Inside DOD

Amber Corrin

Inside DOD

By Amber Corrin

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What does sequestration really mean for DOD?

The warnings were dire and came from the highest echelons of the government and Defense Department well before the Congressional super committee failed to identify $1.2 trillion in federal budget savings by 2021. The impact of sequestration on DOD is hanging over the Pentagon like a dark cloud, the “devastating doomsday scenario” predicted by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now a reality.

Or is it?

Sequestration’s threat went something like this: If the super committee failed to act by Nov. 23, it would trigger automatic cuts equaling the aforementioned $1.2 trillion across the federal budget. The cuts would be split equally between defense spending and non-defense spending, effective Jan. 2, 2013. For DOD, this means about $600 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years.

It’s a bit of an exercise in fuzzy math, but according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that would mean:

The major cuts to the budget lower the government’s interest payments considerably, so in reality that $600 billion is more like $492 billion from 2013 to 2021, divided into about $55 billion per year. Combine that with $450 billion in cuts from the Budget Control Act – the debt ceiling deal from August that established the super committee to begin with – and another $39 billion in cuts ordered by the White House, and DOD is looking at a total reduction in spending of about $980 billion over the next 10 years, beginning with the 2013 budget.

“While this is certainly a lot of money, it represents approximately a 15 percent reduction below the baseline 10-year budget provided by the Congressional Budget Office,” David Berteau, president and director of the International Security Program at CSIS, and Ryan Crotty, a research associate with the CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, wrote in a Dec. 2 analysis piece. “Despite the outcry from the Pentagon, the total level of these cuts is less than catastrophic. Even under sequestration, the DOD budget in 2013 would be approximately equal to the base budget in 2007 (adjusted for inflation) and well above the low points of defense spending in the late 1990s.”

The current cuts are also well below historical post-war spending decreases – such as those following the Korean and Vietnam wars – something Larry Korb at the Center for American Progress pointed out in September and was echoed in the CSIS report.

Then there’s the possibility that sequestration might not even happen. For one, by the time it would take effect, the U.S. could have new Congress members and even a new president, and the entire law could be avoided wholesale by simply repealing it. And since the legislation still has more than a year to until implementation, Congress, theoretically, has time to come up with a better idea.

Those are possibilities, but far from certainties.

“DOD will begin taking actions in advance of the deadline, perhaps as early as next June or July. Congress is unlikely to act to change sequestration by that time. In addition, President Obama has said, ‘I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending,’” the CSIS report stated.

So what now?

Berteau and Crotty predict that Congress will revisit previous deficit plans, including those proposed by the Bowles-Simpson commission last year and the Senate’s Gang of Six. And the Pentagon is already undergoing efforts to streamline and trim its budget, having been ordered to do so more than a year ago by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

But for DOD, the biggest impact right now is the uncertainty, and so much hinges on what remains to be seen.

“For DOD, uncertainty means not being able to construct the Future Years Defense Program, which outlines the budget for the next five years and charts a course for the military’s future. Without a realistic FYDP, DOD cannot manage itself as effectively,” Berteau and Crotty wrote. “As the debate on sequestration moves forward, it will be in parallel with congressional action on DOD’s fiscal 2013 budget request, a proposal that will not include sequestration. We will learn more by watching this dual process as it plays out next year.”

Posted on Dec 02, 2011 at 7:25 PM1 comments

DOD looks to unconventional methods in fight against IEDs

Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have been the bane of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: lethal, difficult to detect and all too common.

As the defining weapon of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, IEDs killed 9,137 coalition troops, Afghan troops and civilians in Afghanistan in 2010, and 10,256 coalition troops, Iraqi troops and civilians in Iraq in 2010, according to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization’s 2010 annual report.

They’re also spreading beyond southwest Asia, averaging 260 IED events per month outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the report.

To deal with the daunting threat, JIEDDO is getting creative in the methods it’s employing to defeat IEDs, including the use of specialized intelligence focusing on IED source materials, and also robots being developed in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

As many as 80 percent of IEDs in Afghanistan are made from ammonium nitrate originating from Pakistani fertilizer plants, said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, JIEDDO program executive officer. At a Land Warfare Institute briefing Nov. 10 in Arlington, Va., Barbero pushed for better intelligence that hones in on how the materials are getting from the plants in Pakistan into the hands of terrorists.

That increased focus on intelligence is proving fruitful already, but there’s still much progress that must be made, he said.

“From these two legally operating factories in Pakistan, we know where they are producing, we know who their distributors are -- and we are getting great support from them,” he said. “What we don't understand is how this ammonium nitrate gets from the factories to these insurgents. That’s the greatest intelligence gap we have.”

With that information, the military can track financial data – and can enlist in the Treasury and State departments to help, Barbero said.

DOD also is looking at another avenue of attack: robotic tools that can help dismounted troops investigate more safely. JIEDDO recently coordinated with NIST on a three-week testing exercise in which the performance of the six robots JIEDDO tested, and that of more than 80 that were previously tested at the same site by the Homeland Security Department.

“The intended outcome is to establish a baseline for performance in standard robotics functions,” Matt Way, program integrator, who oversaw the event for JIEDDO, said in a media release. “Ultimately, these exercises will reduce performance risk in theater.”

Posted on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:25 PM6 comments

From top DOD brass, more warnings against sequester cuts

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon briefing Sept. 20, both reiterated previous warnings against the “devastating” cuts to defense spending that could result from the institution of a sequestration that would level billions in across-the-board budget cuts.

To avoid the sequestration, which would automatically kick in if a congressional supercommittee charged with identifying federal savings fails to agree on action, Panetta said he is focusing his efforts on protecting against potentially detrimental reductions in defense spending.

“There will be tough decisions and tough trade-offs. This will force us to take on greater risk,” Panetta said, adding that his goal is to ensure inevitable risks are acceptable by maintaining the all-volunteer force and securing core national interests. “We still face a devastating [sequestration] that will make us unable to protect against a range of threats.”

He also warned that the impact of sequestration-enacted cuts would hurt more than just defense and national security, stressing that drastic reductions and the cancellation of major weapons programs also would cripple the industrial base.

Panetta recently said that the sequestration cuts could add 1 percent to the national unemployment rate from job losses in government, military and private sector jobs within the defense industrial base. Citing a new Pentagon analysis, DOD spokesman George Little said the defense industrial base provides 3.8 million private sector jobs, per the Associated Press.

In what was likely his last press conference as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mullen echoed Panetta’s comments and pressed for aggressive action in identifying savings within DOD.

“These must be strategy-driven decisions ... that start with a clear-eyed assessment. We should end missions and capabilities that don’t comport with our strategy,” Mullen said.

Both officials stressed the need to see the budget pressure as a chance to trim the excess in DOD budgets.

“We should use this as an opportunity to shape the very best defense we can for this country ... so we can take on the threats we face over the next 10 years,” Panetta said. “We have an opportunity to set priority here.”

Posted on Sep 20, 2011 at 7:25 PM8 comments

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