The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for significant reductions in federal spending between 2013 and 2021, which is set to include funding for national defense. The mandated cutbacks will require the Defense Department to cut its non-war defense budget by $52 billion, six percent of the planned amount, for the 2013 fiscal year, and by about ten percent of the planned levels for 2014 and 2021 each year, for a total of $500 billion over the next decade. Although the implementation was set to take place on 1 January 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act pushed the implementation date back to 27 March. Defense Secretary Panetta has made it clear to Congress that the budget cuts will severely impact military readiness. Despite this fact, the law is unlikely to be overturned. As the new deadline approaches, Defense Department officials have ordered the military services to prepare a plan for implementing the budget cuts.
The Pentagon has already begun taking measures to implement the budget cuts, and the individual military branches are taking steps to reduce short-term spending before the new budget cuts go into effect. Current actions include a hiring freeze (greatly affecting job opportunities for military veterans), laying off temporary and contract workers (retaining only those critical to the DoD’s basic mission and Afghanistan), and delaying maintenance on aircraft and ships. Plans for the new budget cuts include implementing a furlough for most of the Pentagon’s 800,000 full-time civilian employees. Each branch of the military services must provide their plans for implementing the budget cuts after they go into effect to Deputy Defense Secretary Carter by 8 February. In doing so, they will plan to reduce spending in ways which maximize each individual branch’s effectiveness individually.
Plans for the Navy’s reduction in spending include cancelation of maintenance on 30 ships due to take place in 2013. The number of ship operation days would be cut by 30 to 35 percent, which will impact the Navy’s operations in the Gulf and Asia-Pacific region. The Navy is considering the possibility that it will have to remove one carrier from the Gulf. The Army would reduce its training budget to only include training troops slated for deployment to Afghanistan. All other troops would largely go without training. Additionally, the Army plans to cut its active-duty combat brigades from 45 to 37. The Air Force plans to implement budget cuts by eliminating 6 of its 60 squadrons of fighter and attack planes. However, given the Defense Department’s vision of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, the bases for those planes may have been on the chopping block despite the budget cuts, allowing the Air Force to make those cuts elsewhere in the budget.
A better option would be for the military services as a whole to allocate the budget cuts in ways that improve overall military effectiveness according to the national security strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. This strategy will rely largely on naval and air forces rather than ground forces, which indicates that a larger share of budget resources should be shifted from the Army to naval and air forces. Cindy Williams, security studies research scientist at MIT, suggests the following budget cuts for this option. Instead of eliminating only 8 active-duty combat brigades, the Army should eliminate 19. The Army would need to largely reduce its permanent troops in Europe while keeping some troops in the Korean peninsula. The Army would need to rely on its National Guard and Reserve troops, and increase their training, in order to have available troops if necessary. With the reduction in Army resources, the Air Force can reduce resources which one provided air support to those Army resources. The Air Force could eliminate a total of 14 squadrons to free up budget funds for airlift, refueling, and surveillance, which would provide support for more effective air forces in the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy. Any funds available beyond the budget cuts would be reallocated to the Navy and Marine Corps, making these forces more effective in the Asia-Pacific region.
The military services have begun taking steps to implement the budget cuts according to the first option. In doing so, however, each has expressed that the cuts will reduce their overall readiness individually by the end of the year. Lacking readiness in each branch of the U.S. military greatly reduces military effectiveness overall, and does not support the national security strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. According to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Dempsey, this option puts the U.S. “on the brink of creating a hollow force, the very thing we said we must avoid.” The second option would provide for a more effective military conducive to meeting current and future national security threats and protecting U.S. interests.
The strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific is the result of bipartisan consensus of defense officials and policymakers on the importance of U.S. foreign policy in that region. With combat operations winding down in the Middle East, policymakers have identified the need for a strong military presence in Asia for several reasons: the importance of Asia on the growth of the world economy and its possible impact on U.S. interests, North Korea’s continuous threats and nuclear development program, and keeping China’s rising military and economic power in check through deterrence and defense. While the U.S. already has a strong presence in northeast Asia, the rebalance seeks to distribute forces more widely throughout the entire region.
While Asia is comprised of significant land mass, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. would engage in a land war with the two largest powers in the region, China and Russia. It is more likely that any war in which the U.S. would become involved would be fought largely in the air and at sea. Furthermore, with the rise of the Arab Spring, it is likely that the U.S. would be involved in regional conflicts rather than major wars, where sea and air forces will be most effective. Therefore, the majority of future military missions are likely to require more naval and air forces than boots-on-the-ground troops, which is why it would be prudent to reallocate funds from the Army and land-based tactical air forces to the Navy and Marine Corps. The Navy is the most flexible of all the armed forces, and can be in position quickly in order to respond to crises and conflicts with sea, air, and ground capabilities. Even when ground troops are necessary, naval and air forces are required to transport ground troops into the theater of operations and provide cover for ground troops. Therefore, increasing available funding for the Navy and Marine Corps can maintain and improve their effectiveness in the rebalancing strategy in several ways.
First, maintaining and increasing naval forces, which can provide sea, ground, and air forces, make them ideal for crisis management. They can be sustained indefinitely in distant locations in a high state of readiness, given the necessary logistics and support. Even in times of non-crisis and peace, a strong naval presence can deter and defense against any attempts to threaten U.S. interests in resources and markets.
Second, building up naval forces in the region can serve as a deterrence for North Korea and China. As North Korea has crossed one red line after another, and continues to build its nuclear weapons program and issue threats to the U.S., a display of increased naval capabilities in the region could support U.S. credibility on responding to North Korea’s threats. While China’s naval program presumably lags behind South Korea, Japan, and India, they are quickly working on their development. The introduction of two new fleet oilers could soon allow China to deploy their fleet beyond coastal waters. Additionally, recent satellite photos revealed that China is developing an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The Defense Department has identified the ASBM as a significant potential threat, and needs funding to develop countermeasures for addressing this threat. A strong U.S. naval presence is required to deter China from threatening U.S. and allied threats in the region, and responding with force if necessary.
Third, funding for naval forces allows the U.S. to maintain and expand on allied relationships in the region and export security. Force instance, increased funding will allow for a security agreement between the U.S. and Australia, which would provide for U.S. military presence in Australia while providing additional security for Australia. With China being Australia’s largest trading partner, it is important for the U.S. to strengthen its partnership with Australia, a country with shared democratic values. These types of agreements are important for building on other alliances in the region, which can serve to keep those countries from aligning with China for security. While strengthening military alliances are not meant to provoke China, they could serve as a containment strategy and increase the number of allied armed forces available to the U.S. if necessary.
Finally, increasing the funding for the Navy and Marine Corps can improve their effectiveness by allowing them to establish a greater focus on intellectual programs with supplement hardware resources (ships, planes, and missiles). The Naval War College has determined that an investment in intellectual talent can increase effectiveness in a number of ways. First, they can create intellectual software that better enables them to employ its hardware with maximum effect in the Asia-Pacific region. Second, they can invest in human capital to further develop political and technical expertise which can be utilized in operational concepts that will be sent to the fleet. Third, investment in intellectual development of cultural and lingual awareness of the Asia-Pacific region can provide cultural awareness for use in the region, which, as we have learned with Iraq and Afghanistan, is vitally important skills for our military, and for developing allied relations in the Asia-Pacific region.