The U.S. Defense Department could save hundreds of billions of dollars if it revamps its military strategy and makes its forces more expeditionary, according to a new think tank report.
The nonpartisan Stimson Center released the strategy on Nov. 15 at a time when lawmakers and the White House are trying to come up with a plan to lower the U.S. deficit. The study’s authors — a group that includes a handful of retired general and flag officers — have made suggestions of areas where DoD could make cuts and contribute to a debt-reduction plan.
“This strategy was developed and supported by a diverse group of very knowledgeable people and can provide a roadmap for defense’s contribution to resolving our overall fiscal situation, while protecting our national security,” said Barry Blechman, co-founder and distinguished fellow at Stimson, in a Nov. 14 interview.
Retired officers that were part of the report’s advisory committee included Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, Adm. Bill Owens, Army Gen. B.B. Bell, Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula and Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman. A number of other former high-level diplomats and strategists also contributed to the report.
For the past year, senior DoD officials have said the Pentagon would need to develop a new military strategy should the Pentagon have to weather spending reductions above the $487 billion in cuts already planned over the next decade.
The Stimson strategy — which the authors call “Strategic Agility” — focuses on protecting the United States, protecting U.S. allies and assuring access to the global commons. It is structured to allow DoD to intervene in intra-state conflicts and stabilizing a nation to avoid a threat, such as the establishment of terrorist camps.
Strategic Agility calls for maintaining air, space and naval forces stronger than any potential adversary and maintaining advanced technology and special operations forces. It calls for a greater amount of defense-related research and development, which could be used in next-generation weapons.
The strategy calls for maintaining “competent ground forces as a deterrent.” It also calls for revising what it calls Cold War planning assumptions.
The study recommends the Air Force and Army structure themselves more like the Navy and Marine Corps. The panel urges a greater use of rotational deployments, much like the Navy and Marine Corps are already structured, particularly as the Pentagon focuses more on the Asia-Pacific region.
“In an evolutionary way, we should move away from the kind of static, big garrisons that characterized [our deployments] in the Cold War — and still characterize us to a degree — and move toward a more expeditionary model,” Blechman said.
Marines are already conducting rotational deployments to Australi,a and the Navy is preparing to do the same with some of its smaller ships in Singapore.
“We certainly should avoid deployments in the Middle East and only use rotational deployments there,” Blechman said. “We can make further reductions in Europe over time as well.”
The strategy could be implemented at “whatever level of resources that eventually goes to the department,” Blechman said.
Applying the Strategy to Sequestration
The group also looked at ways to make DoD more efficient without cutting end strength and major weapons programs. The panel examined a vast number of official studies and expert recommendations and concluded DoD could save about $1 trillion if it implemented these suggestions.
By instituting “better manpower utilization” measures and compensation system acquisition system reforms, DoD could save $1 trillion over the next decade, according to the report.
“No one thinks you could implement all of them, but when we looked at the implications of our strategy at alternative budget levels, we assumed either we got 20 percent of those savings or 40 percent of those savings,” Blechman said. “We used it to illustrate how much less difficult the choices would be if you’re forced to reduce defense spending if you were able to implement these efficiency measures.”
Since the panel focused on achieving only 40 percent or 20 percent of the $1 trillion of potential savings, additional defense spending cuts would be needed should sequestration — about a $500 billion Pentagon budget reduction over the next decade – go into effect Jan. 2.
However, the panel looked at phasing in the mandated cuts gradually over several years and not cutting all accounts evenly at 10 percent. The group calls this plan a “smooth sequester.”
If DoD achieved $400 billion — or 40 percent of the $1 trillion in efficiencies — it would still need to cut about $150 billion.
To reach that goal, the panel looked at cutting the Army budget by 2 percent per year, reducing brigade combat teams from 45 to between 35 and 40. The Navy could accelerate its retirements of Ticonderoga-class cruisers.
It also looked at a 1 percent cut to the Air Force budget each year and retiring 13 active-duty F-16 fighter squadrons. The report recommends keeping lower-end F-16 in the Air National Guard and placing high-end aircraft, such as the F-35 joint strike fighters, in active-duty squadrons.
Lastly, DoD could choose between cutting missile defense spending or reducing nuclear forces and modernization forces.
Even with these cuts, DoD could double its funding of basic applied research, increase special operations forces, increase cyber warfare capabilities and increase funding for space systems, the report states.
Assuming the lower level of efficiency savings — $200 billion — DoD would need to make deeper cuts to its force.
It could include cutting the Army budget 5 percent and the number of brigade combat teams to 30, according to the report.
In the Air Force, the service could choose between active-duty F-16 cuts or reducing F-35 development. For the Navy, it could mean reducing F-35 development. The Marine Corps could cut its budget by 1 percent, reduce end strength by 7 percent and reprioritize its procurement plans.
Lastly, as in the other first scenario, DoD could choose between cutting missile defense or reducing nuclear forces and modernization forces.