News: This week, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-MI), made the case that if Congress is able to pass a compromise deficit reduction measure that would nullify sequestration, then the Pentagon should contribute an additional $100 billion in savings.
News: The Hill reports that a group of 30 bipartisan senators have begun crafting an alternative budget plan that could be used to replace the sequestration mechanism for deficit reduction currently enshrined in law.
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective: PDA commends Senator Levin for putting an additional $100 billion in Pentagon savings back on the table for deficit reduction, but notes that it is a very small contribution given how much the Pentagon budget grew in the last decade. The more defense dollars that remain “on the negotiating table” the more room there will be for finding a reasonable compromise that sticks better than the current Budget Control Act.
State of Play
Legislative: A group of thirty bipartisan senators have begun meeting behind closed doors to work out a plan to avoid the sequestration of defense funds beginning early next year according to former Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro. Punaro, a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s new deficit reduction task force, says his panel is working with the group of senators to draft an alternative federal budget that could replace the scheduled cuts entailed in sequestration. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, told an audience at the National Press Club this week that any deal to stave off sequestration should include at least $100 billion in new Pentagon savings over ten years. “When you look at plans to avoid sequestration, $100 billion over 10 years is a number I look at, because I think defense has got to contribute,” Levin told the gathering. Levin also suggested that additional savings could be drawn from funding for military family housing needs in South Korea as well as from the nuclear weapons budget.
Taking a cue from their Senate counterparts, the chairs of the House Armed Services, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees wrote President Obama recently requesting that he outline the potential impact of sequestration on the Department of Defense and the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The three also expressed disdain over the President’s threatened veto of any sequester nullification plan that does not include a “balanced” mix of revenue and spending cuts and also urged the administration to interpret the sequester provision in a way that protects funding for the troops in the OCO account: “If there is flexibility in the law, we urge you stand on the side of our troops — do not apply sequester to [war] activities.” However, former Maj. Gen. Punaro said there’s no way that Congress will allow sequestration of war funds, irrespective of whether or not it ultimately nullifies sequestration in its entirety. Punaro predicts that if that Congress can’t pass a defense spending bill by the end of the Fiscal Year, then it will pass a Continuing Resolution that explicitly prevents the sequestration of OCO funds.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hosted Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey, and Comptroller Robert Hale for a hearing on the administration’s FY13 budget yesterday. During the hearing, Secretary Panetta pushed back at Congress’s seeming refusal to accept the White House’s proposed reductions in military spending. Panetta took particular aim at lawmakers’ opposition to proposed aircraft and ship retirements, their attempt to restrict the administration’s ability to make end-strength reductions, and their rejection of proposed military health care reforms.
Panetta also told the committee that the Pentagon will soon send to Congress a multi-billion reprogramming request to pay for increased fuel costs, deployments in the Middle East, and a missile-defense system for Israel. While discussing the potential of sequestration, the three officials said that the reprogramming of funds within the defense budget could help lessen the impact of automatic cuts, but not mitigate them entirely. Chairman Dempsey also laid out a series of scenarios under which sequestration could “increase the likelihood of conflict” for the United States.
Executive: Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey were in Asia last week bolstering relations with American allies in the region. During the trip, deals were inked to strengthen military cooperation between Vietnam and the United States and to allow limited deployments of U.S. aircraft and ships to the Philippines. Before his meeting with President Obama on Friday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino told reporters that his country has requested U.S. assistance in monitoring its vast maritime border and is specifically interested in acquiring a land-based radar system with which to increase its maritime surveillance capabilities. Going a step further, Filipino military officials told the Associated Press that they are pressing the United States to issue an unequivocal statement that the United States would protect the Philippines if a crisis were to break out between the South-East Asian country and China. Several Asian countries, including the Philippines, are currently mired in territorial disputes with China over contested regions of the South China Sea.
