Panetta fires first shot in defense budget showdown

Editor's note: This article was updated Jan. 30 to correct Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey's title.

In a Jan. 26 Pentagon press conference, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta offered a first glimpse into the cuts coming to defense spending in fiscal 2013, outlining measures that “will impact all 50 states and many districts, congressional districts across America” and likely spur heavy debate on Capitol Hill.

Detailed budget plans won’t be unveiled until February, but Panetta said he would be requesting $525 billion for the fiscal 2013 base budget, which is the first budget to be implemented since last year’s Budget Control Act mandated nearly $500 billion be cut from defense spending over the next 10 years. It’s $6 billion less than 2012’s requested base budget, and part of $259 billion in cuts to take place in the next five years.

Technology gains while numbers decline in Panetta's vision for the future. “We knew that coming out of the wars and dealing with budget reductions of this magnitude that the budget would be smaller – but the key is to fashion the agile and flexible military force that we need in the future,” Panetta said.

That force will be smaller now that troops have withdrawn from Iraq and are in the process of drawing down in Afghanistan. Nearly 100,000 ground troops will be eliminated – 80,000 from the Army, 20,000 from the Marine Corps – and older cargo aircraft and cruisers will be retired from the Air Force and Navy fleets. Purchases of new F-35 stealth fighter jets and Virginia class submarines will be delayed.

Panetta also said President Barack Obama will be asking Congress for another round of Base Realignment and Closure processes to reflect the shifting military levels – a plan that will likely come in for significant criticism.

Some areas received special safeguarding in the budget-cutting process, particularly in technology.

“We’re not just facing conventional threats, we’re also facing technological threats, and we have to be prepared to be able to leap ahead technologically in order to be able to confront those kinds of adversaries,” Panetta said. “We have to retain a decisive technological edge. That meant protecting and increasing investments in cyber capabilities. In order to protect vital investments for the future, we’ve protected science and technology programs as well.”

Flanked by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta also outlined plans to target DOD business systems and personnel – some of which are already being enacted under ongoing efficiency measures, but may be accelerated.

“We frankly need to also look at a department that is leaner and more agile as well. For that reason this budget seeks to reduce excess overhead, eliminate waste in the department and improve business practices across the department,” Panetta said, adding that current measures have identified $60 billion in savings so far. “This will involve areas such as aggressive and competitive contracting practices, better use of information technology, streamlining the staff, reductions in contract services and better inventory management.”

Dempsey agreed that the Pentagon can expect to see more of this type of streamlining.

“This is a very big bureaucracy and it could use a lot of efficiency,” he said. “There will be civilian pay savings as well…that’s going to be built in to the President’s budget.”

For more information, see a related white paper and budget fact sheet.

Reader comments

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 Jim

There are hidden personnel cuts are in the Air Force reductions. All they talk about are the aircraft cuts. These translate into fewer maintenance personnel. Since this means fewer personnel on a base, there is a ripple effect which reduces the support personnel; MPF, medical, etc. So although not direct personnel cuts are mentioned, several thousand personnel will be "force structured".

Fri, Jan 27, 2012

DoD is the most srutinized, most audited, and perhaps for those reasons most efficient and effective Department of the Federal government. Having said that it can get leaner--But this cutting is not about DoD budget requirements and or reductions--It is the natural follow-up to the missinformation pumped to distract from the truth about the federal spending and believed by so many -- That DoD and "War" are what caused and continue to cause the deficit--- Yes DoD's budget should shrink as the U.S.A. withdraws from a leading role in the World --- But when will we address the real threat to National Solvency -- The Federal "Nanny" Departments.

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 Current Fed Washington DC

Interesting that someone thinks there are federal departments not required by the Constitution. Since Congress approved the creation of every department and no one has brought any cases to the US Supreme Court to challenge any of them (that I know of), I think you are a little off base.

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 RayW

I like the idea of a single force. Having worked on a multiservice project I can see how it will eliminate the multiple requirements that the various services have and save money by only having one variant.

Example - in the aircraft acquisition field, the Air Force tends to be more for fighters or big birds that operate from hard stable unmoving platforms in relatively safe areas. The Navy on the other hand operates in a corrosive environment away from support with small pitching moving airfields that are smaller than the required takeoff and landing lengths. The Army wants mostly ground support with large troop movements often from non-optimal air fields and under fire. The Marines are a mix of field types and mostly want quick small troop movement and support, stealth if we can, under a lot of fire otherwise.

With just one force you can delete three of those requirements, which depends on who is in charge at the time.

Yes, you lose flexibility, but hey! You save money!

Fri, Jan 27, 2012 SoutheastUS

With the advances in UAV's for surveillance and attack, the need for "boots on the ground" is decreasing. More fiscally efficient warfare can be carried out using UAV's and smaller, better trained, "special forces" units than the larger platoons previously used. With modern equipment and technologies, and better training, we can accomplish as much with a smaller deployment. Detainment of enemy combatants will still require about the same level of deployment because you have to monitor them carefully to prevent their re-introduction into the combat theater.

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