For two years, senior Pentagon leaders repeatedly told Congress that another $500 billion in automatic, inflexible and draconian defense cuts over the coming decade would devastate military capabilities.
And for two years, lawmakers balked at giving the Defense Department the flexibility to make more thoughtful cuts, with some accusing Pentagon leaders of exaggerating sequestration’s impact and others demanding more details.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with brutal candor detailed the options produced by his Strategic Choices and Management Review:
■Cut as many as 110,000 soldiers from the Army and 32,000 Marines from the Marine Corps; cut Air Force fighter, bomber and transport aircraft; cut the number of Navy carrier battle groups from 11 to as few as eight; but equip the remaining force with modern weapons and systems; or
■Retain a larger force with greater “capacity,” but skip modernization for a generation by drastically cutting or canceling major programs.
The first option is better. Both would support President Barack Obama’s security strategy, albeit at reduced force levels and requiring more creativity.
But Hagel stressed that with either way, compensation for military personnel must be revamped to reduce costs. And because personnel cuts and compensation reforms carry up-front costs and delayed savings, readiness, research and development and procurement programs will be hammered.
Hagel said more can be cut from defense, but he again called on lawmakers to work with DoD for flexibility, driving home the point that sequestration isn’t the cost-free debt reduction solution that some lawmakers believe.
Lawmakers and the administration must act now by striking a broader budget deal that scraps sequestration to support the world’s finest, battle-seasoned military and to strike the right balance of people, training and equipment.
Stupidly cutting all three will hollow America’s military and industry, jeopardize lives and undermine US credibility.