Defense & National Security

‘Doomsday Clock’ of Defense budget cuts nears zero hour

It’s big. It’s ugly. And it’s probably going to happen.

The first two statements have been reiterated by policy makers and Defense officials since Congress agreed to sequestration, a doomsday clock of budget cuts disproportionately targeting the Defense Department and set to strike midnight at the first of next year. The third has been roundly disavowed by military leaders; but experts are now saying it’s time to prepare for the worst.

To be sure, the facts are grim. Sequestration, the product of failure by a Supercommittee last July to root $1.2 trillion of excess spending out of the U.S. budget, means an automatic round of spending cuts, half of which, or up to $600 billion over the next decade, will fall across the Defense Department. In the best-case scenario, Defense officials would be permitted by the Office of Management and Budget to administer the cuts themselves, choosing the programs they deem appropriate for trimming. In the worst case, the ax will fall across every defense program equally, taking roughly nine percent off the top without regard to consequences.

“You cannot buy three-quarters of a ship or building,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote to Senate Armed Services Committee leaders John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a letter last November, explaining the crippling effects of such a measure. Management leaders generally advocate reducing or abandoning specific activities, rather than invoking across-the-board cuts, which can harm valuable endeavors.

If the hatchet strikes indiscriminately, and at a time that does not regard Defense budget planning, Panetta said the immediate result would be employee furloughs and contract and procurement curtailment; and the end of the decade would see the smallest U.S. Air Force in history in terms of personnel, smallest ground force since 1940, and smallest number of Navy ships since 1915.

A George Mason University scholar, Dr. Stephen S. Fuller, projected on behalf of Aerospace Industries Association that the cuts, compounded with the $500 billion of cuts already taken in the FY 2013 Defense request, would mean the loss of more than one million American jobs and a 25 percent loss of  growth.

Moreover, Republican staffers with the House Armed Services Committee projected last September: the Army and the Marine Corps risk dropping 200,000 troops from 2011 levels; the Navy 50 ships or more; and the Air Force nearly 480 fighters, with additional blows to unit technological capability, humanitarian and noncombat missions, and provision for military families and dependents.

If budget reductions are restricted primarily to major acquisitions, as may happen if DoD is given its head, the outcome is still damaging, said American Enterprise Institute scholar Mackenzie Eaglen, who has written extensively about military readiness and Defense budget issues.

Following the Clinton administration’s Procurement holiday in the 1990s, the military finds itself in real need of new equipment, much of which may face cancellation if current acquisition and procurement programs are diced or eliminated, Eaglen said. “If you ask me, for the last three years, the Obama Defense budgets have raised the acquisition accounts disproportionately,” Eaglen said. “The cut in the program side now is tending to hurt programs that are safety nets to bridge the military for the next conflict.”

President Barack Obama set the trend with his first budget proposal in 2009, proposing that over $8 billion in cuts, or half of overall budget reductions, come from a Defense Department that was waging two wars and would soon embark on a massive troop surge in Afghanistan.

Travis Korson, a spokesman for the nonprofit For the Common Defense, said hope remains among the experts that Congress will tackle sequestration during the November lame duck session, perhaps seizing on one of the proposed solutions: passage of bills in the House and Senate that would divert cuts from DoD, phasing out 10 percent of federal workers over the next decade instead; or considering the budget of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which recently cleared the House and spares Defense of sequestration while restoring additional funding.

The first option, however, appears hopelessly partisan, without a single Democratic co-sponsor in the Senate or House; and the second, the Ryan Budget, is not expected to pass the Senate. Obama has publicly made clear his intentions to veto any Republican attempt to avoid the sequester.

A director at the Center for Defense Information, Winslow Wheeler, was less optimistic that any solution would be found.

“I regard sequestration as virtually inevitable. We’re going to hear lots of noise, and I don’t expect anything to happen,” he said. “People think the lame duck Congress will transform itself into a rational bunch of statesmen. I don’t see that happening at all.”

“Hope springs eternal, contrary to all headlines, that the Big Deal can be made,” Eaglen said. “There’s really so much (in sequestration) for everyone to hate.”

