Monday, October 15, 2012

10/11/12 RD Bulletin: Details of Gov. Romney's Massive Military Buildup Begin to Emerge

News: GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s top national security adviser, John Lehman, recently sat down with Defense News’ Christopher Cravas to outline exactly how a Romney administration would increase naval spending. 
Reports: The Ploughshares Fund has released a new report which estimates that the United States will spend $620-661 billion on its nuclear weapons program and related activities over the next ten years.
State of Play
Legislative: The Ranking Member of the House Committee on Appropriations and its subcommittee on defense, Representative Norm Dicks (D-WA), sent a Dear Colleague letter this week with an accompanying report highlighting the potential impact of sequestration on both defense and non-defense accounts.  The report highlights the fact that under sequestration, the Pentagon would be forced to cut from its budget four F-35s, eight UH-60 Blackhawks, five CH-47 Chinooks, 11 Stryker vehicles, two F-18G Growlers, three F/A-18s, and one P8A Poseidon.  Of note, Dick points out that defense faces not only one sequester of approximately $55 billion come January 2013, but it also faces a second “mini-sequester” totaling $10-11 billion.  The second mini-sequester is scheduled to occur next year because the Continuing Resolution which was recently passed into law appropriates defense spending above the defense sub-cap implemented by the Budget Control Act. 
Notably, in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission, President Barack Obama proposed nullifying the defense/non-defense spending sub-caps currently in law in favor of reverting back to security/non-security caps, in which case, the Continuing Resolution would adhere more closely to the BCA.  In his letter, Dicks also cited a recent Congressional Research Service report, which references a widely debunked Aerospace Industries Association analysis on the potential impact of sequestration on jobs in the defense industry.  Inside Defense reports that, due to a backlog of unobligated funds not secured under contract, the Pentagon’s acquisition account could be hit harder by sequestration than other accounts with less unobligated funding. 
A small group of senators, dubbed the “Gang of Eight,” is continuing to meet in Washington to develop the outline of a $4-5 trillion deficit reduction package that could replace sequestration in its entirety.  However, senior Democratic Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) threw cold water on the group’s intention to lower individual income tax rates through the elimination of so-called loopholes and exemptions in the tax code.  Instead, Schumer believes that taxes on wealthy individuals should be raised in order to pay for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000 per year.  Ultimately, Schumer wants a long-term deficit reduction package that yields $1.5 trillion in new revenue and tackles entitlement reform.  Reforming and overhauling the tax code are central to both the Gang of Eight’s efforts as well as the Simpson Bowles plan that was released two years ago.  So far, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have remained noticeably silent on the Gang of Eight’s work.   
Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seemed to state the obvious this weekend when he predicted that Congress would be unable to enact a long-term deficit reduction package during the lame-duck session – all but guaranteeing that lawmakers will delay sequestration this winter instead of nullifying it in its entirety.  Furthermore, Boehner told Politico that he felt it was inappropriate to pass such significant legislation during a lame-duck session, saying “Frankly, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do — have a lot of retiring members and defeated members voting on really big bills.”  Democrats were seemingly disappointed by the Speaker’s lack of optimism.  And, as if to bring home the point, an unnamed Congressional aide told Talking Points Memo that the Gang of Eight has made little progress in reaching a long-term agreement, “I’d put the odds at 50-50 that they ever reach an agreement [and] I can tell you with near certainty that there’s not gonna be any agreement before the election.” 
Before the Senate broke for its pre-election campaign season, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to secure unanimous consent to limit debate and amendments on the National Defense Authorization Act, a request that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) objected to because many senators had already left Capitol Hill.  Because of a lack of agreement over how to proceed on the measure, and due to the increasingly long list of important items that Congress will face when it returns to Washington after the election, defense aides in the Senate have begun meeting on Capitol Hill to discuss potential amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, reports CQ Today.  Aides are attempting to reach agreement on the scope and substance of amendments before the measure is brought to the Floor sometime in November or December.  Furthermore, House defense aides have begun “pre-conferencing” the bill with their Senate counterparts in an attempt to smooth passage from one chamber to the other. 
