Everyone is spun up that Secretary Panetta has released a letter describing the effects of sequester on DoD. In his description of FY13, he's not all that wrong: it would be a big cliff of a cut distributed across-the-board without regard for strategic choices.
However, for the FY14-21 window the cuts don't just sound scary, they sound too scary. Of 10 weapon systems outlined for termination or delay, eight are on one of the three military departments's priority lists:
- The Air Force, in its FY11 Posture Statement, has four of Panetta's targets in its top 5 priorities: JSF, ISR, next-generation bomber, and space systems.
- The Army, in its Posture Statement, insists on the importance of both helicopter and ground combat vehicle for its future.
- And while the Navy doesn't offer a priority list, the SSBN(X) is the Navy's largest item in RDT&E and the LCS is critical to achieving their force structure goals.
That leaves European Missile Defense and ICBMs, which have unique Congressional equities.
This budget tactic is called goldwatching, or the Washington Monument Ploy: if someone threatens your budget, say you're going to cut what nobody wants you to cut and ignore the things that maybe should be cut.
As we've pointed out before, the sequester mechanism is a terrible device, but the savings levels aren't that different from past builddowns and we would be better off managing that builddown strategically rather than hiding our head in the sand and considering unrealistic options.