Can strategy help DOD sidestep budget cut effects?

As defense officials try to figure out where to trim costs, the White House offers some advice: Avoid a last-in, first-out approach.

To help mitigate the effects of the flat defense budget proposed for 2013 and coming years, the Defense Department is making tough choices and sacrifices, and expects industry to follow suit as well, according to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. The name of the game: strategy.

To deal with the forces of the Budget Control Act and changing priorities, DOD must dispense with budgetary tug-of-war and smartly decide where  to cut and where to invest, he said. 

“This is a time of great consequence for American defense because two forces are coming together at the same time,” Carter said May 30 at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “But as the wars wind down we must look up and look beyond to what the nation and world need next. We have the opportunity, and really the obligation, to pivot our defense to the new challenges that will define our future.”

Carter made his case for the defense budget, stressing the importance of moving beyond older systems and programs that served a different era of warfare in order to make room for a new class of technology and conflict.

“Since we’ve been fighting, the world has not stood still, our friends and enemies have not stood still and technology has not stood still. Now we must meet these changes and really, in some places, catch up with them,” he said. “To do that, we must let go of the old and familiar and grab hold of the agile and technologically advanced force of tomorrow.”

He added that “everything is on the table – there are no sacred cows here.”

While Carter didn’t offer much in the way of specific programs or systems headed for the chopping block, he did re-emphasize critical areas where the military will invest its precious defense dollars.

“President Obama said to us, ‘Make sure you don’t follow the last-in, first-out rule.’ That you don’t pull up the things that are most shallowly rooted – namely, your new things. Because that’s the easiest thing to do. I want to see that we’re enhancing the capabilities that are going to be part of our future,” including cyber, science and technology, special operations, unmanned systems and the development of skill sets pertinent to the future force, he said.

Cater also stressed the importance of the private sector building many of these capabilities, saying that “market forces,” not government intervention, will reshape the defense industrial base landscape.

Private sector organizations “almost without exception are steering their companies in a similar transition, so they’re continuing to serve our needs in the future in a different way than they have in the last 10 years,” he said. “A technologically advanced, vibrant and financially successful defense industry is in the national interest.”

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