Pentagon can run, but it can't hide from sequestration's consequences

DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses Department of Defense (DoD) employees at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., May 14, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • DoD: US military dominance can “no longer be taken for granted.”

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  • Defense cuts are leading to foreclosed options for the commander-in-chief and increased risk to those in uniform.

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  • Not only is that true, American superiority is already at risk.

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President Obama’s forthcoming defense budget is the first to “fully reflect the transition DoD is making after 13 years of war.” The budget guidance seeks to further refine the President’s guidance from 2012 and focus on four key missions for the US military while acknowledging that US military dominance can “no longer be taken for granted.”

Not only is that true, American superiority is already at risk or waning across the services and domains. This is one of the primary reasons the Pentagon’s 2015 budget plan spanning five-years will present a variety of off-ramps for policymakers. Given slight breathing room under the Ryan-Murray budget agreement—which still locked in $45 billion in 2015 defense cuts compared to the President’s request—Pentagon leaders were able to postpone many of the biggest consequences considered in last year’s strategic review.

Following all the decisions about what is sacrificed in the budget is additional clarity for Congress on further consequences should they keep sequestration on the books for the rest of the decade. For the Air Force, this would mean not only retiring all the A-10s and U-2s as called for in this year’s budget but also cutting the Joint Strike Fighter, retiring the KC-10 tanker fleet and shrinking the Global Hawk block 40 purchase. The Army will shrink further under current plans and would drop to 420,000 active duty soldiers if sequestration sticks. The Navy will cut the Littoral Combat Ship program by 20 ships, and it will lose ten major surface combatants without additional budget relief.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is also putting forward new and needed proposals aimed at reining in overhead costs with the hopes of getting Congressional approval. The budget calls for reducing subsidies to military commissaries, asking for a small contribution to housing benefits from servicemembers and providing a modest pay raise of one percent.

The Pentagon’s newest plan will continue shrinking the military and its generational edge. President Obama is submitting another defense budget that essentially seeks to cash in a peace dividend in a world with little peace. His own director of national intelligence recently told Congress that in over a half century, he has not experienced a time when the US has “been beset by more crises and threats around the globe.”

While this budget attempts to put on a strong face, the consequences of five years of defense dollar and capability cuts will be foreclosed options for the commander-in-chief and increased risk borne by those in uniform.

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About the Author


  • Mackenzie Eaglen has worked on defense issues in the U.S. Congress, both House and Senate, and at the Pentagon in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Joint Staff. She specializes in defense strategy, budget, military readiness and the defense industrial base. In 2010, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member of the congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission established to assess the Pentagon's major defense strategy. A prolific writer on defense related issues, she has also testified before Congress.


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