Dempsey Shares Observations on Defense Budget

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Nov. 30, 2011 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he under­stands that ser­vice mem­bers are ner­vous about loom­ing bud­get cuts, but will have to be patient as the process moves for­ward.

Speak­ing in an inter­view on his way back from meet­ings with British offi­cials in Lon­don, Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey said the Defense Depart­ment is pledged to $450 bil­lion in cuts over the next 10 years.

The fis­cal 2013 defense bud­get sub­mit­ted in Feb­ru­ary 2012 will answer many of the ques­tions troops have, he said.

That bud­get, Dempsey said, will take the depart­ment out to fis­cal 2017.

“It should­n’t be lost on any­body that we were hand­ed this bill — this reduc­tion — about two months ago,” the chair­man said.

“What we’ve been doing is revis­ing our strat­e­gy,” he said, “because you can’t just take cuts and do the same things we’ve been doing.”

Fis­cal plan­ners are weigh­ing the impact of cuts on the nation­al secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy and con­sult­ing with the ser­vices, com­bat­ant com­man­ders, defense sec­re­tary and peo­ple at the White House and Office of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, Dempsey said.

“Con­cur­rent­ly, we are doing the mind-numb­ing work of weigh­ing pro­gram cuts and putting a bud­get togeth­er,” he said.

Con­gress, which under the Con­sti­tu­tion is charged “to raise and sup­port Armies,” and “to pro­vide and main­tain a Navy,” must be con­sult­ed, he not­ed.

“I know there’s a lot of anx­i­ety in the force. I’m anx­ious,” Dempsey said. “But we’ve got to fol­low the exist­ing process.”

“If we weren’t hav­ing a dis­cus­sion among our­selves about find­ing $450 bil­lion worth of reduc­tions, we’d still be hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion about imple­ment­ing the changes we have made in response to 10 years at war,” he added. “We have learned.”

Even if Con­gress were to give the depart­ment all it asks for, the mil­i­tary still would have to exam­ine the strat­e­gy, con­sid­er threats and make changes, Dempsey said. Any bud­get dis­cus­sion would look to rein­force changes that improved capa­bil­i­ties, add fund­ing to bridge gaps, and elim­i­nate fund­ing for capa­bil­i­ties no longer need­ed. The dis­cus­sions also would include con­sid­er­a­tions of how much capa­bil­i­ty is need­ed.

“The bud­get we’re prepar­ing … has to account for those lessons,” Dempsey said.

In the analy­sis about what has hap­pened to the mil­i­tary dur­ing 10 years at war and antic­i­pat­ing what type of mil­i­tary will be need­ed in 2020, he said, clear­ly, some capa­bil­i­ties must be resourced. Coun­tert­er­ror­ism is a big por­tion of the bud­get, he said, and cyber must be addressed, as the coun­try is vul­ner­a­ble to state or non-state actors oper­at­ing in this new domain.

“Could that mean con­ven­tion­al forces could be pres­sured by this bud­get? Yes,” Dempsey said. ““But we’re going to find that bal­ance between capa­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty — what do we need to do and how often do we need to do it.

“One thing I will assure you of is no one is going to write off the pos­si­bil­i­ty of any par­tic­u­lar form of con­flict,” the chair­man con­tin­ued. “You can’t say, ‘I don’t think we’ll have a con­flict with a near-peer com­peti­tor, so let’s just ignore North Korea for the next five years and hope for the best.’ That’s impos­si­ble. So we’ve got to sus­tain our high-end con­ven­tion­al capa­bil­i­ty.”

Hav­ing the capa­bil­i­ty to wage con­ven­tion­al-style war­fare remains an impor­tant deter­rent, Dempsey said.

“We’ve got to have capa­bil­i­ty along the spec­trum,” he said, “but some of the capac­i­ty is going to be changed, with­out ques­tion.”

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