Four D.C. think tanks took a crack at balancing the Department of Defense’s budget if the Pentagon has to weather ten years of ten percent across-the-board sequestration budget cuts sequestration on Wednesday.
The consensus of the four (American Enterprise Institute, Center for a New American Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies and Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment) was unanimous.
First, cut the Department of Defense’s civilian employees – including shipyard and depot workers. Then reduce the services’ end strength – particularly the Army’s.
Next you go after what kind of Navy you can afford, and analyze how many pricey aircraft carriers could be cut.
The quartet protected investments in undersea sensors, underwater unmanned vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, ground and sea-based defenses and railgun technology. Funds also followed for cyber warfare and protected satellite communications. If there is some money left to spend, improve global positioning systems.
Former Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Work said if the full Budget Control Act runs its course into 2023, “We will go back to 1975 where I’m buying toilet paper for my Marines.”
While this was a think tank exercise, the stakes are high. The Defense Department is expected to complete its internal strategic choices management review by the end of the month and brief Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when he returns from an overseas trip starting in Singapore and ending in Brussels in early June on what to expect if sequestration and a Continuing Resolution — instead of an approved budget — remain in place.
The exercise, organized by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, took the “generous assumption,” in the words analyst Todd Harrison, that the Pentagon’s personnel requests called for in its budget are in place: 1 percent pay raise and higher military healthcare fees.
(The House Armed Services subcommittee markups already torpedoed Pentagon requests to curb spending on military personnel for another year).
There were two scenarios in the exercise:
1. Come up with $522 billion in cuts between now and 2023.
2.Find half those savings — $247 billion — in the same time frame.
Looking at the Navy, Work declared, “smaller, smaller, smaller.”
He wants Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Littoral Combat Ships merged into a high-low mix that does not include older Ticonderoga-class cruisers. He called for retiring the cruisers already in the fleet earlier than planned. He also wanted investments in combat logistics ships and minesweepers.
All the think tanks agreed anywhere from two to four carriers would need to come out of the fleet over the next 20 years.
Jim Thomas — an analyst with Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments — said his team “was not focused on fleet size,” but capabilities, particularly in unmanned autonomous systems and directed energy.
All agreed on cutting the civilian workforce anywhere from 82,000 to 263,000 under either BCA scenario and called for new rounds of base realignment.
Today, there are about 800,000 Defense Department civilians. Before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there were about 600,000.
The active-duty land forces would be especially hard hit.
The Army’s end strength could fall to 327,000 under the Center for Strategic and International Studies scenarios or remain at 450,000 under one American Enterprise Institute scenario.
AEI was particularly tough on the Marine Corps, taking its active-duty end strength down to 135,000, 35,000 below its post-World War II historic low.
Clark Murdock from CSIS kept the active-duty Marine Corps at its present 182,000 level under both scenarios and increased Marine readiness spending to meet its expeditionary mission.
Under both scenarios the think tanks set the Navy’s active-duty end strength would be set at 240,000 to 288,000.
“[Personnel] is where we get the savings,” Work said.
“Congress has got to quit kidding itself.”
Work said his team’s focus was preserving autonomous and robotic systems and an industrial base that can produce them while realizing our adversaries will be truly hybrid in their abilities to fight.
Work suggested re-running the exercise with different kinds of BRAC propositions on compensation, health care and infrastructure and gives Congress a package to vote up or down. Harrison said that 10 Washington-based think tanks would discuss a letter they are sending Congress on the impact of the cuts at a Monday meeting in the Russell Senate office Building.