Pentagon weapon systems can survive spending cuts (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Rowan Scarborough 06/11/12)
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The Pentagon could hold on to its crown-jewel weapon systems even
though looming automatic federal spending cuts would inflict a $54
billion gash in the 2013 defense budget, military budget analysts say.
Instead of terminating weapons, the Pentagon could trim its projected
spending under the Budget Control Act, which calls for a nearly $1.2
trillion reduction in federal spending over 10 years and mandates a
10 percent across-the-board cut in its first year, beginning Jan. 2.
While painful, the indiscriminate chopping would offer a silver
lining: If a newly elected Congress next year can reach a compromise
to scale back cuts in 2014 and beyond, the military would be able to
save its cherished big-ticket items, such as the F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter jet, a new Army troop carrier and 11 active aircraft
carriers, because they would have survived the law’s first year.
“For the most part, they would not terminate programs in the first
year,” said Todd Harrison, an analyst at the Center for Budgetary and
Strategic Assessment. “They would just slow them down and scale them
back. They don’t spend the money as quickly.”
Loren B. Thompson, who heads the Lexington Institute defense think
tank, has studied the law and worked the numbers for sequestration,
as the mandatory cuts are called.
If the Pentagon exempts personnel cuts, as the law allows, and
spreads top-line cuts to weapons production and readiness, the
defense spending reduction in 2013 might be only 5 percent to 6
That’s because the law targets money Congress authorizes, which can
take several years to spend, rather than “outlays,” which are
government checks that have been written.
A ‘penalty sequestration’
Mr. Thompson wrote in his Early Warning Blog that this may not be all
bad for defense contractors.
“With everyone seeming to focus on the negative right now, it’s easy
to overlook the fact that cuts to budget authority made in 2013 will
spread out over several years, reducing the near-term impact on
contractors,” he wrote.
“In fact, it’s possible that the cost-cutting companies like Lockheed
Martin and Northrop Grumman are pursuing in anticipation of
sequestration will save the companies more money than budget cuts
The Pentagon has prepared a $525 billion budget for 2013, a reduction
of more than 5 percent from the previous fiscal year’s spending plan.
Sequestration would cut the 2013 budget to about $471 billion.
Mr. Thompson sees a new Congress as a possible savior, “sending a
signal to investors that sequestration isn’t going to last for very
For proponents of replacement weapons, the second year of
sequestration is the key.
Mr. Harrison said the law was written to spur the congressional
supercommittee last year to reach a budget compromise. It failed and
“In the first year, it’s considered a penalty sequestration because
the supercommittee failed and you have no ability to target the
cuts,” Mr. Harrison said. “They don’t have to make many decisions at
all. The decisions are made for them.”
The remaining nine years of sequestration allow the Pentagon
flexibility. It will have to pick winners and losers to save its top
priorities instead of just slashing everything.
“I think we would see the Pentagon come in with a budget that does
actually terminate some weapon systems that are lower priority so it
can protect weapon systems that are a higher priority,” he said.
Mr. Harrison predicts that the Pentagon, in sequestration’s second
year, would shrink the purchase of the F-35s, cut the active carrier
force to 10 and retire more warplanes.
The Pentagon’s long-range budget already has absorbed a $487 billion
decrease in projected spending over 10 years. The budget law requires
an additional $492 billion reduction if Congress does not intervene.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the military chiefs have
invoked stark terms, such as “hollow force,” to describe what the
armed services would look like if nearly $1 trillion is taken out of
Gordon Adams, senior national security budget official for President
Clinton, said that once the Pentagon on Jan. 2 has to suddenly
extract $54 billion in the middle of the fiscal year, the jolt will
“They are not going to plan for the outyears of the sequester,
anyway, while the Congress is trying to figure out what to do about
it,” Mr. Adams said. “The reality, I think, is even if there is a
sequester, Congress will do what Congress has done the last four
times there was a sequester. Congress fixes it after it happens.
“What I fully expect the next step is Congress steps in with the
White House and they figure out a way to fix it.”
He said the Pentagon may have more flexibility in the first year than
it appears now because the White House Budget Office has not ruled on
exactly how to carry out the budget act.
“Anybody who tells you with certainty how this will happen should
there be a sequester is fooling you because they don’t know what
options [the Defense Department] is going to choose and how [the
Office of Management and Budget] is going to define it,” Mr. Adams
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and chairman of
the House Armed Services Committee, is leading the charge to reverse
He issued a fact sheet that declares: “In the midst of the most
dynamic and complex security environment in recent memory,
sequestration would severely diminish America’s global posture.”
Mr. McKeon said the military would have to cut 100,000 additional
troops, shrink the Navy to 230 ships instead of its goal of more than
300 and fly “the smallest tactical fighter force in the history of
the Air Force.”
The committee chairman introduced a bill last year to head off the
first year of sequestration by trimming the budget elsewhere, but
Senate Democratic leaders and the White House have opposed exempting
“I don’t think it would lead to a hollow force,” Mr. Adams said of
sequestration. “I think it would lead to a one-year difficult
atmosphere for management and spending, but it will not lead to a
hollow force. It is the kind of thing in the long term you can plan
around.” (© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 06/11/12)
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