That America is heading toward a tighter fiscal belt is a foregone conclusion. The big question is what this will do to the military.
William Galston of The New Republic knocked one out of the park with his analysis, titled "Forget Iran—Chuck Hagel's toughest fight will be the Pentagon's budget."
From the post:
If Hagel gets the nod, he will have to recommend major strategic choices in the face of the Pentagon's budget constraints.
The bet on both sides of the aisle is that sequestration will become operative at the beginning of March. On top of the budget caps, it would reduce defense spending in 2022 to $605 billion—more than $100 billion below what would be needed to maintain the purchasing power of the military budget at 2013 levels. Just this year, military leaders would have to cut $60 billion from pre-BCA levels, more than 10 percent of projected expenditures. And they would have to cram those cuts into the remaining six months of the fiscal year. That’s the planning horizon that Chuck Hagel would face.
Defense spending typically drops following a war (or two), but this is unprecedented.
So what's going to get cut?
Research and development budgets will shrink, but this may just lead to massive defense corporations controlling purse strings more carefully. Cuts will likely cinch up reckless, costly , overpriced embarrassments like the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship, which, consequently, won't even survive in combat.
Expect Hagel and other planners to come in and pretty much cancel programs that aren't relevant in today's warfare (no reason to shoot tank rounds at rural insurgents). Though America won't get rid of tanks altogether, it may stop building them.
Hagel must also balance the reshaping with the realities of ongoing American security operations.
Indeed the U.S. is shrinking its military out of both fiscal and strategic necessity.
If there's one thing America's realized in the last 11-12 years, it's that massive land engagements are no longer in the interest of national security. The future looks to be focused on small counterinsurgency and training missions, like in Africa, rather than another Afghanistan.
Hagel is the perfect man for the job in this respect, as he said in his confirmation prepared statements, " Committing our troops to any military operation is a grave decision, and one I, if confirmed, would make carefully and cautiously.”
His last wish is to order a massive invasion of another country — but training foreign troops to provide their own security, that's another issue entirely.
Other, more relevant programs will see a boost, but not one reciprocal to proposed cuts. Look for modest increases in special operations scope and possibly personnel, regardless of cuts.
Nonetheless, the force will stay global: Naval and Air Force assets essential to global coverage will likely remain intact, like Ohio Class Submarines, drones, and the new Cyber Command.
It's the personnel who will suffer. Layoffs at manufacturing plants (already happening) for nonessential weapons (like the M1-Abrams tank), possible base closings, and definitely cuts to active duty personnel (the Corps is looking to drop 20K).
Big declines in defense spending, largely in part, caused US GDP to shrink 0.1 percent on Wednesday, but there's no reason to panic about the economy or security.
No, the military should be a reflection of current security needs. With two major wars winding down and a growing necessity for 'dark' operations, the face of the U.S. Military will look a little thinner, with greater emphasis on finesse rather than force.
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