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  • gorio

    Sir you sound like a knowledgeable person but your “foreign policy” is a bit undefined, you say we should have “gone after their training camps” because they “attacked us”, is a bit euphemistic.  They invaded us and killed 3000 Americans.  They are not a rag tag group in the desert but a sophisticated worldwide cabal with links to international drug dealers and other criminal elements.  I would agree that it is foolish to think we can ” democratize” primitive uneducated non-christian cultures but the military costs can be controlled without totally abandoning the military progress that has been attained.  I don’t see “nation building” in Afghanistan, but I do see “military building” so they can decide their own fate.  The Afghans have been used as war toys by many, including alqueda and the taliban, we stood up the Iraqi’s and they are standing on their own, the Afghans are rapidly getting there, why should we quit when their independance and military readiness is almost achieved.  When the average Afghani see’s his country as powerful and just, they will not need anyones help to stay independant from Pakistan or the taliban,  They will no longer be a pawn, that is what will bring stability, and security for the western nations.

  • jagscl

    I don’t know why everyone seems to think that I am for the next war over the hill. I am not. We should have left Afghanastan after the threats from the Afghans. Let them kill each other. I don’t know why we’re still in Iraq and what’s worse I think Obama’s still thereWfor some hidden reason of his own, which doesn’t include consideration of the lives of US soldiers. What I don’t agree with is across the board cuts by sequestration or any other means. I want it done with consideration for what is needed for US security. I can think of a few that shouldn’t be hard except politically–like base closures. But the sequestration is a destructive way to cut defense. We can train troops and buy existing equipment, but future systems are not that simple.

  • jagscl

    Didn’t mean to sound testy, if I did. Long day.

  • Patriot41

     Sounds like a good scenario gorio, how come it is not working either in Afghanistan or Iraq?

    If we have made such great military headway in Afghanistan in over ten years, explain to me why Karzi has pledged his support to Pakistani rebels should the U.S. attack Pakistan?  Why do you suppose it is, that most Afghanies are supporting the Talibon.  Could it be because the talibon is their source of livelihood controlling the drug trade?  Was the Talibon not responsible for driving the Russians out?  Muslim ideology does not support free world democracy, so why would they want to follow the U.S. lead?  When we know these facts in advance, why are we throwing our money and the lives of our troops away by staying there after destroying the Al Quida camps?

    Let’s talk about Iraq because we have a very similar situation there.  How long did it take the Iraqis to form a govt., after Hussein and his Sunni henchman were driven from power.  Why is it that the opposing tribes fought the U.S. most of the time we were in country?  Do you suppose because Mactada Al Sadar had other plans?  Could it be possible that his shite followers are planning to take over Iraq and maintain it’s mulim ideology?  Why would anyone believe that the Iraqis would ever even consider democracy?  Then there are the Kurds who fought beside us, because we protected them from the Sunnis and Shites.  Still, would they willing give up their ideology for democracy?  Will any of these tribes sustain a viable military and bring Iraq together?  All the U.S. accomplished, was riding the Middle East of a dictator, one by the way, who kept Iran in check.

    What was our costs for those two adventures gorio, both in money and lives?  Did we stabilize the Middle East with our efforts?  I don’t think so.  What we did do, was destabilize our own economy and waste a lot of precious lives for nothing.  Yes, we took out Hussein and the Bath control of the country, but what good did we accomplish?  Are we any safer today?  Don’t think so.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    The latter is more important to me, of course. But the US is NOT an empire and is not building one. Furthermore, threats to America’s security are not confined to America’s borders, and if a key, strategic ally such as Japan or SK is threatened, the US is threatened as well. Our economies are closely linked and interdependent; if Japan were bombed, that would have serious repercussions for the US economy. Besides, keeping troops in Japan and SK is far LESS expensive than bringing them back home and building bases for them in the US (there is not enough base capacity in the US for them right now). Gates was right that European nations need to start pulling their own weight and defending their countries, but he has also said that the US should and will play a significant military role in Europe.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    After those training camps were destroyed, our mission was over and our troops should have been brought home.”

