Thursday, August 15, 2013

8/15/13 RD Bulletin: Major COCOM Consolidation Under Consideration


News: Though the Obama administration has restarted fiscal negotiations with Senate Republicans, the chances for a grand bargain deal remain elusive at best.  In the absence of such a deal, Senator Barbara Mikulski, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is floating the idea of a two-year sequester delay

News: Defense News reports that the Pentagon is considering consolidating its regional unified commands, which could result in the elimination of two commands and five thousand associated personnel.

PDA Perspective: In this week’s guest perspective, Georgetown University’s Don Daniel outlines the potential strategic benefits of sequestration.

State of Play

During President Barack Obama’s campaign for the White House last year, he forcefully committed to ending sequestration and working with Republicans to forge a ‘grand bargain’ deficit reduction package.  Just last week, the President stood before an audience of active duty military personnel and repeated his vow to end sequestration in its entirety.

Despite his dogged commitment, the President offered no new details as to how he would potentially forge a compromise budget deal with Republicans to avert the automatic cuts.  And despite the President’s optimism over passing a deal, the Joint Chiefs of Staff seem resigned to declining budgets for the foreseeable future.  Last week, deputy secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon will continue to search for ways to save money even if sequestration is nullified.  In fact, in the coming weeks, senior military officials will unveil a $50 billion savings plan comprised primarily of reforms to compensation, housing, and health care.

Although there is little sign of optimism emerging from the Pentagon, Defense News’ John Bennett reports that senior Republicans and White House officials have again begun talks aimed at crafting a budget compromise.  As Bennett explains, “the foundation for a possible fiscal deal is being laid not by Obama and congressional leaders, but by compromise-minded Senate Republicans and White House staffers eager to hand their boss a domestic policy feat that would be rivaled only by the passage of his controversial health care reform law.”

And though Congressional Democrats may be left out of the closed-door negotiations, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) announced recently that he is working with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on a revenue proposal that could generate $100 billion by closing tax loopholes.  Levin’s intent is for the $100 billion to be used to replace a portion of the sequester cuts.  The senator has previously floated the idea of culling $100 billion from the nuclear weapons budget.

Perhaps acknowledging that the chances for a long-term budget deal remain elusive at best, Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) recently proposed putting off sequestration for two years – either by delaying the cuts or replacing them with savings from elsewhere in the federal budget.  Still, long-time budget analyst Stan Collender says that the chances for a big budget deal are nil, and that even Mikulski’s proposal faces an up-hill battle: “Even a mini bargain ... won’t fly in the House of Representatives… Here’s a secret: It’s not likely to fly in the Senate, either,” Collender recently blogged.


For the better part of this year, the Pentagon has been warning that the twin pinch of operating under a Continuing Resolution combined with sequestration would require the department to furlough hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, which in turn could imperil America’s national security.  After months of progressively ratcheting down the number of days those civilian employees would lose work, the Pentagon has announced that it is ending furloughs for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013.  Ultimately, with Congress’s approval and assistance, the Pentagon has been able to shore up operations and maintenance accounts by reprogramming funding from war-related accounts and acquisition programs.

The Pentagon also has used similar budgeting tactics to protect high-priority weapons systems from sequestration, including the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.  However, the Project on Government Oversight’s Winslow Wheeler cautions that the Pentagon has not yet revealed how many F-35s will be cut, and may be engaging in fantastical thinking if it believes that the program can escape sequestration unscathed: “Despite speculation that five to ten (more likely the later) aircraft will fall out of the 2013 buy, DOD has refused to say how many. Unless budget-bargaining lightning strikes, there will also be a sequester in 2014. Given the disruption to the program in 2013 resulting from the sequester, which DOD has not yet acknowledged, the impact on the 2014 buy is very difficult to predict. In any case, the expectation of 29 F-35 purchases in 2014 and from 36 to 42 in 2015 is looking more and more fanciful,” Wheeler recently told Breaking Defense. 
As a result of reprogramming and transferring funds, the Pentagon has blunted the argument that sequestration entails a ‘salami-slicing’ of the defense budget, in which all programs and accounts suffer the same percentage cut.  Instead, the Pentagon is now demonstrating its ability to prioritize certain long-term investments while shifting funding away from relic systems and those that do not contribute to U.S. national security.  Still, pressure will only continue to mount on the Pentagon’s acquisition budget as, just recently, President Obama notified Congress that he will continue to exempt military personnel accounts from sequester cuts.
In fact, just two weeks ago, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel noted that if sequestration remains on the books, the United States would have to choose between a much smaller military and a decades-long “modernization holiday.”  Hagel’s deputy, Ash Carter, was much more blunt: “We can't rule out reductions in the civilian workforce and involuntary separations of military personnel… That's something none of us wants to do. But again if you have to have reductions this fast and this steep you have to go where it is possible to get money that fast.”

