A Very Light Diet for the Pentagon

Diane Sawyer, ABC News anchor, described as “massive” the Pentagon budget cuts announced by President Barack Obama on January 5, 2012. The Pentagon is also trying to frame the overall cut of $487 billion over ten years as the maximum sacrifice it will be able to endure. Yet Obama gave much of the game away when he said that even with the cuts, the United States would be spending more on the military than the ten next highest military spending nations; also, he stated that the Pentagon would continue to get its “normal” increases.

None of the 11 aircraft carrier flotillas will be cut, except that their sailing schedules might be reduced. None of the current missions of the Pentagon would be eliminated, only “narrowed.” There will still be a formidable nuclear weapons force, with the triad deployment probably preserved. Even though there might be fewer nuclear warheads, the modernization program, a new fleet of nuclear weapons-armed submarines and a new bomber air wing equipped to carry nuclear warheads will apparently not be affected.

The planned 2,400 plane air wing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will only be affected by a delay in deployment. The cost of a single F-35 almost doubled in just eight years; also, the Pentagon announced last year that projected maintenance costs of the F-35 could reach $1 trillion in 30 years. Fighter planes designed to serve two of the armed services, as is the case with the F-35, haven’t worked out in the past.

Although the armed forces will have a reduced capacity to fight land warfare, this limitation, under the announced cuts, is “reversible,” as use of reserve forces and the National Guard will allow the U.S. to fight two wars simultaneously. It is hard to imagine that given the drain on resources of the two wars during the past decade, we are even contemplating fighting one additional war in the next decade.

The Pentagon is following several major pathways: 1) the last Quadrennial assessment elevated fighting an insurgency of violent extremists to the highest planning level; 2) the Pentagon is also engaged in surmounting the major technological challenges in creating the electronic, robotic battlefield of the future, once the apple of Donald Rumsfeld’s eye; and 3) the Pentagon is continuing to build the sophisticated weapons systems appropriate to fighting a major peer enemy, such as the Soviet Union once was.

There is a sense of deja vu in elevating fighting an insurgency to the top of the planning list, as about the time Barack Obama came into the presidency, a Defense Department directive put “IW” (irregular warfare) to a level “as strategically important as traditional warfare,” arguing that for the “foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremists will be the central objective of U.S. policy.”

The fact that we are militarily following several pathways in military planning is linked to the concept of “full spectrum dominance,” whereby a joint military structure achieves control over all elements of the battlefield, using surface, sub-surface and air space-based assets. Full spectrum dominance includes the electromagnetic spectrum and information space. Control implies that the freedom of an opposition force to exploit the battlefield will be wholly contained.

How will the $ 487 billion in cuts be achieved? The U.S. Army will be cut from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017 and the U.S. Marines will go from 202,000 troops to 182,000. It was in 2005 that troop levels were raised by 92,000, so this cut of 100,000 basically restores the troop levels to where they were seven years ago. If Barack Obama wins a second term, the troop reduction will not be completed during his presidency.

Besides the troop reductions, some old planes will be retired — two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of the oldest C-130 cargo planes — the U.S. Navy will retire seven cruisers earlier than planned and delay some purchases; the new generation of submarines will be deployed in 2032, not 2030; and purchases of F-35s will be delayed. Notable in this list of cost savings is that not a single weapons system will be eliminated.

The ten-year projection of base Pentagon spending and spending on ongoing wars submitted with the FY 2012 budget, was just under $6.4 trillion. A $487 billion spending cut would still leave in place a tremendous amount of future military spending.


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