Reset Defense Bulletin: Small Changes for the Army and Navy

PDA Review
from 20 Janaury 2014 Reset Defense Bulletin

In the last issue of the Reset Defense Bulletin we reported that the Pentagon will likely pass up one of the best options for greater strategic efficiency — that is relying more on a strong and capable strategic reserve for large and medium scale wars.

The size of the Total Army has been declining and will be down by about 100,000 this decade. However, the relative size of the active and reserve components has not yet been decided. Sydney Freedberg in Breaking Defense reports of the National Guard leadership complaining of being cut 10% t0 315,000 while the active component Army is hoping to remain as close to 490,000 as they can. Reportedly many in the Army expect there will be a further 8% reduction (to 450,000) in the active component before the end of the decade. By way of comparison the study Reasonable Defense from the Project on Defense Alternatives calls for 420,000 in the active component and 325,000 in the Guard.

In a sign that the Pentagon may face up to a small part of their fiscal reality, Bloomberg reports that the Navy will order 32 rather than 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

Navy experts Eric Labs of CBO and Ronald O’Rourke of CRS have long caste doubt the affordability of the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan. Indeed, in an odd budgetary gambit, the Navy has lobbied to get the $90-100 billion cost of replacing their aging ballistic missile subs paid from some Pentagon treasury outside Navy’s regular shipbuilding budget (Frank Oliveri of Roll Call and Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service offer details.) Christopher Preble and Matt Fay suggest that the Navy buy the SSBN[X] with funds saved from eliminating or curtailing the Air Force’s ICBM and Bomber legs of the strategic nuclear posture.

Now it looks like a small portion of the Navy shipbuilding budget deficit will be paid for by producing fewer than planned of the over-budget and under-performing LCS.

Coincidentally, a Defense News editorial praises the flexibility and affordability of frigates, calling particular attention to Denmark’s Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates as “long-range, efficient but highly flexible ships that come equipped with considerable capabilities.” Perhaps the Navy will now replace some retiring frigates with modern frigates proven by allied navies, instead of the much more expensive LCS.

Frigate_Iver_Huitfeldt

Danish Ivar Huitfeldt Class Frigate

There has been several calls for disbanding the Air Force (Carroll, Farley) and for folding its roles and missions back into the other services. This is surely a ‘non-starter’ with a White House that has been consistently reluctant to take on anything held very dear by the Pentagon brass or their supporters in Congress. However, radical proposals such as this one will sometimes open space for discussion of other changes to strategic ambitions and to now calcified service roles and missions — which too often excessively and wastefully overlap. One such area is the strategic triad, jeaslously protected by the Navy and Air Force.

Reuters reports that the Pentagon is considering additional educational and financial incentives for Air Force officers who guard and operate the nation’s ICBM force. There have been a number of recent incidents of misbehavior which has to be worrisome given the extraordinary responsibility these service members have to prevent an unintentional nuclear war. “The scandals are raising questions about how to keep up morale of the force in the post-Cold War era…” Is it possible that the mission of maintaining such a large nuclear arsenal no longer makes good sense to those who are closest to it?

In a related piece Walter Pincus reports:

An unpublished Rand Corporation study done between December 2012 and February 2013 found that those in the nuclear missile force ‘have low job satisfaction and often feel job-related burnout.’

Pincus then laments:

Despite problems among the U.S. strategic nuclear force personnel, questions about the role of nuclear deterrence in the age of growing cyber and terrorist threats, and current budgetary pressures in defense spending, Hagel did not propose that the Obama administration would seek to reduce further the new START level of deployed warheads, cut the number of stockpiled warheads or eliminate one leg of the triad.

Winslow Wheeler has contributed a good analysis and comment on how national security spending fared in the ‘Omnibus’ spending bill that just passed through Congress. Wheeler sums it up this way:

The bill attempts to build a bridge to a future time when higher defense budgets are politically feasible. In the meantime, the congressional appropriators will use gimmicks and dodges to keep spending higher while appearing to be lower.

Defense News provides a summary of how appropriators added more than $5 billion to Overseas Contingency Operations funding to cover procurement and other items that didn’t get funded in the base budget. As a consequence of this maneuver, ‘war spending’ is actually rising in the year that the Afghan war is supposed to end.

There are links to all the literature cited above in the 20 Janaury 2014 Reset Defense Bulletin.

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