PENTAGON: In what may come to be called the dawn of the 21st century drawdown of the American military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today unveiled a budget he hopes balances smaller forces with sustained and far reaching threats.
Panetta said the force that will result from the $525 billion budget request for fiscal 2013 will be “smaller and leaner, but agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the important point that the budget was predicated on the assumption that “capabilities are more important than size.” Since the Army will shrink to 490,000 from its current 570,000 and the Marines will come down to 182,000 from 202,000 under the five-year request that will be crucial to retaining America’s overwhelming military superiority.
Panetta acknowledged this, telling reporters that the smaller force entailed the greatest risk for the country to manage but he seemed confident that he and his team have struck the right balance.
But saving money was also an important strategic goal. To that end, Pentagon leadership “made substantial reductions” to: the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS); the Army Ground Combat Vehicle (because it had become ensnared in a crippling bid protest) and “slowed procurement” of the Joint Strike Fighter. At the same time, the administration made the strategic decision to retain its commitment to buy the current requirement of 2,443 jets.
Lockheed Martin expressed its relief that the overall buy was kept intact even while Panetta substantially slowed production to “mitigate concurrency.” AOL D readers will remember that he softened this blow by taking the Marines’ F-35B off of programmatic probation.
“In addition, we appreciate Secretary Panetta’s continued support of the critical need for 5th generation technology and his commitment to the F-35 program of record – including all three variants and a total procurement of 2,443 domestic aircraft,” the company said in a statement. “We understand that limited resources require the DoD to prioritize the department’s near-term national security needs, which requires difficult funding decisions, and we will work closely with our partners in the Department to understand the new acquisition strategy so we can focus on the new requirements with our partners and suppliers.”
The biggest budget ax appeared to fall on the Navy, which will see eight High Speed Vessels vanish from its budget, lose seven cruisers to early retirement, lose two Littoral Combat Ships in the out years (after the initial buy of 10 ships each from Lockheed Martin and Austal are finished); have two LSD amphibious ships retired early and see a new Virginia-class ship moved outside the five-year budget plan. Also, the Ohio-class submarine class is delayed by two years, which will give the administration time to decide how many it wants to build after it completes its nuclear force review currently underway. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters the boat had been delayed to ensure lower risk to what will be an extremely expensive and technologically challenging program.
The Pentagon also “significantly reduced” spending for the Joint Air to Ground Munition (JAGM) and terminated the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. In a special statement on Global Hawk, the Pentagon said that “the cost of the Global Hawk would significantly exceed the cost of the U-2 so we canceled Global Hawk Block 30 and extended the U-2 program.” There have also been reports that the entire Block 30 fleet will go unused because it will be grounded. An Air Force spokesman declined to discuss this, saying all questions about this would have to wait for the official budget briefing on Feb. 13. Northrop Grumman officials made clear they had not heard why the fleet might be grounded.
“The Global Hawk program has demonstrated its utility in U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as its utility in humanitarian operations in Japan and Haiti,” the company said in a statement. “Just a few months ago, the Pentagon published an acquisition decision memorandum regarding Global Hawk Block 30 that stated: ‘The continuation of the program is essential to the national security… there are no alternatives to the program which will provide acceptable capability to meet the joint military requirement at less cost.’”
The military also killed the Defense Weather Satellite System, an offshoot of the problem-plagued NPOESS satellite program, saying it was one of two programs “entering service before they are needed.” The other program was the Army’s helicopter modernization effort, delayed by “three to five years.”
One of the most interesting and overlooked reductions is to the purchase of commercial satellite imagery, which the military said was reduced because it is “deemed excess to requirements.” This is particularly interesting because, as AOL D readers know, the White House is in the midst of a comprehensive study of the efficacy of commercial imagery. Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper told me this morning that the study should be done in a “few months.” He reiterated his strong support for commercial imagery but made clear that it might have to be cut in this era of austerity, He spoke at an event organized by the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
The Army’s $1 billion in Humvee recapitalization was also deemed excess for requirements. All that Army money will go to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle instead.
House Republicans, who had kept their powder dry since being briefed by Panetta yesterday, let loose a drumbeat of criticism this afternoon.
Rep. Randy Forbes, a reliable critic of the Obama administration’s military policies from his perch as chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, called the new strategy detailed in today’s briefing one that, “embraces weakness by a thousand cuts. PLA Admirals will welcome the news that the President has no plans to catch up to China’s sixty attack submarines nor to invest in a missile defense system that can rival China’s mounting arsenal of missiles. North Koreans will feel more secure as America prepares to dismiss almost 1 in 6 soldiers. Tehran will be pleased that one-third less American cruisers are slated to patrol the world’s sea lanes. Foreign shipyards will embrace a shift toward outsourcing defense manufacturing jobs.
“This Administration,” Forbes said in his statement, “is not building a military that is lean, agile, and flexible. It is dismantling our nation’s greatest strategic asset and accepting grave risk in the process.”
Rep. Buck McKeon, HASC chairman, said “the President has abandoned the defense structure that has protected America for two generations; turning 100,000 Soldiers and Marines out of the force. To compensate for this loss, he will build on unmanned assets and Special Forces. To be clear, these asymmetric assets are a vital component in defending America; but they are insufficient to meet the manifold security challenges America faces.
“This move,” McKeon said in a statement, “ignores a critical lesson in recent history: that while high technology and elite forces give America an edge, they cannot substitute for overwhelming ground forces when we are faced with unforeseen battlefields.”
But Panetta and McKeon agreed on one thing — the abiding threat given life by the failure of the so-called Super Committee. The Pentagon faces another half-a-trillion dollars in cuts should the automatic cuts known as sequestration go unanswered.
Another issue of interest to watch over the next six months or so will be Panetta’s push to get Congress to agree to a new round of base closures, known as BRAC. In an election year that is going to be one hot button.
Finally, the administration revived what most space and nuclear arms observers had thought a dead issue: a Prompt Global Strike weapon launched from a submarine. Congress had killed this idea, arguing that both allies and competitors would find the prospect of a trans-continental weapon fired from a submarine too daunting to accept. We cover this in more depth in this story.