Pen­tagon pon­ders spend­ing in face of cuts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Pen­tagon is con­sid­er­ing a range of options to meet a bi­par­ti­san call to greatly re­duce de­fense spend­ing in what is a “per­fect storm” rock­ing the mil­i­tary’s once-sturdy bud­get plans.

The Army is look­ing at par­ing down com­bat brigades and end­ing some tar­get­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems. The Navy might de­lay ship con­struc­tion and shed sailors.

Also, the pur­chase of the most ex­pen­sive weapon sys­tem ever, the $380 bil­lion F-35 joint strike fighter, could be pared from a planned 2,443 stealth jets.

“The process in­side the [Pen­tagon] is quite chaotic be­cause there are so many po­ten­tial out­comes and no­body re­ally knows what level to bud­get for,” said Loren Thomp­son, who di­rects the pro-busi­ness think tank Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute.

The per­fect storm emerges in the wind­ing down of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan co­in­cid­ing with a debt cri­sis that could force Pen­tagon cuts of $900 bil­lion over 10 years. These de­vel­op­ments mean the mil­i­tar y can make do with fewer troops and weapons pro­grams.

The debt-re­duc­tion agree­ment be­tween the White House and Congress calls for $350 bil­lion in na­tional se­cu­rity re­duc­tions, most of which will hit the Pen­tagon.

Then there is what De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta has called the “dooms­day mech­a­nism”: If a 12-mem­ber con­gres­sional “su­per­com­mit­tee” fails to agree this fall on ad­di­tional spend­ing cuts, the fed­eral bud­get would face au­to­matic re­duc­tions. The Pen­tagon’s share: up to $600 bil­lion in ad­di­tion to the $350 bil­lion.

The Pen­tagon had been plan­ning on a $570 bil­lion bud­get, mi­nus war costs, for fis­cal 2013, which be­gins Oc­to­ber 2012.

But Mr. Thomp­son said the White House bud­get of­fice wants cuts that could re­duce the de­fense bud­get to $477 bil­lion. “Look­ing at the scale of cuts that are cur­rently be­ing con­tem­plated, it is easy to imag­ine the en­tire next gen­er­a­tion of weapon sys­tems will be wiped out,” he said.

A de­fense in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive in Wash­ing­ton said all sorts of ideas are be­ing dis­cussed in the Pen­tagon to meet both pos­si­bil­i­ties. These in­clude cuts to the most costly weapon sys­tem in U.S. his­tory, the F-35 Light­ning stealth fighter, which has been mired in cost over­runs.

Mr. Panetta in Au­gust en­dorsed buy­ing the next-gen­er­a­tion plane that will re­place the Air Force F-16 and A-10, give the Navy a new car­rier-based bomber and pro­vide the Marine Corps a suc­ces­sor to the Har­rier ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing jet.

“I think that plane will give us an important ca­pa­bil­ity for the fu­ture,” he said. “From ev­ery­one I’ve talked to, they seem very pleased that it does in fact pro­vide the ca­pa­bil­i­ties that we need. But it’s go­ing to take a lot of work. It’s still go­ing through the test phase. We’ll learn a lot from the test phase. But I think it’s an in­vest­ment that we ought to main­tain for the fu­ture.”

The de­fense in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the Navy has talked about can­cel­ing the suc­ces­sor to the Ohio-class bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine and con­vert­ing some Vir­ginia-class at­tack boats into mis­sile car­ri­ers.

There is also talk of chang­ing the sched­ule for in­sert­ing a new car­rier into the fleet from five years to ev­ery seven years, and de­lay­ing con­struc­tion of a new fleet oiler, the TAOX. The source said the Navy is do­ing all it can to make sure the fleet ex­pands from its cur­rent level of 290 ships to its stated goal of at least 313 by the end of the decade.

With troops lev­els in Iraq drop­ping fast and with a planned with­drawal of com­bat forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the Army is eye­ing a cut in the num­ber of Brigade Com­bat Teams (BCTs), its core fight­ing unit, ac­cord­ing to con­gres­sional and de­fense in­dus­try sources.

A sec­ond in­dus­try source said he be­lieves the Army will pro­pose elim­i­nat­ing some BCTs in the 2013 bud­get and ul­ti­mately do away with six to eight of 45 ac­tive BCTs.

The Army now has an ac­tive force of about 570,000, which is ex­pected to shrink to 520,000 un­der previously sub­mit­ted bud­gets. But the sec­ond in­dus­try source said that num­ber will likely fall to about 485,000 sol­diers to meet the new spend­ing con­straints.

This source said the Army is look­ing at ter­mi­nat­ing at least three pro­grams: an im­proved ground-to-air mis­sile, a tar­get ac­qui­si­tion sys­tem and a com­mand-and-com­mu­ni­ca­tion suite.

The Lex­ing­ton In­sti­tute’s Mr. Thomp­son said: “The nor­mal in­cli­na­tion of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem when a bud­get crunch comes is to cut in­vest­ment and keep fund­ing peo­ple pro­grams. But at the level of cuts cur­rently be­ing con­tem­plated, that would wipe out the next gen­er­a­tion of weapons sys­tem. So some ma­jor cuts to per­son­nel are un­avoid­able.”

The Army also has been de­bat­ing whether to can­cel the new Ground Com­bat Ve­hi­cle, priced at $40 bil­lion for 1,800 ve­hi­cles, and in­stead up­grade ex­ist­ing sol­dier car­ri­ers, the sec­ond in­dus­try source said.

“Most ob­servers be­lieve the Army’s Ground Com­bat Ve­hi­cle and Joint Light Tac­ti­cal Ve­hi­cle are both doomed,” Mr. Thomp­son said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

On the job: A U.S. Marine walks along a nar­row road be­tween ir­ri­gated fields to col­lect sup­plies from an ar­mored ve­hi­cle, near Pa­trol Base 302 in Hel­mand province, south­ern Afghanistan, on Aug. 28.

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