Pentagon Scrambles to Reshape Military's Role Around Impending Spending Cuts

The New York Times has an insightful piece up on Congress’s coming military cuts. What the authors most highlight is that America’s military will have a newer role in the coming decade. That point is evident from the proposed cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars. According to Panetta’s vision:

..the military will be large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to “spoil” a second adversary’s ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone.

The cuts are expected to hit all major facets of military spending:

the nuclear arsenal, warships, combat aircraft, salaries, and retirement and health benefits. With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, Mr. Panetta is weighing how significantly to shrink America’s ground forces.

What is missing in the analysis is a final vision plan that highlights what exactly will be cut first and most. Panetta has been reluctant in accepting the decision of mass cuts. He has spearheaded a one man mission to convince house members that certain cuts to America’s military posture would be “ruinous” for America’s global obligations. Secondly, what kind of message would the Pentagon be sending to current service members and retirees if benefits were cut?

More importantly, who will have the say so over the cost-benefit analysis? If cuts are the goal, who will decide on a responsible standard instead of allowing budget analysts and house members to become enamored with the simple approach of dollars saved?

The looming cuts inevitably force decisions on the scope and future of the American military. If, say, the Pentagon saves $7 billion over a decade by reducing the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11, would there be sufficient forces in the Pacific to counter an increasingly bold China? If the Pentagon saves nearly $150 billion in the next 10 years by shrinking the Army to, say, 483,000 troops from 570,000, would America be prepared for a grinding, lengthy ground war in Asia? What about saving more than $100 billion in health care cutbacks for working-age military retirees? Would that break a promise to those who risked their lives for the country?

The calculations exclude the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will go down over the next decade. Even after the winding down of the wars and the potential $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade, the Pentagon’s annual budget, now $530 billion, would shrink to $472 billion in 2013, or about the size of the budget in 2007.

These are the things Panetta will surely be promoting in the face of inevitable cuts. Consider it a tactical retreat for a man who’s soul responsibility is to ensure America’s military is ready to meet any crisis now and well into the future.