Strained relations between the United States and Pakistan seem to be deteriorating further following the announcement this week that the Department of Defense is pulling out a team of negotiators who were working with Pakistan to reopen its ground supply routes into Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the C.I.A. has received the green light to vastly increase the number of drone strikes it conducts in Pakistan due to U.S. officials’ concerns over inaction on the part of Pakistan in routing out and eliminating terrorists in its remote tribal regions. During a recent unannounced stopover in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Panetta voiced his frustration with Pakistan, saying “We are reaching the limits of our patience here.”
As part of its Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, the Department of Defense has proposed withdrawing two Army brigades from Europe and replacing them on a rotational basis as part of its larger overseas force re-posturing. However, the Government Accountability Office noted in a report last week that the Department of Defense has not calculated the costs of stationing two brigades in Europe on a rotational basis. GAO asserts that these rotational deployments “could include significant costs depending on their size and frequency.” The Army is using new authority, granted to it in May by Congress, to force some active duty troops out of service up to twelve months before their enlistment contracts expire. Under its old policy, the Army could only involuntarily separate soldiers with at most three months left on their contract.
The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson has authored an article in Forbes in which he asserts that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is progressing well, despite constant media criticism, and that ultimately, the aircraft’s cost could compare with the F-16. In rebutting the claims put forth in the Forbes’ piece, the Project on Government Oversight’s Winslow Wheeler offers some perspective to a rather one-sided article: “First, testers are not executing the 2012 plan, as planned. They have to ‘pull’ test points from upcoming years because of what testers call ‘engineering blocks’ on the testing they have planned. Nevertheless, DOD is still doing the easy part of the tests: weapons release, high angle of attack, more ship deployments, and more are yet to come. Second, a lot of the testing being done is ‘regression testing,’ basically re-testing after you make a change to the configuration—it's mandatory ‘do over’ testing. What this means is that the aircraft is not ahead of the test schedule. Furthermore, compared to the original test plan, it is way behind, and the current pace is a reduced one that DOD imposed in the recent restructure of the program.”
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective: The defense authorization bill recently passed by the Republican-controlled House backtracks from the first round of Pentagon cuts required by the Budget Control Act (BCA) and nullifies the larger second round —their position essentially presumes the BCA will be overturned this fall. Democrats have been notably silent about supporting additional defense cuts and usually offer the opinion that BCA revision must involve a viable overall budget bargain.
When Chairman Carl Levin says he favors up to $100 billion spread over ten years in additional cuts to the Pentagon budget as part of comprehensive budget deal he is at least setting a marker in a negotiation in which few Democrats have been willing to take a public position. Regrettably, it is low marker, well below proposals from the Bowles-Simpson Commission, Domenici-Rivlin, and the Sustainable Defense task force. Levin is hopeful he can avoid deeper defense cuts when the Republicans relent on opposing revenue increases and, of course, the contours of any deal will be determined largely by election outcomes and the correlation of forces in Washington come next January. However, the more defense dollars that remain “on the negotiating table” the more room there will be for finding a reasonable compromise that sticks better than the current Budget Control Act. Leaders who take the Pentagon off the table before the real game has even been joined will find they have a weak hand to play.
