Contractors, Experts: Consensus Grows to Reshape Pentagon

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Contractors, Experts: Consensus Grows to Reshape Pentagon

While sequestration grabs the headlines, behind the scenes a consensus that Pentagon spending is headed for further reductions has emerged. As John Bennett of Defense News observes, “The absence of talk about [avoiding] the defense cuts is a sign that further Pentagon budget reductions, at some level below $500 billion, are on the table.” Revelations last week that the Pentagon ended FY 2012 with unobligated funds that would cover two years of sequestration-level cuts are a reminder that there is plenty of room for reform and cost-cutting. Senior Pentagon leadership has said that a balanced solution to sequester is vital to protect the foundations of national security – the vitality of our economy and our society. Defense experts and even forward-looking Pentagon contractors see a vibrant future, and increasingly agree Pentagon spending can be reshaped to meet future security needs, and commitments to our troops, wisely.

Balanced deficit reduction is necessary to support economic growth and social cohesion – the foundation of American power. According to a recent report by Senator Tom Harkin (D‐IA), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, “sequestration … would also have destructive impacts on the whole array of Federal activities that promote and protect the middle class in this country – everything from education to job training, medical research, child care, worker safety, food safety, national parks, border security and safe air travel. These essential government services directly touch every family in America…” The relationships between these damaging effects and American national security are clear. As Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has said, “[W]e have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments… truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.” [Tom Harkin, 7/25/12. Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12]

Contractors who face the facts of a Pentagon drawdown see a “vibrant” future. While some contractors have chosen scare tactics, others have been more forthright. Mike Madsen, president of Honeywell’s defense and space division, recently told investors, “We recognize these cuts are going to happen…We’re not really fighting these — they need to occur.” Similarly, Samir Mehta, the president of Sikorsky military systems, said, “It’s very easy to be focused on the short term in the next two to three years, and say, ‘Boy, the meteor’s coming at us and we’re headed for really tough times,’ but if you look at this industry over the next 20-30 years, it’s going to be vibrant.” [Mike Madsen via Marketwatch, 11/19/12. Samir Mehta via Reuters, 11/28/12]

Emerging expert consensus: Pentagon budget will come down, can be wisely reshaped to meet future needs. Gordon Adams outlines an emerging consensus, the latest sign of which is a slew of think tank reports on reshaping Pentagon spending to support a balanced solution to deficit reduction while prioritizing the types of military capabilities required for the 21st century. “Over the past few weeks, think tanks right, left, and center have issued reports that lay out the road to a disciplined defense drawdown, in which they rethink strategy, military force, weapons buying, and management. The reports come from the Stimson Center/Peterson Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Project on Defense Alternatives, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and, interestingly, the RAND Corporation. They agree on a surprising number of things, and all of them suggest deep cuts are inevitable.”

Adams then goes on to sketch the parameters of the emerging consensus regarding the budgetary choices the Pentagon should make to prioritize the right capabilities: “Readers can surf the reports at will. But there are a number of strikingly consistent options they propose: All agree that the days of long-term stabilization operations, nation-building, and insurgent-chasing (read: Iraq and Afghanistan) are over…All of them agree that shrinking U.S. ground forces (Army and Marines) is the easiest and most appropriate way to cope with the new national security challenges in light of fewer resources…All of them would sharply reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces… All agree that a robust investment in defense research and development is a suitable hedge against the future…All agree that terrorist organizations are not a strategic threat to the United States and do not necessitate a large military force…Virtually all of them, from left to right, call for greater ‘burden-sharing’ from U.S. allies as a way of reducing the U.S. load.” [Gordon Adams, 11/27/12]

What We’re Reading

A roadside bomb struck a minivan in a remote part of southern Afghanistan, killing at least 10 people and wounding 8 more.

At least 32 people were killed and more than 120 injured in Iraq, police officials said, as a series of bomb attacks struck the country for a third day.

The UN General Assembly is set by an overwhelming margin to upgrade Palestine to non-voting observer status, despite threats by the United States and Israel to punish the Palestinian Authority by withholding much-needed funds for the West Bank government.

Syrian rebels battled forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad just outside Damascus, forcing the closure of the main airport road.

Three boys ages 12 to 14, who were allegedly due to be trained as suicide bombers, were arrested with their suspected handler in northwest Pakistan.

Egypt’s Islamist-dominated constitutional convention began voting on the 230 articles of the nation’s draft charter, a move that could inflame a political crisis touched off last week when President Mohamed Morsi gave himself sweeping new powers.

North Korea has made further progress in the construction of a new atomic reactor, the UN nuclear chief reported, a facility that may extend the country’s capacity to produce material for nuclear bombs.

European Union foreign ministers say they have agreed to open free trade negotiations with Japan.

Ramush Haradinaj, a former guerrilla fighter in Kosovo who served briefly as prime minister, was acquitted of war crimes for a second time, clearing the way for his return to mainstream politics but angering Serbia.

A Pakistani militant commander who directs attacks against American and allied forces in Afghanistan was wounded in a suicide attack that killed six other people, Pakistani officials said.

Commentary of the Day

Jessica Mathews gives ten predictions for a year of brewing conflict in 2013.

James Fallows argues that overseas jobs might be coming back to America.

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