As most of you have already read, a report released on Friday by the Republican majority on the House Armed Services Committee offers a “worst-case scenario” look at what might happen to the defense budget if the congressional “Super Committee” fails to find $1.2 trillion in federal budget cuts—bringing in the sequestration rule—or the fiscal 2013 defense budget request is 10% below fiscal 2011 levels. In other words, what happens if about $1 trillion is cut from defense budgets over the next decade?
Under this worst-case scenario, DoD funding falls from the currently projected $596 billion 2013 budget to $491 billion. That’s a pretty big cut. But even if that happens, the Pentagon’s base budget would still be higher than any year before 2009, and fall somewhere in the neighborhood of what base-budget funding was in 2008 according to the Congressional Research Service.
But turning the budgetary clock back, according to the House Republican staff, “would destroy jobs and stall the economy, [and] could force America to return to the draft, and we would incur more casualties as we defend our freedom.” You know, just like things were back in those dark days of 2008.
All kidding aside, yes, if the DoD is forced to accept the worst-case scenario, things would be difficult. There is a lot of postwar reset and refit to be done to the ground forces, along with other critical force modernization requirements that need to be met, most expensively by the Navy and Air Force.
Still, the report takes certain liberties that deserve highlighting. First, it uses 1990 force levels as a baseline against which any current force-level cuts are measured. The military of 1990 was a large and unwieldy animal, set up for massive infantry clashes with Soviet forces, and not something that defense planners should necessarily aspire to more than two decades later. I won’t wade too deeply into the force-structure waters here, but I will point out Jason Fritz’s excellent analysis of the Army part of the equation, where he takes issue with the number of maneuver battalions that the report claims will be cut:
I also disagree with their number of maneuver battalions today — it's more than 100. I'm guessing they just counted Combined Arms Battalions in the 46 combat arms brigades (4 brigades per division) we currently have. Part of the modularity regime of the mid-2000s added a reconnaissance squadron to every combat brigade (if you don't think a CAV squadron is a maneuver battalion, I can't help you understand the Army). There are effectively roughly 146 maneuver battalions in the Army. And this doesn't even address the fact that battalions today are much larger than battalions in 2000 (roughly 33% larger). So in spite of what is presented in the chart (without comment or source), a 30-40% reduction in the number of "maneuver battalions" would actually put the number of battalions closer to what they were in 2000, not drastically less. They would likely be very equal combat effectiveness if you take into account the number of companies in each battalion increased in the past 10 years.
The report also assumes that all of the branches of the armed services will see equal cuts, and will be slashed accordingly. Using that kind of analysis, the outcome is preordained: “The Navy will likely mothball more than 60 ships, including two carrier battle groups, while we give up nearly a third of Army Maneuver Battalions and Air Force fighters, a quarter of our bombers, and jeopardize our ability to defend America against a nuclear attack. As a service, the Marine Corps will be broken – unable to be the expeditionary force in ready….”
You get the picture. Do you want your children to live in a world where every day is like 2008?!