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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Defense Budgets - Let's Get Serious

Well, it's an election year and there is someone proposing a budget. Actually, it's Secretary of Defense Carter proposing a budget for the Defense Department, as set out here by DoD's Cheryl Pellerin (emphasis added):
Addressing diverse global challenges requires new thinking, new postures in some regions and new and enhanced capabilities, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said this morning during a preview of the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Carter said the $582.7 billion defense budget to be released next week as part of the administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, marks a major inflection point for the department.

"In this budget we’re taking the long view," the secretary said. "We have to. Even as we fight today’s fights, we must also be prepared for the fights that might come 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.”

Five evolving challenges drive the department’s planning, he said, including Russian aggression in Europe, the rise of China in the Asia Pacific, North Korea, Iran, and the ongoing fight against terrorism, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Five Challenges

The department must and will address all five challenges and across all domains, Carter said.

“Not just the usual air, land and sea, but also particularly in the areas of cyber, space and electronic warfare, where our reliance on technology has given us great strengths but also led to vulnerabilities that adversaries are eager to exploit,” he added.

Highlighting new investments in the budget to deal with the accelerated military campaign against ISIL, Carter said the department is requesting $7.5 billion, 50 percent more than in 2016.

Of that, he said $1.8 billion will go to buy more than 45,000 GPS-guided smart bombs and laser-guided rockets. The budget request also defers the A-10 final retirement until 2022, replacing it with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters squadron by squadron.

Strategic Capabilities

To support the European Reassurance Initiative, the Pentagon is requesting $3.4 billion in 2017, quadrupling the fiscal 2016 amount, the secretary said, to fund more rotational U.S. forces in Europe, more training and exercising with allies, and more prepositioned fighting gear and supporting infrastructure.

Investments in new technologies include projects being developed by the DoD Strategic Capabilities Office, which Carter created in 2012 when he was deputy defense secretary, “to reimagine existing DoD, intelligence community and commercial systems by giving them new roles and game-changing capabilities,” he said.

To drive such innovation forward, the 2017 budget request for research and development accounts is $71.4 billion.
U.S. Networked Swarm Boat

Carter said SCO efforts include projects involving advanced navigation, swarming autonomous vehicles for use in different ways and domains, self-driving networked boats, gun-based missile defense, and an arsenal plane that turns one of the department’s older planes into a flying launch pad for a range of conventional payloads.

Investing in Innovation

The budget request also drives smart and essential technological innovation, the secretary added, noting that one area is undersea capabilities for an $8.1 billion investment in 2017 and more than $40 billion over the next five years, Carter said, “to give us the most lethal undersea and anti-submarine force in the world.”

The Pentagon also is investing more in cyber, he said, requesting $7 billion in 2017 and nearly $35 billion over the next five years.

“Among other things,” Carter said, “this will help further improve DoD’s network defenses, which is critical, build more training ranges for our cyber warriors, and develop cyber tools and infrastructure needed to provide offensive cyber options.”

Cyber, Space, People

The Pentagon’s investment in space last year added more than $5 billion in new investments, and this year the department will enhance its ability to identify, attribute and negate all threatening actions in space, the secretary said.
That old budgeting magic

“With so many commercial space endeavors, he added, “we want this domain to be just like the oceans and the Internet: free and safe for all."

Carter said the Pentagon also is investing to build the force of the future, highlighting opening all remaining combat positions to women and strengthening support to military families to improve their quality of life.
Of course, the budget of the Defense Department has critics, an example of which being found in this U.S. News and World Report piece by William D. Hartung, A Golden Age for Pentagon Waste: Ridiculous Pentagon spending may be reaching historic levels:
As the Pentagon prepares for the formal release its budget next week, there is much talk within the department that the $600 billion-plus that is likely to be proposed is inadequate. In fact, rooting out billions of dollars of waste in the Pentagon budget would leave more than enough to provide a robust defense of the country without increasing spending.
The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction has uncovered scandal after scandal involving U.S. aid to that country, including the creation of private villas for a small number of personnel working for a Pentagon economic development initiative and a series of costly facilities that were never or barely used. An analysis by ProPublica puts the price tag for wasteful and misguided expenditures in Afghanistan at $17 billion, a figure that is higher than the GDP of 80 nations.
It's not just about Afghanistan, though. Back in the United States, wasteful spending abounds. A Politico report on the Pentagon's $44 billion Defense Logistics Agency notes that it spent over $7 billion on unneeded equipment. Meanwhile, Congress is doing its part by inserting its own pet projects into the budget, whether or not they are top priorities in terms of defense needs. The most notable example is the F-35 combat aircraft, which at $1.4 trillion over its lifetime is the most expensive weapons project ever undertaken by the Pentagon. Despite the fact that the plane is far from ready for prime time, Congress stuffed 11 additional F-35s into the defense bill that was signed by the president last month.

These examples of waste and abuse spark memories of past Pentagon spending binges.

The common thread uniting the C-5 scandal of the 1960s, the spare parts scandal of the 1980s and today's array of wasteful expenditures is that they all came on the heels of major military buildups. When there is too much money to go around and no one is minding the store, spending discipline goes out the window. As then Pentagon procurement chief Ashton Carter said in a 2011 hearing, in the decade of increasing Pentagon budgets that kicked off the 2000s, it was always possible to reach for more money, "so it's natural that some fat crept into all of our activities during that time period."
But the best management tool is to put the Pentagon on a tighter budget, so it is forced to make some tough choices. No one, hawk or dove, should sit still for the waste of tens of billions of tax dollars. Waste doesn't defend us. On the contrary, spending too much on the Pentagon just subsidizes bad choices. It's time for Congress, the president and the presidential candidates of both parties to speak out about Pentagon waste, and put forward concrete plans for reining it in. Otherwise, our era may have the dubious distinction of being the golden age of Pentagon waste.
"William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy." The Center for International Policy, an entity whose mission statement includes: "We advocate policies that advance international cooperation, demilitarization, respect for human rights and action to alleviate climate change and stop illicit financial flows." I invite you to visit his biography here. As we used to ponder in sociology classes - can he be "value free" in his approach to defense spending? I don't know who chose the "ridiculous Pentagon spending" part of the headline.

