State of Play
Executive: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is in Afghanistan today where he will try to calm tensions and repair relations following the recent massacre of sixteen Afghan civilians allegedly committed by a U.S. Army staff sergeant. The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the United States will not quicken the pace of withdrawal following the shooting; however numerousnews outlets are reporting that the Pentagon is now considering redeploying an additional 20,000 troops next year. Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan follows a stop-over in Kyrgyzstan, where a new presidential administration has told the Pentagon that it must stop using a base there for military transport purposes in mid-2014, which would seriously complicate efforts to remove large quantities of troops from Afghanistan on schedule. Interestingly, Russia, which was seen as being behind the Kyrgyz pronouncement, is considering offering a military base along the Volga River for use by U.S. and NATO personnel transiting to and from Afghanistan.
In other Afghan news, the U.S. and Afghan governments signed an agreement to speed up the
transfer of American detention facilities to local control. The compromise agreement clears one of the key hurdles to the two governments entering into a long-term military agreement that would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country past 2014; however, the recent shooting of Afghan civilians further complicates these efforts.
Pentagon officials are beginning to offer preliminary details of the impact that sequestration would have on the department: Defense Comptroller Robert Hale recently told a conference that DoD would likely furlough civilian employees to deal with the immediate budgetary impact, while Air Force chief Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service would have to reopen a contract with Boeing to develop the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker. Army leaders have said the service would have to cut an additional 100,000 troops and 4-6 brigades in the event of automatic cuts. Hale also told conference attendees that the department will have to make “tough” choices on major investments in order to fund the Ohio-class replacement submarine.
Legislative: So far, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has appeared uninterested in advancing HASC Chairman Buck McKeon’s (R-CA) legislation that would prevent sequestration for one year by trimming the federal civilian workforce. Boehner instead indicated his interest in preventing all $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts by reaching a bipartisan compromise on additional deficit reduction. McKeon’s spokesperson, Claude Chafin, later clarified ““I don’t think the speaker dismissed McKeon’s bill. He just re-stated his preference for a big deal.”
Meanwhile, HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) says he is preparing for two separate scenarios under which sequestration would be nullified: under the first scenario, Republicans and Democrats would each come up with half of the required deficit savings, and under the second plan, lawmakers would be given a choice between extending the Bush-era tax cuts and preventing automatic cuts. A vote for extension of the tax cuts, according to Smith, would be a vote in favor of sequestration. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has written House members urging them to maintain the firewall between defense and non-defense in the sequester instead of either eliminating the firewall or reverting back to a security/non-security distinction.
The Congressional Budget Office has published an updated current law baseline that reflects the recently enacted extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. The Pentagon will soon send to Capitol Hill draft legislation authorizing new base closures. However, following weeks of Congressional opposition to new BRAC rounds, the Pentagon now says it will move forward with base closures regardless of whether Congress authorizes a new BRAC round.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he will no longer approve Pentagon requests to reprogram funds for unauthorized programs, an action that only requires the approval of a select group of lawmakers including McCain. If sequestration occurs as scheduled at the beginning of next year, the Defense Department is expected to request massive reprogramming authority to blunt the effects of across-the-board cuts. (3/13/12)
The Will and the Wallet: Sequester Rules; or Does It?
Gordon Adams examines past precedent for implementing the sequester and finds that the Office of Management and Budget has previously applied automatic cuts at the Program Element Level, or according to Adams, “the lowest possible level in spreading the pain.” (3/13/12)
Politico: Time to Rein in Defense Budget
Larry Korb traces defense spending projections from 2008 to the present day and concludes that the defense authorization bill signed into law on December 31, 2011, did not, contrary to public claims, reduce defense spending. (3/7/12)
Other News and Commentary
Battleland: Global Hawk: “Thar She Blow$!”
After perusing a copy of the Pentagon’s 2010 Selected Acquisition Report for the Global Hawk, Winslow Wheeler finds that the total program unit cost for a Global Hawk drone is much higher than the $72.8 million figure recently cited by the Air Force. (3/13/12)
Army Times: McKeon Sees Big Shortfalls in DoD Budget
In a letter to the budget committee, HASC Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) expressed deep reservations about the White House’s FY13 budget request, including proposals for reforming military health care and reductions in active duty end strength, shipbuilding, and aircraft procurement. (3/13/12)
The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng argues that the recently announced increase in China’s defense budget has more to do with strategic requirements and the evolving nature of warfare than it does with America’s “pivot” toward Asia. (3/12/12)
Stars and Stripes: DOD Threatens BRAC With or Without Congressional Backing
A senior Pentagon official has alerted HASC members that the department plans on moving forward with domestic military base closures with or without a Congressionally-authorized BRAC process, which aims to help communities impacted by base closures. HASC lawmakers opposing a new BRAC cite GAO research that shows the most recent BRAC round cost the government $35 billion to execute, but that taxpayers won’t see the savings until 2018. (3/9/12)
Global Security Newswire: U.S. Warhead Upkeep to Get Top Priority if Deeper Budget Cuts are Imposed
If the NNSA is subject to automatic sequestration cuts, it has said it will focus constrained resources on maintaining warheads fielded in the nation’s nuclear triad. However, the head of NNSA, Thomas D’Agostino, says he’s not sure if the agency would “take any cut at all” under sequestration. (3/8/12)
Navy Times: Proposal Prorates Tricare Hikes for Retirees
The Obama Administration has proposed a new means-based system for military health care programs that would prorate enrollment fee hikes for Tricare Prime and a new enrollment fee for Tricare-for-Life based on a retiree’s income. For more on Congressional opposition to the proposal, click here. (3/8/12)
DoD Buzz: The Army’s Tank Trap
The Army estimates that it would cost $600 million to shut down and reopen a tank manufacturing plant in Lima, Ohio, compared to the $3 billion cost of continuing production for three years. Responding to lawmakers who want to see the plant remain open, the Army’s modernization chief, Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, says that the service has more than enough tanks already. For more on tank plant politics, click here for a piece by Kate Brannen. (3/8/12)
Air Force Magazine: Refueling the RPAs
Rebecca Grant reports on DARPA and industry’s progress in developing an unmanned aerial refueling aircraft that would be able to refuel another drone without pilot guidance. (March, 2012)
Congressional Budget Office: Updated Budget Projections: Fiscal Year 2012 to 2022 (March, 2012)
Government Accountability Office: Further Actions Needed by U.S. Agencies to Secure Vulnerable Nuclear and Radiological Materials (3/14/12)
Government Accountability Office: Navy Small Boats:Maintenance Report Addressed Most Directed Elements, but Additional Information Needed (3/13/12)
Government Accountability Office: DOD Needs to Better Oversee In-sourcing Data and Align In-sourcing Efforts with Strategic Workforce Plans (3/9/12)
Government Accountability Office: Military Base Realignments and Closures: Key Factors Contributing to BRAC 2005 Results (3/8/12)
Center for American Progress: China and the Collapse of Its Noninterventionist Foreign Policy (3/8/12)
Northrop Grumman: Occupying the Information High Ground: Chinese Capabilities for Computer Network Operations and Cyber Espionage (3/7/12)
Government Accountability Office: DOD's Mobility Study Limitations and Newly Issued Strategic Guidance Raise Questions about Air Mobility Requirements (3/7/12)
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory: National Capitol Region: Key Response Planning Factors for the Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism (November, 2011)