There is also the matter of the war in Afghanistan. The administration “hopes” to submit a request for war spending to Congress within the next month, Hale says. The overall budget request includes an $88 billion placeholder for Overseas Contingency Operations, but little further detail about it. That is up to $10 billion more than the military had anticipated, Hale says, because of a higher operational tempo and logistical difficulties.
Hagel stresses that the Pentagon is preparing for continued across-the-board budget cuts, starting with a $41 billion reduction this year. “I don't think anyone is minimizing the result of sequestration as a law,” Hagel says. “We are planning for every eventuality.”
That, he says, is why he directed Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Dempsey to work on a strategic review to resolve some of the uncertainty.
The budget would save $8.2 billion by terminating and restructuring weapons systems over the next five years, Hagel says. He counts $2 billion in savings on development costs by restructuring the U.S. Army's Ground Combat Vehicle program. Proposed terminations include that of the Missile Defense Agency's Precision Tracking Space System.
In all, the fiscal 2014 base budget seeks $99.3 billion for procurement accounts, a reduction of about 1%, according to Robert Stallard, an analyst for RBC Europe Ltd. The Pentagon is requesting $67.5 billion for research and development efforts, a cut of 3.6% from the previous year. That includes decisions that are sure to draw fire from lawmakers and defense companies, including stopping the purchase of Global Hawk Block 30 and 40 UAVs, C-27J aircraft and truncating the purchase of Lakota helicopters.
Congress rejected similar halts to the C-27J and the Global Hawk Block 30 last year. And with Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.) leading Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Army's plans to limit the purchase of Lakotas made in Columbus will face a fight.
The tiffs with Congress will not end there. Republican lawmakers are already lining up to express general opposition to a $500 million reduction to $9.162 billion in missile defense spending driven largely by the end of development with Italy and Germany of the Medium Extended Air Defense System in fiscal 2013. “While North Korea blusters about nuclear war, the president's budget falls short of funding missile defense,” says Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).
Since the Pentagon failed to save money on base realignments in 2005, the suggestion of further base consolidation has been an anathema on Capitol Hill. Last month, the House Armed Services Committee held an entire hearing protesting the idea of another round of base closures. Nonetheless, Hale says the military will request them again. “It seems to me we have to keep asking,” he says. “We know we need it. It's the only way to reduce excess infrastructure.”
The push-back against changes to military entitlements is the stuff of legend, with retired officers commanding considerable sway. An analysis of military compensation may pave the way for future reductions, but few expect changes in fiscal 2014.