In any event, let's give Mr. Hartung his due. There is waste in defense spending.

Lots of it.

Probably enough to pay for a couple of Ford-class carriers, though there are those whose argue that these new, big carriers are akin to the battleships of early WWII - an expensive idea whose time has mostly passed. See Dr. Jerry Hendrix's Stop the Navy's carrier plan: The Navy's plan to modernize its largest ships would just make them obsolete. Here's how to fix it.. Jerry's solution? Build cheaper, smaller carriers and add boatloads (literally) of unmanned aircraft. If there's enough waste to cover a couple of Fords, there is certainly enough to cover several smaller carriers and, probably, all those drones. We touched on this in our recent Midrats show here about "naval presence." Dr. Hendrix suggests the need for a fleet of 350 ships - many of which could be paid for with savings on big carriers,  too, I assume.

But the waste? A great deal of it involves the way in which defense spending is authorized by Congress. Want to close a base that's no longer needed? You can be sure that a couple of members of Congress will be fighting you all the way as the impact of the loss of federal dollars in their state and district become clear. In short, Congress, not the Pentagon owns a big chunk of the waste problem.

Should we  declare some programs as too wasteful to allow to live - perhaps the F-35? Maybe the Littoral Combat Ship/Frigate? Call all the expenditure so far "sunk costs? Then answer the question of what will the U.S do for the future, when the current inventory of ships and aircraft grow too long in the tooth or too small to meet the national strategy? What if the F-35 ultimately meets the great expectations placed on it? What if the LCS/Frigate becomes a not-so-overnight success?

 Want to rein in the Pentagon slush fund - the Overseas Contingency Operations budget? Perhaps we could fold money into the "regular" budget to handle little things like small wars?

It is good to recall some earlier words of Secretary Carter from May 2015:
Slashed budgets and high worldwide demand for U.S. military forces have created an unbalanced defense program that is taking on increasingly greater risks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told a Senate panel this morning.

The secretary testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. Joining him was Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“Over the past three fiscal years the Defense Department has taken more than three-quarters of a trillion dollars in cuts to its future-years defense spending,” Carter said.

The frequently sudden and unpredictable timing and nature of the cuts and continued uncertainty over sequestration have made the stresses greater, he added, forcing DoD to make a series of incremental, inefficient decisions.
We’ve been forced to prioritize force structure and readiness over modernization, taking on risks in capabilities and infrastructure that are far too great,” he added.

“High demands on smaller force structure mean the equipment and capabilities of too many components of the military are growing too old, too fast -- from our nuclear deterrent to our tactical forces,” Carter told the panel.
The secretary said that in recent weeks some in Congress have tried to give DoD its full fiscal year 2016 budget request by transferring funds from the base budget into DoD accounts for overseas contingency operations, or OCO –- funds that are meant to fund the incremental, temporary costs of overseas conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

“While this approach clearly recognizes that the budget total we’ve requested is needed, the avenue it takes is just as clearly a road to nowhere,” Carter said, explaining that President Barack Obama has said he won’t accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward, as this approach does.
“The Joint Chiefs and I are concerned that if our congressional committees continue to advance this idea and don’t explore alternatives we’ll all be left holding the bag,” Carter said, adding that the OCO approach does nothing to reduce the deficit.

“Most importantly,” he added, “because it doesn’t provide a stable multi-year budget horizon, this one-year approach is managerially unsound and unfairly dispiriting to our force. Our military personnel and their families deserve to know their future more than just one year at a time -- and not just them.”

Defense industry partners also need stability and longer-term plans to be efficient and cutting-edge, Carter said, “[and] … as a nation we need to base our defense budgeting on a long-term military strategy, and that’s not a one-year project.”

Such a funding approach reflects a narrow way of looking at national security, the secretary said.

Ignoring Vital Contributions

Year-to-year funding “ignores the vital contributions made by the State Department, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department and the Homeland Security Department,” he said.

And it disregards the enduring long-term connection between the nation’s security and factors like supporting the U.S. technological edge with scientific research and development, educating a future all-volunteer military force, and bolstering the general economic strength of the nation, Carter said.

“Finally, the secretary added, “I’m also concerned that how we deal with the budget is being watched by the rest of the world -– by our friends and potential foes alike. It could give a misleadingly diminished picture of America’s great strength and resolve.”
To create a better solution than the one now being considered, he said, “I hope we can come together for a longer-term, multi-year agreement that provides the budget stability we need by locking in defense and nondefense budget levels consistent with the president’s request.”

Carter pledged his personal support and that of the department to this effort, and, he told the panel, “I would like to work with each of you, as well as other leaders and members of Congress, to this end.”
I high-lighted that part about "the whole world is watching" because it is so important. That and the idea that the current world situation is exceptionally complex - hence the overuse of our personnel and equipment.

To add to your thinking, consider this report, NATO's Nightmare: Russian Sub Activity Rises to Cold War Levels You think the potential "bad guys" aren't looking to exploit weakness?

Oh, and as seen here, I like that "arsenal plane" idea. We need to keep on the innovation path. Being static invites defeat.

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