On July 31, Secretary Hagel mentioned that the Pentagon was considering consolidating combatant commands (COCOM), which provide command and control of U.S. military forces around the world.  While there is no official word from the Pentagon, Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber reports that a number of consolidations and realignments could occur within the nine COCOMs.  Some specific options under consideration include combing Northern and Southern Commands into one ‘Western Command,’ eliminating the newly-created Africa Command, and expanding Pacific Command to include operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Weisgerber notes that in total the consolidations could result in the elimination of two COCOMs and 5,000 uniformed and civilian personnel.  In a 2011 article in Joint Forces Quarterly, retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor proposed a similar concept: compress the six regional unified commands into four for savings of approximately $100 billion.


Due to sequestration, the Pentagon is taking offline a component of the current space fence, a system designed to track meteors as they pass through near-earth space.  The Air Force Space Surveillance System will be taken offline by October 1 for annual projected savings of $14 million.  The Air Force defended the decision to close the component – pointing to the fact that it is in the process of planning a replacement network of sensors, which will be based in the Marshall Islands.  However, the replacement space fence was one of the first victims of the recently completed Strategic Choices and Management Review.  As a result of the strategic review, the Air Force is delaying indefinitely awarding a contract for the replacement system.

For the second time this year, an Air Force missile unit in charge of operating Minutemen nuclear weapons has failed a safety and security test.  The latest safety failure involves the 341st Missile Wing, which includes around 3,000 personnel based in Montana.  The same air wing failed a similar inspection in 2008.  Earlier this year, a separate missile wing, based in South Dakota, flunked a safety inspection which led to the temporary suspension of seventeen airmen.

This past May, the Navy notified Congress that it is planning on extending the Virginia-class submarine program beyond its original 30-vessel buy.  According to Inside Defense, the Navy has programmed close to $600 million in Fiscal Year 2018 in order to help purchase an additional submarine in 2020.  In last year’s budget request, the Navy proposed stretching out the Virginia-class buy; however, after Congress requested an increase in production, the Navy reversed course.  The savings originally culled from stretching out the buy will now be programmed for the additional submarine in FY18.  A thirty-boat purchase is currently estimated to cost $92 billion.  It remains to be seen how sequestration will impact the Virginia-class program’s future.

Project on Defense Alternatives Perspective

In this week’s guest PDA Perspective, Georgetown University’s Professor Don Daniel argues that sequestration provides a strategic opportunity for the United States to reassess its global security posture.  An excerpt from Professor Daniel’s piece, “The Benefits of Sequester,” appears below. 

The adverse consequences of hangings and budgetary cutbacks preoccupy those who face them.  There may be no silver lining for those about to die, but there can be for those who must live with less.  Cutbacks can force evaluation of priorities and the slimming of organizations whose bloat clouds institutional concentration and hampers agility.  The DoD is one such organization: it has too many cooks concocting too many broths that either should be the responsibility of other elements of the US government or of no elements at all.   Thus, the sequester can be a blessing.

The DoD is like most organizations; if leaders do not have to make hard choices, they will avoid doing so.  Even the hard-nosed Donald Rumsfeld, a man with his own settled views, signed off on Quadrennial Defense Reviews that were criticized for their failure to provide the guidance necessary to choose between this or that entity, program, or provider of services.  But such guidance would probably have been superfluous; budgets after all were rising dramatically and (over)matching the increases in demands levied on the DoD.  The people asking the DoD to do more were understandably not interested in giving it less to do it with.

Ultimately, Daniel believes that sequestration will force a reevaluation of national priorities:

We are in a new era, and the sequester is nicely setting the scene to re-evaluate what we are about and how we should go about it.  From a top-down perspective, we need for our national leaders to explicitly call for a national discussion.  At the top of the agenda is the question: What are my country's requirements?

For the full text of Professor Daniel’s piece, click here
Professor Daniel teaches security studies at Georgetown University. Previously he was Special Assistant to the Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and prior to that he held the Milton E. Miles Chair of International Relations at the US Naval War College, Newport, RI, where he also chaired the Strategic Research Department in the College’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies.

News and Commentary


Medium: America Does Not Need the Air ForceDavid Axe
“The United States military is all about redundancy; in addition to two armies, it also fields two navies — the Navy and the Coast Guard — and five or six air forces, depending on how you count the aerial arms of the various branches. The real problem isn’t that the Army is marginally more or less useful that it was 10 years ago, but rather that the institutions that were designed in 1947, when the Army and Air Force split, are insufficiently flexible to negotiate the modern security landscape. The fault for this lies not primarily with the Army, but with the United States Air Force, an institution built on the optimistic vision that ordnance delivered from the air could, cheaply and cleanly, bring about a peaceful, American-dominated world.”  (8/12/13) 

Danger Room: How to Fix the Army: Sack All the GeneralsAlan McDuffee
“Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis doesn’t have faith in Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. Or the rest of the U.S. Army’s generals, for that matter. Writing in the August issues of The Armed Forces Journal, Davis argues that it’s high time to sack the Army’s senior leaders for what he sees as an institutionalized epidemic of astonishing failures that not only go unreported, but are typically rewarded. All of it, he says, is creating a self-perpetuating culture of abysmal performance that won’t go away until the generals do. ‘Over that past 20 years, our senior leaders have amassed a record of failure in major organizational, acquisition and strategic efforts,’ Davis writes. ‘These failures have been accompanied by the hallmarks of an organization unable and unwilling to fix itself: aggressive resistance to the reporting of problems, suppression of failed test results, public declaration of success where none was justified, and the absence of accountability.’”  (8/12/13) 

