A KC-10 Extender refuels an F-22 Raptor jet. Retirement of the KC-10 tanker fleet is one move the Pentagon could make if sequestration returns in 2016. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has a detailed five-year spending plan that adheres to federal defense spending caps should sequestration return in 2016. Just don’t expect to see it anytime soon.
US Defense Department officials will instead send Congress on March 4 a five-year budget plan that busts existing defense spending caps by $115 billion. That plan will include a “description” of what DoD’s five-year sequester plan looks like, but not the plan itself, Christine Fox, the acting deputy defense secretary, said Wednesday at the American Enterprise Institute think tank.
The DoD budget sent to Capitol Hill next week will adhere to 2015 spending caps set in the two-year Bipartisan Budget Act passed late last year.
“I think that if we tried harder, we couldn’t have made this budget more complicated,” Fox said. “It is very hard to explain. There are actually multiple budgets embedded in this submission.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday outlined some of the choices DoD would make in 2016 if sequestration returns. This includes retiring an aircraft carrier and six other Navy ships, the Air Force KC-10 tanker fleet, suspending Navy F-35 purchases by two years, and shrinking the size of the Army by tens of thousands of soldiers beyond already planned steep force structure cuts.
“In ’15 we’ll kind of hold,” Fox said.
Also in 2015, the Obama administration will submit a separate $26 billion DoD spending request to account for readiness shortfalls caused by sequestration and budget caps.
“This is not a wish list of ‘unfunded priorities’ — instead, this money is intended specifically to close those gaps by allowing us to increase training, upgrade aircraft and weapons systems, and make needed facilities repairs,” James Swartout, Fox’s spokesman, said. “While the Bipartisan Budget Act provided needed stability and some sequestration relief, its funding level for FY15 is too low to support necessary training and the maintenance for the force at its current size.”
At the same time, DoD will not submit an Afghanistan war budget, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), next week since it is unclear how many troops, if any, will remain in the country after this year.
“We have a placeholder in the 2015 budget for OCO where we will insert numbers when we have more clarity on possible US troop numbers in Afghanistan going into 2015,” a senior defense official said. “But, no matter the decision on troop levels, we will require FY15 OCO funding — for US operations for items such as reset of equipment and for equipment retrograde. We just don’t know the exact number yet.”■