Thursday, April 18, 2013

4/18/13 RD Bulletin: Levin Pitches Sequester Patch

News: Senator Carl Levin has suggested that Congress enact a one-year sequestration ‘patch’ that would nullify automatic cuts to the Pentagon’s budget in Fiscal Year 2014.
News: As early as this summer, Boeing will begin testing an upgraded version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which the contractor hopes will be considered as a cheaper alternative to the F-35.
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective: Sequester-level cuts in military spending will have no discernible effect on the capacity of the U.S. to deter a new Korean war or change the likelihood of a decisive allied victory if conflict erupts. 

State of Play
More than a month after the onset of sequestration, neither the White House nor Congress are any closer to enacting a ‘grand bargain’ that could replace the nine-year sequester in its entirety or a one-year ‘patch’ that could be used to offset the FY13 or FY14 sequesters.  In fact, the recently unveiled budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 all but ignored the automatic spending reductions that impact almost every sector of the federal government.  Veteran defense reporter John Bennett believes that the recent budget request has but one purpose for the White House, and that is “constructing the foundation for a ‘grand bargain’ fiscal deal with Senate Republicans.”  As a result, sequestration still seems here to stay for the immediate future. 
This seeming lack of progress has prompted the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), to advocate for a one-year patch to avoid sequestration in Fiscal Year 2014.  Because both the White House and Congress are budgeting to pre-sequester levels, the military budget faces a more-than $50 billion cut in Fiscal Year 2014.  The FY13 sequester cuts are currently being implemented by the Office of Management and Budget.  If Congress decided to appropriate at the post-sequester spending levels in Fiscal Year 2014, it could avoid another sequester altogether.  Still, it appears as if Congress will continue to ignore sequestration as it drafts its FY14 spending bills.  While Levin remains hopeful that a ‘grand bargain’ will eventually be enacted, he believes that a one-year patch to avoid the automatic cuts in FY14 is essential.  Last year, Levin rejected similar temporary proposals from Republicans and instead advocated an annual military spending reduction of $10 billion per year for the next decade. 
Appearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon is preparing a large reprogramming request to offset some of the budgetary disruption resulting from the onset of sequestration.  For example, the department is currently facing a $22 billion shortfall in operations and maintenance funding in Fiscal Year 2013.  During the hearing, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale noted that the department is planning on reducing its civilian workforce by five to six percent between now and Fiscal Year 2018 in order to keep pace with active duty reductions.  Furthermore, Hale asserted that civilian workforce reductions will need to be coupled with infrastructure downsizing through the Base Realignment and Consolidation (BRAC) process.  The Pentagon says that their latest BRAC proposal stems from a 2004 study in which the department found it had 24 percent excess domestic infrastructure.  Still, Chairman Levin threw cold water on the proposal, saying he doesn’t think the Senate will be any more receptive to domestic base closures this year than it was last year. 
In its recent budget submission, the Army confirmed that the development phase of the new Ground Combat Vehicle program will be delayed by one year.  This delay follows a scathing Congressional Budget Office report that found alternative options to the GCV would be both more capable and less costly than current plans.  The new chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, Representative Michael Turner (R-OH), recently told reporters that he’s keeping a close watch on the Army’s acquisition budget, and especially the Ground Combat Vehicle, to make sure that another F-35-like boondoggle doesn’t emerge. 
