Why defense sequestration would be a disaster – to reiterate

As you know, Dear Readers, I have written several articles explaining, in detail, why sequestration of the defense budget would be calamitous for the US military and for the nation’s security. However, for those who are interested in exploring this issue further, in detail,  I have decided to write this more detailed article.

The depth of the cuts

The sequester is a mechanism which, unless current law is changed, will cut $600 bn per decade ($60 bn per year) out of the core defense budget (which is $531 bn in the current FY) on top of the first tier of defense budget cuts ordered by last August’s debt ceiling deal ($487 bn over a decade). In total, unless law is changed, it would cut over $1 trillion out of defense over a decade. And that’s on top of the shrinking, and eventual zeroing out, of GWOT budgets resulting from withdrawal from Afghanistan.

As data given in the Paul Ryan Budget Plan, in Table 1 of Appendix II (on page 96 of the full report), proves, defense would bear far more than half of the burden of the sequester’s budget cuts. The numbers, as the table states, would be as follows:

Category/FY13–-14–-15–-16–17—-18—19–-20—21—22–-TOTAL CUT OVER THE DECADE

Sequester—­‐98 -­‐93 -­‐92 -­‐91 -­‐91 -­‐90 -­‐89 -­‐88 -­‐88 -­‐90 -­‐913
Defense.——55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐55 -­‐56 -­‐551
Non-­‐Def.—­‐43 -­‐38 -­‐38 -­‐37 -­‐36 -­‐36 -­‐35 -­‐33 -­‐33 -­‐34 -­‐362

As these numbers prove, defense would bear far more than half of the spending cuts burden. In the first year (FY2013), it would be 56%; in FY2014, 59%; in FY2015, 59.78%; in FY2016, 60.43%; in FY2017, 60.43%; in FY2018, 61.11%; in FY2019, 61.79%; in FY2020, 62.5%; in FY2021, 62.5%; in FY2022, 61.11%.

In total, defense would be whacked by $551 bn over a decade, while nondefense discretionary spending would be cut by only $362 bn. Thus, the total amount of cuts would be $913 bn, and defense would bear 60.35% of that spending cut burden, i.e. the vast majority.

This is of course to say nothing of the massive defense cuts already administered and scheduled by President Obama, including the weapon program closures of 2009 and 2010, the New START treaty, the Gates’ Efficiencies and Savings Initiative, and the First Tier of BCA-mandated defense cuts ($487 bn over a decade), under which the DOD has already contributed $920 bn in deficit reduction to date, since 2009 alone, while other government agencies and programs have contributed virtually nothing. These pre-sequester defense cuts, by themselves, prove that the DOD has NEVER been off the table, that it has ALWAYS been on the table, and that it has already contributed more than its fair share to deficit reduction.

So how deeply would the base defense budget topline be cut? According to this CBO report (Table 1-4 on page 11), to just $469 bn in FY2013 (down from $535 bn this FY, i.e. an immediate real-term cut of $66 bn). That would mean there simply wouldn’t be enough money to do everything to protect America – to train the troops, maintain their equipment, bases and housing properly, conduct operations (such as fighter patrols over the CONUS and in Alaska to keep the Russians out, and SSBN patrols to provide nuclear deterrence), to maintain a properly-sized force (i.e. enough fighters, bombers, ships, etc.), and to develop and acquire the equipment the US military needs.

The specific consequences of sequestration

Those deep cuts in defense spending would translate into real, disastrous consequences for the military – and as a result, for national security.

Because the defense budget would be cut so deeply, the military would have to eliminate entire units, ships, fleets of aircraft, and even classes of missiles. It would have to, inter alia:

  • Cancel the F-35 program completely without replacement, and thus betray foreign program partners (including Israel);
  • Cancel all except the most basic upgrades for F-15s and F-16s while cutting the fighter fleet by 35%;
  • Eliminate the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad completely while cutting the bomber fleet by 2/3 and cancelling the bomber replacement program (also needed for conventional penetration strike);
  • Delay the SSBN replacement program;
  • Cut the USN’s ship fleet to 230 vessels, the smallest size since 1915, and vastly inadequate (independent studies say the Navy needs 346 ships);
  • Forego the deployment of any missile defense system abroad;
  • Cut the Army to its smallest size since 1940;
  • Cancel virtually all Army modernization programs;
  • Cut the Marines down to just 145,000 personnel (which, according to the USMC’s Commandant, would make the USMC “unable to handle even one major contingency”; in other words, if big trouble flares up, don’t bother calling the Marines);
  • Cutting Israeli cooperative missile defense programs;
  • Cut personnel benefits programs to such depth that it would break faith with them (e.g. massive cuts in DOD health programs and retirement benefits), thus discouraging people from joining the military or reenlisting.

Now, why does this matter? Because those weapon systems, units, and troops are needed.

Why America can’t do without them

A nuclear triad with the current number of missiles, SSBNs, and bombers is the minimum needed to provide a nuclear umbrella for America and its allies who rely on the US for it and thus don’t have to develop their own nuclear weapons. Thus, it prevents nuclear proliferation. The current CENTCOM commander and his predecessor have both stated that the current arsenal size is the right one.

