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 has been trying to frame the overall cut of $487 billion over ten years as the maximum sacrifice it will be able to endure. Yet President 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 next two highest spending nations; also, he stated that the Pentagon would continue to get its “normal” increase in funding. Obama was lowballing the comparative spending, as the United States spends almost as much as the rest of the world combined.

None of the 11 aircraft carrier flotillas will be cut as part of the deal reached to reduce the deficit, except that their sailing schedules might be reduced. None of the current missions of the Pentagon will 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 for increasing the capacity to build warheads, a new fleet of nuclear weapons-armed submarines and a new bomber equipped to carry nuclear warheads will not be affected, except for a delay in the deployment of the new submarines.

The planned 2,400 plane air wing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will remain intact under the deal to cut the Pentagon budget by $487 billion. The cost of a single F-35 almost doubled in just eight years; also, the Pentagon announced last year that projected maintenance costs alone of the F-35 will reach $1 trillion in 30 years. Fighter planes designed to serve two of the military services, such as the F-35, haven’t worked out in the past.

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

The Pentagon is following a slew of incongruous paths for the future: 1) the last Quadrennial Review elevated fighting an insurgency of violent extremists to the highest planning level; 2) the Pentagon is also engaged in trying to surmount the major technological challenges involved in creating the electronic/robotic battlefield of the future, once the apple of his eye of former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld; 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; 4) there is an Air Force command for putting weapons into space; and 5) the United States spends billions each year to try to fulfill Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy of an umbrella or shield of anti-missile weapons to shoot down oncoming ballistic missiles — $150 billion and counting since inception. 

There is a sense of deja vu in elevating fighting an insurgency to the top of the planning list, as about the same time Barack Obama came into the presidency, a Department of Defense directive put “IW” (irregular warfare) on 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 the United States is following several major 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.

Given that the ten-year projection of Pentagon base budget spending and ongoing war fighting costs submitted with the FY 2012 budget is $6.5 trillion, a cut of $487 billion is not very significant.

How will the $487 billion in cuts be achieved? The Army will be cut from 570,000 to 490,000 troops by 2017 and the Marines will go from 202,000 to 182,000. It was only a few years ago that the armed forces were increased by 92,000 personnel, so this 100,000 cut in personnel basically restores the troop size to what it was some seven years ago. If Barack Obama wins a second term, the troop reduction will not be completed during his presidency.

Besides the troop reduction, some old planes will be retired — two dozen C-5A cargo aircraft and 65 of the oldest C-130 cargo planes — the Navy will retire seven cruisers earlier than planned and delay some purchases; the new generation of submarines will be deployed in 2032 instead of 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 next blog wil focus on what should be done to significantly reduce the size of our military establishment.


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