Defense Cuts Alarm Education and Aerospace Leaders

I have good news to report.

Congress worked together to agree on  a two-year budget deal. There are people on both sides of the matter grousing a little about it. But most people see it a welcome relief to the nonsense of the last few years. It was a cooperative effort between Democrats and Republicans and goes to the Senate next for approval. I have been wondering if we would ever be able to report on such an event again—of real bipartisan effort—given the in-fighting of the past several years that only seems to worsen.

But here we are, middle of December, with members of Congress saying that they owe it to the military to give them a budget before the end of the year. This sentiment comes as sequestration looms and the cuts ax is prepared to drop where it may and slice of whatever it will.

Part of the real problem with sequestration—at least for the round already completed and the 2014 round about to happen—is that its cuts are indiscriminate. The mandated reductions in defense spending are simply leveled, without any process that attempts to prioritize or scrutinize such cuts and their long-term effect.

The Budget Control Act (the law that created the sequester) doesn’t require that future years have the same automatic cuts, provided DoD and Congress generate budgets below certain caps. If congress can cooperate, they could shift budget dollars toward R&D.  The media in Washington report that is just what the bill Congress passed does.

Educators and Industry Leaders Sound Off

Most of the concern about the consequences of the sequester have been from within the military community. Recently, highly placed officials in Education and the Aerospace community banded together to beat that drum with a new level of urgency.

Representatives from the Association of American Universities (AAU), Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Manufacturers joined others in a recent Washington press conference to warn that the first round of sequester cuts has already harmed US R&D. The pending second round of the automatic cuts that are part of the 2014 budget cycle could be even worse, they say.

Here’s how Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman and chairman of AIA’s board put it:  “Many assume that America’s lead in technology and therefore our technological superiority in national security is somehow guaranteed. It is not…The pace of technology advancement around the world is accelerating and it’s accelerating at a time when we’re reducing investment.”

The panel focused on the impact the sequester is having on R&D spending and by extension, talent development and retention. Reducing R&D creates what Bush called a new “talent risk” as capable potential workers avoid career fields in favor of more innovative areas.

DoD spending cuts have made their way down to universities, where 2012 marked the first time that R&D spending had declined since 1974, according to a recent National Science Foundation report, according to Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU.

“We are facing an innovation deficit as research and higher education investment declines while those of our foreign competitors dramatically increase,” he said. “This research carried out in our nation’s universities is the lifeblood of innovation, and innovation is the lifeblood of our economy.”

To illustrate his point, Rawlings pulled his Apple iPhone. “This is a great Apple product, a great product,” he said. “But none of the technological inventions that made this product possible were created by Apple. All of them came out of government-sponsored research and development.

AIA sent copies of a letter to congressional leaders and the president outlining their concerns. The letter was signed by over 100 of AIA’s member companies. Among other things it warned:

“Investment in the defense industrial base is not a spigot that can be turned on and off without consequence,” it said. “Research can take years to yield results and key skills can take a lifetime to develop. While facilities and equipment can be built and replaced relatively quickly, people and their skills cannot.”

One can only hope the congressional fiasco of late has helped Congress understand it cannot hijack the entire country for its partisan squabbles. Neither side will get all it wants. But, working together, Congress has a duty to put in place a reasonable budget and move forward, particularly in this crucial area of domestic defense.

Now, if only the US Senate will step up and pass the bill.

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Tighten Your Budget Belts!

I have written before on what is projected to happen in the next decade or so, assuming the law we know as sequestration is left to stand as currently written. The net effect, if you can’t remember, is an estimated $1.2 trillion reduction in Department of Defense spending.

The United States is coming out of a period where DOD spending has been at an unprecedented high (in terms of total expenditures).  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been long and expensive. The war on terror—wherever that terror resides and whatever its plans and incursions—has its associated price tag.

The crazy thing about the war on terror is that we can’t say what will happen tomorrow. It is an expensive war by any terms. Today we seem to be in pretty good condition. A US drone strike recently killed a top member of the Taliban in Pakistan. Our intelligence on the terrorists has been good enough to keep them at bay. For now.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down. That means the expenses of those wars will continue to rachet downward.  We can always hope for peace as we prepare to deal with our enemies who would love to hurt us as badly and frequently as possible.

Veterans and active duty personnel can expect to see Tricare cuts. They can also expect to pay a greater percentage of their healthcare costs. Here are some statistics to work over:

  • Overall funding for overseas contingency operations has declined by just over 50 percent since 2008 as the war in Iraq has wound down.
  • Funding for Iraq and Afghanistan was as high as $187 billion in fiscal year 2008, which represented 30 percent of SIPRI’s measure of U.S. military spending for that year.
  • Projected war funding for 2014 is projected to be $79 billion,  but is likely to decline thereafter with the winding down of the war in Afghanistan.

