Obama, Panetta outline $489B in defense cuts

The administration plans to shift the Pentagon's focus from ground wars to rebuilding and deterrence while preserving innovation and partnership with industry.

Preserving the military industrial base and maintaining a partnership with the private sector is an integral part of the Defense Department's plan to cut as much as $489 billion over the next 10 years. The budget cuts will cause a shift in focus from fighting ground wars to rebuilding at home and restoring military balance, top officials said at a Pentagon briefing.

President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Defense Undersecretary Ashton Carter were among the high-level officials who spoke at the Jan. 5 briefing that outlined conclusions from an eight-month, comprehensive strategic review.

Officials spoke of investing in capabilities in cybersecurity, intelligence and reconnaissance and other technologies to make the military force more effective and less expensive.

“As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces,” Obama said. “We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance;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. “

There was no mention of new capabilities or initiatives; instead Obama noted that priorities would center on countering terrorism, maintaining a nuclear deterrent, protecting the U.S. homeland and "deterring and defeating aggression by any potential adversary.”

Panetta and Carter both touched on the importance of innovation, maintaining the industrial base as much as possible, and fostering science and technology.

“As we reduce the overall defense budget, we will protect our investments in special operations forces, new technologies like ISR and unmanned systems, space and cyberspace capabilities and our capacity to quickly mobilize,” Panetta said. “The U.S. joint force will be smaller and leaner, but its great strength will be that it is more agile, flexible, ready to deploy, innovative and technologically advanced.”

Carter also advocated for continued partnership with the private sector and development in science and technology.

“As we make program changes we want to make sure 10 to 15 years from now, we still have an industrial base that supports our key systems, even if we are not able to buy in those are at the rates or in the volume that we had planned,” Carter said. “Science and technology and innovation – that’s the seed corn of the future. We want to make sure we don’t eat the seed corn.”

Industry already reacting

A number of organizations representing the interests of the private sector were already releasing statements within hours of the officials’ appearances. Some expressed careful support of the outlined measures, while others cautioned against drastic cuts.

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, released a statement approving of investment in cybersecurity, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“We look forward to working with the government to find better-buying practices and creative ways to protect and strengthen the war fighter and our nation’s security while providing best value to the government, industry and the taxpayer,” he said. “Together government and industry can address these future challenges.”

Professional Services Council President and CEO Stan Soloway warned that an eroded public-private partnership could be damaging to national interests.

“Clearly, the planned reductions will have an impact on both the military and the industry. Those impacts could be exacerbated if the department does not pay close attention to how it can best capitalize on the capabilities of the private sector,” Soloway said in a statement. “It is therefore more important than ever that the department buy smart and ensure it genuinely incentivizes and rewards performance and innovation rather than simply buying at the lowest price. In the end, a flight to quality will drive the best outcomes in both the short and long terms.”

But on Capitol Hill, criticism of the strategy outline didn’t take long to emerge.

“Cloaked by the simplicity of this review is the reality of an increasingly complex array of threats faced by our nation, ranging from terrorists, to rogue states and emerging national competitors seeking to thwart the United States' global reach,” Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this review dangerously fails to identify risks assumed by drastic budget cuts. This laundry list of vague 'priorities' is not a strategy for superiority; it is instead a menu for mediocrity.”

The officials acknowledged that troop levels will be cut, but declined to offer any numbers. More details are expected to come out in the next few weeks with the President’s budget for 2013.