It is widely agreed (and rightly so) that sequestration (which is mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011), if it were to go through, would gut the US military and jeopardize America’s national security. There’s a bipartisan agreement on that.
But what few members of either party, and few Americans, realize is that Panetta’s First Tier defense cuts – also mandated by the BCA – are also harmful to US national security, although, of course, not even nearly as harmful as sequestration would be.
Panetta proposes, and the Senate Armed Services Committee has recently agreed, to:
1) Decomission 7 of the youngest cruisers of the Ticonderoga class (including the single youngest, the USS Port Royal), each of which could serve for additional 20 years, and 1 of which has BMD capability. This would mean cutting the USN’s cruiser fleet by half and losing 7 highly-capable multirole ships that have greater firepower than the entire surface fleet of the Royal Navy.
2) Deeply cut the already inadequate airlifter fleet by retiring 27 huge C-5A airlifters and 65 tactical C-130 Hercules planes, cutting the fleet to just 275 strategic and 318 tactical airlifters, well short of the minimum treshold of 301 strategic airlifters established just a year ago.
3) Cut the USAF’s fighter and attack aircraft fleet significantly, and reduce the number of USAF fighter and training squadrons frm 61 to 54.
4) Cut the Marine Corps by 15,000 men and many regiments.
Panetta protests that he’s merely “retiring older ships and replacing them with 40 newer, far more capable ships”, but that’s not true. The cruisers he plans to retire are the youngest cruisers of the Navy, including the single youngest, the USS Port Royal. They can still serve for 20 more years each, assuming a 40-year service lifetime. And what does Panetta plan to replace them with? Tiny, useless Littoral Combat Ships that can’t withstand serious damage and aren’t capable of serious combat.
Similarly, while Deputy SECDEF Ashton Carter claims that the DOD wants to retire A-10s and F-16s because, supposedly, it wants to “make room for new aircraft”, these planes would actually retire unreplaced, because not enough F-35s have been ordered to replace them, and 200 F-35s have been cut out of the FYDP and shoved into the “out-years” – ensuring that 200 tactical aircraft will retire long before their F-35 replacements are delivered. And that’s assuming the Congress doesn’t cancel the F-35 program.
On top of that, Panetta proposes to deeply cut many important procurement programs:
1) Many crucial research programs (including laser weapon and other directed energy weapon programs, crucial to countering LACMs, ASCMs, ballistic missiles, G-RAMM attacks, and enemy manned and unmanned aircraft).
2) The F-35 program, the only Western fifth-generation fighter program currently active.
3) The Arleigh Burke class and Virginia class programs, which have seen their ships slip out of the FYDP.
4) The P-8 Poseidon, V-22 Osprey, SH-60 Seahawk, Joint High Speed Vessel, support ship, and other procurement programs.
The directed-neergy weapons that the DOD is currently developing, and other next-generation weapons, are needed to counter Russia, Chinese, and Iranian anti-access/access-denial weapons such as SS-N-25 Switchblade, SS-N-27 Sizzler, YJ-82, YJ-91, HN-2000, DH-10, C-802, and Silkworm ASCMs. Countering these threats should be the DOD’s top priority. This is especially important given the fact that firstly, America’s enemies are constantly growing their already-huge arsenals of such weapons, and secondly, kinetic defense systems such as kinetic BMD are not cost-effective against them – they are very expensive and the enemy could easily saturate them with a massive barrage. Shifting to laser defenses would be much more cost effective. Yet, Panetta proposes to cut laser weapon and other directed energy weapon programs by various steep percentages, and in some cases, cancel them. Moreover, none of them are planned to be procured, and all are run by research organizations, not acquisition bureaus.
The F-35 is the only 5th generation fighter currently in production. Yet, Panetta proposes to delay and cut that program further, thus potentially leading to a spiral of cuts that might result in total program cancellation.
