Those seeking further details on changes in the Pentagon budget received some satisfaction today in a briefing delivered by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Secretary Panetta revealed that the budget, expected to be released in full detail on February 13, will contain $525 billion in base spending for fiscal 2013. This excludes funding for the wars as well as nuclear-related activities at the Department of Energy, and represents a $6 billion decrease from the fiscal 2012 base budget approved by Congress. Congress’ final number for fiscal 2012 was rolled back by $22 billion from the administration’s original proposal in order to comply with the Budget Control Act.
In addition, the Pentagon will request $88.4 billion in funding for the wars overseas, approximately $27 billion less than fiscal 2012 due to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
The Pentagon’s stated “hope and plan,” according to Secretary Panetta, is to grow the base budget (PDF) to $567 billion by fiscal 2017. Although the budget would decrease slightly this year, 2.3 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, it would see a real increase of about a half a percent over the remainder of the next five years.
The Pentagon has taken a hard look at its priorities and scaled back some of its most pie-in-the-sky projects, but its actions have not impacted the country’s ability to fight a war. “This budget is a first step — it’s a down payment — as we transition from an emphasis on today’s wars to preparing for future challenges,” said Dempsey, “This budget does not lead to a military in decline.”
In fact, the Pentagon document, titled “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” notes that “Even with these reductions, the Army and Marine Corps will be larger than they were in 2001.”
If anything, the debt debate has provided the Pentagon with a long overdue opportunity to reexamine its priorities and reevaluate its strategy in light of ongoing and realistic threats. The last Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) punted on the subject, recommending that the Pentagon choose to prepare for everything short of a zombie invasion.
The Pentagon’s new strategic guidance, released January 5, and corresponding budget request convey a Pentagon decision process guided by strategy, effectively shifting the focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward the threats of the future.
The Pentagon will shift its geographic focus toward the Asia Pacific region while maintaining an influence in the Middle East. Changes include a two year delay for the Ohio-class replacement strategic nuclear weapons submarine and slowed procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. No changes were made to the Pentagon’s plan to build a next generation long-range bomber.
The Army’s end strength would be reduced to 490,000 from a post-9/11 peak of approximately 570,000 in 2010, and the Marine Corps’ to 182,000 from a peak of approximately 202,000. In addition, the President will request that Congress authorize use of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process to identify savings from closing and consolidated bases that might be reinvested in high priority missions at the Department of Defense.
Although at this point the Pentagon has chosen to protect the nuclear triad – land-based, sea-based and air launched nuclear weapons — the document notes that “An ongoing White House review of nuclear deterrence will address the potential for maintaining our deterrent with a different nuclear force.”
Current Defense Department proposals do not account for the possibility of budget sequestration that Congress agreed to last year, which would impose an additional $500 billion cut beginning in January 2013 if Congress does not act. While most can agree that across-the-board sequestration cuts would not be desirable, an additional $500 billion cut would not be disastrous in itself.