Raises, bases are potential victims of DoD budget cuts

Friday - 1/27/2012, 11:31am EST

Federal News Radio DoD Reporter Jared Serbu's report from the Pentagon

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The Defense Department began to detail its response to the realities of last summer's debt ceiling deal Thursday, proposing to spend six billion fewer dollars in its base budget next year than it will in 2012, followed by four years of growth.

Savings areas identified by DoD officials run the gamut from reductions to the size of the Army and Marine Corps' end strength to delays of several major acquisition programs, $60 billion in new proposed efficiencies, a new round of base realignments and closures and yet-to-be clarified personnel cost reductions.

Budget by the numbers
  • Plan contains $487 billion in cuts over 10 years.

  • Requests a 2013 base budget of $525 billion (plus $88 billion for Afghanistan operations).

    • Combined, that's $33 billion less than FY 2012 levels.

  • Army would cut 80,000 soldiers — from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017.

  • Marines plans to cut 20,000 service members — from 202,000 to 182,000.

  • Military pay raises will remain on track for next two fiscal years. By 2015, the pace of pay increases will slow.

The Pentagon did not divulge its entire fiscal year 2013 budget, but yesterday's announcement added some detail to how DoD plans to implement $487 billion in cuts from its previously-planned spending over 10 years. In 2013, the department will ask for a total of $614 billion: $525 billion in the department's base budget, along with $88 billion in the overseas contingency operations account to cover the costs of fighting in Afghanistan.

From there, the Pentagon's base request would increase each year between 2013 and 2017 to an eventual $567 billion. Although the budget would still grow over the future-year defense plan (FYDP), Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted the 2017 figure was far lower than the $622 billion the department had previously planned for that year.

"That growth we had planned for would have provided for almost (another) $500 billion, and we had obviously dedicated that for a number of plans and projects," he said. "The reason you're seeing the tough decisions that are being presented to you is that we had to achieve savings that would meet the requirement that Congress gave us."

Reduced Army and Marine Corps

As expected, DoD's budget would lead to a smaller Army and Marine Corps. The Army would go from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000 within five years, and the Marine Corps' end strength would fall by 20,000, down to a total of 182,000 by 2017. Both services would still be larger than they were on Sept. 11, 2001, Pentagon officials noted.

For the Army, the cuts will mean the removal of two brigades from Europe, leaving two on the continent. The Army footprint in Asia would stay roughly unchanged.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he's comfortable with those numbers.

"I'm confident that's the right number for 2017. It might not be the right number for 2020," said Dempsey, a former chief of staff of the Army. "I've always said that the Army needs to be adaptable enough to provide the greatest number of options, given whatever security environment we face. We grew the Army to conduct a particular type of conflict, the counterinsurgency strategies we were asked to execute. Those demands are going down, and I think it's perfectly reasonable that the force structure of the active Army would go down as well."

DoD's strategy is to try to draw down, numerically, the large standing ground forces it maintained during the Iraq and Afghan wars while holding onto as much of the intellectual and experiential capital those forces got from the conflicts as possible. A concept called "reversibility" calls for the military's ground forces to retain many of their midgrade and non-commissioned officers even as the services make overall personnel reductions, with the hope that those future leaders will allow the Army and Marine Corps to rapidly scale up in case of future contingencies, without having to re-learn lessons of past wars.

Salary increases to taper off after two years

But let me be clear. Even after these increases, the costs borne by retirees will remain below levels in most comparable private-sector plans, as they should be. -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

Within the next few years, those leaders' future salary increases may be part of DoD's contribution to deficit reduction, though Panetta said the Pentagon looked in every nook and cranny before considering cuts to pay and benefits.