Plan to Cut the Defense Budget by $150 Billion Over Five Years

Returning the defense budget to pre-9/11 levels will force us to prioritize future threats and explicitly define the strategic purpose of each branch of the armed forces.
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A few days ago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he would like to see the Defense Department cut $100 billion from the defense budget over the next five years. As someone who has studied the defense budget in depth over the past few years at both the Kennedy School and the Fletcher School, I have written the following memo outlining ways in which the DoD can cut $150 billion from the defense budget by 2016.

Returning the defense budget to pre-9/11 levels will force us to prioritize future threats and explicitly define the strategic purpose of each branch of the armed forces. Budgetary constraints will finally shift us away from our current Cold War mix of combat capabilities towards a new 1-3-2-1 force planning construct. Under the new formula, the U.S. military will be responsible for defending the United States (1); maintaining forces capable of deterring aggression in NE Asia, the East Asian littoral, and Middle East (3); actively partner with allies to perform stability operations in two of these regions (2); and maintain a capability to win decisively in one war against a conventional or WMD armed adversary (1).

Analysis of the future threat environment has concluded that unconventional wars are the most likely conflicts facing the U.S for the foreseeable future. In order to properly mitigate this threat, the armed forces must elevate irregular warfare, counterinsurgency and stability operations to the status of "core missions." While critics will argue that prioritizing unconventional threats will leave us vulnerable to attack by conventional actors, the lack of a near-peer competitor makes this a low-risk opportunity to remodel our force structure to battle more current and likely threats. Institutionalizing counterinsurgency and stability operations will allow the U.S. military to respond to a broader range of threats at a greatly reduced cost. The following suggestions are ways to reduce the defense budget to approximately $400 billion by FY 2016. Suggested cuts translate to $104.7 billion in annual savings and an additional $159.7 billion in long-term savings resulting from a reduction in F-35 procurement over the next ten years.

Reduce End Strength to Near FY 2000 Levels ($63.3B in annual savings)

By reducing the overall end strength of the land forces to FY 2000 levels, we can decrease annual defense spending by an estimated $61.3 billion. The majority of savings can be found by first rolling the Army back to ten divisions each consisting of three combat brigades, a total reduction of 67,620 soldiers. From the remaining force, we should eliminate one armored division and one light infantry division to form two stability and reconstruction divisions each consisting of 10,000 troops. These divisions will allow special operations forces to focus on direct action by taking over training of indigenous security forces and most other COIN/Stability operations. CBO estimates that this restructuring would save the Army $32 billion over the next 16 years ($2 billion annually) due to the smaller number of units that would require modernization and the reduced need for next generation weaponry. One area of growth for the Army should be the 20th CBRNE Support Command, which should be doubled in size to 12,000 soldiers in order to be able to assign an EOD team to every BCT and a CBRN unit to each division. If we are no longer engaged in large scale combat operations, the Marine Corps will also be forced to reduce its numbers from 202,000 back to 172,000. While the Army and Marine Corps will likely object to large scale reductions in their end strengths, our new force planning construct no longer calls for us to fight two simultaneous conventional campaigns and thus maintaining the current number of combat forces is no long necessary

Reduce the Number of Foreign Military Bases by 25% (Cost of $30B, yields $25.5B in annual savings)

Of the 737 U.S. military bases currently operating worldwide (not counting in Iraq and Afghanistan) 427 (58%) are located in Europe. While the majority of our future planning and acquisition programs are oriented around fighting and deterring threats emanating from the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. military's antiquated basing structure is still largely focused around deterring a Soviet threat that no longer exists. I propose reducing our global footprint by ¼ through the closing of 145 of these bases: 112 in Germany, 6 in Belgium, 2 in Greece and 31 in Italy. While the cost of many of these bases is shared with allies, we can no longer justify a large presence to guard against a non-existent threat. This new round of BRAC will cost approximately $30 billion if begun in 2011, but should yield annual savings of $25.5 billion after 2016.

Reduce Procurement of the F-35 by 50% ($15.9B in annual Savings, $159.7B long-term)

Our lack of a peer competitor and our near term focus on unconventional warfare means that our emphasis on replacing our current generation air systems with next generation systems is unwarranted. Rather than purchasing thousands of new F-35's, we should reduce procurement of this platform and instead replace air systems that have reached the end of their life cycles with the latest version of the same system. These newer systems are far more capable than the ones they replace and cost approximately half as much as next generation technology. A fifty percent reduction in the procurement of F-35's will cut $159.7 billion from the total long-term procurement budget and translate to $15.9 billion in annual savings. While the Air Force and Navy will argue that such cuts will reduce the number of missions they are capable of flying, a portion of the F-35's mission can be allocated to our new long-range bombers and UAVs.

Restructure the Navy to be a More Mobile and Cost Effective Force ($5.3B in savings over 5 years)

Since the end of the Cold War, the Navy has failed to redefine its strategic purpose. Over the next decade, we must move the Navy away from its focus on maritime warfare towards its primary missions of supporting ground-based operations and protecting the sea lines of communication (SLOC). According to their long-term shipbuilding plan, the Navy plans to acquire 53 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS's) to perform antiship, anti-submarine and countermine warfare at a cost of $33.1 billion. I believe that combining the Navy and Coast Guard's Small Combatant Programs will provide the Navy with a capability that is superior for executing the peacetime elements of its maritime strategy, but also offers the speed and offensive capabilities necessary to guard against threats to the SLOC. Reducing the number of LCS's purchased will allow the Navy to acquire the naval version of the Coast Guard's National Security Cutter (NSC). The CBO estimates that swapping out 25 LCS's for 20 NSC's will save the Navy an estimated $5.3 billion.

Originally Posted at Demagogues & Dictators

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