Last month, Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced H.R. 1361, the Inefficient Defense Elimination Act of 2013, which would require the Pentagon to follow through on program terminations and the retirement of certain military assets that were included in last year’s budget.  This includes cancellation of the Global Hawk Block 30 drone program, the mothballing of the C-27J Spartan transport aircraft, and the early retirement of seven aging cruisers and two amphibious landing ships.  The Pentagon has included many of the aforementioned recommendations in this year’s budget.  Meanwhile, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) has introduced S. 664, the Government Contractor Accountability Act of 2013, which would require federal agencies to enact the recommendations of Inspectors General with respect to contractor savings and reforms.  “My bill would ensure [Inspector General] recommendations for cutting costs and rooting out fraud and abuse are given sufficient consideration by the federal agencies,” Shaheen said in a statement
Yesterday, Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders requesting decreased funding for ten military programs as appropriators begin drafting FY14 spending bills.  Among the items recommended for decreased funding, many of which are included in Coffman’s Smarter Than Sequester Defense Spending Reduction Act, are the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle, refurbishments for M1 Abrams tanks, military bands, and active duty Marine Corps and Army personnel.  Coffman wrote, “Our current fiscal situation requires us to identify spending reductions throughout the budget, including the defense budget.  However, we should do so in a responsible manner, with targeted reductions in less critically important areas.” 
As early as this summer, F/A-18 manufacturer Boeing will introduce an upgraded version of the Super Hornet, which the contractor hopes will be considered as a cheaper alternative to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II. The Navy currently plans to buy 260 units of the F-35C variant, a number at risk of being supplanted by the less expensive Super Hornets. Meanwhile, both USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert have reaffirmed their support for the F-35, though both parties acknowledge procurement is moving slowly: Gen. Amos referred to the procurement process as “constipated.” Gen. Amos and Adm. Greenert criticized the increased role of Pentagon program managers and blamed them for clogging procurement reform.  Meanwhile, the Marine Corps recently announced that its variant of the F-35 should be ready for initial operations as soon as July 2015. 
A yearlong Senate Armed Services Committee review has found that the United States spends more than $10 billion annually to maintain overseas bases in allied countries. Of this total, over seventy percent is distributed to Germany, Japan, and South Korea; where spending is $4 billion, $2 billion and $1.1 billion respectively. Compounding expenses, co-payments by the host countries are often accepted as ‘in-kind’ payments of services or facilities instead of cash.  Not only have allied payments failed to “keep up with rapidly rising U.S. costs,” the report notes, but there is scant congressional or Pentagon oversight of the construction projects. 
Global military spending dropped in 2012 for the first time since 1998.  According to a report prepared by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the international community spent $1.75 trillion on its military, down 0.5 percent from the year before.  Defense outlays shrank in the West, but rose in Russia, China, and the Middle East.  The United States retained the highest percentage at 39 percent of all military spending.  SIPRI experts noted that while Chinese military spending has increased over the past year, it has not seen a commensurate improvement in military capability. 
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective
Last week’s budget release came during the latest security crisis on the Korean peninsula and, not surprisingly, Pentagon officials sought to reassure South Korea that U.S. support would not be compromised by pending budget cuts.  Conservative commenters had already raised the threat of war in Korea as an example of the ‘danger of defense cuts.’  The Heritage Foundation’s Nick Zahn writes:  “The bottom line is that as U.S. capability erodes, warfighters will be unable to provide the necessary credible deterrence to maintain peace—not just on the Korean peninsula, but elsewhere in the world.” 
So, will a cut in the Pentagon’s ten year base budget as deep as 15-18 percent have a serious negative effect on the capacity of the U.S. to support South Korea should general war break out on the peninsula?  Even allowing for some considerable mismanagement of the coming drawdown at the Pentagon, it is hard to imagine how the ROK-U.S. alliance does not decisively win such a war.  Although smaller in numbers, the South Korean military far out-matches the North in capability and the ROK arguably no longer needs the alliance with the U.S. to defend itself.  When the enormous military strength of the U.S. is added to the picture, North Korea correctly worries that should general war occur its capitol city and government will fall to an allied counter-offensive.  It is hard to imagine stronger conventional deterrence of a North Korean invasion of the South.  Given its comparative disadvantage in conventional war, it’s no wonder that the North wants nuclear weapons.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, recently noted: “If there were to be a war, North Korea would surely lose, and the Kim dynasty would come to an end.  They are most unlikely to launch an all-out war. They are highly rational, just with a different set of standards.”