News and Commentary
Battleland: Think-Tanked: Old Wine in Dark Bottles
Winslow Wheeler finds it interesting that two prominent, well-respected Washington think tanks, the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have recently published reports calling for additional reductions in Pentagon spending. Wheeler writes, “It is highly significant that mainstream thinking has moved beyond the vapid hysteria of the ‘doomsday’ comments made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, to debate over how to manage the further, all-but-inevitable, cuts.” However, Wheeler takes issue with a number of assumptions and recommendations included in the new reports. (For a copy of the CNAS report, click here, and for the CSIS report, here) (6/13/12)
According to data collected by the New America Foundation, “The Obama administration has launched an estimated 28 drone strikes and 13 air strikes in Yemen”, Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland report. They examine the evolution of the drone campaign since the inaugural strike in 2002 which killed top al Qaeda operative Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi. Although drone strikes have killed at least 16 high-value targets, it’s unclear whether these strikes are actually weakening AQAP, the Arabian Peninsula branch of al Qaeda. For Christopher Preble’s thoughts on the drone campaign in Yemen, click here. (6/12/12)
Inside Defense: Draft Pentagon Report Lays Out Key Lessons From Decade Of War
At the request of Chairman Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff has prepared a report outlining lessons learned from the past decade of war. The document, available in draft form from Inside Defense, is designed to “inform the development of tomorrow's military” and offers eleven major lessons (each explored individually in the article) to that end. The report also asserts that “DOD repeatedly failed to understand the environment in which the military operated”. Notably, the study emphasizes the necessity of cooperation and information sharing among departments in a period of increasing compartmentalization. For the Center for Public Integrity’s R. Jeffrey Smith’s thoughts on the report, click here. (6/11/12)
National Interest: About that Pivot to Asia
In explaining the White House’s new Asia Pacific pivot earlier this year, Secretary Panetta said the United States would seek to “strengthen the capabilities of the Pacific nations to defend and secure themselves.” However, the Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble is skeptical that this will lead to increased investments by Asian allies in their own defense budgets or that these allies’ militaries will be able to operate independently of the United States. Writes Preble, “At times, U.S. policy makers seem to be quite worried that other countries might acquire greater military capability and be more inclined to use it, but that has not occurred; most of America’s allies were militarily weak at the end of the Cold War, and they have allowed their hard power capability to atrophy further since then.” (6/11/12)
Washington Times: Pentagon weapon systems can survive spending cuts
In an article in the Washington Times, the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessment’s Todd Harrison predicts that major Pentagon systems, including the F-35 and the 11-carrier fleet, could survive the first year of sequestration, scheduled to take effect in early 2013. In the second year of sequestration, Harrison asserts that the Department would likely reduce the F-35 buy and field only 10 aircraft carriers. Gordon Adams, on the other hand, predicts that if sequestration takes effect, Congress will emulate recent history and “fix it after it happens.” (6/10/12)
Defense News: Weaker Defense Dollars
Three defense analysts discuss the unsustainable nature of the Pentagon’s budget. While much of the consternation and debate in Washington has been over the potential impact of sequestration, the authors point out a number of problems in U.S. military budgeting which go far beyond immediate deficit reduction efforts. The authors note that personnel and operating costs for the Pentagon have grown to seventy percent of the military budget, the latter having quadrupled in cost since 1980. At the same time, major weapons acquisition programs are growing in cost by 5 percent each year, a prime example being the Joint Strike Fighter, which witnessed 9 percent cost growth this year alone. The authors conclude that, “while the total reduction to the defense budget top line might only be the 17 percent enacted by the budget caps and the sequester, it will feel much deeper to the Pentagon because of the reduced purchasing power of the defense dollar.” (6/10/12)
New York Times: Nuclear Time Warp
The New York Times editorial board questions whether or not the House of Representatives realizes the Cold War has ended, citing its insistence on trying to maintain nuclear weapons spending at current levels as well as wasting “billions of dollars on unnecessary purchases” in future years. The editorial cites former Gen. James Cartwright’s recent assertion that the United States’ nuclear deterrence can be maintained with only 900 weapons, with less than half deployed; a fraction of the currently deployed arsenal of 1,500 warheads with thousands more in reserves. (6/10/12)
Associated Press: Pentagon crackdown on free guns riles some police
The Pentagon recently sent letters to 49 states requesting a full inventory of military equipment received through the Department of Defense’s Law Enforcement Support Office, which provides excess military hardware to local law enforcement agencies. This follows revelations that an Arizona country sheriff’s office has stockpiled millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment and was considering selling it in violation of the program’s rules. The Associated Press notes that “The surplus program has grown exponentially in recent years, with a record $498 million worth of property distributed in fiscal year 2011.” (6/8/12)
Congressional Research Service: Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress (6/12/12)
Congressional Research Service: Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations (6/8/12)
Government Accountability Office: National Security: DOD Should Reevaluate Requirements for the Selective Service System (June, 2012)