Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that every dollar spent on older, unneeded weapons means fewer dollars for newer, more capable systems. (Staff file photo)
When Congress adds money for things the U.S. Defense Department says it doesn’t need, it forces the Pentagon to make difficult choices elsewhere in the budget, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Carter’s message for Congress was simply: Stop messing with the Pentagon’s budget.
His remarks come as the House and Senate are midway through crafting the defense policy and appropriations bills for fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1. The House has passed its version of the 2013 defense authorization bill.
The Senate Armed Services Committee finished its markup last week. The Senate is expected to debate the bill in late June or July.
Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee has approved a defense spending bill while its counterpart in the Senate has yet to complete its work.
As happens every year, the congressional defense committees have adjusted the budget request the Pentagon submitted, cutting in some places in order to increase funding in others. This year, however, the stakes are somewhat higher as there is less room to maneuver due to the Budget Control Act’s spending caps.
Since the president’s budget request was first submitted in February, top defense officials — including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey — have said the budget is carefully balanced with little margin for error if it is to fulfill the Pentagon’s new strategy.
While the House’s defense authorization bill makes the most drastic changes to the Pentagon’s request, all of the current markups make significant changes to DoD’s spending plans.
For example, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup would freeze the Air Force’s cuts to the Air National Guard, prohibiting the Pentagon from retiring aircraft and reducing force structure. Both the House and Senate bills add funding to buy M1 Abrams tanks that the Army says it doesn’t need.
Pushing back against these moves, Carter said that every dollar spent on older, unneeded weapons means fewer dollars for newer, more capable systems.
When something is added to our budget that is not needed, we are forced to take out something that is, he said.
Carter urged Congress to let the Pentagon make its proposed changes so that it can scale back where it thinks it is safe to do so and invest in areas it considers more important for the future.
He said the Pentagon needed to be able to make changes to its health insurance coverage because costs are spiraling out of control. The savings are needed so that money can be invested elsewhere, he said.
He also explained that the Pentagon wants to retire older, single-purpose aircraft so that it can invest in newer, multipurpose planes.
“All of our modeling shows that we have excess inter-theater lift,” Carter said. “We just can’t afford it. We don’t need it.”
The military also has extra intra-theater lift, Carter said, naming the Air Force’s C-130s. He said the Pentagon would be flexible about where those planes are stationed and how many are ultimately needed, but some of the older aircraft need to be retired to make room for the new, he said.
The same is true for the Navy, according to Carter.
If the Navy is forced to maintain older ships that will come at the expense of buying new ones, he said.
For the Army and Marine Corps, Carter said that a balanced force requires both services to reduce their end strengths.
The Pentagon does not plan to enter into another decade-long war that involves heavy counterinsurgency and stability operations, he said. If that happens, “we’d mobilize the Reserves and rebuild.”
All of these changes are necessary to maintain a well-balanced force prepared for a greater focus on the Asia-Pacific region, he said.