That said, it cannot be ruled out that North Korea might initiate or stumble into general war with the South.  But the likelihood of such a gravely unfortunate circumstance has essentially no relationship to the level of U.S. defense spending.  Reductions of 25 percent or more in the U.S. base defense budget would have no discernible effect on ROK-U.S. military capability regarding deterrence or war.
What does matter in the present crisis is the following:  
1) Allied forces optimized for offense feed Pyongyang’s fear of an allied invasion.   The deployment of offense-optimized forces should be minimized while also reassuring the North through diplomatic channels that the U.S. will not support offensive operations if the North restrains itself from war.  This is a much needed confidence-building measure the U.S. can afford from its position of strategic advantage. 
2) American and allied leaders need to make an offer of something of symbolic value (‘face saving’) to Kim Jong-un that will help him conclude that he can afford to back down from his ill-advised bluster. 
3) The United States needs the help of China in restraining Pyongyang and in preparing the way for the eventual transition to modern governance in the North and the likely political reunification of the peninsula.  That will require diplomatic moves starting now to pre-arrange denuclearization and the non-alignment of a unified Korea.  Otherwise China will prefer to keep the communist regime in the north limping along indefinitely.
News and Commentary
Foreign Policy: Channeling Bush's Budget TricksGordon Adams
“Now we don't have anything close to a realistic "suggested" amount for war costs. The Pentagon has let it be known that it has already underestimated this year's war costs by close to $10 billion, most of it in the Army. According to Foreign Policy's Kevin Baron, Comptroller Bob Hale said in testimony: ‘Here there's a simple story about fiscal '14 OCO budget: We don't have one yet.’ That's a shame. Thirteen years of war and the Pentagon still can't tell you what the war costs? Not plausible. Watch out for the OCO budget when it comes. With sequestration underway and ineptitude showing up in the planning, it could be a doozy.”  (4/17/13)
Stimson Center: Treading Water: National Security in the FY14 BudgetRussell Rumbaugh
“President Obama's budget request was released last week with some dramatic proposals, including raising taxes and changing how Social Security is calculated. The dramatic changes are meant as the framework for a deal to finally resolve the budget fights that have been running since 2010. But the budgets concerning national security are not terribly dramatic. Since national security cannot help drive a deal, the defense and international affairs budgets are status quo budgets, avoiding changes that might be opposed by the executive agencies and so open another front in the budget battles.”
Defense News: Senkakus Could Be Undoing of Asia PivotWendell Minnick
“America’s strategic rebalancing toward the Pacific — known as the ‘Asia pivot’ — could meet its first unwanted test over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, now being challenged for control by China… The question many are asking is: Would Washington fulfill its defense treaty obligations with Japan by taking an active military role to remove Chinese forces from the islands? Or would the U.S. hesitate for political and economic reasons to placate China? If so, what would this mean for regional confidence in America’s commitments to peace and stability?”  (4/16/13)
POLITICO: A reality check for missile defenseLaura Grego
“Our political and military leaders are deceiving themselves if they believe the U.S. strategic missile defense system works as advertised, and maintaining this deception will have implications beyond North Korea. Building more of these systems — whether they work or not — could provide Russia and China motivation (at worst) or justification (at best) to modernize their nuclear arsenals, which would undermine efforts to reduce nuclear weapons worldwide. Ultimately, the U.S. long-range missile defense system is an expensive symbolic gesture that may do more to imperil American security than guarantee it. After 30 years, we must start to deal with reality.” (4/16/13)
“More than ten weeks after his confirmation as the new United States Secretary of State, John Kerry finally went to Asia. The former Massachusetts senator stopped in South Korea, Japan, and China over the busy weekend, the first time an American Secretary of State visited all three nations in the same trip. Kerry's visit also coincided with the escalating crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a subject of increasing concern for Washington. But zooming out a bit, Kerry's visit also provides a fresh opportunity to examine the ‘Pivot to Asia,’ one of the Obama Administration's central foreign policy initiatives. Simply put, the pivot is meant to be a strategic ‘re-balancing’ of U.S. interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia. But what does that really mean, in practice?”  (4/15/13)
“The average American spends $2,300 on the military, based on the latest data available. That is roughly four and a half times more than what the average person in other NATO countries spends. These countries boast a collective GDP of approximately $19 trillion, 25 percent higher than the U.S. They obviously can afford to spend more. So why don’t they? Because Uncle Sucker picks up nearly the entire tab.”
