The Obama administration on Monday unveiled the first of a potential $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade in what critics say is a policy that will leave the military under-equipped and ill-prepared to meet future global threats.
The Pentagon released President Obama’s budget request to Congress, which calls for $525.4 billion—a cut of $5.2 billion for fiscal 2013 beginning Oct. 1. It also includes $88 billion for overseas war funding.
The budget is the first under a new defense strategy that calls for smaller U.S. military forces. It is also the first under the 2011 Budget Control Act that requires a cut of $487 billion over 10 years.
The administration defended the budget as part of a new strategy that will make the U.S. military smaller but more agile and efficient.
Critics said the cuts are being made at a time when the military needs to be rebuilt after a decade of conflict and as weapons systems developed since the last buildup in the 1980s are becoming obsolete and in need of modernization.
The cuts also come as the militaries of both China and Russia are being modernized with new conventional and nuclear forces.
Observers say the administration appears to be waiting to make larger defense cuts next year, after what the president hopes will be his reelection in November.
“Today's budget doesn't change the trajectory for $1.5 trillion in cuts under the Obama Administration,” said former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. “Like the rest of the budget, it is designed with the November election in mind—the mask will come off within nanoseconds of an Obama victory.”
On Capitol Hill, the budget met with opposition from Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.), powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“The President’s budget is a clear articulation of Mr. Obama’s priorities; reduce resources for our struggling armed forces, and redirect them to exploding domestic bureaucracies,” said McKeon. “This budget reflects a true reduction, in real terms, of military spending while we have troops in combat. It irresponsibly ignores the looming threat of sequestration, while failing to adequately address threats posed by our adversaries around the world.”
McKeon noted that despite the administration’s announced “pivot” toward Asia and away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it calls for retiring nine ships and cuts 16 other ships from plans for new warship construction.
Tactical aviation also took a major hit in the budget, with a call to cut 13 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters totaling $1.6 billion.
Another cut that is likely to be controversial in Congress is that of health benefits for the military. The budget requires new copays for the military’s TRICARE health plan and will increase enrollment fees, adjust deductibles, and place new caps on catastrophic health coverage. It also proposes slower military pay raises starting in 2014.
The changes are expected to save $29.4 billion over five years.
Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, said the budget reflects efforts by the administration to fundamentally transform U.S. defense capabilities.
The new budget will result in reducing the size, modernity, and readiness of armed forces, and “understates what is really happening to our military,” Gaffney said.
“It does not reflect the $330 billion in reductions that have already been made in the past three years,” said Gaffney, a defense policymaker during the Reagan administration.
“It also does not show the effect of the next $500 billion that are mandated by law but will be obscured until after the election. Taken together, the effect will be to transform the U.S. military might alright, from that of, and befitting, a global superpower to that of just another cash-strapped, if glorified, regional power.”
The budget keeps the 11 aircraft carrier strike groups currently operated by the Navy.
For the Air Force, the budget will demobilize 18 of the new long-range surveillance drone Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft.
Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA), said the Global Hawk cuts were made “despite the fact that Air Force leaders have repeatedly lamented that the service now has the oldest inventory of aircraft in its history.”
The Army will eliminate at least eight brigade combat teams and the Marine Corps will cut one artillery battalion and four tactical air squadrons.
Air Force cuts will include six fighter squadrons comprising 303 aircraft, including 123 combat aircraft, 150 mobility and tanker aircraft, and 30 intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft.
Funding for cyber warfare is $3.4 billion, for missile defense is $9.7 billion, for space systems is $8 billion, and for science and technology is $11.9 billion.
Funding for strategic nuclear programs includes a proposed $25.1 billion through 2017 for urgently needed modernization of U.S. nuclear forces, including improvements in the B61 nuclear bomb, D5 Trident missiles, and Minuteman III missile arsenal.
A new long-range Air Force bomber also will continue to be developed.
“While the budget reaffirms the nuclear triad for now, maintaining current capabilities in each leg of the triad will require substantial investments beyond the five-year period covered by this budget,” said CSBA’s Harrison.