A Defense spending statistic that has always drawn a lot of attention is U.S. national defense spending as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That figure has ranged from a high of 15 percent in 1952 (during the Korean War) to a low of 3.7 percent in 2000 (the period preceding the terrorist attacks of the following year). Government specialists are saying that DOD spending for 2014 will be in the 5% of GDP range.

An obvious reason to spend military dollars is to develop military power. Military power depends on multiple factors, including the military budgets of our allies. Spending by NATO, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, when coupled with that of the United States, accounted for a formidable 75 percent of global military spending in 2010. US and its allies military spending declined from 2005 to 2010; it is projected to fall further, to 60 percent of world-wide spending by 2015.

The number of personnel employed by the Department of Defense has declined since the 1960s. The new budget cuts and force-reduction strategies mean fewer and fewer military personnel will be employed full time by the DOD.  The sad truth of the matter is keeping people on the payroll, and all that comes with (travel, training, benefits, etc.), is a huge commitment to put on the taxpayers.

Military personnel costs have risen rapidly in the last decade in part due to rising U.S. health-care costs, and in part to the advanced medical treatment in the battlefield arena. The cost of military pay and allowances and military health care has risen almost 90 percent since 2001, while the active-duty personnel count has risen by less than 3 percent.

These are times to live within your means, to be frugal. Be patient and be frugal.


More on Military Budget Cuts

The further we go down this sequestration road the more clearly we begin to see the reality of mandated military spending reductions. In a worst case scenario outlined today by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Army could shrink to 380,000 troops and the Marines Corps to 150,000. The Navy would lose three carriers, and the Air Force would begin mothballing its B-52 bomber fleet.

Tighten Your Belts

In sobering news for current service members, veterans, and family members, increased Tricare fees, reductions in housing allowances, pay raise cuts, and fewer commissary subsidies are about to become the norm. Hagel warned of these eventualities unless Congress and the White House can agree to lift the sequestration deficit-reduction mandate that is projected to take $500 billion in defense budgets over the next 10 years. Click here if you haven’t read the White House’s response to specifics about sequestration.

The military has conducted a painful review designed on “maximizing the military’s combat power by looking to reduce every other category of spending first,” according to Hagel. To that end, the review led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sought to make a “basic tradeoff” between the military’s “capacity and capability,” Hagel said.

Hagel is not the only voice of warning when it comes to sounding the trumpet over how the military is being affected and will be affected in the coming years. Hagel and others in Washington are increasing the rhetoric in an effort to call attention to what they feel are spending cuts that are too severe.

For more than a year, as the Iraq war ended and Afghanistan was winding down, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, has been warning that sequester might force him to cut troop strength below the cut from 570,00 soldiers to 490,000, which was already underway. Citing this latest review Hagel said that the number of soldiers in the Army could fall as low as 380,000, but a senior Pentagon official said later that the troop strength would more likely fall in the range of about 450,00.

The Marine Corps, which now has slightly more than 200,000 troops, had been projected to come down to about 182,000, but the defense leaders outlining the review said the number could be as low as 150,000

Hagel said the number of aircraft carriers in the Navy might have to drop from the current 11 to eight, and he also said that the Air Force would have to retire older bombers and slash the number of tactical squadrons.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the review was shortsighted, but “what it does make clear is what I’ve been cautioning all along — further cuts will cause catastrophic readiness shortfalls. We will lose our workforce and ability to recruit and retain the all volunteer force and our influence around the world will diminish,” McKeon said in a statement.

The hardest part of watching the sequestration scythe cut through the military is the randomness and devastation of its stroke. Sequestration really makes no attempt to qualify anything; it simply sets quantification limits and  lets everything lie as it falls.

Defense Secretary Hagel again pled with congress to act. “It is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration,” Hagel said.

“It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families,” Hagel said. “Even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America’s sons and daughters to make for our country.”

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US Army to Drop at Least 13 Brigades by 2017

As the U.S. military begins to grapple with mandated budget cuts, we are beginning to see some of the results. Troop reductions are one of the quickest ways in which the military intends to reduce its costs. Because cutting the budget is a process, we are likely to see a lot of give and take as military leaders work with lawmakers over the next five years.

