Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today offered the first glimpse into changes in store for the U.S. military that will come to pass if the president's 2013 Pentagon budget is approved by Congress. Those changes include reductions for two major branches of the military, adjustments in some major weapons systems, and asking Congress for authorization to begin a new round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
In his Defense Budget Priorities and Choices briefing with reporters, Panetta outlined a topline budget set at $525 billion for the coming fiscal year, with an additional $88 billion earmarked primarily for the war in Afghanistan. He says that the budget request implements $259 billion in savings over five years, and is based on the defense strategy guidance announce by President Obama on January 5.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the package is a reflection of the notion that “capability is more important than size.”
To that end, the proposed budget calls for increases in development of technologies in the areas of counterterrorism (unmanned air- and sea-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR] systems; cyber operations; development of the next-generation bomber; missile defense; space systems; and science and technology research).
In the area of weapons systems, the budget request cuts the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that the Pentagon will purchase to approximately 179 over the next five years. Panetta says the slowdown in procurement will allow officials to “complete more testing, and allow for developmental changes,” before additional aircraft are procured.
The budget proposal also postpones construction of several planned naval vessels, including one ocean surveillance vessel, one submarine, one dock landing ship, two littoral combat ships, eight joint high-speed vessels and three oilers.
Six out of the current 60 Air Force tactical air squadrons will be cut, and 130 aircraft will be retired or removed from service. The Air Force’s cargo fleet would be reduced, with the retirement of 27 giant C-5As and 65 of the smaller C-130 transport planes. The Navy will retire seven older cruisers and two amphibious ships.
The budget proposes an as yet undefined increase in the number of special operations forces, and a shift in the mission of those forces back to their pre-9/11 job of training local forces in the nations in which they operate.
The budget projects a drop to 490,000 soldiers in the Army, and a decrease to 182,000 Marines over the next five years, with what Panetta describes as “marginal” reductions in the Army Reserve and National Guard, and no reductions in the Marine Corps Reserve.
The president’s shift in emphasis to the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions, and away from Europe, outlined several weeks ago, is reflected in the proposed elimination of two forward-based Army heavy brigades in Europe. In addition, two littoral combat ships will be based in Singapore and Bahrain. No changes will be made to the Navy’s current 11 aircraft carriers, and 10 carrier air wings.
Recognizing that military pay and benefits constitute more than one-thirdof the Pentagon budget, Panetta says that the fiscal year 2013 proposal calls for full pay raises for service members in 2013 and 2014, with more limited pay raises contemplated for 2015. Some increases in health care fees, and co-payments and deductibles for military retirees, also have been proposed.
Finally, Panetta says the 2013 budget also calls for a new round of BRAC actions in fiscal years 2013 and 2015, and the possibility of using a BRAC-like process to recommend changes to military retirement benefits. Under the law, such changes would have to be determined by presidentially appointed commissions, and approved by Congress.
Panetta says that more details about the proposed 2013 Pentagon budget will be revealed in coming weeks, as he and White House advisers begin the process of briefing House and Senate committees. The president is now expected to deliver the budget to Congress on February 13, one week later than previously announced.