Does new strategy allow DoD to 'reverse' cuts?

Wednesday - 1/11/2012, 7:01pm EST

Rebecca Grant, president, IRIS Independent Research

Download mp3

As the Defense Department begins to downsize — cutting more than $480 billion from its budget over 10 years — a new concept, called "reversibility," has gained attention.

As National Defense magazine points out, Pentagon leaders have cited the importance of the concept in the recently released defense strategy.

"Wherever we can, we are making provision for such reversibility, as we call it, or readjustment in our plans, since ... we're at the beginning of what will be a many-year transition in an uncertain world," Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said at the Pentagon briefing when the plan was unveiled.

Rebecca Grant, the president of IRIS Independent Research, told In Depth with Francis Rose there are two elements driving the just-in-case option: policy and the budget.

DoD hedging its bets?

Grant, who's also the director of the General William Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, said the doctrine of reversibility is akin to the Pentagon "hedging its bets," she explained, an acknowledgement that perspectives and priorities could shift in the future.

But the need to scale back spending and the all-encompassing concern with the federal budget have made some skeptical of the plan.

While Pentagon officials have released the high-level strategy, they've remained tight-lipped about actual cuts. Details are slated for next month's formal 2013 budget request.

"They're preparing for what are sure to be some deep and painful cuts," Grant said. "I think the part ... that's getting some blowback is, there's just a lot of skepticism. If you're going to make a cut, let's call it a cut."

There are some decisions, she suggested, that are simply not able to be reversed. For example, DoD's order for C-15 transport aircraft will wrap up by 2016. "We're not going to come along five years from now and say, 'We want to reverse that decision. We could use some more of those,'" she said. "Because that line in Long Beach, Calif., will be gone and shut down. That's where some of the experts are saying reversibility isn't a very firm policy."

Reversing or reshaping

The concept of reversibility does offer DoD two concrete benefits, though, Grant said.

It allows the department to maintain at least some level of industrial-base capacity, she explained. The other benefit, which doesn't necessarily involve dollars, is in maintaining the counterinsurgency skills acquired from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Grant called the reasoning behind reversibility well-intentioned. But the size of the budget reductions could make the concept moot, she added.

"Let's not kid ourselves ... the big budgets cuts really aren't going to be reversible," she said. "They're going to have get rid of whole systems; they'll have to do that to get the budget numbers. And that's really going to reshape the way our military looks."

RELATED STORIES:

DoD budget guidance aims for leaner, more agile military

Will revised DoD strategy put military pay, benefits on table?

What role will contractors play in new DoD strategy?