The Navy is already too small, and if ship construction continues at its present laggard pace (10 ships pear year), it will shrink further. The current Navy consists of just 285 ships, the fewest since 1916, is smaller than the PLA Navy, and is way too small for America’s current requirements, as indicated by two independent studies (that of the Perry-Hadley panel and that of the CNAS; both say a Navy of 346 ships is needed). A large Navy is important for fighting wars, but even moreso for reassuring allies and deterring enemies, which is what the Navy spends most of its time and resources on.
The other procurement programs that Panetta is cutting, some of which I’ve listed, are also necessary to protect America. The V-22 Osprey has been discuessed so many times here that it doesn’t need to be explained again. The P-8 Poseidon Maritime Multimission Plane is necessary to replace America’s obsolete P-3 Orion aircraft of this class and restore America’s lost ASW capabilities, which have dramatically declined as a result of the DOD’s 11-year-long obsession with ground wars. The same could be said of the SH-60 Seahawk (the naval version of the Blackhawk), which serves as both an anti-ASW and a SAR platform. Joint High Speed Vessels are necessary to quickly deliver troops from ship to shore; cutting orders for them from 18 to 10 would be very damaging.
On top of that, Panetta and Obama propose to cut the nuclear arsenal modernization program by a whopping 15%.
Nor do they propose enough funding to resolve the military’s maintenance shortfalls or inadequate orders for weapons.
Panetta, Carter, and their defenders shoot back that the Obama Admin is not cutting the force structure or the resources devoted to the Pacific Rim. But neither are they significantly increasing these, and they can’t conceal the fact that the OVERALL amount of defense resources available to America – troops, equipment stocks, defense funding, O&M programs, modernization programs orders and funding, and the force structure – will shrink significantly from an already inadequate amount. A case in point is the airlifter fleet which, under the false pretext of “excess capacity”, they want to shrink to just 275 strategic and 308 tactical airlift aircraft (C-5s, C-17s, and C-130s). They’re also cutting missile defense programs, including THAAD, and cancelling MEADS.
They also claim that because defense budgeting is, supposedly, “a zero-sum game”, every extra dollar devoted to one program is a dollar taken away from another program. That is not true if the defense budget topline is increased, as the House proposes to do. While the House proposes to block some of the cuts Panetta has called for – such as decommissioning 7 young cruisers and 2 amphibs, cutting the tacair fleet, and closing the Abrams and Bradley production lines only to reopen them expensively in the future – it also wants to increase the TOPLINE (by $4 bn in FY2013) to allow the DOD to accomodate these programs. To reconcile that with deficit reduction, the House proposes to cut NONDEFENSE SPENDING, which, so far, has been largely off the table, while the Pentagon alone has had to bear the burden of significant federal budget cuts.
So – especially since Panetta and Carter themselves claim that “defense budgeting is a zero-sum game” – every resource they devote to the Pacific region is one they take away from some other region of the world, be it the Middle East, Latin America, the Carribean, the Arctic, or Europe. And as the overall amount of resources available to the DOD shrink dramatically (as they will if their defense budget submission is passed as they requested or as the SASC proposes), these other regions will be even more dramatically under-resourced.
But while they deeply cut America’s military capabilities, they have found enough money to waste on “green energy” boondoggles, uneconomical “alternative fuels” for ships and aircraft that cost 8 times more than traditional fuels, pay raises and salaries for the DOD’s bloated army of government workers and contractors, huge bureaucracies, huge useless noncombat units and headquarters, the useless Stryker APC, the D6A and DCGS programs, the almost-useless Reaper drones, and closing the Abrams and Bradley production lines which will have to be reopened in FY2017 or FY2018 at a far greater fiscal cost than the cost of keeping them open.
And of course, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress propose to protect and even increase federal spending on “education”, “the infrastructure”, “welfare”, foodstamps, health programs, and “green energy” programs, even though these programs are wasteful and pertain to issues reserved by the Constitution to the states and the people. Meanwhile, they propose to deeply cut spending on the federal government’s #1 Constitutional duty: providing for the common defense.
This is utterly unacceptable. Their policies must be completely rejected. Congress needs to pass an ADEQUATE defense budget, such as that passed by the House, and not one cut to conform to arbitrary limits.