A big portion of the discretionary spending reductions in President Obama’s 2013 to 2017 funding request is in the defense budget.
The budget removes about $50 billion per year, for a total of $259 billion in cuts over the five-year plan. This constitutes a 22 percent decrease from 2010 — the contemporary highpoint of defense base spending — through 2017. By the way, the shifting points of comparison make it hard to follow. If one looks at 2011 or 2012 as a base of comparison, the decrease is smaller.
One could reasonably conclude that the decreases in spending originate in three areas. The first is a leveling of acquisition, which pays for about 50 percent of the cuts. The second component is slipping programs to the right. A significant amount of procurement is being pushed beyond 2017. The third component is that poorly performing programs will now be canceled.
Here are some key points in the documents: Reset is critical and a priority for the ground forces, and rotations will substitute for previously in-place forces. Special operations and unmanned aerial systems are on the rise as are cyberwarfare capabilities and the countering of weapons of mass destruction. The administration has also stated the importance of protecting the industrial base and maintaining the three legs of the nuclear triad.
A pivot to the Pacific is the goal, and the Middle East will be considered a maritime theater. The development of a new bomber will proceed as will upgraded sensors, cruise missiles, electronic warfare and communications systems. As for the Navy, plans call for new afloat staging bases and a refit/upgrade program for older ships as bridges to new designs.
The ability to quickly reverse lost capabilities — in the military and industrial base — is assumed.
So how has this criteria played out? First, the Army will remove eight brigade combat teams. Two of these will come from Europe, and implications are that there may be more to come. Army end strength is programmed to decrease to 490,000. The Army budget will decrease 9 percent from 2012 to 2013 with big hits to procurement. The Ground Combat Vehicle slips one year to the right — losing $1.7 billion from 2013 to 2017. Aviation funding will slow along with the vehicle cuts.
The Navy loses $58 billion and its personnel numbers drop to 319,500 by 2017. Most of the funding decrease of $32 billion comes from procurement. The Navy will retire seven cruisers and two logistics ships, though it still retains 11 carrier battle groups and 10 air wings. The new strategy of pivoting to the Pacific favors Navy capabilities and assets.
Nevertheless, the shipbuilding program does not favor maintenance of the existing fleet size or even growth to the target of 313 capital ships. The budget funds 10 ships in 2013, seven in 2014, eight in 2015, nine in 2016 and only seven in 2017. The new ballistic missile submarine slips two years to the right.
The Marine Corps drops from 202,000 personnel to 182,000. Six battalions and six tactical aviation squadrons will be cut. Its Joint Strike Fighter variant, the F-35B, has just been released from the penalty box, but there is still no follow-on to the amphibious assault vehicle. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was canceled, and there is a long way to go before a replacement is in sight.
The Air Force sheds $8 billion from 2012 to 2013, with $3 billion coming from procurement. Manpower will decrease to 328,600. Like other services, there is a cut of almost $1 billion in facilities, but once again, Congress will weigh in heavily. The Air Force retires seven combat squadrons: 27 C-5As, 65 C-130s and 38 C-27s. Congress will vote on some of these cuts, especially C-5s and C-130s. The Block 30 Global Hawk will be cut because of operational performance concerns.
The age of the Air Force fighter fleet is now 22 years. These aircraft are highly stressed in training and combat, and they are not designed to continue operation in this demanding environment. Nothing in this budget will address that problem.
The F-35 has been slipped to the right in this budget, so the Air Force will initiate service life extensions to existing fleets. For the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, there are no options other than a successful F-35 program. A new bomber, in support of long-range strike, is funded in the budget. The new tanker is one of three highest priority acquisition programs.
A major emphasis will be on U.S. Special Operations Command, which is now about twice as big as in 2001, at approximately 66,000 members.
Space budgets offer a mixed bag. Some of the space program will see increases, while other parts may face cuts. This expensive area is critical to national security. War fighters will continue to advocate strongly for these assets.
For serving members, retirees and their respective families, their worst fears are materializing. According to the Military Officers Association of America, some $13 billion of the budget cuts will come at the expense of military retirees. Tricare prime and standard will
increase fees. Deductibles are set to rise, and co-pays will also go up.
Finally, it appears that the process of comparability for pay raises will be abandoned in favor of arbitrary limits. Not many words have been forthcoming on this subject from budget briefers. Troops and their families have always been willing to do their part for the country in so many ways. To subject their entitlements to cuts while ignoring the much larger and unsustainable entitlements of other federal programs seems unbalanced.
As one looks at the budget numbers, and ponders the possible sequestration that could come in January 2013, it is clear that the cuts have only just begun. To get past sequestration, there may be another bill to pay. The president has stated he supports the military, but opposes reversing sequestration. The Defense Department may be forced back to the table.
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