Analysis 28-02-2014

America’s New Military Posture – Looking at the Obama Defense Budget

United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed a new Pentagon budget on Monday that would shrink the U.S. military’s size down to pre-World War II levels, becoming the Defense Department’s first non-war budget since 2001.  Hagel defended the budget saying the military can reduce spending and get smaller without losing its worldwide presence. He added that there is no need for a force that can fight two wars when the Iraq war ended over two years ago, and the war in Afghanistan has been drawing down for some time.

The Marines, Navy and Air Force will all lose thousands of members, but the Army — the Pentagon’s largest branch — would see the biggest cuts. It would reduce active-duty soldiers from 522,000 to between 440,000 to 450,000, and shrink the National Guard from 355,000 to 335,000. Reserve military numbers would also be rolled back from 205,000 to 195,000.  In an attempt to lower personal costs more, the military will cut benefits and pay for active duty military too.

If passed, the budget would eliminate the Air Force’s U-2 spy planes, in favor of remote controlled drones, and its A-10 aircraft, which were designed to destroy Soviet tanks in a European theater war. However, Obama’s budget did not affect the F-35, a $400 billion joint venture between the Pentagon and contractor Lockheed Martin. The project, which is set to continue, has been plagued by a host of technical issues with the aircraft.  It will also cut naval cruiser numbers and the Army Ground Combat Vehicle.  Proposed cutbacks in the National Guard, which is under the control of the states drew fire from governors, both Democratic and Republican, and merely heated up the federal/state friction that was discussed in last week’s Monitor Analysis.

While some of the cuts like the end of the U-2 can be justified, many of the others are very controversial and reflect a federal budget that has been stretched, is financed by too much debt, and is in need of cutbacks.

Hagel defended the proposed reductions in troop strength, as a trade-off for building up “technological superiority” and priorities like Special Operations Forces and “cyber resources.”  “We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States,” he said.

Cutbacks Driven by Budgetary Needs

The proposed cuts are incredibly large.  In 2011, the defense budget represented 4.7% of total gross domestic product; this year’s percentage will be 2.7%. In real dollars, US defense spending is set to plummet from $705.6 billion in 2011 dollars to $496 billion in 2011 dollars. That represents a budget cut of approximately 30%.

The reality is that the government is revenue shortfalls and the Obama Administration decided that the cuts could best be made in the Defense Department.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that mandatory spending, which includes Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, is projected to rise $85 billion, or 4 percent, to $2.1 trillion this year.

Interest on the debt is worse. It is projected to increase 14 percent per year, almost quadrupling in dollar terms between 2014 and 2024. “We are going to be spending more in interest in a couple of years then we do on national defense,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, (R-CA) told Fox News.

Of course, defense cutbacks after land wars are a historical fact in American history.  After World War II, during which the United States spent 43.6% of its annual GDP on defense in 1943 and 1944, spending declined dramatically – all the way down to 14.3% of the annual GDP in 1949.  The same happened after the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War too.

Criticism of the Budget

There was an immediate outcry about the proposed budget.  Former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney called the cuts “Absolutely dangerous” and “just devastating”   He added, “I have not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama. But this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military.”

Senator McCain, Obama’s presidential opponent in 2008 told CNN, “I believe that when we are sending the signal that we are cutting defense, I think in this very dangerous world that we live in, is a serious mistake…There are savings that could be made in defense, but when we’re making cuts this size, it concerns me a great deal especially since we’re increasing domestic spending.”

Overall Impact

The biggest impact will be on the pay and benefits for military personnel.  Since the end of the Vietnam War, the US has focused on building a highly professional, technologically savvy military, with wages that allow the military to pick and retain top talent.  But, that is set to change.

The Defense Department budget will take billions away from personnel accounts.  It will scale back housing allowances and cut the subsidies for military commissaries, were military personnel can buy cheaper food.  Family members and military retirees will have to pay more for medical care.  Active duty personnel will also only see 1% pay increases – much lower than the inflation rate.

These cuts could reduce the annual pay of some military by up to $1,000 per person.

The cuts are obviously designed to cause a decline in troop numbers through attrition.  However, areas where the reductions will take place will also reduce readiness.

The major losses will take place in the ranks of younger non commissioned officers (NCOs) and middle grade commissioned officers.  These are the ranks that have completed their initial obligation, but haven’t committed themselves to a military career.  They are experienced, trained and the ones running the day to day operations of the military.

They are also the ones most in demand by American industry.  Their training makes them valuable and companies usually offer a premium salary to lure them away from military service.  In addition, they are usually starting a family and are eager for more pay and more time at home.  The reductions in pay and benefits will create a personnel gap in these critical grades and leave more mediocre NCOs and officers to take up the responsibility and get promoted.

