Secretary, Chairman Offer Glimpse into Budget Strategy

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2011 — Troop loca­tions, ben­e­fits, future equip­ment and the role of reserve com­po­nent forces are under scruti­ny as mil­i­tary ser­vices pre­pare to trim spend­ing and reshape for future mis­sions, the Defense Department’s senior lead­ers told Con­gress mem­bers here today.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, field­ed ques­tions on all those top­ics as they tes­ti­fied before the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

DOD offi­cials and ser­vice chiefs are review­ing all defense pro­grams seek­ing a strate­gic approach to the $450 bil­lion-plus cuts the defense bud­get will see over the next 10 years, Panet­ta said.

The sec­re­tary empha­sized no cuts have yet been iden­ti­fied, but offered an exam­ple of the strat­e­gy that will dri­ve them.

“If we decide that we’ve got to main­tain our force struc­ture pres­ence in the Pacif­ic in order to deal with Chi­na and China’s expand­ing role in that part of the world … and if we decide that the Mid­dle East is also a very impor­tant area where we have to main­tain a pres­ence as well, then just by virtue of the num­bers that we’re deal­ing with, we will prob­a­bly have to reduce our pres­ence else­where,” Panet­ta said. “Per­haps in Latin Amer­i­ca … [or] Africa.”

The mil­i­tary pres­ence in Africa rep­re­sents a part­nered approach to fight­ing ter­ror­ists, Dempsey explained.

While vio­lent extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions or ter­ror­ists are syn­di­cat­ed, decen­tral­ized and glob­al­ly net­worked, the chair­man said, there are places where they “sit.”

“One of the places they sit is Pak­istan. One of the places they sit, or sat, is Afghanistan. One of the places they sit is the African con­ti­nent,” he said. “And so our pres­ence on the African con­ti­nent is part of our net­work of build­ing part­ners, of gain­ing intel­li­gence. And then when tar­get­ing … reach­es the lev­el of refine­ment, we can act on it.”

Panet­ta respond­ed to con­gres­sion­al ques­tions on pos­si­ble changes to the mil­i­tary retire­ment sys­tem with a promise to safe­guard the ben­e­fits of those now serv­ing.

The sec­re­tary acknowl­edged that retire­ment may take a dif­fer­ent form in the future, but added, “We made a promise to peo­ple who are on duty that we’re going to pro­vide a cer­tain lev­el of retire­ment. We’re not going to back away from that.”

Those now serv­ing have deployed “time and time again … and we’re not going to pull the rug out from under them,” Panet­ta said.

Dempsey said while mil­i­tary retire­ment is like­ly to change, he rejects the view that it’s an extrav­a­gant ben­e­fit.

Ser­vice mem­bers who stay in uni­form for 20 years or more put them­selves in harm’s way, may move 10 or 15 times, fre­quent­ly can’t buy a house, and often have spous­es who can­not find employ­ment “because we tell them to go where the nation needs them,” Dempsey said.

“That retire­ment pro­gram needs to be fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent than any­thing you find in the civil­ian sec­tor, in my view,” he added.

Both men said in response to ques­tions that they sup­port the F‑35B, a short-take­off, ver­ti­cal-lift, radar-evad­ing, super­son­ic mul­ti-role fight­er air­craft now in test­ing.

“This is the fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er,” the sec­re­tary said. “It’s some­thing we absolute­ly need. It’s a remark­able plane, and it real­ly does the job well.”

Dempsey said he sup­ports a fifth-gen­er­a­tion fight­er “with­out caveat.”

“I am con­cerned about the three vari­ants and whether, as we go for­ward in this fis­cal envi­ron­ment, whether we can afford all three,” he added. “That’s some­thing we have to keep an eye on. Three vari­ants … cre­ates some fis­cal chal­lenges for us.”

Both men also agreed that reserve com­po­nent forces have a vital role in the future force.

Nation­al Guard and Reserve troops have per­formed “in an out­stand­ing fash­ion” in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Panet­ta said.

“They’ve got­ten bat­tle expe­ri­ence. They’re bet­ter; they’re more capa­ble; they’re more expe­ri­enced,” he said. “I don’t want to lose that.”

The sec­re­tary added that reserve com­po­nent forces act as a link between the mil­i­tary and com­mu­ni­ties through­out the nation.

“[That] is some­thing that I want to assure you we are not only going to main­tain, but strength­en,” he said.

The reserve com­po­nent brings need­ed flex­i­bil­i­ty to mil­i­tary struc­ture and con­tin­gency plan­ning, the chair­man added.

“As we devel­op this strat­e­gy, we might find things that we decide we don’t need imme­di­ate­ly. They can be placed into the reserve com­po­nent,” Dempsey said. “And things that were in the reserve com­po­nent that we now real­ize we need imme­di­ate­ly, we might migrate them into the active.”

A respon­sive indus­tri­al base also is essen­tial to strong nation­al defense, Panet­ta said.

“If we have to mobi­lize quick­ly, if we have to weaponize quick­ly, I’ve got to have that indus­tri­al base in place,” he said. “And if we crip­ple that, we will crip­ple our nation­al defense.”

Panet­ta said he antic­i­pates brief­ing Con­gress ear­ly in 2012 about pro­posed defense cuts now under strate­gic review.

“This isn’t just num­bers-dri­ven,” the sec­re­tary said. “It’s not bud­get-dri­ven. It’s dri­ven by a strat­e­gy that we can shape, that tells us … what kind of force we need.”

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