Sunday, August 28th, 2011 Defense News

The U.S. military services have revised their 2013 budget proposals as they work to meet a White House goal of cutting hundreds of billions of dollars in planned spending over the next decade.

The updated proposals reflect mandatory reductions signed into law after first drafts of the budget were due in late July, according to Pentagon officials.

“We’ve run a couple of excursions, one which was at the original levels for ’13, and then subsequently, based on the president’s guidance, [one] which was at roughly minus-$400 billion for the department,” Gen. Norton Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview.

The revised budget plans were due at the Office of the Secretary of Defense on Aug. 26.

Each service has established cells of people exploring ways to meet the goals. Some of the services also have developed alternate budget plans that cut even deeper.

The Air Force and Navy have developed high, medium and low options, according to military sources.

The Navy has also set up “bins” that group and show the tradeoffs associated with the cuts, much like a major Pentagon missions-and-capabilities review that is underway.

The Air Force has set up 12 separate “tiger teams” that are looking at areas where the service can reduce funding. At the direction of Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the teams are comprised of so-called “core function lead integrators,” according to Schwartz.

“These are the folks that have the lead command responsibilities for our various functions,” he said.

For instance, Gen. William Frasier, chief of Air Combat Command, the Air Force division that oversees training and equipping fighter and bomber squadrons, is leading a team reviewing global strike and precision attack.

“They’re taking what I would call a portfolio approach, and that is to look across their area of functional interests, to look at trades and to recommend those trades to the secretary,” Schwartz said. “Then the integration occurs both with the core function lead integrators and our staff to then make the trades between the 12 core functions.”

“The Army has a solid budget process and staff and they have been working numerous courses of action,” said Lt. Col. David Gercken, an Army spokesman. “In addition to those continuing budget efforts, the secretary of the Army recently announced the creation of the Institutional Army Transformation Commission, a panel charged with finding new ways to make the Army a more agile, cost-effective organization. This commission is intended to help transform service, develop ways to reduce costs, reduce redundancies and prepare for potential budget cuts.”

A deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, signed into law in early August, mandated $350 billion in security spending cuts over the next decade. The agreement between Congress and the White House also called for establishing a supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats that must find $1.2 trillion in additional government spending cuts over the same period.

Unless the committee reaches a consensus and Congress approves the recommendations by the end of the year, the Pentagon would be hit with an additional $500 billion in cuts over the decade.

A $350 billion-to-$400 billion cut across the security spending accounts will inevitably prompt the Air Force to reduce end strength and make other “serious” and “painful” choices, Schwartz said.

“The approach that we have taken is to preserve readiness of our Air Force as a prime imperative,” he said. “Whatever size we end up … we are going to be a ready, well-trained, highly motivated and supremely capable force.”

The Air Force general said cuts beyond the $400 billion would place DoD “into territory, in my view, which requires changes in strategy.” That could include a military “with less depth” and “less versatility,” he said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has gone as far to say that cuts beyond those already planned will “break” the military.

“If we are going to adhere to the Quadrennial Defense Review strategy, or something akin to it, that would be … very difficult to do beyond the $400 billion level,” Schwartz said.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., DoD’s base budget has nearly doubled. That does not include funds spent on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, with operations in Iraq nearing an end, operations in Afghanistan starting to decline and fiscal uncertainty across the federal government, the Pentagon’s budget will likely, at most, rise with inflation.

“My sense is that this period of austerity is likely to last five years, and that’s sort of what we’re planning for,” Schwartz said. “That’s one of those things that if it turns out that things are better, that would be a delightful outcome.”

In order for the supercommittee to develop meaningful areas to make funding cuts, members should not discuss potential options ahead of time, according to Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

“My fear is that we’ll constantly see options being floated out there in the press, which will shut down the kind of bold thinking that’s needed,” he said.

Members of the supercommittee should sign nondisclosure agreements that prohibit them from airing options under consideration, Singer said. If programs on the chopping block are talked about during the deliberations, it could have a “demoralizing” effect on the work force.

“The first thing that we need to cut is the chatter,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to be bold if they’re constantly running to press conferences.”

The last time the Pentagon entered the oft-called “cone of silence” was in the latter part of 2008 and early 2009, when budget officials prepared President Barack Obama’s first defense budget, which ultimately killed a number of major programs, including the Marine Corps VH-71 Presidential helicopter, the Army Future Combat Systems and the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue helicopter.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered those involved in budget and program decisions to sign nondisclosure agreements, much to the chagrin of lawmakers.

During that period, very few details about the 2010 budget proposal, which was sent to Capitol Hill in May, three months later than the typical February delivery, were revealed.