What $1 billion buys


Article Highlights

  • Sequestration is no laughing matter, and the pain increases with each dollar and each day it continues.

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  • What does $1 billion buy for the Air Force?

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  • With sequestration, we’re talking real money, real cuts, and real losses in military capabilities

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As the sequester sinks in and starts to hit the U.S. military, many have focused on the impact of unpaid furlough days for civilians, air shows grounded, and fireworks foregone.  

Intuitively, many know that sequestration’s burden on those in uniform is large. But, so too, they say, is the defense budget. Sure, the first $487 billion in defense cuts under the Budget Control Act was tough, but the chiefs and leadership said it could be done. Not ideal, certainly, but bearable.

Then came sequestration on March 1 and an additional half-trillion dollars in defense cuts over the remainder of the decade. Ouch. This might hurt … but still, our defense budget is the world’s biggest and, at a half-trillion without war spending, we can probably absorb this too.

But, as the late Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Sequestration is no laughing matter, and the pain increases with each dollar and each day it continues.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute today as part of an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute hour, Lieutenant General Burton Field, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements, laid out just what this all really means for airmen and women.

Yes, he noted, the Air Force’s annual budget of roughly $110 billion is a lot of money. About that, there is no dispute.

But the first tranche of BCA cuts swiped $10 billion, or 10 percent, from the Air Force’s topline each year for the next 10. Then sequestration kicked in with a tab of another $10 billion a year the Air Force must pay up in the name of debt reduction.

So, what is a billion dollars in the U.S. Air Force, General Burton asked? His answer:

·      $1 billion pays for 10,000 professional and highly-trained airmen and women.

·      $1 billion buys every EC-130 in the Air Force’s inventory.

·      $1 billion is the cost of all A-10 attack aircraft in the US Air Force fleet.

·      $1 billion purchases one advanced extremely high frequency (AEHF) satellite.

·      $1 billion is the cost of our entire fighter, mobility and half of our refueling fleets.

Yep, as Sen. Dirksen might have noted if he were alive today: with sequestration, we’re talking real money, real cuts, and real losses in military capabilities.

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About the Author


  • Mackenzie Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. She specializes in defense strategy, budget, military readiness and the defense industrial base. In 2010, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess the Pentagon's major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


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