'Asia pivot' untouched by sequester

Cybersecurity, electronic warfare and supporting IT systems also safe wherever there is flexibility in the decision-making, top official says.

Ashton Carter

Ashton Carter says DOD will also do all it can to shield cybersecurity, electronic warfare and science from sequestration cuts.

As the Defense Department faces more than $41 billion in cuts this fiscal year, some areas will remain unscathed, including the reprogramming of U.S. forces to the Asia-Pacific region and the systems that will underpin that move.

The so-called Asia pivot is a cornerstone of current defense policy, including plans from both the White House and the Pentagon, and DOD officials are working to ensure the strategy is safeguarded from sequestration's budget ax or any shifts under the latest strategic review.

"Wherever we have flexibility we are favoring and protecting the rebalance," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said April 8. "We continue to review and revise our plans for executing the fiscal 2013 budget in the face of the sequester. Back in January I gave direction about what is exempt or protected from sequestration, and the services and components are applying that guidance – and it explicitly applies protection, wherever possible, to the activities of the rebalance."

Carter, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, emphasized that the rebalance strategy is not in jeopardy. He also said that its protections apply to more than just moving troops – they also cover investments in key areas that support future planning and operations, including cyber, electronic warfare and science and technology, he said.

"We recognize that as the world is changing our operational plans need to change, and we're changing them accordingly," Carter said. "We're therefore taking into account new capabilities, operational concepts, advanced capabilities of potential adversaries and global threat assessments."

While the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific remains protected from sequestration, that does not mean the automatic spending cuts are not fueling fiscal uncertainty at the Pentagon, Carter indicated.

"The rebalance is not in jeopardy. That said, there is considerable uncertainty of our overall budget," he said. "What's clear to us at DOD is that we need to think and act ahead of the uncertainty, and not react to it. Moreover, it's not just the budget but strategic necessity that requires us to examine and reexamine our defense in a fundamental way. We need to master the security challenges that will define our future."

For the military, that future is one that is focused on U.S interests in Asia – as well as the hurdles that also loom there, Carter acknowledged. He noted that 19,000 Army troops, whose readiness and modernization also are protected from spending cuts, remain at the ready to respond to North Korean provocations.

"We in the United States are currently embarked upon a great strategic reposition," he said. "After a decade of necessary and very intense preoccupation on two wars of a particular kind in Iraq and Afghanistan...we're turning a strategic corner and focusing our attention on the challenges and opportunities that will define our future."

NEXT STORY: Defending 'tombstone thinking'

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