Dempsey: Defense Budget Reflects Clear Strategic Choices

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2012 — The deci­sions behind the fis­cal 2013 defense bud­get request Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta announced today rep­re­sent the department’s pri­or­i­ties of main­tain­ing capa­bil­i­ty, keep­ing mil­i­tary pay and ben­e­fits fair, and man­ag­ing risk, the nation’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer said today.

Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the bud­get request is based on the defense strat­e­gy guid­ance Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced Jan. 5, and rep­re­sents clear strate­gic choic­es.

He and the ser­vice chiefs worked close­ly with the pres­i­dent and Panet­ta, the ser­vice sec­re­taries and senior enlist­ed advi­sors to pre­pare a bud­get request that rec­og­nizes the ser­vices’ unique strengths, the chair­man told reporters dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon brief­ing.

“At the same time, we put nation­al secu­ri­ty above parochial inter­est — exact­ly what the Amer­i­can peo­ple should expect of us,” he added.

The department’s fis­cal 2013 base bud­get request is $525 bil­lion, plus $88.4 bil­lion for over­seas con­tin­gency oper­a­tions. Those num­bers are down from fis­cal 2012’s $531 bil­lion base and $115 bil­lion for over­seas con­tin­gen­cies. Defense offi­cials said the bud­get request imple­ments $259 bil­lion in sav­ings over five years, as required by the Bud­get Con­trol Act.

“Capa­bil­i­ty is more impor­tant than size,” Dempsey said, not­ing the strat­e­gy and bud­get request both call for a small­er force.

“We get lean­er. But this bud­get does not lead to a mil­i­tary in decline,” he said. “It leads to a joint force that is glob­al and net­worked, that is ver­sa­tile and inno­v­a­tive, that is ably led and that is always ready.”

That joint force “can win any con­flict, any­where,” the chair­man added.

Troops will not lose mon­ey because of the spend­ing cuts, Dempsey empha­sized. There are no pro­posed pay freezes or reduc­tions, and depart­ment offi­cials will not change health care ben­e­fits for active-duty troops, those with com­bat injuries or ser­vice mem­bers who have med­ical­ly retired, he added.

“But we can­not — we can­not — ignore some hard real­i­ties,” he warned. “Pay and ben­e­fits are now rough­ly one-third of defense spend­ing. … Pay will need to grow more slow­ly in the future.”

The chair­man said the bud­get request does include mod­est increas­es in health-care fees, co-pays and deductibles for retirees, and depart­ment offi­cials are study­ing retire­ment reform.

“We’ll take the time to deter­mine how to enact any retire­ment reforms over the next year,” he said.

Pen­ta­gon offi­cials said mil­i­tary mem­bers — after a decade of sub­stan­tial annu­al pay increas­es from Con­gress — now receive equal or bet­ter pay than most of their civil­ian coun­ter­parts.

Since 2000, they note, basic pay has risen 62 per­cent, hous­ing allowances have increased by 58 per­cent, and sub­sis­tence allowance is up 43 per­cent, com­pared to a 46-per­cent rise in pri­vate-sec­tor salaries.

The bud­get strikes a nec­es­sary bal­ance between suc­ceed­ing in cur­rent con­flicts and prepar­ing for future threats, while account­ing for risks and fis­cal con­straints, the chair­man said.

“It rep­re­sents respon­si­ble invest­ment in our nation­al secu­ri­ty,” Dempsey said. “But make no mis­take, the trade­offs were tough. The choic­es were com­plex.”

The chair­man acknowl­edged that cal­cu­lat­ed risks were nec­es­sary to achieve the sav­ings. “The pri­ma­ry risks lie not in what we can do, but in how much we can do and how fast we can do it,” he said. “The risks, there­fore, are in terms of time and capac­i­ty.”

Defense lead­ers have ful­ly con­sid­ered those risks, the chair­man said.

“I am con­vinced we can prop­er­ly man­age them by ensur­ing we keep the force in bal­ance, invest­ing in new capa­bil­i­ties and pre­serv­ing a strong reserve com­po­nent,” he said. “As I’ve said before, we will face greater risks if we do not change the way we’ve been doing things.”

The bud­get request trims the num­ber of F‑35 joint strike fight­ers the depart­ment will buy by 179 over the next five years. It also post­pones sev­er­al planned ships, includ­ing an ocean sur­veil­lance ves­sel, a sub­ma­rine, a dock land­ing ship, two lit­toral com­bat ships, eight joint high-speed ves­sels and three oil­ers. Six of the cur­rent 60 Air Force tac­ti­cal air squadrons will be cut, and 130 air­craft will be retired or divest­ed from the air­lift fleet. The request cuts the end strength of the Army and Marine Corps, fore­casts Army and Air Force troop-num­ber reduc­tions in Europe, and calls for rounds of base realign­ments and clo­sures in fis­cal years 2013 and 2015.

“Much will be said and writ­ten about the indi­vid­ual deci­sions under­ly­ing this bud­get,” the chair­man said. “Some may be tempt­ed to view them through the prism of a zero-sum game, pars­ing through each cut, each change, to look for a win­ner and a los­er.

“That is actu­al­ly the least-pro­duc­tive way to assess this bud­get,” he added.

The Defense Depart­ment has a real strat­e­gy that reflects real choic­es, Dempsey said, and the bud­get pro­pos­al the pres­i­dent is sched­uled to send to Con­gress ear­ly next month embod­ies those real­i­ties.

“I’m con­fi­dent it meets our nation’s needs in our cur­rent fights and for our future,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)