Although the impact will not be immediate, this loss of personnel will lower the quality of day to day operations and force the military to spend more on training in order to replace the talent lost through attrition.


The US Army will bear the biggest reduction.  “An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy,” Hagel said. “It is also larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready.” But he said the smaller force still would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major war “while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary.”

A closer look shows that the cuts aren’t just in numbers.  Some reductions are being made that will directly impact the Army’s ability to carry out even smaller operations in the Middle East.  Plans are underway for massive cuts to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), the organization that led military’s efforts to combat a major type of weapon used in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. JIEDDO’s current staff of 3,000 will be reduced to 1,000 by the end of this fiscal year, and further plans could see the number fall as low as 400 down the road.

The Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program was also cancelled.  Although this could hurt the Army long term, the program was plagued with problems as the vehicle had grown in size, which made it too heavy to transport in many aircraft and restricted its ability to move across country in undeveloped nations.

n a move that generated controversy with the state governors, who command their own National Guard units, the Department of Defense is transferring the National Guard’s Apache helicopters to the Army and replacing them with the Black Hawk helicopter.  This will give the Army more firepower without additional spending.  However, it seriously restricts in theater tactical mobility and logistical support for front line units.  The result will be an Army that can’t move as rapidly, reinforce small units during combat, or provide rapid resupply as it did in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Ironically, this change in helicopters will seriously degrade one of the major peacekeeping functions of the US Army – disaster relief, which relies on moving supplies to remote towns in other countries.  The Apache, although better able to fight tanks, will be useless in this role.

The Army does get one boost.  The number of special-operations troops — those who perform highly specialized raids in small groups, such as the attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound — is actually set to increase from around 66,000 to nearly 70,000. This reflect the current administration belief that many wars are not effectively fought by large, conventional armies, but rather through small groups that can eliminate particular targets in dangerous territory without drawing much attention.

This focus on Special Forces reflects a “Hollywood” version of Special Forces capabilities.  Although very versatile and capable, SF aren’t “super soldiers” that can fight and hold ground as regular soldiers do.  They focus on special operations of short, violent duration, before pulling out.  As light infantry, they do not have the ability for sustained operations that normal Army units have.

The other problem is that training a Special Forces soldier is highly selective, expensive, and time consuming.  One Special Forces soldier takes about two years and two million dollars to train.  And, this doesn’t include the high attrition rate amongst the trainees, which can exceed a 90% dropout rate.  The result is that this additional capability will not be realized for at least two years and at a cost of $8 billion.  Nor does it address how the additional 4,000 will be recruited.  Will SF standards be lowered in order to recruit and train the additional soldiers?

The other problem is retaining Special Forces soldiers.  Although highly motivated, former Special Forces soldiers are highly sought after in the civilian world as civilian security forces or executive protection.  As benefits and pay decline, it is more likely that these soldiers will choose to become civilians and earn as much at ten times their military salary.


Although the Navy will retain its 11 aircraft carriers, the problem is with the other ships that are necessary to protect the carriers in the task force.  Half of the Navy’s cruiser fleet, 11 ships, will be put out of operation for modernization under this budget.

The cruiser is the air defense platform of the carrier task force.  By reducing the number in half, they are either faced with increasing deployments for the cruiser fleet, which will cause even more departures by trained NCOs and Officers, or they will leave the carrier task force with a reduced ability to ward off enemy air attacks.  Although the destroyer has some air defense capability, using it in this role will take it away from its anti-submarine warfare role.

One interesting note on the Navy cuts.  The Obama Administration insists that it intends to “pivot” towards Asia.  However, many of the countries Obama wants to pivot towards are on the Pacific Rim, where sea power has more influence than land based forces.  By cutting naval forces, Obama is making it that much harder to accomplish his promised pivot.

Air Force

The Air Force will be decommissioning the U-2 reconnaissance and A-10 aircraft.  While the U-2, which has been in service for half a century will be replaced by drone aircraft, the A-10 will be replaced by F-35 in the early 2020s.  “The A-10 is a 40-year old, single-purpose airplane originally designed to kill enemy tanks on a Cold War battlefield,” Hagel said. “It cannot survive or operate effectively where there are more advanced aircraft or air defenses.”

In irony of the Hagel comment is that the Apache helicopter that the Army is moving from the National Guard to active duty units was also designed as an anti-tank weapon for use in the European theater during the Cold War nearly half a century ago.  In fact, it was often used as a target designator for the A-10 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, they also proved to be vulnerable to enemy fire and several were downed by enemy fire.

