Thursday, June 6, 2013

6/6/13 RD Bulletin: DoD Finally Acknowledges Sequester is Here to Stay

News: The deputy secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, has directed planners and program managers at the Pentagon to begin developing sequestration-level budget plans for the next five years.
News: The House Armed Services Committee has completed its markup of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.  An amendment offered by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) that would have delayed procurement of the F-35 was defeated.
PDA Perspective: The replacement of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon by Susan Rice portends more military intervention in the Middle East, possibly consuming the budget savings that Donilon sought through the ‘Asia Pivot.’

State of Play
More than three months after the onset of sequestration, the situation has improved little for the Pentagon, which seems to finally be acknowledging that Budget Control Act cuts are here to stay.  Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall told an audience at a Navy forum earlier this week that “It’s a reasonable possibility that we will go into 2014 with sequestration still underway.” 
Backing up this declaration, on May 29, deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter issued department-wide guidance directing program managers to begin planning for sequestration in earnest.  At the behest of Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and James Inhofe (R-OK), Carter has directed program managers to develop two scenarios for Fiscal Year 2014: one in which an across-the-board ten percent reduction in spending is applied, and a separate scenario, in which a ten percent reduction in spending occurs, but the Pentagon has the latitude and flexibility to enact the cuts as it sees fit. 
Despite the latter scenario, the White House remains opposed to receiving greater flexibility in how sequestration cuts are applied.  As Roll Call recently noted, the White House would have to “own the particular political pain they choose to implement, and it would diminish pressure for a larger deal, which was supposed to be the point of the sequester in the first place.”  The revised FY14 defense budget is expected to be completed by July 1
Additionally, Carter has directed program managers to begin incorporating sequestration-level cuts into their fiscal year 2015-2019 budget programming.  For this exercise, Carter has requested that program managers develop an FY15-19 budget that hues closely to President Obama’s FY14 budget; one that assumes a five percent cut; and one that assumes a ten percent cut (roughly what sequestration entails). 
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review, also being spearheaded by Ashton Carter, which was supposed to have been completed by May 31, has been delayed.  The review is intended to reexamine President Barack Obama’s 2012 defense guidance in light of sequestration.  The congressional Armed Services Committees had been hopeful that the strategic review would be released before the committees began consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act; however, it now appears that the review will not be delivered in time.  While the details and substance of the review remain concealed, The Hill’s John Bennett reports that the military services are already “pushing back hard” against its recommendations.  Bennett further notes that Hagel will be briefed on the review sometime this week. 
While the Defense Department is busy gaming the effects of sequestration, a group of think tanks has been conducting similar exercises outside of the Pentagon.  Last week, four prominent D.C. think tanks released the results of an exercise in which they developed two consecutive five-year defense plans that incorporated sequestration-level savings.   Despite the wide ideological divide among the groups represented, there was some remarkable convergence of opinion: the groups all proposed slashing funding for personnel and readiness while investing heavily in next-generation technologies like unmanned systems, direct energy weapons, and fifth-generation aircraft.  The groups also recommend retiring ‘legacy’ aircraft and naval vessels and cutting the number of large-desk aircraft carriers. 
Then, earlier this week, a group of ten think tanks across the political spectrum released an open letter calling on Congress to reduce the DoD civilian workforce, cut domestic infrastructure, and enact compensation reform.  One of the letter’s signatories, the Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble, says he hopes that this letter “and the subsequent events and articles that will flow from it, provides some much needed cover for members of Congress, and other experts within the policy community, to advocate for these sensible and long-overdue reforms.”  Last year, Preble co-authored a report along with analysts at the Project on Defense Alternatives, which called for the elimination of 10,000 civilian defense personnel.  And just this past week, GAO chastised the Pentagon for failing to “assess the appropriate mix of its military, civilian, and contractor personnel capabilities in its strategic workforce plan as required by law.” 