“The budget request willfully ignores reality in three ways: It treats sequestration and deeper budget decline like the ghost in the closet -- there, but not remembered. It contains a lot of wishful thinking about the hard choices the Pentagon faces, asking Congress for things Congress will not provide. And it projects growth for programs and forces that will not survive in this budget environment. It is no wonder the mainstream press has generally ignored the defense budget this year. The reality is that DOD's funds are not at the center of public attention… Defense budget levels are just collateral damage in this bigger budget fight, as they have been for the last two years. They will be adjusted to fit any overall budget deal or will simply be nibbled away at, year by year over the next decade.”  (4/12/13)
U.S. News and World Report: U.S. Soldiers to 'Go Native' on OperationsPaul Shinkman
“America's premier land force faces the challenge of remaining relevant in a world where enemies no longer send tank columns to follow up on formal declarations of war. This identity crisis is further hampered by an excruciating budget season where all service branches have to accommodate sequestration cuts on top of ever tightening purse strings. So the Army has adopted a new motto of sorts: ‘Projecting a credibility that prevents conflict,’ to capitalize on the notion that nobody picks fights with the biggest guy at the bar.”  (4/12/13)
“President Obama’s budget presentation for the Department of Defense and national security-related activities outside of the Defense Department is useless for understanding what he and Congress have enacted for the current 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The budget material for 2014 also shows there is no new thinking in the Obama Administration for putting U.S. national security spending on a constructive path. Given the dysfunctional Congress that’s getting the new budget, we should expect the worst: delay, chaos and decisions to increase, not control, costs.”  (4/12/13)
Center for American Progress: The Pentagon Must Carry Its Weight - Lawrence Korb, Alex Rothman, Max Hoffman
“In its latest budget proposal to Congress, the Obama administration has requested $526.6 billion in baseline funding for the Department of Defense, a $1 billion increase from the administration’s defense budget request last year. In accordance with the long-term budget plan it announced last year, the Obama administration’s FY 2014 defense budget request holds the baseline defense budget steady at historic highs after a decade of tremendous growth. This is a missed opportunity to realign our national security priorities. Unnecessary defense spending does not make us safer; it diverts resources away from other critical investments here at home that create jobs and rebuild our infrastructure.”  (4/11/13)
“First, the Pentagon’s managers haven’t yet figured out where to cut the $52 billion from current programs. (Furloughing civilians and a scattershot of administrative reforms don’t quite make it.) Second, these same managers are assuming that, by the time this new FY14 budget takes hold, everything is back to normal, and all the funds cut by sequestration have been restored. Certainly there’s nothing in the FY14 budget that assumes anything cataclysmic has happened with the FY13 budget.”  (4/10/13)
Infinity Journal: What is Strategy
“What are we talking about? The noun and the adjective, strategy and strategic, are so commonly, indeed casually employed that it can be shocking to appreciate how frequently they are misapplied.   Given the very high stakes of this subject for national and international security, misunderstanding and therefore misuse of the concept of strategy can be dangerous and expensive.  Fortunately, such perils and costs are as easily avoidable as they are gratuitous. For an efficient definition of strategy, the following has sufficient merit to serve well enough: ‘Military strategy is the direction and use made of force and the threat of force for the purposes of policy as decided by politics’” (4/3/13)
Congressional Budget Office: Snapshot of Spending for Military Retirement Pay (4/17/13)
Congressional Research Service: Trends in Discretionary Spending (4/15/13)
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2012 (April 2013)