    Agreed. But the fact is that the US is NOT an empire and is not building one. A real empire CONQUERS other countries and annexes their territories while subjecting their populations to its own government and laws. We have never done that in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any of the countries we defeated in WW2. In fact, Afghanistan and Iraq, despite US presence, have operated and still operate by Sharia law and other laws completely incompatible with those of the US. And US officials tolerate that, as they have no choice.

    Iraq and Afghanistan are not, and were never, democracies, and the US has not, contrary to your claims, imposed democracy on them. It has accepted Sharia law in both countries, and Sharia law is incompatible with democracy.

    Wars and alliances are fully authorized by the Constitution – as long as wars are declared and alliances are written in treaties ratified with the Senate’s consent.

    “Nowhere in that Constitution, do I find the authority for our govt., or our military, to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign nations.”

    And which specific sovereign nations’ affairs are we interfering with, Paulbot? Germany’s? Italy’s? Japan’s? SK’s? Oh wait, that would be Afghanistan – maintaining terrorist camps and harboring terrorists was their internal affair, right? In Iraq, building WMDs and stockpiling Scud missiles was their internal affair, right?

    Your claims that the US is, or is building, an empire are not just false but insulting and treasonous.

    As for defending US borders, there would’ve been no threat to them if 1) attrition through enforcement was the policy; 2) all benefits for illegal aliens were removed; and 3) the drug war was ended. Besides, when the troops come back home from A’stan, which cannot happen soon enough, they can be stationed in border states.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    Even if the US military were to defend ONLY the US (which would be a cretinous and immoral policy which our allies would never forgive us), we would still need a large military and, as a consequence, a large defense budget. There is no way to get around that fact.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    And with them, strident liberals (masquerading as conservatives) such as you, Traitor41.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    Furthermore, Traitor41, your claim that “It has also costs us more then we can afford and is a major part of the $16 Trillion dollar debt that this nation has been smothered by” is also a blatant lie, just like everything else you write. TOTAL MILITARY SPENDING, including the core defense budget and spending on the GWOT, amounts to a paltry, tiny 19% of the total federal budget and is not responsible for America’s deficits and debt. Entitlement spending is. Entitlement spending at present consumes a full 63% of the total federal budget and, assuming no changes in current law, will consume 100% by no later than 2050, meaning ZERO dollars for defense or anything else. But as a strident liberal who likes entitlement programs, you, like your fellow pro-entitlement liberal Ron Paul, would be too happy to see that happen.

    Fighting the Afghan war was the RIGHT choice, even though some casaulties were sustained. But that is an inevitable part of any war, and there were more American casualties in the battle of Gettysburg alone than in the Afghan and Iraqi wars combined.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    Yours claims are blatant lies.
    1) The total  FY2010 DOD budget, by law, was $664 bn, as per the  FY2010 NDAA. That is a fact.
    2) There is no such thing as “off-budget” or “off-the-books” defense spending in the US, contrary to the claims of conspiracy theorists like you. Veterans benefits spending is not defense spending, or even military spending.
    3) Your claim that total military spending was $1-$1.3 trillion in FY2010 is also a blatant lie for which you have presented no proof – because no proof exists. (Note: Laughable screeds by Bruce Fein and his ilk are not “proof”.)
    4) US spending exceeds their spending… only if one accepts their drastically understated OFFICIAL figures (i.e. their blatant lies), which are vastly lower than China’s and Russia’s REAL military spending, which is ca. 2 times higher than what Beijing and Moscow admit to.
    5) US military spending is responsible for barely 42.8% of the world total, and again, only if one accepts woefully understated figures for Russia and China.
    6) Discretionary spending currently constitutes a small minority (37%) of federal spending; mandatory spending constitutes the vast majority and is growing on autopilot. Moreover, it entirely appopriate that the DOD should get the majority of the discretionary budget, because defense is the highest Constitutional DUTY of the federal government. Not merely a legitimate function, but the highest Constitutional DUTY of the FG.
    7) False. The Iraqi war is long over, and even when it was ongoing, it, together with the Afghan War, did NOT cost $150 bn per year. For this FY, the GWOT supplemental is $118 bn and for FY2010 it was $130 bn. For FY2013, the requested appropriation is $88.5 bn.
    #8-9: These costs were incurred over more than a decade and collectively amount to ca. $100 bn – a tiny share (1/37th) of the federal government’s total $3.7 trillion annual budget.

