The U.S. military's shift to a more extensive Pacific presence includes the continued purchase by the Navy of P-8A maritime patrol aircraft. (MC3 Daniel J. Meshel / U.S. Navy)
The U.S. Defense Department plans to purchase weapons and equipment geared to combat in the Asia-Pacific, a maritime-heavy region that will require long-range, stealthy systems that were rarely used over the past decade of combat.
Even as it prepares to downsize, the Pentagon plans to purchase fighters, unmanned aircraft and intelligence aircraft in the coming years, while beginning development of systems, such as a long-range bomber.
“With the war in Iraq now over, and as we transition security responsibilities to the government of Afghanistan, we will release much of our military capacity that has been tied up there for other missions, like fostering peace and strengthening partnerships in the Asia-Pacific,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during an Oct. 3 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
“Naval assets that will be released from Afghanistan and the Middle East include surface combatants, amphibious ships and, eventually, aircraft carriers,” he said.
The Air Force will transition its unmanned systems, bomber and space forces to the Pacific, Carter said. The Air Force is also investing in a new aerial refueling tanker, the Boeing KC-46.
At the same time, the Army and Marine Corps will be freed up “for new missions in other regions.”
The Navy will install larger launch tubes in new Virginia-class submarines that will allow the vessels to carry cruise missiles, other weapons and small underwater vehicles. The service will also continue its purchase of Sikorsky
MH-60 helicopters, Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and the unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft.
DoD also plans to invest in cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities.
The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all plan to purchase the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the coming years.
U.S. spending priorities are in line with a new military strategy DoD released in January. One of the key tenets of the new strategy is being able to fight in a contested or denied battle space. The wars of the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought in benign airspace, which have allowed all types of aircraft to fly with little threat of being shot down.
But budget cuts remain a major concern. The Pentagon already is cutting $487 billion from planned spending over the next decade. But the larger issue is the possibility of an additional $500 billion in cuts to planned spending over the next 10 years. Those reductions were mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 as a way to lower the U.S. deficit. These cuts, known as sequestration, are scheduled to go into effect in January.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top defense officials have argued that the magnitude of these reductions would hurt the military’s ability to rapidly respond. They have also said DoD would need to create a new military strategy if the additional cuts are enacted.
Industry has said the spending cuts would lead to mass layoffs, although other defense analysts and observers have said the reductions would not be felt for several years and would not be as devastating as depicted.
While many in Congress have voiced opposition to sequestration-level spending cuts, a comprehensive deal to lower the U.S. debt is not likely anytime soon. Congress has been out of session since September so members can campaign for the November elections. The U.S. presidential election is also looming and could reshape U.S. spending.
Advisers for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have said the former Massachusetts governor would restore all planned DoD spending cuts immediately.
A Romney administration would allot 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product to the defense base budget, said Roger Zakheim, one of Romney’s senior defense advisers, at an Oct. 11 breakfast with reporters in Washington. Zakheim is on leave from his job as deputy staff director and general counsel of the House Armed Services Committee.
The fiscal 2012 Pentagon budget proposal, the last budget before the first round of spending cuts were announced, called for $2.99 trillion in defense spending from 2013 to 2017. That projection was cut by $259 billion after Congress passed the Budget Control Act in 2011.
If Romney is elected, his administration would likely not release a budget until next spring, as opposed to early February.