Sequestration represents close to an 8% cut in the Pentagon's budget for fiscal 2013. Because the majority of cuts occur in the first 2-3 years, if the cuts remain in place through 2014, “it would be quite a turnaround” for the Pentagon, Amy Belasco of the Congressional Research Service said during a recent Project on Defense Alternatives panel discussion.
To manage the drawdown well, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will require the president's support to break the historic balance of spending among the services and rein in escalating military pay, benefits and compensation, says Gordon Adams, a government official who helped manage the post-Cold War drawdown of the 1990s. He says: “If the first guideline [for the strategic review] isn't, 'give me options for limited budgets,' Hagel will be making a big mistake. And, “I'm not optimistic that will happen.”
Without setting priorities, acquisition dollars and military force structure will be reduced, while the Pentagon bureaucracy will protect itself.
And that means major programs such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the Pentagon's costliest weapon—will receive “the contradictory direction of stretch and shrink” by reducing the number of purchases per year as well as the size of the overall fleet. That will keep the JSF alive, in contrast to the other 60% of the acquisition budget that have less visibility, Adams says.
Going forward, however, affording the JSF amid other priority programs—including the Air Force's long-range bomber and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker—will remain difficult.
And trade-offs on what to cut and what to keep will have to wend their way through Capitol Hill, where lawmakers remain as consumed with parochial interests as ever. There, agreement to cut specific programs remains unpopular. So too do other means of managing a drawdown. Lawmakers already held a hearing to register their disdain for the base realignment and closure process that the president recommended last year and which will likely help commanders manage a shrinking force structure. With the war in Afghanistan still ongoing, reforms to military pay and benefits remain unlikely.
But that is what the Pentagon is pleading for. “We need the help of our elected officials to give us the certainty, the flexibility and the time to make change. If we can get the reforms to pay and compensation . . . and if we can get rid of weapons and infrastructure we don't need, then we can begin to restore the versatility of the Joint Force at [an] affordable and sustainable cost,” Dempsey says.
IN THE LINE OF FIRE