The House of Representatives has begun serious work on crafting spending bills for Fiscal Year 2014 with a subcommittee markup of the annual defense spending bill this week.  The House Appropriations subcommittee on defense approved a defense appropriations bill that would provide $512.5 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget (excluding military construction and family housing).  According to a committee press release, this topline amount is $3.4 billion less than the President has requested and $5.1 billion below last year’s enacted level.  It is also approximately $28.1 billion above the “current level caused by automatic sequestration spending cuts.”  The draft legislation proposes rescinding $3 billion in previously allocated funding for weapons-modernization accounts and includes funding for a controversial East Coast-based missile defense shield. 
The full House is moving forward with two other spending bills, even though the chamber has not yet formally met with the Senate in order to agree upon spending levels for Fiscal Year 2014.  In fact, House Republicans have instructed their appropriators to move forward with the spending levels outlined in Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget resolution in the absence of formal agreement with the Senate.  Because Ryan proposed increasing cuts to domestic programs in order to shore up funding for the Department of Defense, President Obama has issued veto threats for appropriations bills currently being considered by the House. 
Early this morning, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) completed its markup of the National Defense Authorization Act.  Like the President’s budget request and the House Appropriations Committee, HASC has chosen to ignore the onset of sequestration during its development of the military authorization legislation.  It would authorize $526.6 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, close to $18 billion for other national security activities outside the Pentagon, and an additional $85.8 billion in war funding.
During committee markup, an amendment offered by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) was defeated that would have held up funding for the F-35 until the Pentagon addresses underlying concurrency problems.  Commenting on the Duckworth amendment, the Project on Government Oversight’s Winslow Wheeler remarks, “Sadly, the opponents to the Duckworth amendment used GAO's recent study (and declaration of ‘considerable progress’ in the program) to talk in favor of maintaining the current high level of concurrency.  GAO now finds itself in the preposterous position of its most recent report being used against the reductions in concurrency it has advocated for years.”
Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective
The appointment of Susan Rice as the next National Security Advisor and the nomination of Samantha Power to replace Rice as ambassador to the United Nations raise doubts about whether President Obama has learned the lessons of recent military inventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.  These selections may also portend further American intervention in the Syrian civil conflict.
Both Rice and Power are liberal military interventionists. In other words, they are proponents of proactively using the military to put right what Washington thinks is wrong in the world.  In reporting the announcements, journalist Oliver Knox states that “both criticized the Iraq war and are not known as eager interventionists.”  If only this were true. 
Benjamin Friedman of the Cato Institute writes that Rice “…criticized the conduct of the [Iraq] occupation but not the decision to invade. She became an advocate of nation-building in failed states. She took the standard Democratic hawk view on Iran: negotiate but threaten war to prevent nuclear weapons development. As Obama's campaign surrogate, she backed increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, and, in office, she defended the troop surge he implemented there. And, of course, as U.N. ambassador, Rice was a leading force behind U.S. intervention in Libya, which the administration justified through a series of arguments that bore little scrutiny then and have aged poorly.”
And, of course, as U.N. ambassador, Rice was a leading force behind U.S. intervention in Libya, which the administration justified through a series of arguments that bore little scrutiny then and have aged poorly. Now the Obama administration publicly supports regime change in Syria.  Will Susan Rice advise for military intervention in support of that objective? 
Walter Russell Mead has described Samantha Power as a “humanitarian hawk.” Like Rice, she has been credited with helping persuade President Obama to intervene in Libya.  In her future role as ambassador to the U.N. she can be expected to build support for Western-led air intervention against Assad should Obama decide to pursue that option.
Susan Rice is replacing Tom Donilon, who conceived of the new strategic adjustment known as the “Asia Pivot.”  No pivot would have been necessary if the United States had the strategic resources required to be everywhere in the world.  The pivot was a modest concession to new strategic, economic, and fiscal realities.  Now, as Walter Russell Mead points out, “just as a reluctant Clinton administration was ultimately forced to raise its profile in Bosnia and later in Kosovo, it seems that the Obama administration is going to have to do more in the Middle East.”  Susan Rice may help facilitate a swing back toward the region. 
