SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL’S DEFENSE REVIEW AND ITS LARGER MEANING

Yes America, we can rethink things. When faced with such harsh necessity and after trying almost everything else, we can come up with alternative ideas. Thus we have the resulting Hagel inspired and DOD executed “Strategic Choices and Management Review.”

The essence of the review is that hard choices lie ahead for our strategic posture and security priorities and thus for our military forces. Some realism will be forced upon us. But let’s be clear, we will still have the largest military funding and resource levels than the combination of any conceivable opposition and still more than the next 10 nations – allies or likely opponents.

The question now is whether finally will be getting our value for the bucks that we invest rather than put billions into boondoggles and wasted programs based on the lobbying of the ever powerful “military-industrial complex” in the words of President Eisenhower.

Among the key options that were set forth by Hagel were:
– Significant reductions to the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. This is opposed by the armed forces.

— Decommission three Navy aircraft carriers and cut some of the Air Force’s tactical air squadrons and the C-130 fleet. Other reductions in various forces would have to be made, perhaps including the Marines and Special Ops. 

– Change the military’s generous benefits package. Personnel costs amount to nearly half of the DOD budget according to reports. Hagel said these expenses would eat into readiness and modernization. 

– A Significantly smaller military that could invest in new advanced technology and maintain a high state of readiness with advanced systems. It would mean that we could, according to Hagel, do fewer things, especially if crises took place simultaneously.

– The key “macro” trade off is between keeping the size of the military forces and not buying more modern systems, or having a smaller size but with modern weapons.

While “Sequestration” was the catalyst of these budgeting cutting ideas, such a hard review should have been done long ago. The great irony is that the same Congress that forced military programs upon DOD that it did not need or want is the same body that is forcing these tough choices and likely major force reduction in large scale programs. One problem is that some key cuts take place slowly, since many costs are built years in advance.

Congress leaves at the end of this week for all of August, and will likely get much feed back on these cuts as well as those to domestic programs like nutrition, food stamps, unemployment benefits, housing, infrastructure, education (like Pell Grants), health care, and much more. We will see whether the dysfunction is simply in Congress alone and with its GOP crazies, or whether it is in ourselves. One idea they seem to have is to permit added money for the DOD if Obamacare is destroyed. None starter!

The baseline DOD reductions under sequestration would now be during FY 2014 with a reduction of $50 billion and $500 billion over the next decade. This will make for some very demanding choices when defense contracts disappear, maintenance costs are reduced, lower levels of personnel are required and fewer people are working on massive defense programs. The blow back from companies, constituencies, and thus the pressure on Congress will be intense. President Obama and the Democratic leaders have said they will not permit added resources or exemption of DOD from the impact of sequestration unless the same applies to the domestic budget.

OK, what does this all really mean? First, it does not mean that we will not still be the most powerful military in the world with massive capabilities beyond any other nation. It does mean likely savings in our budget deficit and likely benefits us if we do not fund huge boondoggles that are now in the billions of dollars and the escalate costs mindlessly. It means DOD will have to be much more careful with its procurement and oversight. That would be a good outcome. It also means that we will have to give an even harder look at our strategic landscape and make key priorities and probably discard from previously sacred so called threats and dangers that in reality are both unlikely and not so serious or can be addressed in less costly and even perhaps more realistic bases.

There will be a lot of fights when Congress comes back and Hagel will have to decide what to do with an even larger and detailed look at defense needs and policies toward the end of this year. But before that, Congress, President Obama, and Secretary Hagel with likely have to make key decisions on all of this and it will be very messy as it falls in with the general budget fight, appropriations for FY 2014, and the debt limit fight. The question is can we ever get serous about a military structure and strategy that really meets our needs at the least cost and with the best posture for real threats?

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