Sequestration May Lead to Leaner Military

During the ongoing fight over the sequestration deal, I’ve said several times that I was okay with those cuts going through because it may be our only real opportunity to force reductions in defense spending. The New York Times reports that those cuts may be doing exactly what they should so, force the Pentagon to make some real structural changes.

But inside the Pentagon, even some senior officers are saying that the reductions, if done smartly, could easily exceed those mandated by sequestration, as the cuts are called, and leave room for the areas where the administration believes more money will be required…

Last week, a group of five former deputy defense secretaries — essentially the Pentagon’s chief operating officers — called for a “bottom up” review that reassesses the need for each major program and weapons system, saying this was an opportunity to accomplish cuts that have long been delayed, after a decade in which the American national security budget has nearly doubled.

In their more candid moments — almost always when speaking with a guarantee of anonymity — the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders acknowledge that the painful sequestration process may ultimately prove beneficial if it forces the Defense Department and Congress to reconsider the cost of cold-war-era systems that are still in inventory despite the many changes made to the military in the last 10 years.

“Sequester is an ugly experience, but it could grow up to be a budget discipline swan,” said Gordon Adams, a former senior budget official in the Clinton administration who is now at the Stimson Center, which studies defense issues. “It could provide the planning discipline the services and the building have been missing since 2001.”

The politics of this is very difficult to navigate, of course. The distribution of bases all over the country in different states and House districts and the massive influence of money from defense contractors makes it an uphill fight to make any serious reductions in defense spending. But the military leadership tends to be quite pragmatic and they recognize the need to spend money more intelligently in a way that politicians don’t.

We can start by canceling the contract for the F-35, which has been a giant boondoggle from the start.

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  • daved

    It’ll be nice if they can go ahead with it.

    It’s difficult, of course. My grandfather was a career Navy officer (retired a few years after WW II as a vice admiral), and worked in Washington in procurement during the 1930s. Even then, my dad tells me, my grandfather was appalled at the sheer waste in military spending — and the Navy was far smaller then than it is now.

  • eric

    “if done smartly” being the key, and probably why the sequester will not have the good effect you hope for.

    DOD will do a bottom up review, then congresscritters will step in and say “sounds great! But you can’t close the base in newpodunk. And you must give $20 million to this contractor in my district, and…and…and…” Pretty soon the sequestered budget will be worse than what we have now, because DOD will be forced to continue to spend the same amount on stuff we don’t need or don’t want, while the cuts come out of the good, important parts of the restructured strategic plan.

  • Michael Heath

    I’m strongly against across-the-board cuts. In the business world such behavior usually correlates to poorly-run enterprises. What the Pentagon and the American people deserve are elected officials willing to justify the various missions the military is chartered with carrying out. That would provide the context for the Pentagon to make prudent budgetary proposals and decisions.

    Our military’s mission is a class example of misson-creep, with zombie policies for enemies who no longer exist. The inability to kill old missions also makes it more financially and operationally difficult to optimally respond to possible emergent threats, like securing supply chains between Africa and China.

  • eric

    Addendum, this problem is exacerbated by the economic recession. In a very fat year when businesses, schools, etc. are doing well on their own, we could hope that congrescritters might reduce their mandatory spending requests and let the executive agencies allocate more of their budget in a strategic, mission/requirements-based manner. But right now, I am very skeptical that house members will reduce pork, since it guarantees direct economic support to their districts.

  • TGAP Dad

    Maybe when the cuts are complete, we’ll have military spending only as big as the next NINE countries combined. Happy day!

  • oranje

    The CBC’s show The Fifth Estate had a fascinating, though not rhetorically perfect, look at the F-35 program a few months back. What a trainwreck of trying to make something do everything, and thus do nothing well.

  • Ichthyic

    I’ve said several times that I was okay with those cuts going through

    I’m sorry, but this is terribly shortsided.

    it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face, seriously.

  • “We can start by canceling the contract for the F-35, which has been a giant boondoggle from the start.”

    To be fair, it started out as a regular-sized boondoggle.


    Michael Heath “Our military’s mission is a class example of misson-creep, with zombie policies for enemies who no longer exist.”

    Really? The Ruskies are still out there. Waiting for us to avert our gaze. Then, “Boom!”, International Communism!


    oranje “The CBC’s show The Fifth Estate had a fascinating, though not rhetorically perfect, look at the F-35 program a few months back.”

    ‘Runaway Fighter’.

  • The Lorax

    If the military is all about precision and efficiency and excellence, why do they have such a bloated budget?

  • Draken

    @Lorax, it takes precision and efficiency and excellence to trick the government out of that much money.

  • The F35 really needs to be canceled. Order a new batch of Harriers, regular Hornets, and F16s if what we have is too old to be refurbished. Perhaps a few upgrades here and there to the aircraft.

    If the F35 capabilities are determined to be truly essential, still, cancel the program and start over from scratch- I don’t have much hope it can be salvaged.

  • Oh yeah? While you’re all wringing your hands about “mission creep”, Obama is preparing to unleash his army of gay atheist Muslim commie illegal immigrants to take over the country and put us all into FEMA camps run by ACORN and Friends of Hamas!!!1!!1 Who will defend us if we cut even one dime from the military!

    So, unless you want to be working in a unionized sweat shop making designer burkas for the next generation of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and be forced into a same sex marriage with an illegal atheist Muslim immigrant, I suggest you write your congressman right now!

  • sundoga

    Actually, the F35 project is really too far along to be scrapped productively. With the functional prototypes in testing, a scrap and restart would just end up costing us even more with no gain.

    It would probably also lose us both the funding and goodwill of the many other countries that have contributed funds and political support for the program, making any replacement project even more expensive to the US than completing the F35.

    My preference would be to restrict the Ford-class carriers to a run of four ships, and draw down the navy to four or six Carrier strikegroups. Just canceling ONE Ford would pay for the F35 program.

  • d.c.wilson, now you’re just being ridiculous. You forgot about the illegal Hispanics coming over here that Obama Obama Obama armed with copies of The Fast and the Furious.

  • ImaginesABeach

    My problem with the sequester is that across the board means across the board – it doesn’t mean “look for stupid programs and stop them”.

    So maintenance and repairs of buildings on military bases is being deferred (because workers are being furloughed) which is penny wise, pound foolish in many cases.

  • Call me a tyro when it comes to budgetronics but didn’t we yank most of the troops out of Iraq and stop spending money there on bombs and shit*. Why do we still need the same (or a larger) budget for a military with a reduced mission? I know it’s pollyannish to assume that any military budgeteer would willingly forego a cashgrab, but, there’s gotta be at least a couple of accountants in D.C. who aren’t in thrall to the MIC.

    * Yes, I’m aware of the thousands of “contractors” who are still there; aren’t they “off the books”?

  • BobApril

    I’d like to think that the military would cut unneeded programs, too. But evidence suggests that, instead, they’ll go for the far easier cuts to personnel programs. They’ve already eliminated tuition assistance – a valuable tool both for retention and for improving the force. As ImaginesABeach noted, maintenance is getting cut, too. Any bets on training exercises?

    A leaner force would be great. What I’m seeing so far is a recipe for a hollow force.