military conducts hundreds of exercises a year. Some are tabletop exercises that use minimal US military equipment and stress leadership instead. Others can involve tens of thousands of troops.
Among the largest military exercises are Korea Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, month-long activities that consisted this year of 11,500 US troops and 300,000 South Korean troops. The Pentagon said its major exercises can cost as much as $20 million a year.
The last time the Pentagon talked about the costs of an exercise was when its budget was under sequestration in 2013, largely to show how the decision to cut its budget affected military readiness.
South Korean and US soldiers watch from an observation post during a joint live firing drill at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in South Korea last year. Photo: jung yeon-je/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, said the military hasn’t had to calculate the true cost of exercises in the past.
“The president may have a point, because if you can’t put a specific price tag on it then it means no one has done the cost-benefit analysis to know whether or not an exercise is worth it,” Mr. Harrison said. “It would behoove [the Defense Department] to track these costs better and report them publicly if the exercises are in fact worth the costs.”
At the Pentagon, Mr. Trump’s focus on the cost of exercises marked a new turn. “We weren’t being asked to justify the value or the return on investment on exercises like Freedom Guardian,” one official explained, referring to the joint annual US-South Korean exercise.
Pentagon officials also note the US retains the ability to reinstate exercises with South Korea if the White House decided that North Korea’s leader, Mr. Kim, reneged on an agreement on denuclearization.
“We will execute in accordance with the directives from our national leadership, so we will be prepared for whatever our national leadership decides is necessary,” said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.
So far, US military officials have said that if suspending the exercises could lead North Korea to denuclearize, that was a risk worth takingâ€”for now. But they have also warned that US military readiness will drop if such exercises aren’t conducted for more than a year. Pyongyang has appeared unimpressed by the cancellation of exercises.
After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang on July 7, North Korea issued a statement describing the decision as a “highly reversible step which could be resumed anytime” as the US military presence would remain intact.
Trump Boasted about Big Savings, but a
Canceled Military Exercise with South Korea
Would Have Cost Less than One Fighter Jet
Amanda Macias / CNBC
(July 12, 2018) — President Donald Trump boasted of big savings when he canceled an upcoming joint military exercise with South Korea. It turns out, however, that the cost of the exercise would have equaled a fraction of the cost for just a single F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.
The Freedom Guardian joint exercise with South Korea would have cost the US about $14 million, according to a Pentagon assessment. The activity was supposed to commence next month but was “indefinitely suspended” in the wake of the historic Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Prior to that meeting, Kim threatened to withdraw from the talks, citing an ongoing US training exercise with South Korean troops.
The reclusive leader from the North consistently calls the military drills between the US and South Korea a “provocation” and a test run for a future invasion.
The Freedom Guardian exercise and its $14 million price tag are a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget — and it costs less than one Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.
Earlier this year, Trump said the F/A-18 is “his favorite plane” and also described it as “a work of art” before noting that the US plans to buy 24 more of these fighters. One F/A-18 Super Hornet costs about $69 million, according to the Navy’s 2018 budget estimate.
After meeting with Kim in Singapore and agreeing to negotiate a nuclear deal, Trump said: “I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games. No. 1, we save money. A lot. And No. 2, it really is something that I think they [North Korea] very much appreciated.”
Trump also said that flying US Air Force bombers in regional training missions is another drain on resources.
“We fly in bombers from Guam. I said when I first started, I said, where do the bombers come from? Guam. Nearby. I said, ‘Oh great, nearby, where is nearby?’ Six and a half hours. Six and a half hours. That’s a long time for these big massive planes to be flying to South Korea to practice and then drop bombs all over the place and then go back to Guam,” Trump said.
For the last 14 years, the US Air Force’s B-1B Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit bombers have continuously rotated through Guam in an effort to show American commitment to allies in the region.
According to estimates that the US Air Force provided CNBC, the B-2 has an operational flight cost of $130,000 an hour and the B-1B operates at $95,000 an hour.
At Odds with the Pentagon
Trump’s move falls out of step with the Pentagon, which has maintained that the joint exercises are routine, purely defensive and vital to maintaining readiness on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Pentagon spokesman US Army Col. Rob Manning described Freedom Guardian as a “keystone exercise” that is designed to “enhance the readiness” of forces on the Korean Peninsula.
Last year’s Freedom Guardian drills included approximately 17,500 American and more than 50,000 South Korean troops. The training exercises are mostly focused on computer-assisted simulations rather than field exercises that include aircraft or weapons.
Manning noted that while the Pentagon could quickly turn the exercises back on, US forces could skip this particular exercise without any “atrophy.” There are currently 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in 1953 in an armistice that left the two Koreas technically still at war.
Meanwhile, after Trump’s discussions with NATO counterparts this week in Brussels, he will head to Helsinki to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin has long criticized the NATO military exercises the US conducts with NATO allies throughout Europe.
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