    And to Traitor41 below: weapons and delivery capability, as well as all other contracts, are covered by the DOD budget and are paid for from it. And the claim that weapons  NEVER come in at budget is a blatant lie.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    And furthermore:

    “I make this point, because I know without a shadow of a doubt, that we have the capability to strike anywhere in the world at any time.”

    That capability is eroding, and will completely disappear if the sequester kicks in. That capability was expensive to develop and acquire and is expensive to maintain. Yet, the sequester’s cuts would be so deep and so inflexible that, by Panetta’s own admission, the entire ICBM fleet, 1/3 of the SSBN fleet, and 2/3s of the bomber fleet would have to be eliminated to pay for sequestration, along with 35% of the fighter fleet; and of course, the next generation bomber program (to replace obsolete B-52s and B-1s that have lost the ability to penetrate enemy airspace) would have to be cancelled and the SSBN replacement program would have to be delayed further, thus opening a huge gap in what would be left of the SSBN fleet.

    “We can do this without having our troops scattered all over the globe.”

    But we don’t have them scattered all over the globe. While I often hear the “we have troops in 135 countries” mantra, in the vast majority of countries it’s only Marine Embassy Guards and military attaches. US troops are concentrated in a few dozen strategically important countries: Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain, Japan, SK, Qatar, Bahrain, etc. Do they need to be present in every country they are present in right now? No. Does the US need every military base/installation/fuel depot/waste dump it has right now abroad? No. But it needs many of them, and closing all of them would be far more costly than maintaining them, as US troops would have to be physically brought back to the US and bases would have to be built for them in the US.

  • Zbigniew M. Mazurak

    Problem is, these “moderates” occupy all positions of leadership in the Congressional GOP.

    As for Romney, he can dispel any doubts about him by simply choosing Allen West to be his running mate. If the Dems think they’ll have an easy race with West, boy, are they in for a surprise!

  • Patriot41

     Zbig, don’t you find it curious that Japan refused to accept nuclear weapons to secure it’s own defense?  Could it be because they knew the U.S. would take personal responsibility for their defense?  Technically, the Japanese are very adept people, they proved that to us when they took over the auto industry.  They once had one of the greatest naval fleets at sea.  Don’t try to tell me that they cannot adequately defend themselves.

    While in Vietnam, I fought along side of the South Korean White Horse division at times.  Let me tell you something mister, those boys were the best fighting force I have ever seen in my life, better then most of our special forces.  Can S. Korea defend itself, you better well believe it.  Of course the Empire builders back home won’t tell you this, but it is indeed, a fact.  They do not need our protection against N. Korea.  Should Russia or China attack them, yes they would need the help of the rest of the free world and not just that of the U.S.

  • hicusdicus

    The Islamic s are doing to us what Reagan did to the Russians. You folks can chirp at each other all you want, its all over but the shouting. The Chinese who control the crazy north Koreans are just sitting back waiting for their chance to strike. Enjoy what time you have left it may be shorter than you think. 

  • Lori Garcia

     What a waste of time and energy for the GOP they didn’t even scratch the
    budget, still they have Americas Children and Elder with out food so
    why the Military can have a inflated budget not including their black
    budget that supplies all the generals with funds to entertain… Major
    General J Anderson of Ft Carson doesn’t even follow the zero tolerance
    policy set by DOD cut the budget get rid of the soldiers on Wavers
    (felons non educated) any soldier that was allowed to stay after a dirty
    needs to be separated I know Major General Anderson of Ft Carson wont
    that would make him and his chain of command do paper work they are lazy
    and wait for ETS to come up… PATHETIC SOLDIERS