Medium: The Air Force’s Awesome Attack Plane Has a Pretty Sad ReplacementRobert Beckusen
“The F-35 will eventually replace the A-10 and be tasked with carrying out the same ground-attack missions currently assigned to the Warthog. But the JSF just can’t do the job. Besides having a terrible view of the battlefield, the F-35 is also too fast and lightly built to loiter over a hot ambush zone — and its 25-millimeter gun comes with just 180 rounds, compared to the more than 1,100 bullets an A-10 carries. It’s worth pointing out that the two Warthogs over the Afghan battle apparently fired all their ammunition. ‘Note the actions the F-35 is incapable to perform,’ said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C. ‘Among them long time loiter, low altitude observation of the problem, multiple gun passes with extreme accuracy.’ These things saved American lives. The A-10’s replacement? Perhaps not.”  (8/12/13)

The Virginian-Pilot: Cutting aircraft carriers a real possibilityMike Hixenbaugh
“Really? Mothballing aircraft carriers? The idea floated last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seemed particularly shocking in this Navy town - home to half the nation's fleet of nuclear flattops, where carrier deployments and homecomings routinely lead evening newscasts. It's tempting to dismiss the notion of retiring two or three of the world's most recognizable warships as political brinkmanship - a veiled attempt to push Congress into reversing big national security cuts. But defense analysts say people shouldn't roll their eyes at Hagel's warning or other drastic changes described last week in the Pentagon's first formal attempt to detail the long-term effects of sequestration.”  (8/9/13) 

Foreign Policy: Nuke the BudgetTom Collina
“President Barack Obama, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Pentagon have determined that the United States has more strategic nuclear warheads than it needs to deter potential threats and can therefore reduce the deployed stockpile by up to one-third, to about 1,000 warheads. Hagel supported even deeper nuclear reductions before he was tapped to head the Pentagon. Perfect target for budget cuts, right? Wrong, says Hagel, who has taken the U.S. nuclear weapons budget off the chopping block, all $31 billion per year of it. But wait, this is exactly the kind of money saving opportunity the Pentagon should jump on. Hagel said July 31 that the just-completed Strategic Choices and Management Review, or SCMR, identified areas where ‘we have excess capacity to meet current and anticipated future needs,’ and that he would make program cuts on this basis. In April, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told the Harvard Crimson that ‘we only deserve the amount of money that we need and not the amount of money that we've gotten used to.’”  (8/9/13) 

USA Today: The 21st-century jeep: The military's holy grailTom Vanden Brook
“The Pentagon's decade-long quest for a truck that can slog through desert sand, traverse mountain passes and — this is the kicker — keep troops safe from roadside bombs takes a step closer to reality this month. Three defense contractors are vying for the prize: production of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), the successor to the Humvee. The stakes: tens of billions of dollars in orders from the Army and Marine Corps. Defense heavyweights Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh Defense and AM General have until Aug. 22 to deliver 22 prototype trucks to the government for testing. They'll be driven and blasted and tested for reliability and safety. The first contract is to be signed in 2015. The first Army unit will be equipped with them in 2018. By 2035, the JLTV will replace one-third of its combat trucks. It wasn't supposed to be this way.” (8/8/13)

Foreign Policy: The Shoots of Hope Spring EternalGordon Adams
“Courtesy of the sequester, the defense budget is due to decline around $52 billion next year, cutting about $500 billion from the current baseline over the next 10 years, unless Congress and the White House arrive at a different understanding about spending and revenue policies. Domestic discretionary spending is in for a similar hit without a budget bargain. With Congress safely out of town until September 8, it is worth taking a look at the prospects for a deal. They haven't been very good for the last three years, but, every once in a while, somebody pushes a phantom green shoot through the solid pavement of discord in Washington, and, briefly, people start to wonder.”  (8/6/13) 

National Defense Magazine: Unresolved Issues Hang Over U.S. Missile Shield - Sandra I. Erwin
“For the second year in a row, lawmakers will be squabbling this fall over if and when the United States should shore up its defenses against North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles. The lightning rod in this debate is a Republican-led proposal to build a new ground-based missile interceptor site on the U.S. East Cost. Proponents contend that current sites, based in Alaska and California, do not provide enough coverage against a future possible attack by Iran, which is reportedly developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could target the United States… A confluence of trends and factors — Pentagon budget cuts, competing demands for homeland and overseas missile defense systems, poor test results of U.S. ground-based interceptors, and a toxic political environment — makes it a safe bet that an East Coast site or any significant enhancements to the nation’s missile shield systems will be deferred years into the future, possibly into the next administration.”  (8/6/13)


Congressional Budget Office: Monthly Budget Review for July 2013 (8/7/13) 
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: The Evolution of Precision Strike (8/6/13) 
Congressional Budget Office: Sequestration Update Report: August 2013 (8/6/13)