As the Pentagon enters a time of austerity, defense leaders said they are rethinking weapon systems plagued by cost and schedule problems and looking for a new acquisition chief with industry knowledge.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen told reporters recently the Pentagon is well positioned for the first round of defense cuts called for in the deficit-reduction act President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday. That’s because the Pentagon is nearing the end of a comprehensive review intended to find $400 billion in longterm savings, and the new deficit deal calls for $350 billion in defense-related reductions over the next decade.
What Panetta is very concerned about, he reiterated to the press recently, is a second part of the deficit plan that says if a forthcoming super committee of lawmakers and Congress can’t agree on up to $1.5 trillion in additional government savings by the end of the year, the Pentagon automatically will be cut by $500 billion or $600 billion by 2021.
Panetta called this trigger a “kind of Doomsday mechanism” that would result in “a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board, defense cuts that I believe would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military’s ability to protect the nation.”
Panetta said the results of the Pentagon’s comprehensive review will inform the first round of $350 billion in defense-related cuts. The service chiefs, though, have not yet made their cost-savings recommendations to him, he said.
Mullen said the review is looking at areas including administrative overhead and weapon systems.
“I think programs that can’t meet …their cost and schedule requirements are very much in jeopardy and will be very much under scrutiny, if you will, as we go forward,” he said at the Pentagon. He said he is “confident” the Pentagon can meet the first round of cuts.
Amid the talk of military budget cuts in Washington this week, Obama announced Tuesday he will nominate Pentagon acquisition czar Ashton Carter to replace William Lynn as the deputy secretary of defense.
Regarding Carter’s successor, Panetta said recently: “I’ve obviously asked for a whole list of individuals that we think can replace him and that have (defense) industry knowledge that I think is important to that job.”
Carter’s deputy is Frank Kendall, a former Raytheon [RTN] executive.
Panetta rejected the argument that Carter, who came to the Pentagon from Harvard University, lacked enough industry experience.
“I just find him to be someone who is serious-minded and very capable and a good manager for the department,” Panetta said. “And that’s the primary interest that I have, is making sure the deputy understands this department and can help me manage this department.”
Regarding the deficit agreement, Panetta said he is not drawing up contingency plans in case those $500 billion or $600 billion in additional Pentagon cuts are triggered through a so-called sequestration process because of Congress’ inability to agree on additional savings later this year. The threat of those large defense cuts, which Obama and Panetta do not support, is intended to compel lawmakers on the forthcoming super committee to make tough government-spending choices.
Panetta said he and other Pentagon leaders “have a responsibility to really educate the leadership on the Hill…of the dangers if they allowed sequestration to take place.”
Mullen said if those second-round cuts were to materialize, his and the service chiefs’ “view is that’s very dangerous for the country.”