A combination of budget cuts and escalating compensation costs will reduce the U.S. military’s fighting forces by at least 50 percent by 2021 and threaten national security, according to a report released Friday.
The report by the Bipartisan Policy Center also said that the nearly $1 trillion in defense funding reductions over the next decade, known as the sequester, would cripple the readiness and modernization of military forces.
The report pushed back against the notion that the sequester cuts have not been as debilitating as originally thought and actually helped to curb the nation’s mounting debt.
While the cuts to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) discretionary spending this year have been lower than expected at $37 billion, DOD spends most of the money it receives from Congress as outlays over several years, the report said. For example, the report mentioned the $3.2 billion appropriated by Congress this year to DOD for new submarines, which will be spent over seven years.
That means many of the sequester cuts will be felt on the back end. The report said the sequester’s effect on spending will double in 2014 and triple in 2015, rising to more than $50 billion in annual reductions to the defense budget by 2017.
Combat training and procurement programs for new equipment will bear the brunt of the cuts because military personnel and retiree benefits, as well as war-fighting costs and veterans benefits, are exempted, the report said.
Additionally, the sequester will eventually reduce economic output and delay the federal debt from reaching 100 percent of GDP by only two years, in about 2033, the report shows.
"Not only will our nation's economy suffer if the sequester continues, but it will leave our military unprepared—without the training or equipment it needs—to keep our nation safe against future threats," said former Sen. Chuck Robb (D., Va.), a coauthor of the report, in a press release.
As the military faces a shrinking budget in upcoming years, both federal and defense entitlement costs will continue to swell.
Spending on Social Security and major health programs like Medicare and Medicaid will consume 60 percent of the budget by 2022, according to the report, compared to just 13 percent for discretionary defense spending.
Military personnel costs have doubled since 2000 even though the force is almost 10 percent smaller. Personnel, health care, and other defense-wide costs will consume virtually 100 percent of the budget by 2021, leaving almost no funds for force additions, troop training, or equipment upgrades, the report added.
The report further warned that the military will become a hollow force unless the sequester is modified or repealed and reforms to compensation costs are enacted.
The Army and Marines could shed 14 ground divisions, the Air Force more than 1,600 aircraft, and the Navy 330 ships and eight carriers by 2021, the report said.