Specifics on how the new defense strategic guidance will affect the Pentagon’s budget will take shape in the weeks to come as White House and Defense Department officials prepare President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget request.
Obama, joined by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed reporters at the Pentagon today on the guidance’s aims.
Obama said the guidance reflects a national turning point following a decade of war, with operations in Iraq now ended, forces gradually drawing down in Afghanistan, and budget pressures a foremost concern at home.
“We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; counterterrorism; countering weapons of mass destruction; and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access,” the president said.
The defense budget “grew at an extraordinary pace” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the president noted. That growth will slow over the next 10 years, he said, but will continue because of the nation’s global responsibilities.
“I firmly believe, and I think the American people understand, that we can keep our military strong — and our nation secure — with a defense budget that continues to be larger than roughly the next 10 countries combined,” he said.
In a letter released today along with the strategic guidance, Panetta wrote the future force will be smaller and leaner, but “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced … [with] cutting-edge capabilities exploiting our technological, joint and networked advantage.”
In today’s briefing, Panetta said “politically sensitive” budget areas must be part of the $487 billion-plus spending reduction DOD faces over the next decade. He emphasized final budget decisions still are in progress, and details will be released in coming weeks.
“We’ve got to look at the whole area of procurement … [and] the tremendous costs associated,” the secretary said. “We want to make sure that the weapons we select meet the needs of the force that we’re building.”
The department will reduce capabilities that are no longer a top priority — including protracted, large-scale stability operations — and will invest in new capabilities to maintain a decisive military edge against a growing array of threats, Panetta added.
“There is no question that we have to make some tradeoffs, and that we will be taking … some level of additional, but acceptable, risk in the budget plan we release next month. These are not easy choices,” the secretary said.
Dempsey told reporters that strategy is “a waypoint in a continuous and deliberate process to develop the joint force we will need in 2020.”
There are four budget cycles between now and then, he noted. “Each of these cycles presents an opportunity to adjust how and what we do to achieve this strategy in the face of new threats … and in the context of a changing security environment,” he added.
The strategy, which informs the budget request to be unveiled in coming weeks, “emerges from a deeply collaborative process,” Dempsey said.
“We weighed facts and assessments. We challenged every assumption. We considered a wide range of recommendations and counter-arguments,” the chairman said. “I can assure you that the steps we have taken to arrive at this strategy involved all of this and much more.”
During a second briefing for reporters on the strategy, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter responded to a question on the F-35 joint strike fighter, possibly the largest military acquisition program in history and subject of intense controversy for issues in cost, development schedule and testing.
He did not elaborate on the Pentagon’s plans for the F-35 program, but indicated it’s still in the mix. “We want it — we want it to succeed,” he said.
Major changes in every category of the budget and reduced modernization are necessary as a result of slowed defense spending growth, Carter said.
“Where we invest, and how intensively we invest, will be shaped by [the strategy],” he added.