Pentagon’s reduced spending plan could affect military readiness, officials warn

November 15, 2018

Pentagon budget officials next month will deliver to the White House its plans for a reduced defense spending blueprint for the coming fiscal year, weeks after a scathing report claims such reductions would put the U.S. defense posture at risk.

Service officials will submit their budget plans for the Pentagon’s proposed $700 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2020 on Monday, with department officials expected to present the reduced budget scheme to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis the following week, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday.

That $700 billion proposal is one of two spending plans being worked by defense officials. The other plan includes the original spending top line of $733 billion for that year, the spending target department leaders have been aiming for since planning began earlier this year.

Both plans are expected to hit Mr. Trump’s desk by early December, Mr. Shanahan told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

The second budget proposal of $700 billion was prompted by the White House’s demand for a 5 percent reduction across all federal agencies next fiscal year.

Mick Mulveney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, formally ordered the Pentagon in October to work in Mr. Trump’s initiative into the fiscal year 2020 spending blueprint which is expected to be finalized in December.

While department officials are carrying out the White House’s orders on reducing defense spending, Mr. Shanahan said he wanted to make completely clear to administration officials the consequences of their request.

“What I want is the president to understand what are the trade-offs” in U.S. national security, as a result of the 5 percent cut, he said. “He needs to have awareness” of the ramifications of those reductions, to military readiness and overall defense, he added.

But a congressionally-mandated bipartisan committee concluded Wednesday the spending cuts ordered by the Trump White House will leave the U.S. unable to underwrite key national security requirements related to potential conflict with Russia or China.

Current fiscal instabilities within U.S. defense spending, exacerbated by Mr. Trump’s call for a 5 percent decrease, will leave Washington unable to confront near-peer competitors like Russia and China in any future conflict, members of the National Defense Strategy Commission said.

The committee consisting of a dozen current and former high ranking defense and intelligence officials, former top U.S. diplomats and lawmakers found the U.S. national security apparatus hamstrung by financial shortfalls and susceptible to military aggression from global adversaries, particularly those in Moscow and Beijing.

“For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the United States is at risk of losing a future war against peer or near-peer competitors, mainly due to budget instability and insufficient funding provided by Congress,” wrote Sen. Kyl, who replaced fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain on the panel after his death in August.

In 2017, both Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mr. Mattis called for a 3 to 5 percent increase in defense spending annually, over the five-year Pentagon budget forecast known as the Future Years Defense Plan to meet the operational and strategic requirements for future, near-peer conflict with Russia and China, the report states.

Mr. Trump’s order has effectively undone that requirement, drawing serious concern from the bipartisan defense commission, as well as GOP defense hawks on Capitol Hill, who have doubled down on efforts to increase defense spending, based on Mr,. Trump’s heavy pro-defense rhetoric.

“We are deeply troubled by the lack of such growth in the Department’s five-year budget plans,” commission members wrote, noting if the current fiscal path for the Pentagon is not corrected in subsequent defense budgets, “the Department may find itself able to prosecute just one conflict successfully, without the ability to simultaneously deter other adversaries.”

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