The A-10 has always been controversial in the Air Force, where generals prefer the more glamorous air superiority aircraft to the close air support aircraft that support army operations.  And, although the A-10 was designed to fight Soviet tanks in Europe, it was found to be highly effective against ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq thanks to its rapid firing 30 mm cannon.

Close air support is a hallmark of US military operations and a critical ingredient of its tactical doctrine.  Since the US Army relies on short range small arms like the M-4 rifle, the A-10 has been an important weapon in ground combat operations that are beyond M-4 range or where the American troops are outnumbered.  This will force the Army to either rely upon artillery, which has a more limited range, the more vulnerable (and shorter range) Apache helicopter, or face situations where it is outgunned.

National Guard

Last week, the Monitor looked at the increasing friction between the states and the federal government.  This week, another fracture appeared as the Obama Administration proposed cutting National Guard units.

The proposed budget envisions a 5-percent reduction in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. “While it is true that reserve units are less expensive when they are not mobilized, our analysis shows that a reserve unit is roughly the same cost as an active duty unit when mobilized and deployed,” Hagel said.

In addition, the Army Guard’s Apache attack helicopters would be transferred to the active force, while Black Hawk helicopters would be transferred to the National Guard.  The Black Hawks will be better in disaster relief, but will be unable to boost the Army’s combat capability significantly in an emergency.

Although the Department of Defense funds the much of the National Guard, they fall under the control of the states and the governor of each state is the Commander-in-Chief of their National Guard.  Although they can be activated by the federal government for military duty, they are usually used by the state for disaster relief like hurricanes or even the brutal winter weather experienced by many parts of the United States in the last two months.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting between the President and the National Governors Association, the governors said they were deeply troubled by Obama’s tone when asked about planned cuts to the National Guard. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said Obama became “aggressive” and that his tone “chilled the room quite a bit.”  The proposal would move 24 Apache attack helicopters from the South Carolina National Guard to active-duty units elsewhere, and they would be replaced with 20 Blackhawks

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is looking at running for president in 2016, echoed Haley’s remarks, saying, “I hope that we’re not about to make a tragic mistake in this country by hollowing out our guard in our states in some political statement of ‘you’re all going to feel the pain,’ because that’s certainly what I heard from the President of the United States today.”

This change will seriously impact Army doctrine, which in the past has ensured the National Guard mirrors the active army in capability.  This allowed it to be a way to rapidly expand the military in an emergency.  However, this new defense policy means that the National Guard will have a different tactical doctrine of providing more logistical support and less combat fighting capability.

Politics in Play

There is also concern from the governors that many of the cuts are political.  Republican states like Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina seem to be facing some of the biggest cuts.  The A-10 cuts will fall heaviest on Arizona, which is heavily Republican and the home of the A-10 training command.  Major installations such as Fort Jackson, S.C., and Fort Hood, Texas, could be scaled back significantly.

Meanwhile, states where US Senate seats will be competitive in November are protected.  Installations such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Campbell, Kentucky would likely emerge largely unscathed from the cuts.


Despite the proposal put forth by the Department of Defense, it must be passed by Congress, where many of the cuts will be fought by members of both parties.  The A-10, for instance, has been put on the chopping block before, only to be saved by Congress.  In this case, a Democrat will be one of its biggest defenders as the A-10 training command is in the district of a vulnerable Democratic congressman, Ron Barber.

Nor, will the proposed defense cuts be helped by the sinking popularity of Obama.  This is one way for Democrats to distance themselves from Obama and move rightward to attract more voters in November.

However, if the cuts go through, the character of the US military will change dramatically.  It will not be able to conduct major operations with large numbers of troops for long periods of time as was seen in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Operations, will of necessity, be short and sharp as in Kuwait.  The US will also be forced to rely more upon the ground forces of other nations, while the US will provide more logistical support – as is being done with France in Africa.  It will also not be as mobile as it has been in the past.

Although the mission of the US military is evolving, the role of the US hasn’t changed that much.  The question is if the new military will be able to carry out the role of a military superpower in the decades to come.




U.S. Should Support Tunisia’s Democratic Progress with Concrete Action

By Anthony B. Kim, Charlotte Florance and James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

February 20, 2014

Issue Brief #4151

On January 26, three years after the beginning of Tunisians’ uprising for greater freedom, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly peacefully and decisively ratified a model constitution that lays the foundation for a functioning democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Tunisia’s remarkable political turnaround, epitomized by the near unanimous ratification of the constitution and the inauguration of an interim technocratic government, is a truly hard-won triumph for Tunisians.  Given the instability continuing to plague Arab Spring countries and the increase in violent Islamist extremism, security and good governance is a formula the U.S. should be actively promoting in the region, particularly in a country such as Tunisia, which is continuing to make measurable progress largely on its own accord. The U.S. should take concrete action to reinforce Tunisia’s ongoing democratic transition toward a nation where freedom, economic opportunity, and civil society can flourish.

