The looming $600 billion defense spending crisis required under last year’s Budget Control Act was delayed for two months under the compromise tax deal passed by Congress this week.
Under the new tax legislation, the sequestration will kick in March 1. Instead of slashing defense spending during the delay, Congress provided $24 billion in the legislation with half to be raised from taxes and half from cutting defense and nondefense spending.
“This will give Congress time to work on a balanced plan to end the sequester permanently through a combination of additional revenue and spending cuts in a balanced manner,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon told reporters that the delay was “better than nothing.”
In a statement, Mr. McKeon, California Republican, said he supported the deal with reservations.
“Our troops have shouldered an unfairly large share of budget cuts to date, in addition to the strains of combat,” he said.
“Rather than shield a wartime military from further reductions, this deal leaves the force vulnerable to sequestration’s devastating and arbitrary cuts, and it leaves Congress and the president with much work to do to end the crisis.”
Mr. McKeon said President Obama missed the chance to honor the promise made to U.S. troops and veterans when he said during the presidential campaign that sequestration would never take place.
“Every day of uncertainty over further reductions limits our ability to fight the war in Afghanistan, keep Americans free from harm at home and prevent potential conflict abroad,” Mr. McKeon said.
The immediate impact of the compromise tax law is that the Pentagon likely will have to produce two budgets for the White House Office of Management and Budget, one for sequestration and one for no sequestration.
A defense official said the Pentagon has been planning for the across-the-board funding cuts since early December when the Office of Management and Budget issued guidance on the matter.
“To date we’ve produced one budget [for fiscal 2014],” the official told Inside the Ring. “At this point, the fiscal 2014 budget does not reflect sequestration.”
The official said the Pentagon is working with the budget office on guidance regarding the cuts.
No figures have been issued by the office on how much to cut for the 2014 budget. The estimate for the last budget, which was never passed, was a cut of 9.4 percent, or $52.3 billion.
So far, the only comment from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on the crisis has been a memorandum sent to all Pentagon employees, warning that civilian furloughs could take place under sequestration.
The House Armed Services Committee is planning hearings in the coming weeks with testimony from Pentagon officials on how the massive defense cuts will be implemented.
China warships up ante
Growing tensions between China and its neighbors in Asia over maritime disputes took an ominous turn this week with reports from China that new warships were added to Chinese maritime patrol forces.
U.S. military intelligence agencies have been closely monitoring the Chinese for just such an escalation, according to a U.S. official.
On Monday, state-run media outlets in China reported that the People’s Liberation Army added two destroyers and nine other warships to its lightly armed maritime surveillance fleet, a separate sea service that is under control of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission.
Tencent, a major Chinese news portal, stated Monday that the ships were transferred to “alleviate the insufficiency of vessels used to protect maritime interests,” Agence France-Presse reported from Beijing.
“The maritime surveillance team’s power has been greatly strengthened and its capacity to execute missions sharply improved, providing a fundamental guarantee for completing the currently arduous task to protect maritime interests,” wrote Yu Zhirong, with Beijing’s Research Center for Chinese Marine Development in another official press report.
Tensions are especially high between China and Japan over Beijing’s claims to the Senkaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islets located between Okinawa and Taiwan that China is claiming as its territory. The new Liberal Democratic Party government in Japan is expected to take a tougher posture toward Chinese claims to the Senkakus than its more liberal predecessor government.
The lack of Chinese naval forces in disputes among Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and India was a key indicator of limited Chinese assertiveness, according to Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Adm. Locklear said during two speeches in Washington last month that the disputes with China had not reached crisis levels so far because the forces involved were limited to “coast guard level” forces.
The four-star admiral said it was important for all parties to avoid conflict and make sure “we don’t unnecessarily introduce war-fighting apparatus into these decisions or these discussions.”
Adm. Locklear repeated the Obama administration’s position that Washington doesn’t “take sides” in the disputes, even though the United States has a defense pact with Japan that requires defending Tokyo from a Chinese attack.
The new Chinese warships will operate in the East China Sea, where the dispute with Japan is taking place, and in the South China Sea, where Beijing is claiming control over 90 percent of the sea and challenging claims by the Philippines and Vietnam.
N. Korean missile propaganda
North Korea on Jan. 1 published a new propaganda poster highlighting what the Pentagon is calling the communist state’s first successful long-range missile launch, and Pyongyang is hailing as a space launcher for satellites.
The poster bears the likeness of a scientist in a white coat and tie with his fist raised high. In the background is the Taepodong-2 long-range missile fired last month that North Korea calls the Unha-2. The text on the poster states: “Riding a swift steed of science and technology.” At the bottom are the words: “Let us leap higher and faster.”
The poster also shows a unified Korean peninsula.
The White House called the missile test Dec. 12 “highly provocative.”
Pentagon officials said privately the missile flight test demonstrated key technologies being developed by the North Koreans for a long-range missile, one capable of reaching the continental United States with a small nuclear warhead.
The Taepodong-2 test was the second long-range missile launch in 2012 and highlighted growing concerns about North Korea’s development of missiles.
Of particular concern is North Korea’s new road-mobile ICBM that was previewed last year during a military parade on top of a Chinese-made road-mobile transporter-erector launcher — a clear Chinese violation of U.N. sanctions against supporting North Korea’s missile or nuclear weapons programs.
Stormin’ Norman remembered
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, former Army vice chief of staff, has one particularly fond memory of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the famed Persian Gulf War commander who died Dec. 27. As a brigade commander, Gen. Schwartzkopf promoted then-Capt. Keane to major.
“He was a larger than life commander who dominated any room he walked into not just because of his physical presence but simply due to the sheer force and magnetism of his personality,” Gen. Keane said.
“He loved being a soldier and thoroughly enjoyed the company of those who chose a soldier’s life. As such, he was an inspirational leader using his no-nonsense, straight-talking approach to motivate those he led.”
Gen. Keane said that as Gen. Schwarzkopf unveiled in Desert Storm a new generation of smart weapons on strike jets, tanks and attack helicopters, he made sure the troops were able to tell the story to America.
“Most significant of all were the military people themselves who Gen. Schwarzkopf ensured the media spoke to,” he said.
“The pilots, Navy crews, infantry troops and tank crews all overwhelmed the American people with their competence, dedication and humility. Under Gen. Schwarzkopf, the American military returned to a prominence that was far greater than it ever experienced.”