- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

The Pentagon is not just cutting manpower to reach deficit-reduction targets: Its 2013 budget, released Monday, shows the military will spend less to replace old weapons after two grueling wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The procurement line in the $525 billion plan calls for $108 billion next year to buy big and small weapon systems such as guns, ships and jet fighters - down nearly 30 percent from 2011.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced budget details last month, with a focus on how the Army and Marine Corps will shed 90,000 troops to save money.

The detailed budget shows the services will have less buying power too, as the Air Force copes with an aging fleet of jet fighters and attack planes whose average age of 22 years would put them near retirement.

The Navy has $13.5 billion to buy new ships, down from $15 billion two years ago. Analysts doubt the 285-ship naval service can reach its goal of 313 ships in the next five years.

Army procurement drops to $21 billion, from $34 billion in 2011 and $24 billion this year.

The squeeze is part of the Pentagon blueprint to slash $487 billion in projected spending over the next 10 years to comply with the Budget Control Act. The $525 billion base budget is about $5 billion lower than this year’s, setting the stage for a defense downturn not seen since the post-Soviet 1990s.

With the Iraq war over, spending on overseas operations drops from $115 billion to $88.5 billion next year.

It is the first Pentagon budget based on President Obama’s new war strategy, which downplays structuring an active force for one or more large, protracted land wars.

The new focus shifts from Europe toward emerging power China and the Western Pacific. The Middle East - particularly the Persian Gulf, where Iran remains an adversary - remains a high priority.

“The department’s strategy developed in this budget creates a smaller, lighter, more agile, flexible joint force to conduct a full range of military activities that are necessary to defend U.S. national interests,” said Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale.

In general, the Pentagon is shrinking procurement by terminating a series of relatively small systems, while slowing big programs, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Navy’s next ballistic missile submarine.

Over five years, the Navy’s total planned buy of new ships drops from 57 to 41. It also is retiring seven cruisers and two amphibious docking ships.

A defense source said that for the first time in years, the Navy is not funding a single large amphibious ship in its five-year shipbuilding plans.

The 2013 budget funds five large ships - two destroyers, one carrier and two Virginia-class submarines - and five small ships - four littoral combat ships (LCS) and one high-speed vessel.

The source said some in the Navy have taken to calling the multipurpose LCS the “little crappy ship” because of performance shortfalls and cost overruns.

“They are buying as many ‘crappy little ships’ as big capital ships,” the source said. “The fleet of the future.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, last July asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate.

“Throughout the history of this program, the Navy has been over cost and has failed to meet its own deadlines,” Mr. Hunter said in a letter to the GAO.

Norman Polmar, an author on books about the Navy fleet, said the littoral combat ship “is a program we should stop tomorrow until we figure it out. We are building a 3,000-ton ship with one small-caliber gun as their only armament.”

On building the new Ford-class nuclear-powered carrier, he said: “There’s a big question as to whether we can keep building $12 billion to $16 billion carriers.”

But Mr. Polmar said the Navy should increase purchases of the Navy-Army joint high-speed vessel, a transport ship that has shown it can achieve its mission.

That ship, however, is treading budget water. Of the 16 new ships cut from the budget, eight are joint high-speed vessels.

The Army is eliminating at least eight of its 45 Brigade Combat Teams to reach a 72,000-soldier reduction, to a 490,000 active force.

The Marine Corps, meanwhile, is disbanding five battalions and four tactical air squadrons, among other units, to cut 20,000 troops, to 182,000.

The Corps also is losing 24 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft it had planned to buy over the next five years, saving nearly $900 million.

The Air Force is retiring 303 aircraft, including 102 A-10 Thunderbolt tank killers and 21 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets. Its fighter/attack aircraft inventory has shrunk by 25 percent since 2011, to about 2,000.

The Pentagon also is slowing its largest weapon system, the $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It will buy 179 fewer planes from 2013 to 2017.

For all four branches and reserves, the total force drops in five years by 5.5 percent, from 2,269,700 to 2,145,800. The active force shrinks from 1,422,600 to 1,320,200.

“I believe this budget, which is more that $50 billion above what we spent on average in the Cold War, is the start of a medium-term trend of actual reduction in what [the Pentagon] spends each year,” said Winslow Wheeler of the reform-minded Center for Defense Information.

“There remains lots, piles, of low-hanging fruit in the [the Pentagon] budget, such as failed F-35 program, providing the vast amounts yet to be removed from the currently bloated Pentagon budget.”

But House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican, said the military is paying the brunt of deficit reduction.

“The president’s budget is a clear articulation of Mr. Obama’s priorities: reduce resources for our struggling Armed Forces and redirect them to exploding domestic bureaucracies,” he said. “This budget reflects a true reduction, in real terms, of military spending while we have troops in combat.”