DoD photo of Army soldiers by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

The U.S. Army plans to eliminate at least a dozen brigades over the next five years in what has been described as the largest restructuring of the force since World War II. The Army will reduce the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33, a targeted reduction of 80,000 soldiers (to 490,000 soldiers) by 2017, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Army Working to Preserve Combat Readiness

The Army is also reorganizing the makeup of the brigade combat teams to retain as much combat potential as possible despite the reductions, Odierno added. The service will add a third maneuver battalion – and additional fires and engineering potential to each armor and infantry brigade combat teams to make them more lethal, more flexible and more agile. According to Odierno, the Army will also keep investing in aviation, special operations, missile defense, and cyber security

A brigade is an imprecise troop count of between 3,000 to 5,000 solders. A brigade headquarters commands the tactical operation of two to five attached combat battalions. Normally commanded by a colonel with a command sergeant major as senior NCO, brigades are employed on independent or semi-independent operations.

Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that has oversight in this area, does not paint a rosy picture going forward. “As damaging as they are, these cuts don’t begin to reflect the crippling damage sequestration will do to our armed forces and national security,” McKeon said in an e-mailed statement after the Army’s announcement. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. Much deeper cuts are still to come.”

At least 10 stateside installations (from all over the US) will lose a brigade each and two German bases are being inactivated, one from Baumholder and another from Grafenwoehr.

The reduction represents about a 14 percent drop in force size. General Odierno said the force would eventually drop to 32 brigades, but a decision had not yet been made on the final unit to be cut. He said as the 13 brigades are inactivated, some of the forces would be transferred to other brigades to make them “more lethal, more flexible and more agile.”

The Army hopes to absorb some of the effect of the cuts to troop strength with increased firepower and technological advancements. Battalions of infantry, Stryker combat vehicles, engineering and artillery units would be shifted to other brigades along with engineering and artillery units, according to Odieraid.

The cuts mainly affect the active-duty force. The Army Reserve will remain at 205,000 soldiers and the state-based National Guard militia will lose 8,000 soldiers, dropping to 350,000 from 358,000. However, depending on how Congress deals with the mandated budget cuts, the military may have to shed another 100,000 soldiers from the National Guard and Army Reserve. The first installment of across-the-board reductions took effect in March of this year.


Air Force Tightens Belt as Sequestration Takes Effect

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Air Force has seen big funding cuts, leading to concerns about critical mission factors including the readiness of pilots and aircraft that aren’t flying today. “We’ve got folks sitting in fighter squadrons looking out of windows at aircraft that they haven’t touched since the first of April,” said Mark A. Welsh, the Air Force’s top officer.

Military leaders besides Welsh have expressed repeated frustration because they have little flexibility in applying the cuts—mainly because the law mandates the Defense Department enact a 9 percent cut across all programs.

For example, the Air Force has stood down 33 squadrons, 12 of which are combat-coded fighter and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance units. Another seven squadrons have been reduced to a basic mission capable rating.

Welsh recently told a group of civic and industry leaders there was a readiness crisis in the Air Force even before sequestration. He warned that the severe cutbacks required by the sequester will further downgrade force readiness beyond the current fiscal year if a budget agreement is not reached. “We can’t just all of a sudden accelerate training and catch up,” Welsh lamented. “It costs up to 2 1/2 times as much to retrain a squadron as it does to keep it trained.”

Sequestration is part of the Budget Control Act that mandates $1.2 trillion in cuts across federal agencies to include $500 million to the military over the next decade. Congress wrote sequestration into legislation to provide motivation for Congress to agree to a deficit reduction plan to replace the federal spending cuts. They failed to reach such an agreement and sequestration was triggered on March 1.

Military pay and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been exempted by President Obama from the cuts associated with sequestration, but everything else is on the table and subject to cuts, including family programs.

Importance of the F-35 Program

Welsh has gone on record saying the Air Force cannot perform its air superiority mission with today’s aging F-15 and F-16 fighters, and limited number of F-22s. He stressed the importance of having the next generation fighter, the F-35 and said acquisition of the new fighter was non-negotiable.

“When we truncated our F-22 buy, we ended up with a force that can’t provide air superiority in more than one area at a time,” Welsh said. “The F-35 is going to be part of the air superiority equation whether it was intended to be, originally, or not.”

Welsh made an interesting point when he observed that other countries will begin flying stealthy, highly-advanced fighters in the coming years. A US Air Force that doesn’t have the aircraft to counter these next-generation in a high-end fight it will be in trouble. “If a fourth-generation aircraft meets a fifth-generation aircraft, the fourth-generation aircraft may be more efficient, but it’s also dead,” Welsh concluded.

The troubled F-35 program has been years in development and has been plagued with cost overruns and technological troubles. If the Pentagon sticks to its current plan, taxpayers will spend in excess of $400 billion for the new fighters.

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