A nuclear triad, as opposed to a dyad or monad, is the most flexible and survivable kind of deterrent. ICBMs are its cheapest and most reliable leg. In the years ahead, all three legs of the nuclear triad – the bombers, ICBMs, and SSBNs – will reach the end of their service lives and will need to be replaced by new ones.

The F-35 program is necessary to replace the obsolete fighter and strike aircraft fleets of three US services and those of foreign nations, and to provide them with stealthy, survivable strike aircraft. Now that the F-22 has been killed, there is NO alternative to the F-35. Yet, under sequestration, not only would the F-35 be killed, the existing fighter fleet would be cut by 1/3, and remaining fighter aircraft would receive only the most basic upgrades before they wear out in the 2020s.

The Army and the USMC already been slated for significant cuts under the First Tier of the Budget Control Act. Under sequestration, they would be cut in size way too deeply and their modernization accounts would be cut so deeply they would be unable to modernize, according to the Army’s Chief of Staff. If the US ever again needs to fight a ground war – and chances are, it will have to someday – it can’t do that with an Army that is too small and technologically obsolete.

The Navy is highly important for future wars and for peacetime. In peacetime, it deters enemies and reassures allies while fighting pirates and keeping the world’s sealanes secure (they won’t keep them secure by themselves). In wartime, it’ll be crucial not only for defeating enemy Navies but also enemy aircraft and striking deep into enemy territory with its aircraft and missiles. The stealthy F-35C, with its unrefueled combat radius of 615 nm (of all carrier-borne aircraft operated by the Navy, only the (E)A-6 had a longer radius), will play a crucial role in this. Yet, under sequestration, the F-35 is gone and the Navy is cut to 230 ships, 116 ships fewer than the impartial Hadley-Perry and CNAS panels estimate the Navy needs. Even now, with its inadequate ship fleet, the Navy is able to meet only 59% of Combatant Commanders’ needs, and only 61% of their needs for submarines. Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley say that the demand for subs is much greater than the Navy’s capacity. Furthermore, he says that even without sequestration, the Navy’s attack sub fleet will fall deeply below 48 submarines in the 2030s.

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress says that under sequestration, the Navy will not be able to build a single ship for an entire decade, because sequestration applies to every ship the Navy would build (not just to the shipbuilding account as a whole), and you can’t buy 88% or 89% of a ship.

The Navy’s ships are needed for all kinds of missions, from providing airpower, to missile defense, counterpiracy, naval dominance, amphibious assault, resupply of troops, and disaster relief. They can serve as platforms for all sorts of operations; don’t need anyone’s permission to operate in international waters; and can travel into any sea in the world. But one ship, no matter how advanced, can be in only one place at any given time.

The USN already has fewer ships than the PLAN, but the sequester would cut it below the Russian Navy’s size. Also, all three legs of the nuclear triad would be eliminated (one outright and the others through nonreplacement), and existing SSBN, fighter, and bomber fleets would be deeply cut, as would be missile defense programs (despite SM-3′s recent success), the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and other capabilities.

What the experts are saying

I’m hardly the only one saying that sequestration would be a disaster. All Joint Chiefs, as well as other generals (currently serving and retired), many veterans associations, many defense experts, and most members of Congress – Republican and Democrat – agree that sequestration would be an utter disaster.

General Martin Dempsey says that if sequestration goes through and personnel spending is exempted from it (the only account that can be exempted), the DOD will have to cut training, ops, maintenance, procurement, and research even further than they would otherwise have to, and that, he says, would produce “the definition of a hollow force.” Vice CNO Adm. Mark Ferguson says that sequestration would cut at least $15 bn from the Navy’s budget alone – the equivalent of the entire shipbuilding budget. USMC LTG Richard Mills says sequestration would mean “breaking faith with those defending America.” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno says it would mean the Army would no longer be able to modernize itself and develop new weapons, among other consequences. Other Joint Chiefs have delivered similar firm warnings.

Defense Secretary Panetta has described, in detail, sequestration’s consequences (including the program closures and force structure cuts mentioned above) and has likened them to “shooting ourselves in the head” rather than the foot. His deputy, Ashton Carter, listed many adverse consequences during his August 2012 testimony before the HASC, including deep cuts in training, which would lead to a poorly trained and therefore hollow military.

These findings by the Nation’s foremost experts – the men who lead the US military – are in line with the findings of impartial experts of the Heritage Foundation, the AEI, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and even the CNAS, as well as veterans’ groups (e.g. the Association for America’s Defense and the Reserve Officers Association) and the vast majority of members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike. In fact, on few issues does Congress agree so broadly, at least in principle, as it does on sequestration. President Obama concurs.

The only dispute between them is how to offset cancellation of sequestration. President Obama and the Democrats want the wealthiest Americans to pay for it; Republicans prefer to cut social spending.

The Constitutional Duty

The federal government’s #1 Constitutional duty is providing for the common defense. Gutting defense, as sequestration would, would mean a total dereliction of that duty. The #1 duty of any government is to provide security for its citizens. If the federal government cannot perform that function, there’s no reason to have a federal government at all.


$469 bn is peanuts. Such a defense budget would be woefully inadequate to pay for what is needed to protect America – the weapons, platforms, base infrastructure, troops, their training, operations, and spare parts for equipment. Yet, that is the defense budget would produce, with its extremely deep and across-the-board defense cuts. Congress should repeal it immediately.


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