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“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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Something Happened, but What?

The budget is going down, and the President today personally announced the new strategy to align with the new budget limits (okay, so theoretically the strategy came first).  Interestingly, the service chiefs said just last fall that at this level of cuts, they didn't need to change what they did.  Only if there were deeper cuts would they need to change what they do. 

So then what changes will we actually see in the budget flowing from this strategy? There wasn't much detail, but we've started to hear leaks about what the new budget will contain. Most of those don't seem terribly connected to the new strategy.

  • The Marines are likely to cut not quite 10% of its endstrength.  But they announced they were going to do that last March--before the President said the defense budget would be cut and certainly before today's strategy announcement.
  • The Air Force is likely to cut 200 fighters.  But primarily from the Guard, where it turns out big Air Force has been trying to cut fighters for several years.  
  • The Navy seems likely to delay its buy of the Joint Strike Fighter, the largest procurement program in the Pentagon and instead buy more F-18s.  But the Navy had already started hedging against the Joint Strike Fighter by continuing to buy F-18s, which is also just an extension of its modernization program of the past decade.   
  • The Army is maybe the most interesting.  It seems likely to lose about 15% of its endstrength going from 560K to 490K.  Some of that was underway already.  22K was always temporary and funded out of the war budget.  But that is still a major change, and justified by the strategic shift to the Pacific and deemphasis on stability operations.  

The defense budget is intended to go down in both real and nominal terms this year.  But still at slight enough levels that for the most part it hasn't made the services do any more than what they were looking to do anyway.  

Maybe the shift away from the two-war strategy does erode what for twenty years has underpinned the stated requirements of the Pentagon; if so the Army's endstrength might not be the only change in the coming years.  But the emphasis on multiple regions seems to suggest plenty of wiggle room still exists for justifying forces.  Whatever changes may appear, they're not here yet.