With Department of Defense Budget cuts in excess of $600 billion over the next ten years on the table, many are asking the military services “how low can you go?”
That was a question on the mind of many at this year’s Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting, which wraps up today at the Washington Convention Center. And rather than being a subdued or depressed affair, many are using the exposition as a lobbying effort to make a final push for weapons, technology, and people.
“Those are difficult costs that have a major impact,” said Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, referencing proposed budget cuts at a Monday morning press conference. “We have to be ready for unknown contingencies because we are terrible at predicting the future.” Odierno went on to emphasize that he will not allow for a “hollowing” of the force such as what occurred during the military drawdown of the 1990s. He said he would ensure a quality force at whatever size the budget allows.
In the exhibit hall, defense contractors are demonstrating technologies from electronic tablets to a variety of apps designed to help soldiers do their jobs better. Tanks and vehicles were also on display although the talk about the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program primarily centered on how the Army would go about preserving the $54 billion Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program despite Congress’ efforts to cut funding.
Harsh budget realities are always on the fore, even as the Army seeks to defend its acquisitions process and highlight the “transparency” movement and reform efforts that have taken place over the last several years. There’s good reason to be concerned. Asked if he thought the Army would take the greatest hit in the budget, Secretary of the Army John McHugh said he was planning on a traditional 1/3 split, or “golden triangle” where cuts are split equally among the Departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Others aren’t as sure. At a Friday event put on by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a panel of experts felt strongly that budget cuts were likely to look at capabilities, with an even distribution of cuts no longer feasible.
“We have to prioritize capabilities that meet the most serious needs,” said Dr. Nora Bensahel, deputy director of studies and a senior fellow at CNAS. She emphasized the need for research and development which bridges current and future weapons, including investment in unmanned aircraft and submersibles.
And as the services continue to lobby for their own programs and budgets, the CNAS report “Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity,” released at Friday’s event, notes that in order to survive this budget climate the services will have to take on a posture of interdependence, reducing redundancies and putting investment into areas of mutual benefit.
The one thing the CNAS report and Army leaders agree in is the risk of building a strategy that’s based upon budget, rather than risks and priorities.
“We’re trying to match every budget calculation with increased or decreased risk,” said McHugh.