May 29, 2013

Think tankers unite - on the budget

Today, the results of a think-tank exercise to nudge the Pentagon. Top defense budget thinkers got together a week ago for a one-day "Strategic Choices Exercise," hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, in which four think tank teams were asked to rebalance the Pentagon's major capabilities against major budget cuts, and Situation Report got an exclusive peek. Each team was asked to build a strategy based on two scenarios: one, a $500 billion cut over the next 10 years, as directed by the current Budget Control Act, and another half that size, a $250 billion cut over 10 years. Each team used a "rebalancing tool" created by CSBA to make investment and divestment decisions under both scenarios using a set of more than 650 budget options to add or cut items from the DOD budget. For example, participants could decide if they wanted to cut retiring "legacy fighter" jets, buy additional destroyers, invest in directed energy research and development, or cut infantry combat training or DOD civilian personnel. "The idea was to see what specific divestments and investments each team would make, where they would take the risk and how well their strategies would work under the stress of budget cuts," CSBA's Todd Harrison told Situation Report by e-mail. Today, each of the four teams will reveal their findings on an event on Capitol Hill.

What programs were cut by all think-tankers? "In many cases, all four teams made the same decision about what to cut and what to keep, even though they had different strategies," Harrison told Situation Report. Surface ships, ground forces, BRAC, the DOD civilian force, and unmanned aircraft, among others were all identified as cuttableWhat's more interesting: "[T]eams made many of the same cuts in force structure under the half Budget Control Act budget scenario as they did under the full BCA budget scenario. In other words, they cut just as deep in some areas even when the cuts were half as deep. This suggests that significant rebalancing is needed in DOD's current mix of capabilities regardless of the level of cuts."

Curious what teams cut what programs? CSBA's event today is hosted by former Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work (now at CNAS), AEI's Tom Donnelly, CSIS's Clark Murdock and CSBA's Jim Thomas, Andy Krepinevich and Todd Harrison and is open to the public. It's on Capitol Hill in the Cannon Caucus Room at 1:30 p.m.