In other committee news, the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to lose four of its most senior Democratic members, including Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Ben Nelson (D-NE), many of whom have strongly supported U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.  Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) has requested a spot on SASC, where he would become the third ranking Democrat due to his previous service on the committee.  Also, because of Republican party rules governing committee seniority, Senator John McCain cannot remain Ranking Member on the armed services committee if Democrats retain control of the Senate, likely making Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) the senior Republican on the committee next year.  If Republicans do gain control of the Senate, McCain would likely rise to become its next chairman. 
Executive: In a major foreign policy speech before the Virginia Military Institute this week, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama for overseeing “devastating” and “arbitrary” cuts to the military budget, despite the fact that the cuts Romney is referring to were enacted on a bipartisan basis by Congress  in order to prevent the further downgrading of the U.S. government debt rating.  Romney also repeated his commitment to vastly increasing the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding budget and increasing the number of vessels procured each year from around nine to fifteen. 
While Governor Romney’s speech failed to detail the specifics of his proposed shipbuilding budget, one of Romney’s top national security advisors and a former Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, sat down with Defense News’ Christopher Cavas to explain in further detail what the GOP candidate is proposing: A Romney-led Pentagon would field a 350-vessel Navy by 2023, develop a new missile defense ship based on the DDG-1000 or the LPD-17, field an additional carrier air wing, increase the pace of Virginia-class submarine and destroyer procurement, and increase by one third the size of the Marine Corps’ amphibious fleet.  Lehman also said a Romney administration would continue to procure the Littoral Combat Ship while it developed a new class of frigates, and it would also keep the F-18 in production rather than shutting it down as planned in 2014.  Lehman proposes paying for this vast increase in naval spending by “fundamentally changing” the way the Pentagon conducts business and reducing the size of the military’s bureaucracy. 
In the latest of a series of meetings meant to gauge industry concerns over sequestration, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey recently met with Boeing executives who expressed consternation over the forthcoming spending reductions.  While defense contractors have taken up the Pentagon’s colorful language regarding the impact of sequestration, defense consultant Jim McAleese tells Politico that no one in the industry really believes the cuts will materialize, saying, “The contractors are fairly vehement about the importance of avoiding sequester, but their conduct demonstrates that they clearly are anticipating a compromise.” 
The Ploughshares Fund has released a new report which estimates that the United States will spend $620-661 billion on its nuclear weapons program and related activities over the next ten years.  The report estimates that, currently, the U.S. is spending $56 billion on nuclear weapons and associated programs.  Interestingly, earlier this year, the Ploughshares Fund sponsored a Stimson Center study which estimated that the United States would spend $352-392 billion on strategic nuclear forces over the next decade.  However, the two reports use different metrics to estimate the projected costs of modernizing and maintaining the nuclear arsenal.
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective
Mitt Romney is so sure he can unleash the native economic potential of America now shackled by the drag of government regulation, taxation and entitlements that he is promising to spend like a sailor on the Navy. Or maybe he is just wrapping military Keynesianism in conservative rhetoric, much as Ronald Reagan did in his first term.  Either way, his naval advisor, John Lehman, who worked hard for a 600 ship Navy under President Reagan, is talking about a Romney plan for a 350 ship Navy ten years from now.  This is a 25 percent increase in the size of the current fleet with a likely price tag of somewhere between $150-300 billion.  Lehman has declined to put a price on the plan, preferring to talk about hypothetical savings from greater competition in procurement contracts and cuts in bureaucracy.
What gets lost early in most discussions about numbers of ships in the battle fleet is that ships today pack so much more firepower than thirty years ago.  A 350 ship battle fleet would probably have more power than Lehman would have had with 600 ships in Reagan’s time.  And let’s not forget that there is no rival Soviet navy out on the blue. 
Of course, people speculate about future Chinese rivalry.  But, to paraphrase the Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson, it seems Governor Romney will end up having to “borrow from” (sell more treasuries to) China in order to pay for the great fleet he says is needed to contain or dissuade China’s ambitions.  Thompson calls Romney plan “both paradoxical and improbable.” 
A 350 ship Navy is a bad investment choice for the coming period.  Two-thirds that number will meet the twin criteria of sufficiency and sustainability.  Want an extra margin of security?  The U.S. needs to get better at encouraging other nations to contribute more ships to multi-national naval task forces which demonstrate capacity and commitment to securing the commons.  It would be a costly and ultimately self-defeating ambition for the U.S. Navy to take on alone the mission of patrolling and securing the globe’s vast oceans into the next decade.
