Analyst: Military bands to cost Pentagon $50B over next 50 years

The Defense Department could be shelling out nearly $50
billion in the next 50 years for its military bands, a prominent defense
analyst says, a figure that could raise eyebrows amid Washington’s new climate
of fiscal restraint.

“The nation’s military services really are going to spend
over $25 billion on music bands in the coming years,” Lexington Institute COO
and industry consultant Loren Thompson said.

After adjusting that figure for inflation and other factors,
Thompson projects the nominal costs of the bands will approach $50 billion — a
price tag he derided as “ridiculous.”

{mosads}The estimate comes at a time when Washington is grappling
with the federal debt. Once considered immune from cuts, the Pentagon is
getting a fresh look from lawmakers eager to find savings, and the department
is expecting budget reductions in 2012.

Congressional leaders and the White House already slashed
the military’s 2011 budget request by $18 billion, and President Obama has
called for finding another $400 billion in defense cuts over the next 12 years.

Senior House defense appropriators have told The Hill they
already have some ideas about areas in the military budget that are ripe for
cuts. The band programs could become a target.

The $50 billion tab calculated by Thompson includes travel
for band members, salaries and a range of personnel costs.

The sheer number of military bands helps explain the
projected total.

The Hill was unable to locate a single listing of all
military bands, but the Army alone has more than 100, according to a U.S. Army
Bands website.

The nation’s ground service has 35 active-duty bands, 18
Army Reserve bands and over 50 made up of Army National Guard groups, according
to the site.

The Air Force has at least 15 bands, 11 regionally organized
Air National Guard groups and at least one Air Force Reserve band, according to
the Air Force Bands Program website.

Because formal ceremonies are ingrained in military culture,
the number of bands has swelled over the years, analysts said.

“The military bands certainly serve a useful function for
ceremonies and other important events,” said Todd Harrison, a defense budget
analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Studies.

“Your performances might include parades down Main Street
USA or the Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris; military ceremonies aboard
carriers at sea; public shows and concerts; and live radio and television
broadcasts,” according to the Navy Music Program’s website.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has often used a line in
budget speeches noting, “We have more people in military bands than they have
in the Foreign Service.”

Gates has said he borrowed the quotation from former
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

With that many bands, overall costs can swell quickly,
analysts said.

Thompson’s figures were generated from a 2010 Washington
Post article that calculated the military spends $550 million annually on all
its bands.

“Multiply that number by 50 years and then add in a modest
inflation factor — say, 2.5 percent per year, compounded — and half a century
later you’re talking real money, as the late Sen. Everett Dirksen [R-Ill.]
might have put it,” Thompson wrote on the think tank’s website.

“If you add inflation and indirect costs like retirement
benefits, the ‘then-year’ cost of military bands is more like $50 billion,”
Thompson wrote.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the $25 billion figure is a
“good ballpark estimate” for how much the bands might cost over the
next 54 years, with adjustment for inflation. She said the total cost for the
bands without inflation would be around $17 billion.

The spokeswoman said the Pentagon would spend around $320
million in 2011 for band-related bills.

A $500 million annual military-bands budget “does seem
rather high,” Harrison said. “I’m sure the department would be just fine with a
lower budget for music.”

The comment from Gates, who last year spearheaded an effort
that trimmed over $100 billion from within the Pentagon budget, led some DOD
observers to question whether he would eliminate some of the groups.
Ultimately, that did not happen.

While trimming the military’s music tab might be an
attractive target for Pentagon bean counters, Harrison said there is no
shortage of targets within a nearly $700 billion yearly budget, a figure that
includes war spending.

“There are literally thousands of items in the budget
smaller than this that could be trimmed a bit to reduce costs without losing
anything in terms of military capabilities,” Harrison said. “The challenge is
finding them all and then making the cuts stick.”

Thompson said he decided to construct the post around the
“cumulative cost for military bands between now and the year 2065” to combat
criticism about the alleged life-cycle cost of the F-35 fighter fleet.

Over the same 53-year span, some allege the total cost of
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fleet will top $1 trillion.

Thompson, a proponent of the F-35, said critics of the
program fail to note the impacts of inflation.

“In the 1970s you could buy a new Mustang convertible for
less than $5,000,” Thompson wrote. “Half a century is a very long time in
economic terms.”

Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense spending for the Clinton
administration, said projecting military costs 50 years into the future —
either for fighter jets or bands — is “voodoo economics.”

The number of military music groups is not likely to be
pared, Adams said, “because people like all the pomp and


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