Archive for the ‘Comments’ Category

Intelligence on President Obama’s Forthcoming Fundamental Defense Review

Charles Knight. Project on Defense Alternatives Note, 12 May 2011.

Word is that two principals in the production of 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review will be charged with producing the “fundamental” defense review President Obama ordered in his April 13th speech on the deficit. They are Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Planning, who was the lead 2010 QDR author and David Ochmanek, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development, who headed the “analysis and integration cell” which pulled together all the analytical aspects of the last QDR.


Defense News reports (23 May 2011) that “The missions and capabilities review will be led by Christine Fox, director of cost assessment and program evaluations [and formerly the President of the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA)]; Michele Flournoy, defense undersecretary for policy [and the Pentagon official in charge of the 2010 QDR]; and Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Editor’s Comment:

Putting the same people who did the 2010 review in charge of producing the new review raises an obvious question of whether we should expect anything much “new” or “fundamental” from this review. QDRs in the past have certainly failed to be “fundamental” in any meaningful sense of the word.

One suspects that the foregone sub-text of what Ms. Hicks writes into the new review will be, “We got this pretty much right when we did it last year. Now, of course, if you are willing to take greater security risks you can cut some pieces out of the force posture, but that is a political decision…”

If the new review makes such a smug presentation it will serve the President and the nation poorly. The 2010 QDR did not make any real effort to set clear priorities among the many military requirements it listed, failing one of the principles of strategy development which is to set a practical path within resource constraints. A new fundamental review must present a variety of low-risk options that can be achieved at various resource investment levels. Its authors should not be allowed to simply push the matter of security risk into the political domain.

President Obama would be smart to solicit ideas from a wide variety of sources, reaching far beyond the Pentagon’s strategy, policy and force planning staff. If a fundamental review is needed, it is wise to hear and consider diverse voices.

Obama: “saving $400 billion” “again”?

Editor’s Commentary

13 April 2011 (revised and updated 16 April 2011)

In President Obama’s April 13th “deficit speech” he says:

Just as we must find more savings in domestic programs, we must do the same in defense. Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again.

What might “do that again” mean?

Actually contribute $400 billion from projected Pentagon budgets to deficit reduction?

That would require the Pentagon to take in and spend $400 billion less. But it is very difficult to identify much actual contribution to deficit reduction in the first $400 billion in Pentagon savings President Obama refers to and believes can be repeated.

Let’s take a quick look at the components of that first $400 billion working backward through time.

This past January Secretary Gates announced $78 billion in cuts over five years. In February when the President’s FY12 budget appeared all but $70 billion of this as regards deficit reduction evaporated. $68 billion was consumed by the special Overseas Contingency Operations (war) budgeting as the FY11 projected placeholder of $50 billion was replaced by the FY12 real OCO budget of $118 billion. Another $2 billion in the savings appears to have simply vanished in the five year budget projections, perhaps due to those pesky “rounding errors” that plague Pentagon budgets.

In 2010 Secretary Gates announced $100 billion in “efficiency” savings. He was quite forthright at the time, saying that he was keeping all the savings within the Pentagon to pay for other requirements. So we can’t legitimately count those toward deficit reduction, and presumably the President did not count those toward the $400 billion that has been saved.

So that leaves about $322 billion in Pentagon savings the White House needs to account for.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 17 February 2011 Secretary Gates said:

…over the last two defense budgets submitted by President Obama, we have curtailed or canceled troubled or excess programs that would have cost more than $330 billion if seen through to completion.

Connecting this to President Obama’s speech Defense News reports (13 April 2011) that:

Of the $400 billion already saved, $330 billion is supposed to come from Gates’ cuts to weapons programs – for example the cancellation of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program and the Air Force’s Next-Generation Bomber, both of which Gates terminated in the 2010 budget. However, those two programs have been replaced: The Army is developing the Ground Combat Vehicle, and the Air Force has launched a scaled-back bomber program.

“Supposed” and “However” are the key words in the preceding paragraph. To be real savings that contribute in any meaningful way to deficit reduction the the program cancellations would have to lead to a declining Pentagon budget topline… and not be replaced by some other expenditure.

Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center assesses the $330 billion savings claim in a 5 November 2010 post this way:

Gates has not cut $330 billion from defense. When he announced hardware cuts, he said the out-year savings were estimated at $330 billion, but he didn’t cut a nickel from the projected defense budgets; he wants, as he has clearly said, to use those savings for other investments, not give them back to the taxpayer. And the figure is way too big, anyway, because he terminated the F-22 and the C-17 cargo plane when neither one of them was in the long-term budget (he has been trying to let both programs arrive at a normal death, as planned, and Congress keeps getting in the way.) It is even more too big because his savings figure did not net out the alternative investments he proposed for the same missions, like replacing the terminated Future Combat Systems (FCS) vehicle with a new Army vehicle R&D program. So a big kerfuffle over a non-number, but no big cut in defense here.

To date the Pentagon or OMB have not produced any accounting of these supposed savings from Secretary Gates’ program cancellations which indicate where they come out of the topline. Meanwhile it would be wise to substantially discount their value when thinking about overall Federal spending.

What we know for sure is that Pentagon budgets continue to rise despite the “savings.” The Pentagon and the Administration might argue that the Pentagon budget would have grown faster if Secretary Gates had not made those “courageous” program cuts. Possibly. But that “would have been” is simply not the same as actually contributing to deficit reduction which requires real cuts in the topline of the Pentagon budget.

In terms of cutting the topline of the Pentagon budget, when we remove the long-awaited reductions in war costs, we can count just $8 billion that Secretary Gates has given up to deficit reduction in the five year defense plan (FYDP) through FY16.

Looking out ten years there are more savings in the President’s projections. My colleague Carl Conetta finds $164 billion less Pentagon spending in the overlapping four “out years” (FY17-20) when comparing the President’s FY11 and Fy12 budget submissions.

We might speculate that this is where we realize some of Secretary Gates’ $330 billion in savings, but it would be only speculation…

So far no one in the Administration has demonstrated in sufficient detail how the Pentagon will contribute much of anything toward reducing the Federal deficit, rounding errors notwithstanding.

How will the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform balance the budget in 2015?

Editor’s Commentary

There are at least as many reasons to think that significant real reductions in defense spending will be hard to achieve as there are reasons to doubt that significant revenue increases will be found or that substantial reductions in entitlement spending will happen. “Political realities” are indeed daunting for any of the options the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will consider. If there were quick, easy and obvious decisions to be had there would be no need for the Commission.

Political realities change over time in part because underlying realities eventually change political calculation. Such is the case with defense spending. After more than a decade of rapid growth there is likely to be some retrenchment in the middle of this decade, notably by 2015.

The likely path of defense spending this decade was recently forecast by the high-tech industry association Tech America Foundation in their DoD Topline Forecast 2011-2020.

Tech America’s forecast is for a real reduction in the base Pentagon budget (not including Overseas Contingency Operation war supplemental funding) of 9% or $45 billion (USD 2011) in 2015 relative to the 2011 base budget.

When taking into account the Pentagon’s preferred budget path this decade of at least 1% real annual growth, Tech America forecasts a reduction in defense spending by 2015 of 16%.

Tech America’s forecast of Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) war supplemental spending during the decade is also important to consider. Since FY10 (President Obama’s first budget) there has been an OCO war supplemental DoD budget line for FY12-FY15 of $50 billion per year. The OCO war supplemental in the FY11 budget is $159 billion.

Although the actual OCO war supplemental might come down in FY12, with the military operational demands in Afghanistan remaining elevated it is unlikely the OCO war supplemental will come down even $50 billion, let alone $109 billion in FY12. Tech America forecasts OCO war expenditures of $122 billion in FY12.

These likely under-budgeted OCO war supplemental costs should be counted as probable additions to the national debt beyond those already projected by the government.

Tech America’s forecast is for the OCO supplemental to be $122 billion in FY12, $102 billion in FY13, $69 billion in FY14 and $57 billion in FY15. That adds up to $150 billion more than is budgeted in the Five Year Defense Plan… an un-budgeted addition to the national debt.

For the target year of the federal budget reaching “primary balance” in FY15, the forecast OCO war supplemental will add $7 billion to the problem that the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform faces in attempting to balance the budget in that year.

Security Isn’t Cheap

Adam J. Hebert. Air Force Magazine, November, 2010.


…ill-advised calls to cut the Pentagon budget follow as predictably as the tides. Without credible analysis of strategy or requirements, critics are once again declaring defense spending to be out of control.

