HAGEL GETS TOUGH
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
25 Feb 14. Is the bark of the Department of Defense worse than the actual bite when it comes to long running battles over US defense procurement budgets? We will have to wait and see what the reaction is on the ‘Hill’ but not content to stoke various fires burning in Congress it seems that Secretary of State for Defense Chuck Hagel has chosen to lay out yet another load of controversial cuts in defense capability out on the Congressional lawn.
Hagel has decided that the numbers of active-duty Army personnel should be cut to somewhere close to 445,000. I suspect of all the ideas that could be laid out for debate in regard to defense this one will attract the most attention. Sceptics will I am sure be quick to point out that what Hagel has proposed is merely an opening salvo within a very much wider defense debate. Realists will more likely choose to go down the road believing that with the ever present rules in regard to budget caps and potential sequestration the real battle lines for Hagel are how he proposes to get individual plans covering Army, Navy and Air Force cuts not to mention the impact that cuts have on industry and jobs through Congress. Certainly the period ahead in US defense is going to get even tougher and getting proposals on the scale outlined through Congress is likely to prove very difficult. Mid-term elections could be a potential salvation for defense but while this small prospect of hope may loom large let no one be in any doubt that further large equipment, personnel and base cuts over the next few years will hit the US military hard.
I suspect that while a cut of 80,000 in the number of full time Army operatives may on first sight appear to be very large given that vast numbers of Army personnel have and will continue to leave the US armed forces voluntarily on completion of the planned pull back of US forces from Afghanistan a cut of this size proposed may not look as bad as it seems. Indeed, in what is after all a five year plan covering FY15 to FY19 it may be best to see what Hagel has put forward as being the first salvo of intention within what of political necessity will be a plan that can only survive because it has been designed from the start with potential trade-offs. The haggling is yet to start but the intention is a plan is as plain as a pikestaff – the US will in the future be spending less on defense as a proportion of GDP. How it gets there and which of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines loses out the most is a hard call to make.
Despite how it may sound it isn’t only the Army that will potentially suffer in the latest five year Department of Defense (DOD) plan which covers the period 2015 to 2019. One notes that Hagel plans to scrap a number of ageing or legacy aircraft that have been in service for a generation or even two such as the venerable A-10’s and U-2’s. No detail yet but one suspects that the KC-10 tanker fleet is also very likely to be scrapped whilst at the same time plans to acquire new aircraft by the Navy such as acquisition of F-35C’s could yet be pushed back in terms of timing.
The implications for industry are potentially large and with the prospect of there being less on the table than anticipated over the next five year period they will all be forced to react in the only way that they know how. But for all that there are as yet no concrete intentions in the overall five year plan and I see this merely as the launch of the first attempt. True, the Hagel plan is full of auto suggestion just as it is short on real defense solution and one notes that while Hagel said rather a lot last evening there was even more that was not actually said. What for instance is the intention for the Littoral Combat Ship and will the US Navy get any more F’A-18’s? The questions by far outweigh the prospect of getting answers.
Last week the always brilliant ‘Defense News’ publication s