US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for the first time on Wednesday offered details of how today's budget cuts will impact the military over the next decade. (File)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon might have to cancel many modernization programs over a decade-long period should mandatory federal spending caps remain in place over the next decade, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
Hagel for the first time discussed end strength, hardware and missions that could be targeted as defense officials look for ways to reduce planned spending by $500 billion over that time frame.
Options on the table include shrinking the number of Navy aircraft carrier strike groups from 11 to eight or nine, retiring older Air Force bombers and cutting hundreds of thousands of active-duty ground forces.
While decisions on these and many other options laid out by Hagel during a Wednesday afternoon press conference at the Pentagon have not been finalized, the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR)identified fundamental changes that DoD officials believe are necessary as the Pentagon prepares for a future with fewer funds.
Hagel launched the review in March. The Defense Department announced an overhauled military strategy in January 2012, but since that time, sequestration cuts have been put in place as Congress and the Obama administration have not been able to agree on a comprehensive plan to cut the US deficit.
The Pentagon has already been hit with a $37 billion budget cut in 2013, and faces a $52 billion cut to its 2014 budget proposal. The cuts have led to the curtailment of military training and the furloughing of hundreds of thousands of civilian employees.
The SCMR has looked at ways to modify DoD’s military strategy, which places an increased emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, if sequestration remains in place over the decade.
Continued defense spending cuts would at best “bend” the strategy, Hagel said. Parts of the strategy would “break” under sequestration.
DoD officials will use the options identified through the four-month-long SCMR as they develop two budget proposals — one that builds on the Obama administration’s current plan and another that factors in hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts — for the 2015 to 2019 timeframe.
The review found the reductions should not be made proportionally across the military services.
Under full sequestration, DoD would have to choose between capacity and capability, Hagel said. Protecting end strength numbers could lead to the cancellation of nearly all modernization programs for 10 years.
“The military could find its equipment and weapons systems — many of which are already near the end of their service lives — less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries,” Hagel said. “We also have to consider how massive cuts to procurement, and research-and-development funding would impact the viability of America’s private sector industrial base.”
Continuing to invest in modernization and high-end capabilities could lead to shedding end strength.
“We would protect investments to counter anti-access and area-denial threats, such as the long range strike family of systems, submarine cruise-missile upgrades and the Joint Strike Fighter,” Hagel said. “And we would continue to make cyber capabilities and special operations forces a high priority.”
Even if DoD makes these types of cuts, existing laws limit the level at which it can draw down forces, meaning it would not meet sequester-level targets in 2014 and 2015, according to senior defense officials.
The SCMR found other areas within DoD to cut even if sequestration spending caps are removed.
DoD will likely cut the number of Lockheed Martin C-130s and tactical fighter aircraft should existing defense spending cuts remain in place over the next five year, Hagel said.
The review also found that the Air Force could cut up to five tactical aircraft squadrons, which include Boeing F-15 and Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and A-10 attack aircraft, which are upgraded by Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop Grumman. The Air Force has more than 1,800 F-15s, F-16s and A-10s, according to service fact sheets. The specific aircraft have not been identified, a senior defense official said.
The Air Force has 55 tactical aircraft squadrons across the active duty, National Guard and reserve, a service spokeswoman said. Each squadron has 18 to 24 aircraft.
The review also determined the Air Force could cut its C-130 fleet “with minimal risk,” Hagel said. The Air Force has more than 400 C-130s in its inventory, according to a service fact sheet.
Like predecessors Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, Hagel said the Pentagon must implement better business practices to conduct operations more efficiently. During his tenure, Gates identified $150 billion in so-called efficiency initiatives. Panetta identified another $60 billion.
Two weeks ago, Hagel called for a 20 percent cut to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Joint Staff and service headquarters. Wednesday, the defense secretary also called for a 20 percent cut to the combatant commands and defense agencies and field activities.
“Headquarters organizations should aim for a 20 percent reduction in military and civilian positions,” Hagel said.
DoD should also cut intelligence analysis and production at combatant commands and operations centers, “which will also foster closer integration and reduce duplication across the defense enterprise,” Hagel said.
These cuts could save the Pentagon $10 billion over the next five years and nearly $40 billion over a decade-long period.
Hagel has directed Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to assign a person from outside DoD to oversee this latest efficiency drive.
“Past efficiency campaigns have shown that implementation can be very challenging, so effective follow-through is critical if savings targets are to be realized,” he said. “This is especially true of OSD reductions.”
If sequestration budget caps remain, DoD would look toward other means of consolidation, including reducing missions, consolidations of regional combatant commands, defense agency mission cuts and further IT consolidation.
Carter and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to discuss the SCMR at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. Lawmakers for months have pushed for more insight into the Pentagon’s SCMR effort.