Editor’s Comment:

In his editorial Security Isn’t Cheap Adam J. Herbert cites the work of the Sustainable Defense Task Force as a case in point of critics of Pentagon spending recommending cuts “without credible analysis of strategy or requirements.” As a member of the task force I differ over the credibility of our analysis. But let me speak to where I agree with Mr. Herbert:

• “Security is not cheap.” In fact it is extremely expensive. When the country is hit with a financial disaster we owe it to the country and our military to reexamine our national security strategy and make sure priorities are clear and that our military investments are cost-effective. In the last twelve years of Pentagon budgets the planning has proceeded as though there is no resource constraint. Unfortunately, that is true of the last QDR as well. Those days are clearly over – Secretary Gates has said as much.

• “A well-trained, well-equipped, professional military is not cheap. If the nation wants it to cost less, the nation will probably have to ask it to do less.” Exactly. Since the end of the Cold War the U.S. military has steadily advanced its global reach and engagement. Missions have proliferated, including many that should be done by civilians in the State Department and other agencies. Significant numbers of U.S. troops still remain in Europe, even though there is no military threat to Europe that allies can’t handle. The most important take-away lesson from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that long low-intensity land wars are not cost-effective uses of U.S. military power and should be avoided whenever possible. Hopefully we can all agree there should never again be such a “war of choice.”

• “There are certainly ways to reduce defense spending…” Yes, and one that will save around $45 billion in Air Force modernization accounts is available in a choice about how to modernize the fighter fleet. The Air Force has decided to replace its aging F-16s with just about the most expensive new fighter one can dream up, the F-35. In today’s fiscal environment either the Air Force will end up with a lot fewer of these planes than planned, or they will choose to get ahead of the budget crunch and modernize with new block versions of the still best of class F-16s and limit the buy of F-35s this decade to a few squadrons for high-intensity air-superiority missions. If serious air competition emerges a decade from now we can then roll out production of F-35s (or perhaps a less costly follow-on to the F-16), planes presumably much improved with ten years or more of further fighter technology development.

Treaty Signings

Michael Krepon. Arms Control Wonk, 08 April 2010.


Despite claims to the contrary, New START does not inhibit the growth of U.S. conventional power projection capabilities that, unlike nuclear weapons, are militarily useful on battlefields. Nor will New START impede ballistic missile defense programs…

Editor’s Comment:
… and that is why, despite the rhetoric of the moment, this treaty doesn’t do much to advance us toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. Unbounded conventional military power and missile defenses for Western rich nations are not compatible with the establishment of a global international security regime sufficiently reliable to support the abolition of nuclear weapons.

For more on this problem see my comments on Vice President Biden’s speech at the National Defense University, 18 February 2010.

Speech by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mullen at Kansas State University

as delivered by Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas Wednesday, 03 March 2010.


I’ve come to three conclusions – three principles – about the proper use of modern military forces:

1) … military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state. Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers. We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior. Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy. We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security.

And we can do so on little or no notice. That ease of use is critical for deterrence. An expeditionary force that provides immediate, tangible effects. It is also vital when innocent lives are at risk. So yes, the military may be the best and sometimes the first tool; it should never be the only tool.

2) Force should, to the maximum extent possible, be applied in a precise and principled way.

3) Policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another. Some in the military no doubt would prefer political leadership that lays out a specific strategy and then gets out of the way, leaving the balance of the implementation to commanders in the field. But the experience of the last nine years tells us two things: A clear strategy for military operations is essential; and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve. In other words, success in these types of wars is iterative; it is not decisive.

Editor’s Comment:

Mullen’s first principle is dangerous in the extreme. It is a sad reminder of the militarization of the American state. Mullen suffers from an inexplicable amnesia of the horrors of war in the 20th Century.

America will likely be paying a high price for decades to come in what comes around from the quick and easy resort to war in 2002-2003 by policy-makers enthralled with their military instrument. If war is not a last resort, then policy-makers are abject failures as leaders.

Get Serious About Reform: Budget Challenges Will Force Hard Choices

by Carl Conetta and Charles Knight. Defense News, 21 February 2010.

During the past decade, the U.S. Defense Department has enjoyed a rise in its budget unprecedented since the Korean War. With President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request, it is up nearly 100 percent in real terms from its post-Cold War low. But few observers believe that this level of spending can continue in light of the mounting national debt. So it is wise to think now about options for savings.

A way to begin is to ask, what has driven budgets so high? Obviously, the wars are part of the answer. But they account for only 20 percent of today’s expenditures. And they are the least likely targets for economizing.

It is more fruitful to reflect on the shortcomings in past efforts at defense reform. Can we do it better? It is also worth thinking about the practice of force modernization during the post-Cold War period, which has been distinctly undisciplined.

