In sharp contrast to Republican lawmakers’ strident calls to protect U.S. defense spending and even raise weapon budgets, a Washington think tank closely tied to the Obama administration is calling for significant reductions in many Pentagon programs, including the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the littoral combat ship and the Ground Combat Vehicle.
“We disagree with those who argue that preserving American military pre-eminence requires maintaining or increasing current levels of defense spending,” the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) authors wrote in the report, released May 23.
But the group also warned against cutting back too much.
“We continue to believe,” they wrote, “that the defense budget can be reduced responsibly, but that total defense cuts beyond $500 billion to $550 billion over 10 years, measured relative to the Pentagon’s current level of spending, would place at high risk the U.S. military’s ability to execute America’s long-standing and generally successful military strategy of global engagement.”
The report’s authors — David Barno, Nora Bensahel, Matthew Irvine and Travis Sharp — based their recommendations on four principles:
• Naval and air forces should be prioritized to project power and deter aggression in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East theatres.
• Interdependence among the military services should be increased to strengthen joint effectiveness and reduce unnecessary redundancy.
• Military requirements should be matched to threats based on a “holistic analysis” of the capabilities of the joint force.
• Technological investment should be accelerated to leap ahead of the planned next generation of existing systems, “especially technologies related to unmanned, autonomous and artificial intelligence systems.”
Among the report’s recommendations are:
• The chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should “assert greater authority in challenging combatant command (COCOM) and service requirements. This would be a significant cultural shift inside the Pentagon, which is geared to approve COCOM requests rather than question them.
• The number of geographic U.S. combatant commands should be shrunk from six to four, merging Africa Command with European Command and Northern Command with Southern Command. Administrative service component commands should also be combined for efficiencies.
• The Pentagon’s civilian work force should be shrunk by 100,000 workers over the next decade, and restrictions placed on the number of contractor “augmentees” assigned to headquarters staffs.
On a service-by-service basis, CNAS recommends:
• The Army would shrink to about 480,000 active-duty troops and transfer one-quarter of its active armored brigades to the reserves. Fielding of the Ground Combat Vehicle would be delayed until 2021; the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle would be reduced to smaller serial buys; and the Distributed Common Ground System would be canceled. Stryker combat vehicle production would be canceled; most mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles would be stored; the Humvee modernization program would be canceled; and exports of M1 Abrams tanks would be increased.
• The Air Force should slash its planned buy of 1,763 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters to between 1,000 and 1,200; reduce the KC-16A tanker inventory; and assume the full inter-theater tactical airlift mission — including taking over the mission of current Navy and Marine Corps C-130 Hercules transports. A new requirement should be issued for a long-range, stealthy unmanned aerial system strike and reconnaissance platform, and development of the long-range strike bomber should continue, although the current inventory of 80 to 100 aircraft should be re-evaluated. Agreements for access to and presence at overseas bases, particularly in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East theaters, should be increased.
• The Navy should reduce its carrier strike force to 10 ships and nine carrier air wings, and reduce by half the current planned inventory of 369 F-35C carrier variants of the JSF. Planned production of 55 littoral combat ships would end with 27 ships, a production rate of two attack submarines per year should be continued through the early 2020s and the amphibious fleet held at 30 ships. Development of the X-47B unmanned aerial system demonstrator should be accelerated and a follow-on unmanned strike program be made a program of record.
And while CNAS recommends one-quarter of carrier-based strike assets to be unmanned by 2025, it recommends cutting in half the number of MQ-4C Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aircraft. As with the Air Force, more ships should be based in the Western Pacific and Middle East regions.
• The Marine Corps should shrink to 175,000 active-duty personnel and sustain a three-Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) global rotation; move one California-based MEU to northern Australia; and preposition ashore more equipment in Australia, Guam and Qatar. CNAS recommends continuing current plans for the F-35B short-takeoff, vertical-landing JSF aircraft, but would eliminate Marine F/A-18 C and D Hornet and EA-6B Prowler squadrons from regular carrier operations. MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor procurement would end in 2016 with a total of 314 aircraft; current helicopter procurement programs would continue; and the numbers of C-130 and C-9 transports, executive jets, E/A-18G Growlers and unmanned aerial systems would be reduced.