The Pentagon should continue to invest in special operations forces, offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, new manned and unmanned long-range strike aircraft and undersea vessels even as defense spending declines in the coming decade, according to a new think tank report.
The Defense Department should also reduce the buy of Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighters to protect other investments as defense spending declines, the report said.
The study — conducted this summer by Todd Harrison and Mark Gunzinger of the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) — focused on protecting U.S. investments in military capabilities that might be necessary in future conflicts. Researchers announced the study’s findings on Nov. 27.
Defense spending cuts of about $500 billion over the next decade, know as sequestration, were considered while developing DoD spending priorities identified in the CSBA report. However, unlike sequestration, which calls for equal reductions across all defense budget accounts, the study looked implementing only the top level cut.
Organizers of the study created seven bipartisan teams made up of congressional staffers from both chambers, DoD civilians and former military officers from all services, defense experts from industry and thought leaders from other think tanks.
Investing in spec ops forces, cyber, long-range strike and subs were labeled as the “crown jewels” of areas to protect during a budget cuts.
Participants focused on systems that would be beneficial in battlefields with denied access, such as GPS jamming or advanced surface-to-air missile systems. Accordingly, the report recommended no longer maintaining the military’s large inventory of unmanned aircraft that have been heavily used in Afghanistan and Iraq, but are vulnerable when flying in contested airspace.
All of the teams recommended reductions to DoD’s civilian and military end strength, “with the deepest cuts occurring in conventional ground forces.”
The teams used DoD’s current military strategy, which was released in January, as a starting point for their recommendations, according to Harrison.
“It wasn’t a budget drill,” Gunzinger said of the teams’ work at a Nov. 27 briefing in Washington.
The teams recommended cuts go DoD’s civilian workforce ranging from a 20 percent to 40 percent reduction.
All teams called for reductions to the Navy’s littoral combat ship program.
“[I]n a declining budget environment, maintaining the status quo mix of forces and capabilities will require significant reductions in the size of the military across all areas,” the report states.
Each team also decreased planned procurement of “tactical fighter aircraft, including the F-35.” One team recommended killing the entire F-35 program, while others wanted to cut procurement by 120 to 360 aircraft over the next 10 years.
At the same time, each team “increased the planned procurement of stealthy, multi-role unmanned systems, and elected to maintain or accelerate procurement of the Air Force’s next generation Long Range Strike-Bomber.”