Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter talk with reporters about the impact sequestration could have on national security and the readiness of the military. (Glenn Fawcett / Defense Department)
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A list of budget-cutting recommendations is due to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today designed to guide decisions about how to shape and equip the force over the next 10 years.
As part of the Strategic Choices and Management Review — known in defense circles as the “skimmer” or “scammer” — senior Defense Department officials were asked to put together scenarios based on budget cuts of $100 billion, $300 billion and $500 billion, according to sources.
“Everything will be on the table during this review: roles and missions, war planning, business practices, force structure, personnel and compensation, acquisition and modernization investments, and how we operate and how we measure and maintain readiness,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at the National Press Club on May 7.
Here’s what you need to know:
1 Hot-button areas. Throughout the two-month review, DoD officials have agreed that closing bases and changing military compensation are critical components to cutting the budget, sources said. But these officials doubt Congress will sign off on such institutional changes, meaning force structure, acquisition programs and mission areas would bear the brunt of spending cuts.
2 What it means. The goal of the project is to provide President Obama and Secretary Hagel decision points for drafting and carrying out budget plans over the next two years and beyond, in light of mandatory across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
The review will produce “a clear delineation of the choices that we can make and might have to make” in areas such as force structure, investments, compensation, health care or even headquarters support,” Carter said.
Carter is running the SCMR project along with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top Defense Department officials. At the same time, members from each of the services’ Quadrennial Defense Review offices are contributing to the review.
3 The least painful option. The first SCMR assumes the White House’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal, announced in April, is adopted. That plan calls for $100 billion in cuts, but those cuts are backloaded in the final five years of the decadelong plan. Pentagon officials favor this option because it gives them time to plan and gradually implement the cuts.
Sources say the Army would bear the brunt of those cuts, mostly to force structure. Still, Pentagon officials believe a greater spending cut will be levied on DoD.
4 Sharing the pain. If the second option — the $300 billion cut — were put in place, the cuts would be levied against all of the services. It would likely be a mix of personnel and acquisition cuts.
5 Decade of sequestration. The third option assumes full sequestration, or $500 billion over the decade. Sources with insight into the SCMR say this option would wreak the most havoc on the military and force the cancellation or scaling back of several major acquisition efforts. These sources also said the magnitude of the cut could prevent the military from being able to fight a major war against a near peer competitor, a concern also raised by Air Force leaders in recent weeks.
“My concern is the unknown ... new contingencies could be a problem for us, especially the longer this goes and the less training our people have compared to what we would normally require of them to be fully combat ready,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters May 24.