News and Commentary
In its FY13 budget submission, the Pentagon proposed stopping production and recapitalization of the M1 Abrams tank in order to save an estimated $3 billion.  Subsequently, 173 members of the House wrote to the Army urging it to reverse its decision and keep the tank production line “hot.”  Unsurprisingly, many of the members of Congress who signed the letter have also received campaign contributions from the tank’s manufacturer, General Dynamics.  CNN was allowed a rare visit to a boneyard facility in Nevada where 2,000 Abrams are currently collecting dust.  (10/9/12)
On defense, Governor Romney has vowed to reverse statutory spending reductions and instead, peg military spending at 4 percent of GDP.  The Center for a New American Security’s (CNAS) Travis Sharp notes that, though the Romney plan would reduce strategic risk with quantity increases, it “doesn't look realistic under the current status quo.”  Sharp suggests that the question shouldn't be about numbers, however, but rather reaching a decision about what America's role should be in the world. (10/8/12)
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) “cannot match the combat power of similar sized foreign warships costing only a fraction as much” writes retired USMC Lieutenant Colonel John Sayen. The ships will cost over $700 million apiece, more than twice the original estimate, and yet they are not as well armed as their cheaper competitors.  Additionally the versatile module system, a selling point of the program, takes weeks instead of days to swap.  Of the three modules currently under development, none will be testable until late 2013 or operational until 2016.  Writes Sayen, “The level of incompetence the Navy has displayed with the LCS is truly breathtaking.” (10/5/12)
James Carafano argues that pegging defense spending to GDP is not an unreasonable idea, but is complex in its implementation.  Regarding whether Governor Romney's 4 percent plan would improve security, Carafano answers that it is, “like everything pertaining to the Pentagon's budget -- complicated.” He suggests “the QDR lowballed real defense needs,” and, citing a Heritage Foundation study, points out numerous areas where military quantity would shrink.  Carafano concludes, however, by explicating the cost of the 4 percent plan: In order to pay for it, the next administration would “simultaneously have to tackle tax reform, rein in other discretionary spending, seriously reform entitlement programs, and promote economic growth.” (10/5/12)
Foreign Policy: Deterrent Effect
The former president of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Bates Gill, argues that technological advancements in new forms of high-tech weaponry may make nuclear powers less inclined to disarm.  Specifically, Gill cites advancements in missile defense technology, development of global precision-strike weapons, and new forms of cyber-espionage as developments that may impede global disarmament efforts.  “With the improvement and proliferation [of] advanced conventional capabilities -- the major nuclear powers are coming to a critical disarmament crossroads that will demand far greater confidence amongst them so that significant new reductions are possible while still preserving a fundamentally stable deterrence dynamic.”  (10/5/12)
The Brave New Foundation’s Robert Greenwald and John Amick argue that sequestration should be applied to wasteful Pentagon programs to clear out unnecessary spending.  The authors cite bringing defense spending down to the level appropriated in 2006, the amount that the sequester would cut, as “hardly a time of desperation for the Pentagon and the many contractors that got fat during two wars.”  (10/4/12)
On September 28, General Dempsey released the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, a strategic concept for the future of the military based around networking capabilities for rapid and “fluid” action.  However, Gordon Adams believes the Capstone Concept is flawed because it is “still framing strategy with little reference to the reality that resources are limited.”  Referring to the concept as a vague, “plea for more money,” Adams notes that the strategy does not set the priorities necessitated by a constrained budget. “With or without a sequester, we are in a defense draw down era...Only the planners seem to have missed that point.” Adams specifically notes that the document places the military as central to global strategy, rather than as a support function, and simply “does not pass this reality test.” (10/3/12)
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction: Safety Alert - Threat to U.S, Forces from Lack of Culvert Denial Systems on a Major Highway in Afghanistan (10/10/12)
Congressional Budget Office: Monthly Budget Review (10/5/12)
Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General: Improvement Needed With DoD Single-Bid Program to Increase Effective Competition for Contracts (10/4/12)
Congressional Research Service: Pakistan: U.S. Foreign Assistance (10/4/12)
Department of Defense: Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement (10/4/12)
Ploughshares Fund: What Nuclear Weapons Cost Us (September, 2012)
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Affairs: Analysis of the FY2013 Defense Budget and Sequestration (8/24/12)