The end of the Cold War presented a unique opportunity – as well as a manifest need – for the structural reform of our defense posture. The force reductions of the 1990s necessarily risked decreased efficiency, due to the loss of economies of scale affecting support activities and equipment acquisition. The standard solution to such problems is to restructure as one gets smaller, matching reductions in size with a reduction in complexity – a practice the DoD did not, for the most part, follow.

Although smaller, DoD and the services have largely retained or even increased their complexity. For instance, there are today 50 major commands either one step above or below the service level – not much different from during the Cold War.

In our recent study of budget trends, we identify a dozen areas where significant changes had been proposed in the 1990s. These involved service roles and missions, consolidation of various support and training functions, and recentering budget and acquisition planning at the joint level.

In addition, the need to reform DoD’s acquisition, logistics and financial management systems has been evident for a long, long time. However, only two reform initiatives – competitive sourcing and military base closures – were pursued far enough to yield significant annual savings, and these have not amounted to more than 4 percent of the defense budget.

There also was hope in the mid-1990s that a “revolution in military affairs” might lead to new efficiencies. We would reap more bang for the buck by means of increased battlefield awareness, improved logistics, increased capacities for standoff precision attack, and the networking of units within and across services.

In some areas, such as precision attack, capability has dramatically increased. Theater logistics also have improved. But nowhere has the revolution in information technology led to manifest and substantial savings. Rather than supplant-ing legacy capabilities and platforms, the new technology has mostly just supplemented them.

In prospect, the evolution of net-centric warfare might reduce the need for redundant capabilities. But progress toward the services sharing a common nervous system has been slow and mostly involved special operations units and precision ground attack. Generally, net-centric capabilities exist as an anemic overlay to traditional service-centric structures and assets.

DoD and the services have faced little pressure to economize or transform during the past decade. This is also evident in equipment acquisition.

We can discern three distinct acquisition trends at work in recent decades. First, there are legacy programs that came forward from the Cold War period with considerable institutional momentum. Second, there are programs reflecting the revolutionary potential of new information technologies. Finally, there are adaptive programs, such as the recent mass purchase of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, that correspond to new mission requirements.

In an ideal world, the imperative to adapt to new missions and circumstances would draw on the revolutionary potential of new technologies to rewrite or supplant legacy programs. But this has not happened.

Too much of the $2.5 trillion in modernization funding since 1990 perpetuated the status quo circa 1990. Transformational acquisition was mostly restricted to producing supplements, such as Predator drones, to the legacy arsenal. And adaptive acquisition was largely delayed until field experiences forced a flurry of ad hoc efforts beginning six years ago.

The Pentagon’s central authorities have done too little, too late to compel the integration of modernization efforts along adaptive lines. Legacy, transformational and adaptive modernization have lurched forward together, but poorly integrated and competing for resources. And yet, even though modernization spending now surpasses that of the Reagan era, no one is happy with the result.

For 10 years, Congress and the White House have been permissive when it comes to defense spending; this has undercut any impetus for reform and prioritization. Obama’s decision to further boost the defense budget suggests that this dysfunction will persist for a while, but this, too, is a bubble that will burst. Preparing for that eventuality means revisiting options for structural reform and getting clearer on our strategic priorities.

The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President’s Prague Agenda

Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University – As Prepared for Delivery, 18 February 2010.


Now, as our technology improves, we are developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective. The Quadrennial Defense Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which Secretary Gates released two weeks ago, present a plan to further strengthen our preeminent conventional forces to defend our nation and our allies.

Capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield, conventional warheads with worldwide reach, and others that we are developing enable us to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, as other nuclear powers join us in drawing down. With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong.

Editor’s Comment:

When Vice President Biden speaks of plans to “further strengthen … preeminent conventional forces” with “capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield” and “conventional warheads with worldwide reach” he seeks to reassure his domestic audience that nuclear disarmament will not make America less secure. His words, however, do not reassure other nuclear powers or potential future nuclear powers such as Iran who will perceive these enhanced American conventional capabilities as strategic threats to their national security.

Biden surely understands that he is not really offering us a pathway to nuclear abolition. We will not get there if other nations are expected to relinquish their nuclear arsenals to face “undeniable” conventional power from the U.S.

If Biden’s speech truly represents the elaboration of the “President’s Prague Agenda” it leaves us with a very big gap (conceptually and practically) between the near term goal Biden articulates (“We will work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”) and the longer term goal (“We are working both to stop [nuclear weapons] proliferation and eventually to eliminate them.”) which President Obama confirmed in Prague.