While we don’t have a lot of hard budget numbers to look at just yet, this afternoon’s briefings by senior Pentagon officials give us a somewhat better idea of what the U.S. military of the next decade and beyond might look like.
For fiscal 2013 the Pentagon is asking Congress for $525 billion—with another $88.4 billion for the war in Afghanistan—which is down from the $553 billion, plus $117 billion for war funding, that it asked for in 2012. The budget would then creep up (PDF) to $567 billion by fiscal 2017. All of this achieves the much-feared $487 billion in defense budget cuts over the next 10 years, with $259 billion of that coming by 2017.
What that looks like is this (PDF): The Army drops to 490,000 soldiers from its current 565,000, while the Marines’ endstrength slides from 202,000 to 182,000. Program-wise, the Air Force is scheduled to lose six fighter squadrons, its Global Hawk Block 30, and a whopping 130 aging transport aircraft. The Navy surprisingly, (given all the talk of the “strategic pivot” toward the Pacific) loses eight Joint High Speed Vessels, two Littoral Combat Ships, one Virginia-class submarine and seven aging cruisers. It will also see the slippage of a large deck amphibious ship (LHA) by a year, and the retirement of two smaller amphibious ships (LSD) early and moving their replacement outside the Future Year Defense Program, the Pentagon's five-year spending plan accompanying the budget request.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, told journalists that while force size is dropping, and some platforms are either being cut, downsized or having their schedules pushed back, “capabilities more important than size.” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter added later in the afternoon that “in this kind of budget environment we need to ask ourselves, how much is good enough?” He then repeated the line that former Secretary Bob Gates often liked to use, asking “is the 80 percent solution good enough?” (Hint: he thinks it is.)
While losing manpower, the Army actually isn’t losing any programs, despite having its helicopter modernization plans delayed “by three to five years,” and its nascent Medium Expanded Capacity Vehicle—or Humvee recap program—scuttled so the Army can focus its “modernization resources on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.” Then there’s what also looks like some slippage in the service’s Ground Combat Vehicle program, though we might have to wait until the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, briefs the press Friday morning to find out more about that.
This drawdown is more complicated than those in the past, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, since the U.S. has usually “come to the end of a particular threat.” This one, by contrast, comes at a time when the U.S. still faces major global challenges.
That’s why a “Priorities and Choices” (PDF) paper put out this afternoon says that “science and technology programs are largely protected within this budget,” while assuring the Navy that it gets to keep all of its 11 aircraft carriers and 10 air wings. It also assures Congress that “this budget protects all three legs of the Triad -- bombers that provide both conventional and nuclear deterrence, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and ballistic missile submarines. To this end, we are committed to the procurement of a new bomber.” Panetta also said the KC-46A USAF tanker is safe.
The new budget is also going to fund 65 Predator and Reaper combat air patrols (each has up to four UAVs) “with a surge capacity of 85,” which is a boost from the 61 available currently. The Army’s Grey Eagle is also safe. The document also gives a shout out to “Sea‐based unmanned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems such as Fire Scout -- important ISR assets where ground basing is not available,” and advanced ISR--new unmanned systems with increased capabilities.