If the military is forced to abide by the full sequestration cuts from fiscal years 2016 to 2019 as is currently mandated by law, it would not be able to uphold the basic principles of the Defense Strategic Guidance from 2012, the acting deputy defense secretary said Wednesday morning.
After previously focusing its efforts on lobbying against full sequestration, the Defense Department finally calculated what full sequestration would do to each service and to the joint warfighting force, Christine Fox told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute.
“We actually had the services produce [Program Objective Memoranda] at sequester level for the first time,” she said. “So that is the first time we actually have the detail necessary to clearly show, OK, do you like this picture? If you do, then keep going on the sequester path.”
She added that that line-by-line full-sequester budget would not be submitted to Congress, rather kept internal in the Pentagon, but a description of the post-sequester fighting force would be included in the FY ’15 budget request DoD will send to Congress on March 4.
That post-sequester force would include an Army of only 420,000 soldiers; an Air Force with fewer squadrons, as well as delayed delivery of its Joint Strike Fighters; a Navy with a too-small fleet, including an aircraft carrier fleet of 10 despite the 11 required by law; and combat units without the proper spare parts, maintenance availabilities for vehicles or realistic and relevant training.
All told, “the U.S. could not respond decisively to simultaneous aggression by two states, thus inviting military adventurism by potential adversaries,” Fox warned. “Our forces could not deploy quickly and in strength to respond to disasters overseas, or other contingencies that require America’s leadership. Some allies and partners would be more likely to hedge their bets on side deals with their larger and more aggressive neighbors. And finally, America would remain the world’s leading military power, but would no longer be ‘the’ guarantor of global security that can be counted on to protect our values, interests and allies.”
Pretending that sequester-level spending could ever be acceptable is the most harmful thing the Pentagon could do, she concluded. To that end, the Pentagon will be submitting a budget request next week that followed the sequester caps for FY ’15, which were raised slightly in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement passed in December. But the plan spends $115 billion over the caps from FY ’16-19.
“If we don’t like the strategy that results [from the sequester-level force description], then additional funding is required to allow for a different set of tradeoffs and lower levels of risk,” Fox said. “For this budget plan, we added the $115 billion above current law in order to have a reasonable opportunity to fulfill the president’s strategic priorities, albeit with higher risk for certain military missions.”
Fox expressed some frustration that Congress would almost certainly complicate the matter further by rejecting some of the cuts DoD wants to make to keep its spending low–particularly a round of Base Realignment and Closure planned for 2017, as well as some cuts to National Guard platforms and mission sets. Several lawmakers have said these requests will be dead on arrival. If Congress does pick apart the budget request, which Fox said was holistic and ought to be viewed as a tightly woven package rather than individual spending items, the military will have to make the cuts that bring it to that post-sequester scenario military leaders are hoping to avoid.
DoD has about 25 percent more bases and installations than it needs, Fox said, and while it has identified a number of ways to be more efficient in its logistics, depot maintenance, base operations and more, “an awful lot of our identified efficiencies for logistics have to be part and parcel of a BRAC.”