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To avoid creating a hollow force, the Defense Department is not going to protect force structure at the expense of needed training and gear, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
“The military will be smaller and leaner, but it will be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced; it will be cutting edge,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon as he unveiled more details ahead of the fiscal 2013 budget proposal.
Panetta addressed the media along with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman. Together, they unveiled some of the details from the Pentagon’s new five-year spending plan. The full 2013 budget release is planned for Feb. 13, when President Obama sends his budget request to Congress.
DoD’s plans revealed no sacrificial lambs: all three variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are safe; the Navy will maintain 11 aircraft carriers; and the Army’s major vehicle programs are intact.
Instead, to reduce projected spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years, the Pentagon is eliminating what it describes as “poorly performing programs,” while slowing down the production of others. Panetta also said DoD has identified an additional $60 billion in efficiencies.
The first tranche of the spending cuts — $259 billion — will come over the next five years.
These targets conform to the initial spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act Congress passed by Congress in August.
However, they do not take into account the possibility of sequestration, which would initiate an additional $500 billion cut beginning in January 2013 if Congress does not find an alternative way to reduce the country’s deficit.
Panetta said he hopes that when members of Congress sees what it takes to make this first round of cuts, they will be convinced they need to act in order to avoid sequestration.
Vice Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, who appeared with Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after Panetta and Dempsey spoke, said DoD had arrived at its budget in a “very healthy way,” crafting strategy before making spending choices.
“Sequestration would reverse that,” he said.
DoD leaders also emphasized that the spending plan should be viewed as a complete package and that changes in one area could adversely affect others.
There is little room for modification to this plan while maintaining the quality of the force and providing troops with the capabilities they need, Panetta said.
In a message most likely for lawmakers, Carter said, “It is a carefully balanced package and therefore can’t be changed or modified piece by piece.”
The five-year plan reflects the new strategic guidance, released Jan. 5, by shifting focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, while maintaining influence in the Middle East.
In 2013, the Pentagon is requesting $525 billion for its base budget, with an additional $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations. It projects the Defense Department will need $567 billion for its base budget in 2017.
The 2013 base budget represents the first budget to decline in nominal terms since 1998, down from 2012’s $531 billion.
The topline number is directly shaped by the Budget Control Act’s cap on security spending, which is set at $686 billion for 2013. That has to cover funding for the Defense Department as well as the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Veterans Affairs Department.
Panetta reminded reporters that it was a bipartisan Congress that mandated these defense cuts.
The budget document describes the investment choices as “hard but manageable” and places the budget in a historical context, saying that after every major conflict, the U.S. has experienced “significant budget drawdowns.”
The description of reductions, however, had little impact on stock prices, as Wall Street met the news calmly. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics all saw their stock prices decline by less than 1 percent, while Lockheed Martin and Raytheon saw increases of less than 1 percent. Market analysts had predicted that stock pricing had already assumed significant defense cuts.
FORCE SIZE REDUCTIONS
With the end of war in Iraq and the beginning of a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, there will be further reductions to the ground forces.
Panetta announced the Army will be reduced from 547,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000, while the Marine Corps will be cut to 182,000.
“I’m confident 490,000 is the right number for 2017,” Dempsey said, reminding reporters that this was the number for active duty soldiers and does not include the National Guard and Reserve.
However, “it might not be the right number for 2020,” he added.
The Army also plans to remove at least eight brigade combat teams from its existing force structure.
“Even with these reductions, the Army and Marine Corps will be larger than they were in 2001,” according to the document titled “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” which outlines the investment decisions discussed by Panetta and Dempsey.
These reductions in force size do require a corresponding reduction in the military’s facilities resources.
Therefore, the president will request that Congress authorize use of the Base Realignment and Closure process with a goal of identifying savings “that can be reinvested in higher priorities as soon as possible.”
“The best approach to reducing that infrastructure politically on Capitol Hill is to work it through the BRAC process,” Panetta said.
The Pentagon did not tie any savings to potential base closures, because those require congressional authorization.
“If we tied savings to it before Congress authorized it, and they didn’t authorize it, it would undermine our whole budget,” Panetta said.
As for overseas basing, the Pentagon says the Army and Marine Corps will sustain force structure in the Pacific, while “maintaining persistent presence” in the Middle East.
MILITARY SERVICE PLANS
The Pentagon has budgeted to forward station littoral combat ships in Singapore and patrol craft in Bahrain.
It has also provided funding for a new “afloat forward staging base that can be dedicated to support missions in areas where ground-based access is not available, such as counter-mine operations.”
The Army will reduce its current footprint in Europe by two heavy brigades, while establishing and maintaining a new rotational presence in Europe.
With the Defense Department shifting its focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the Air Force will maintain the current strategic bomber fleet and will also fund a new bomber program, according to the document.
By doing so, the Pentagon has decided to protect all three legs of the nuclear triad. However, the Navy will have to delay its Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement by two years.
Carter described the submarine’s original schedule as “aggressive, bordering on optimistic.”
The Navy and Marines will also retain their air-power assets, with the sea services retaining all 11 aircraft carriers, 10 carrier air wings, and all of the amphibious assault ships.
All three F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants are safe, but the Pentagon has decided to slow down procurement to allow for more testing.
Panetta said the Air Force would also continue with its plans to purchase next generation KC-46 tanker aircraft.
DoD will also invest in new air-to-air missiles, new radars for tactical aircraft and ships, more electronic warfare and communications capabilities.
The Navy will build a new “prompt strike option” from submarines and will add cruise missile capacity to its Virginia-class boats.
The Air Force will lose six tactical fighter squadrons and a training squadron, while the Navy loses seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers, one of which has missile defense capability, but which needs a lot of repairs, the budget document says.
One big-deck amphibious ship and a submarine will be delayed. Two smaller amphibious dock landing ships will be decommissioned and their replacements delayed.
The Navy also loses eight joint high speed vessels and two littoral combat ships.
Carter explained that the Block 30 version was supposed to replace Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane but it priced itself out of the niche for taking pictures in the air, Carter said.
“That’s a disappointment for us, but that’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment,” he added.
However, there will also be investment in advance unmanned aircraft, and the Air Force will gain the capability to operate 65 Predator/Reaper patrols and surge to 85 when needed. Today, the Air Force can fly 61 orbits continuously.
For the Army, the Pentagon has curtailed the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, a floating missile defense sensor.
The Joint-Air-to-Ground-Missile’s funding has been reduced, with money kept in the budget to find a lower cost alternative.
The Army will cancel its effort to recapitalize its Humvee fleet and will instead focus resources on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.