Declining defense funds and
the rise of China may hinder
strategic rebalancing efforts.
Whatever the threat; wherever the conflict; whatever the mission; the future U.S. military largely will be defined by forced budget constraints. The ongoing fiscal crisis, haunted by the twin specters of sequestration and continuing resolution, will have a greater say in
shaping the future force than either adversaries or advances in weapon technologies.
Even resolution of the thorniest sequestration issues would not change the overall
trend of declining financial resources for the defense community. The effects of budget cuts could be severe and might
prevent forces from carrying out their missions. In terms of
materiel, acquisitions will be slowed and new program starts
largely could disappear. Operation and maintenance will be
reduced, deployments will be cut back and support resources
will be reduced—all as the United States rebalances its strategic
emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific region.
These were among the lead topics discussed at West 2013,
the annual conference and exposition hosted by AFCEA and
the U.S. Naval Institute January 29-31 in San Diego. While the
three-day event had the theme of “Pivot to the Pacific: What
Are the Global Implications,” discussions largely focused on
the dire consequences of the looming fiscal cliff. Audiences
that were aware of the impending budget crisis were surprised
by the bluntness of the assessments offered by high-ranking
Defense Department civilian and military leaders.
One stark assessment came from the event’s first speaker,
Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., USN, vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. Speaking to a packed house at a morning key-
note address, Adm. Winnefeld described the looming finan-
cial crisis as a “wolf,” adding that it is becoming “increasingly
apparent that this wolf is going to catch us.”
Planners will be faced with two unpleasant choices: either
the military will become smaller as a result of politically driv-
By ROBERt K.
en choices, or it will not be allowed to become smaller—in
which case readiness will suffer to the point of having a hollow force. Ultimately, the U.S. military may be so weakened
that some day it may be asked to respond to a crisis, and it
may have to say that it cannot.
Robert O. Work, undersecretary of the Navy, warned in a
luncheon keynote address, “If we have sequestration, we will
have a hollow force by the end of the year.” He added that
“‘Flat’ is the new ‘up’ in this defense budget environment.”
Looking at the Navy budget, he quipped, “We have an aver-
age budget … lower than last year, higher than next year.”
Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution,
offered her own blunt assessment. “If the clock is ticking,
then the bomb is about to go off.” The Defense Department
“has been in denial for months that this was going to hap-
pen,” she charged, noting that the administration and the
defense leadership made a set of choices that has aggravated
it. As a result, the defense community is in for a decade of
austerity that will be immutable.
Vice Adm. David H. Buss, USN, commander, naval air
forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, warned against cuts in readiness. “If
we’re taking money out of the readiness accounts, the output
out the back end will be less than today—that’s at the tactical
level.” He added that, at the strategic level, the United States
may not be able to map down to reach the tactical level.
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, chief of naval operations, described his worries about the effects of sequestra-
Robert O. Work, undersecretary of the Navy, warns of the possibility of a hollow force during an address at West 2013 in San Diego.
tion and continuing resolutions on the industrial base. He
fears that deep cuts will push some companies into extinction, and they will take with them vital expertise that cannot be reconstituted.
“Half of the nuclear vendors are single source,” the admiral
pointed out. “If they go under, I don’t know how we’ll get
them back. How we will recover from that, I don’t know.”
All of the services are faced with diverting funds to
address key needs. However, even that may not be a viable
short-term solution. Adm. Greenert said that, if the Navy
does not obtain the funding along with the ability to repro-