A Washington think tank founded by President Obama’s first Pentagon policy chief has issued a report criticizing the administration’s defense budget, which the think tank’s founder played a role in developing.
Michele Flournoy co-founded the Center for New American Security in 2007, then became undersecretary of defense for policy in 2009. She left that post in February after helping Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta put together the fiscal 2013 defense budget.
Ms. Flournoy rejoined the think tank as a member of the board of directors and is mentioned in national security circles as a candidate for defense secretary in a second Obama term if Mr. Panetta leaves.
The Center for New American Security report released last week is pointedly critical of the Panetta plan, saying it does not go far enough in consolidating missions and functions, or in cutting back big weapons systems.
“The Pentagon still has not enacted the types of reforms that we believe are necessary to sustain U.S. military pre-eminence into the future,” says the report, written by four think-tank scholars.
“Too many [Department of Defense] structures, processes, programs and operational concepts are legacies of the past, which create unnecessary redundancies, waste valuable resources and encourage unproductive competition among the services, rather than cooperation. These practices are no longer acceptable in the current fiscal environment.”
The report could give some insight into Ms. Flournoy’s thinking should she return to the Pentagon next year.
Responding to an inquiry for Ms. Flournoy’s comment, Sara Conneighton, the center’s spokeswoman, said: “This report only reflects the thinking of the four co-authors.”
The report, “Sustainable Pre-Eminence: Reforming the U.S. Military at a Time of Strategic Change,” was written by retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, along with Nora Bensahel, Matthew Irvine and Travis Sharp.
Deeper defense cuts
As output from a Democrat-leaning think tank, the report is notable for how often it disagrees with the Panetta defense budget.
Where Mr. Panetta calls for continuing the procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the Center for New American Security report calls for deep cuts in the Air Force and Navy purchases.
It says the Air Force should slash procurement from 1,763 planes to as few as 1,000, and the Navy should halve its purchase of 369 F-35Cs, which it calls flawed, and keep purchasing the F-18 Hornet.
“Due to its short range, the F-35C requires aircraft carriers to get dangerously close to enemy coasts or necessitates frequent aerial refueling,” the report says.
“While external fuel tanks can extend the F-35C’s range, such tanks compromise its stealth and thereby sacrifice an essential attribute. By buying fewer F-35s more quickly, the Navy will revitalize its strike fleet sooner.”
Shrinking the F-35 procurement would free up more money to invest in what might be the Navy’s future - the X-47 unmanned combat drone being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp., the report says.
It also calls for reducing the Navy’s active carrier fleet from the Panetta-endorsed 11, to 10, as the cost of operating flat-tops and buying new ones continues to escalate.
In addition, the report says the Army’s 570,000 soldiers should be cut to 480,000, while Mr. Panetta recommends a reduction to 490,000 troops.
The center’s report also calls for delaying until 2021 procurement of one of the Army’s most cherished procurement prizes [-] the $40 billion Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) to replace the M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
“The Bradley remains the pre-eminent infantry fighting vehicle in the world with no looming challenger, while the current requirements for the GCV are both unnecessary and expensive,” the report says.
Other outside experts have called on the Pentagon to put off the Ground Combat Vehicle.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, a centrist group that advises Congress, called for delaying the vehicle while soldiers wear out current equipment. The Army could use the time to develop better protective systems against improvements in enemy armor-piercing weapons.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told The Washington Times in April that now is not the time to fund the GCV.
“Given the financial situation the country is in right now, my personal opinion is that modernization should wait, and we should spend the money on personnel cost and readiness, and not on modernization,” he said.
Both the House and Senate Armed Services committees this month approved full funding for GCV development in their versions of the 2013 budget bill.
Quadrennial defense review
Mr. Panetta’s 2013 budget now before Congress begins the process of slashing projected spending by $487 billion over 10 years, as demanded by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The law calls for more than $500 billion in additional automatic defense cuts, starting Jan. 1, unless Congress can reach a deal on reducing the deficit. Several experts say those reductions, known as sequestration, will happen because Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on taxes and entitlement reforms.
The Center for New American Security does not endorse the automatic cuts, saying no more than $550 billion should be taken from the military budget.
James Carafano, a military analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said Ms. Flournoy two years ago presented a strategy known as the quadrennial defense review that called for far more forces than the new defense budget or her think tank advocates today.
“This proposal follows very similar logic to other reports that we’ve seen from progressive think tanks,” Mr. Carafano said. “What no one has been able to square the circle and explain is, how we had a [review] that nobody had a problem with and it calls for substantially more forces than these guys call for.”
“It’s very, very difficult to explain how the geostrategic situation in the United States, when you look 20 to 30 years down the road, how that has changed so dramatically after three years that all of a sudden all these cuts become magically OK,” he said.
Since the 2010 review, Congress passed the deficit-reduction mandates that then prompted Mr. Panetta to produce a new strategy calling for a smaller force.