Today the American Security Project hosted an event titled, Defense Budget Issues for FY15: A Conversation with Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, moderated by BGen. Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Ret.) CEO, American Security Project
Since sequestration and passage of the new budget, the Defense Department has been adjusting to a reduced funding environment. Dr. Larry Korb, a Senior Fellow at The Center for American Progress specializing in the federal budget, military, and national security, discussed the outlook for Pentagon spending for FY2015.
During opening remarks, Cheney made note of the Administration’s upcoming 2015 budget request that will be sent to Congress on March 4th, as well as the Pentagon’s budget portion that will be previewed by Secretary Hagel on February 24th. He also mentioned that that the cap for FY2015 should be around 521 billion, give or take.
“There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this amount is less than ideal in the Pentagon’s eyes. Reductions have to occur. The question is where and why.” – Cheney
Larry Korb has been covering federal budgetary issues since he wrote his dissertation in the late sixties.
“When it comes to defense, dollars are policy. If you don’t get the money, you can’t do it. Planning becomes irrelevant and operations impossible. It is very, very important that we do it and that we do it correctly.” – Korb
Korb also stressed that the decisions made now regarding the budget are going to have a profound impact for future administrations.
So where are we?
“The amount of money is really not a problem. I think all things considered, given our debt problems and everything else, the Pentagon has enough money.” – Korb
OCO Account: Overseas Contingency Operations
Korb talked about the various areas you can apply the OCO funds, such as missile defense, or routine personnel cost.
According to him, last year’s OCO account hardly came down, but we cut the number of troops in Afghanistan by half. So all in all, in terms of money, we’re okay.
There are number of important decisions that have to be made when it comes to the defense budget.
Korb’s first point was nuclear weapons:
“We are on the threshold of having to modernize all the legs of the triad right now. The real question is do you want to stay within the New Start limits? Do you want to build a new generation of ballistic missile submarines, a new bomber, and of course modernize your land based ICBMS?” – Korb
In regards to the cost of nuclear triad modernization, Korb noted that the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost at 360 billion dollars if it is done the way the various military services want it to be.
“In my view, I don’t think you need to do that. We could go down to 1,000 weapons right now. “ – Korb
The next issue he raised involved personnel and the balance between active and reserves. According to him, the primary key issue is the Army, as they are the most man power intensive of services with a height of 570,000 at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current target number to go down to is 490,000, but Korb said his personal view, given with how well the National Guard and Army Reserve performs, the number could be lowered to around 420,000.
He went on to address the concerns of risk involved with doing this.
“Is there a risk, yes there’s always a risk. You can’t buy perfect security. It’s a manageable risk. It’s hard to conceive us getting involved in a large land war anytime soon. The fact of the matter is, the emphasis is on drones and Special Forces operations in terms of the way we are going to do things.” – Korb
He also said that he thinks the Marines could go down to 150,000 instead of the proposed 175,000. The big reason he makes the case regarding drawing down military personnel is compensation.
“If the budget is going to come down, at least in real terms, and they keep going up, then something has got to give.” – Korb
Final remarks included the issue of having an effective undersecretary of defense when it comes to acquisitions in order to help keep the budgets down. He also questioned the need to have the amount of naval aircraft carriers given the international environment and the ant-access weapons that countries like China are developing.
All in all, he stated that with all of the missions the Pentagon has to deal with, it should be feasible with around 500 billion dollars. The real question, according to Korb, is will the Pentagon be able to make all of the changes it needs to, as far as making reductions in personnel and getting the active/reserve ration right. The fact that the U.S. can’t afford to have the top of the line weapon systems wanted or a contingency plan for every possible scenario is also a fact that Korb thinks needs to be kept in mind.
Nathan Daniels is a Research Assistant & Intern at the American Security Project covering nuclear security issues.
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