The deal reached between the White House and Congressional leadership to raise the debt limit could include major cuts to defense (perhaps as large as $950 billion over the next decade).
How will this impact current plans to modernize and replace U.S. nuclear delivery systems (i.e. missiles, submarines, and bombers) and U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure?
According to the White House, the first phase of debt reduction would cut $350 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade, a figure similar to President Obama’s April 2011 proposal to cut security spending by $400 billion over twelve years. The second phase of the deal includes a trigger mechanism that could cut an additional $500-$600 billion from the defense budget (also known as function 050, which includes NNSA’s weapons activities account) if a congressional committee can’t agree on an additional cut of at least $1.2 trillion to discretionary government spending later this year.
The Department of Energy’s defense programs (i.e. the National Nuclear Security Administration) will be considered part of a “security spending” category for FY 2012 and FY 2013, when there would be separate caps (“firewalls”) for security and non-security spending. Note that NNSA oversees U.S. nuclear warhead maintenance and modernization activities as well as vital nuclear terrorism prevention programs.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about both the extent of the cuts and how they will be allocated (get ready for some wild Congressional budget fights that will pit different defense constituencies against one another). The new reality, however, is that defense spending is likely to come down. There won’t be any sacred cows. This raises serious questions about whether the huge budget increases for nuclear modernization we’ve seen the last two years as part of the so-called ten-year plan can be sustained – especially if the trigger goes into effect. Apparently the GOP cares more about protecting tax cuts for the wealthy than the Pentagon budget.
It’s worth recapping what senior U.S. military leaders and a Republican U.S. Senator who did not vote for the New START treaty have said in recent months about the exploding costs of nuclear modernization and the impact of likely defense cuts:
All elements of the triad need to be modernized. You may have to make some choices there.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, April 21, 2011
I would just repeat, in essence, what I said before on the budget issues. If the political leadership of this country decides that it must reduce the investment in defense by hundreds of billions of dollars, then I don’t think we can afford to have anything that’s off the table.
Robert Gates, May 18, 2011
The challenge here is that we have to recapitalize all three legs and we don’t have the money to do it.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, July 14, 2011
Reduce Nuclear Weapons Force Structure ($79 billion)
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), July 18, 2011
We’re not going to be able to go forward with weapon systems that cost what weapon systems cost today…. Case in point is Long-Range Strike. Case in point is the Trident replacement. … The list goes on.
STRATCOM Commander Gen. Robert Kehler, July 26, 2011
*This post has been updated