The U.S. economy is faltering, with budget deficits and a debt crisis that threaten our global leadership and the health of our military instrument of power. President Obama and Congress must act to protect our security while the Pentagon shares some of the debt burden.
The recent political deal on the debt ceiling created a congressional “Super Committee” to find $1.5 trillion in savings by Nov. 23 or force mandatory across-the-board cuts, half from the Pentagon. That result “would have devastating effects” on top of $350 billion in other cuts, warns Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Unfortunately, it may be too late to prepare the Pentagon for draconian cuts should the Super Committee fail to find the needed cuts. But it isn’t too late for Obama to begin reshaping our military to become more efficient without hurting our security.
Obama should provide Panetta three sets of reshaping guidance to cut costs while preserving our security: cost-cutting guidelines, operational principles, and specific areas to consider when cutting.
First, Obama’s cost-cutting guidelines should address nonnegotiable priorities, maintaining the all-volunteer force, eliminating unnecessary duplication, minimizing overseas basing, and consolidating military infrastructure at home.
The President should provide a tiered list of nonnegotiable defense guidelines, beginning with the most critical—U.S. survival against nuclear attack. Our most critical defense missions must be fully funded, while those further down the President’s list receive less than full funding and we accept that risk.
He must issue directions to maintain the all-volunteer force because there is no viable substitute. But history shows that significant downturns in military budgets have been followed by personnel problems (readiness, training and retention). Already Panetta has warned more cuts would imperil the all-volunteer military and “would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we need.”
Obama should direct the Pentagon to eliminate unnecessary duplication of forces and staffs. Relook at the need for special forces in each service, the need for both Army and Marine ground forces, and consider consolidating specialties such as medical personnel under a single service. And we don’t need a large staff for both service secretary and service chief of staff. Then look at the glut of top personnel, such as the excessive number of deputy assistant secretaries of defense, and flag and general officers, the highest number ever.
The President should call for less overseas and stateside basing infrastructure. For example, our military stations 80,000 personnel on 400 facilities in Europe. Most of those personnel and their families could be brought home without jeopardizing our mission. The same is true for our troops in South Korea and the thousands of Marines in Okinawa.
Reduce overseas facility redundancies. Why do we need two air bases in the United Kingdom, Lakenheath and Mildenhall, which are eight miles apart? For that matter, we have two air bases in Germany, Ramstein and Spangdahlem, which are 68 miles apart. Many of our overseas facilities could either be consolidated or collocated with the host-nation militaries, not only saving money but truly building stronger partnerships.
The same concept applies to military infrastructure at home. We dramatically reduced the number of facilities “owned” by the military over the past two decades by Base Realignment Commissions (BRAC). But that process must change because, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the last BRAC saved very little.
It is clear we need more infrastructure reductions to cut costs. For example, our military services have a combined 61 bases in California alone. Each base is a costly enterprise that includes a staff and may support agencies. Better use of fewer facilities is a must.
Second, Obama should direct the Pentagon to sustain defense effectiveness and contain costs by applying principles such as preservation of force structure, weapons procurement and modernization, and readiness, and keeping these in balance. When they are out of balance, the military is either ill-equipped, lacking in capacity or not ready. A good roles and missions analysis performed by nonpartisans without service, industry or congressional biases should produce recommendations that best balance the armed forces.
Another principle is maintaining the industrial base’s accountability. After the Cold War, Congress put the Pentagon on a strict procurement diet, but it kept the industrial base alive with infusions of billions of dollars for research and development (R&D). Unfortunately, there was little accountability for that money.
This time, any R&D money must come with strings and strict accountability mechanisms. Already we have seen multiple billions wasted on R&D during this buildup that will never support our troops or go into production. We clearly need a new R&D paradigm.
Finally, the President should direct the Pentagon to consider certain organizations and systems for the chopping block.
Reorient our reserves to produce major savings. The Pentagon activated much of our reserve component force to support operations in the wake of 9/11, which was incredibly expensive. It is time the reserves return to their former status.
Many commissions and think-tank groups recommended killing or dramatically cutting the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, the most expensive in our nation’s history. Meanwhile, JSF costs continue to grow, capabilities slip or fall off, and deliveries of combat-capable aircraft face additional delays. Justify the JSF or kill the program.
The services should reduce costs by using common aircraft. For instance, why do the Air Force and Navy have very similar but different manufactured unmanned aerial vehicles—Global Hawks and the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance? With the budget downturn and future recapitalization and modernization requirements, this is an easy cut.
The space budget has gone virtually unnoticed and unscathed in this downturn. The spending for space has more than doubled in this buildup while multibillion-dollar satellites can be destroyed by Chinese anti-satellite weapons for just a fraction of the cost. This issue warrants close scrutiny.
The Navy has a 286-ship force to meet its global requirements, but Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, testified it needs a minimum of 313 ships to meet future requirements. A larger fleet may be necessary, but the President should call for a reevaluation of our need for 11 carrier battle groups, which include 60 to 80 aircraft, and numerous ships to protect and support the carrier.
Carriers are becoming vulnerable to the emerging Chinese threat. Last December, Adm. Robert Willard, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a Japanese newspaper that China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) known as an “aircraft carrier killer.”
Our government has 16 intelligence agencies mostly controlled by the Pentagon. It is past time we eliminate intelligence duplication, which should begin with the top-heavy Defense Intelligence Agency.
Time is short for Obama to act before the debt crisis threatens the viability of our military instrument of power. These guidelines, principles and cuts provide the President a prudent way ahead that protects our security, improves Pentagon efficiency and significantly contributes to debt relief.