Gen. Martin Dempsey: Pentagon reassessing defense strategy under sequestration

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Military officials are reassessing the national defense strategy in light of spending cuts that will force the Pentagon to reduce its budget by $500 billion over the next decade, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says.

“Recognizing longer-term uncertainty, I’ve also begun to reassess what our military strategy should be, as well as institutional reforms necessary to remain an effective fighting force,” ArmyGen. Martin E. Dempsey wrote on his Facebook page.

Gen. Dempsey said he had called together senior military leaders Wednesday to discuss how best to handle the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration and other budget challenges.

A Joint Chiefs spokesman told The Washington Times the meeting marks the first time that military leaders had met specifically to discuss reassessing the strategy.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter held a “strategic seminar” with Gen. Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs and other defense officials to discuss the budget, a Pentagon official said.

“One of the ways our strategy would need to change is we couldn’t do … what we want to do in the rebalance in the Asia-Pacific theater,” Mr. Carter told a House panel last month. “And that’s a very important strategic objective for this country, because for 70 years we have kept the peace in the Asia-Pacific region; that’s what’s led to prosperity there, which we’ve benefited from.

“And we’re trying to keep that pivotal role of the U.S. military in the Asia-Pacific theater going, and in fact to renew after a decade of focus and concentration on Iraq and Afghanistan. And all that which is critical to our strategy is put in doubt and put in jeopardy if these further budget cuts go on.”

The defense strategy calls for a “pivot” to the Asia Pacific, maintaining focus on the Middle East, enhancing partnerships with countries around the world, and investing in special operations, cybersecurity, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

As part of the military’s rebalance to Asia, 60 percent of Navy assets would be shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with fast-moving warships stationed in Singapore and Marines deployed on a rotational basis to Australia.

“The previous strategy was written for the previous cuts,” a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday, referring to the $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

That legislation also mandated that the Pentagon would be hit with an additional $500 billion in spending cuts over 10 years if lawmakers were unable to find $1.2 trillion to bridge the federal deficit gap. That mechanism, known as sequestration, went into effect March 1.

A Pentagon official said the process of reassessing the strategy is in only preliminary stages.

“The end of sequestration doesn’t appear to be in sight and the responsible thing to do is to prepare for protracted budgetary contingencies. [This is] not to accept sequestration but nonetheless plan for it,” he said.

He emphasized the current strategy won’t be scrapped altogether, and the “fundamentals” would remain the same.

Under sequestration, however, the Navy will reduce deployments and operations around the world, and have 30 to 40 fewer ships by 2030.

The current strategy calls for a leaner, more agile force, with personnel reductions in the Army and the Marine Corps. The Army had planned to cut 89,000 soldiers over the next few years, and the Marine Corps about 20,000 troops.

Sequestration will force the Army to cut at least an additional 100,000 troops. The Marine Corps has not specified by how much it will have to shrink its force.

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