Any military intervention in Syria will have significant consequences for attempts to sustainably reduce the Pentagon budget.  Even limited military intervention options, like no-fly-zones, are expensive, especially if they last more than a few months.  And, of course, new military operations overseas make it harder to build political support for a more restrained strategic agenda and associated budget reductions. 
News and Commentary
U.S. News and World Report: Buying Submarines in an Age of AusterityBenjamin Freeman
“The Navy’s shipbuilding plan is simply ‘unaffordable,’ as Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., pointed out during the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee's markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 last week. Why is the Navy's plan ‘unaffordable?’ One of the culprits is the Navy's new nuclear ballistic missile submarines, known as the SSBN[X]. The Navy is planning to procure 12 SSBN[X] at a cost of nearly $6 billion each. These extraordinarily high costs ‘crowd out spending for other necessary ships,’ according to Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., who represents the state where the current Ohio class nuclear missile submarines were manufactured.”  (6/4/13)
“Changes are needed in U.S. national-security strategy and structure, but Hagel must guard against attempts to adjust the purpose and nature of our armed forces to cope with the deteriorating economies and dysfunctional societies of the Middle East, Africa, Southwest Asia and parts of Latin America. Wars in the decades ahead will resemble the Balkan wars of the early 20th Century — except that fights for regional power and influence will overlap with the international competition for energy, water, food, mineral resources and the wealth they create.”  (6/4/13)
TIME: The New Era of Good F-35 FeelingsWinslow Wheeler
“The F-35… appears to be emerging more or less unscathed from the cuts the Defense Department is required to make under the Budget Control Act of 2011. Due to the widely-dreaded sequester, various F-35 accounts would be in line for significant cuts. But Pentagon witnesses at that April 24 Senate hearing made clear that any reductions in the F-35 program will be held to an absolute minimum. Other programs may even be called on to transfer money to it through the reprogramming process. But dodging budget cuts is not the real check on whether the F-35 is ‘moving in the right direction.’ The real test is two-fold: 1) Are the costs really ‘coming down?’ 2) How does the aircraft perform?”  (6/3/13)
“Three summers ago, Richard V. Spencer, a retired investment banker who serves on a Pentagon advisory board, proposed shutting down the commissary at Camp Lejeune and every other domestic military base, a step that would save taxpayers about $1 billion a year… When the Defense Department bureaucracy that runs the commissaries learned of Spencer’s plan, it sounded an alarm among allies in industry and in Congress. A trade group whose mission is to represent companies that sell goods in military stores fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, warning him it would be ‘ill-advised’ to make major changes. Senators and representatives dispatched similar missives. So did veterans groups. As the correspondence stacked up in his inbox, Gates summoned Spencer and other members of the Defense Business Board. ‘Richard, my fax machine is vomiting letters of complaint,’ Spencer recalled Gates telling him. Worried that congressional anger would doom other Pentagon cost-cutting initiatives, Gates told Spencer to drop his commissary plan.”  (6/1/13)
“Congress should consider slowing funding for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship because the Pentagon is buying vessels faster than it can test their design and performance, according to a Government Accountability Office report. The Navy hasn’t completed ‘technical studies that raise fundamental questions about whether the program, as envisioned, will meet the Navy’s needs,’ the GAO, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, says in a draft report obtained by Bloomberg News.”  (5/31/13)
Center for Public Integrity: Target malfunctions imperil U.S. missile defense effortRichard Sia
“For years, the public’s focus on the nation’s nearly $10 billion-a-year missile defense program has been on whether American interceptors can hit incoming ballistic missiles and protect the country and its allies, a feat often likened to hitting a speeding bullet with a bullet. More than $90 billion has been spent since 2002 to develop the means to target incoming threats and intercept them, but without much demonstrated success. Less attention has been paid to the targets used in U.S. missile defense testing, which have failed or malfunctioned at an alarming rate since the 2002 inception of the Missile Defense Agency… In the last five years, target problems occurred in two of the last three intercept tests of ground-based interceptors — such as those already deployed to Alaska and California — and in two of the last seven tests of the Army’s mobile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors.” (5/30/13)