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2014 Defense Reform Handbook

Heritage Foundation

February 2014

Providing for the common defense has been a complex challenge for U.S. policymakers since the first days of the Continental Congress. In particular, the Constitution assigns Congress a multitude of specified and enumerated responsibilities to meet its obligation to raise and maintain the armed forces of the United States. On the one hand, Congress bears a significant responsibility to ensure that the government maintains suitable and adequately trained and ready forces to protect the nation’s vital national interests. On the other hand, Congress has an obligation to be a good steward of the people’s resources and ensure the legitimate exercise of the instruments of limited government. The Heritage Foundation Defense Reform Handbook provides a guide to resources available to U.S. policymakers to the efficient and effective oversight of defense management.

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Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

February 25, 2014

It does not take much vision to predict that Secretary Hagel and the Obama Administration’s FY2015 defense budget submissions are going to be the subject of bitter partisan criticism. It is an election year and virtually everything in Washington is already the subject of bitter partisan criticism. Playing the national security card is a perennial aspect of U.S. politics, as is playing it to court veterans, National Guard supporters, defense manufacturers, and the more doctrinaire conservatives.  The problem is that simply focusing on total spending levels does not address the critical problems in shaping our future defense posture and is not particularly relevant. Secretary Hagel’s focus on spending more than the Sequestration level in his February 24th speech announcing the FY2015 defense budget dodges around fundamental problems in the way we plan defense spending, but does any Republican focus on spending more without focusing on realistic costs or setting any meaningful goals for the future?

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Syria and the Least Bad Option: Dealing with Governance, Economics, and the Human Dimension

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Stuudies

February 24, 2014

There is no realistic way to approach the tragedy in Syria without choosing the least bad options among the uncertain and unfavorable approaches available. The time has passed to debate whether there was point when moderate rebel factions could have won with limited outside U.S. intervention. One cannot debate that situation now. As the situation stands now, the rebels are too divided and have too many extremist elements, “the center cannot hold,” and the rebels face an Assad regime that has too much outside support from Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, and has recovered its ability to use to force.  There are no “good” options in Syria at the present time, and the best we can hope for is finding a “least bad” option to accept. Much of the focus on finding the least bad option now centers on either peace negotiations or finding a way for rebel factions to win at the military level that will be moderate enough to win some form of international acceptance. This may still be a hope, but it is not a short-term probability. Even if it was possible, Syria would then face years of reconstruction.

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Morocco, Counter-Terrorism, and the US-Africa Summit

By Ahmed Charai

Foreign Policy Research Institute

February 2014

In the wake of unprecedented Islamist explosions and attacks across North Africa, the foreign ministers of 19 states–including France and much of North Africa—launched an equally unprecedented response. Meeting in Morocco’s capital this past November, they vowed to pool their intelligence efforts against al Qaeda and its salafi fellow travellers. Their agreement, known as the “Rabat Declaration,” creates a counter-terrorism intelligence fusion center and formalizes its plans to share secret reports on terrorists. This is a major blow against al Qaeda’s North African affiliates, which have long exploited intelligence gaps among neighboring nations.

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Iran’s Nuclear Debate: The Domestic Politics

By Nima Gerami and Mehdi Khalaji

Washington Institute

February 26, 2014

PolicyWatch 2215

Despite Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s guarded support for nuclear engagement with the West, Iran’s fractious internal dynamics remain a major obstacle to a comprehensive, long-term agreement. When discussing Iranian politics, Western observers tend to speak only of “reformers” and “hardliners,” but the nuclear issue does not fall neatly along such lines. The regime is structurally complex, and its leaders sometimes disagree about how best to serve Iran’s interests. They also have a long history of prohibiting and censoring debate on the nuclear program. This culture of secrecy often prevents them from sharing information, and the legislators in the Majlis have been consistently shut out of many important aspects of nuclear decisionmaking.

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Saudi Arabia‘s Domestic and Foreign Intelligence Challenges

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

February 21, 2014

Yesterday, two Saudi police officers were killed and two injured in a gunfight while trying to detain “armed troublemakers” in the Eastern Province town of al-Awamiyah. Two Shiites also died in contested circumstances — opposition activists say they were unarmed, identifying one as a twenty-two-year-old who was shot eleven times while running away, and the other as a local photographer who died as he documented the raid.

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