At some point, the U.S. presence will wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when it does, there will be a reckoning among the services for the limited pot of money that the White House and Congress gives the Pentagon for reset, refit and modernization. With the eyes of Washington already turning to the South China Sea and cyberspace while shaving at least $400 billion from projected U.S. security spending over the next 12 years, the question is: what’s going to give?
For an idea, some analysts are glancing back to the 1950s for clues. Once the shooting stopped in the Korean War, president Eisenhower presided over a budgetary process - Project Solarium - that gutted funding for the Army and its acquisition plans, while heaping money on the Air Force, Navy and the nation’s nuclear stockpile, all of which would provide more of a long-range strategic deterrent than a large land force would, or so the thinking went.
In a briefing this morning at the Washington office of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), analyst Todd Harrison said that while he doesn’t see anything as drastic as the cuts that the Army experienced in the late ‘50s happening again, “the Army may see more pressure in terms of budget cuts in the coming years in terms of major programs that they’re talking about” like the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Ground Combat Vehicle, since the service has been given the bulk of new gear over the past decade to be able to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Quite frankly,” he added, “Army force structure and endstrength are in for revision.”
One would hope that any coming cuts and restructuring takes place only after some serious thinking is done about strategic priorities and the weighing and ordering of ends and means—something that the Pentagon’s ongoing Comprehensive Strategic Review will supposedly address when it is released some time later this year.
Still, Harrison said, that $400 billion in reduced spending “is probably the least amount of cuts that DOD could realistically expect from whatever deficit deal gets put together,” even though such planned cuts over such a long timeframe is effectively meaningless — no government program can be managed in advance from that far out. In reality, “you could grow the defense budget only with inflation and you could achieve more than $400 billion in savings,” he said