National Defense: Top Marine Sees a Future of Perpetual WarSandra Erwin
“The Marine Corps… will downsize from 202,000 to 182,000. It plans to redeploy forces that are currently in Afghanistan to the Asia-Pacific region. How that will be accomplished with less money remains to be seen. Analysts have criticized Pentagon officials for being unrealistic about what they can afford to do in the future. ‘It has become uncommon to show in any detail how the quantity of proposed forces -- the number of units, assets, and personnel — actually correlate with specific security challenges and outcomes,’ said Carl Conetta, director of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Center for International Policy.”  (5/29/13)
“The Army calls its battlefield intelligence network a major high-tech breakthrough. Three soldiers, who have used it routinely in Afghanistan, say it’s a dud — a multibillion-dollar dud. ‘It is a huge, bloated, excessively expensive money pit,’ said an Army reservist recently back from the war zone. In the ongoing, high-stakes battle over the intelligence software, the three soldiers, who have been making the rounds in Washington to air their grievances, shared their experiences using the intelligence network with POLITICO.  (5/29/13)
New York Times: Throwing Money at Nukes
“The United States has about 180 B61 gravity nuclear bombs based in Europe. They are the detritus of the cold war, tactical weapons deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey to protect NATO allies from the once-feared Soviet advantage in conventional arms. But the cold war is long over, and no American military commander can conceive of their ever being used. Even so, President Obama has put $537 million in his 2014 budget proposal to upgrade these bombs. When all is said and done, experts say, the cost of the rebuilding program is expected to total around $10 billion — $4 billion more than an earlier projection — and yield an estimated 400 weapons, fitted with new guided tail kits so that they are more reliable and accurate than the current ones. This is a nonsensical decision, not least because it is at odds with Mr. Obama’s own vision.”  (5/26/13)
The Hill: Smart spending for national securityLawrence Korb
“Some people, like former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and current Army Secretary John McHugh, argue that the reductions mandated by sequestration will be irresponsible and devastating, and cannot be allowed to happen. From their letter, it appears Levin and Inhofe feel the same way. However, if the Pentagon plans for the reductions and makes them in a smart way they can easily be absorbed. In fact, had they done that this year, they would not have to be furloughing people or cutting back training hours as they are now doing.”  (5/24/13)
Global Security Newswire: Nuclear Arsenal Subject to Pentagon Cuts, But New Subs May Escape AxElaine Grossman
“The big-ticket item coming down the pike for modernizing the Navy’s aging ‘boomer’ submarines and their Trident D-5 ballistic missiles is the estimated $90 billion Ohio-class replacement vessel, also dubbed ‘SSBN(X).’ ‘For SSBN(X), I don’t see viable alternatives to going forward with the program,’ said the Defense leader, noting the Pentagon had already ‘made some significant adjustments’ to program costs by delaying fielding of the first vessel by two years to 2031. ‘It’s the most important element -- it’s the central element -- of our triad.’ That could leave the other two legs of the nuclear delivery arsenal -- Air Force bomber aircraft and ICBMs -- on the hot seat for reductions.”  (5/24/13)
“Pentagon propaganda programs are inadequately tracked, their impact is unclear, and the military doesn't know if it is targeting the right foreign audiences… Since 2005, the Pentagon has spent hundreds of million of dollars on Military Information Support Operations (MISO). These propaganda efforts include websites, leaflets and broadcasts intended to change foreigners' ‘attitudes and behaviors in support of U.S. Government’ objectives, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office. Some of them disclose the U.S. military as the source; others don't.”  (5/23/13)
Center for a New American Security: The Seven Deadly Sins of Defense Spending (6/6/13)
Center for American Progress: It’s Time to Hit the Reset Button on the Fiscal Debate (6/6/13)
R Street Institute & National Taxpayers Union: Defending America, Defending Taxpayers (6/4/13)
Department of the Navy: Overview of the Air-Sea Battle Concept (6/3/13)
Congressional Research Service: Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress (5/31/13)
Parameters: American Landpower and Modern US Generalship (Winter-Spring 2013)