Pentagon Budget Preview: Implications for US Defense

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey previewed the Pentagon’s FY2015 on Monday, February 24. Major highlights included the proposed cutting Army personnel from 480,000 to approximately 440,00; the retirement of both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the U-2 spy plane; the addition of 4,000 people to special operations ranks; and postponing the retirement of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier until 2016.

The budget is a great indication of the Pentagon’s priorities and strategy for the future. To tease out what those strategies are, the Atlantic Council asked three members of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security staff to analyze the defense budget shortly after it was outlined.

Barry Pavel, vice president and director of the Scowcroft Center, made clear his displeasure at the Pentagon’s $26 billion “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Fund” intended to procure other materials aimed at keeping “readiness” outside the purview of the defense budget. “It’s time to stay within the budget that has been set” said Pavel, upset that the practice ended by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is making a comeback. Further, he expects “huge Congressional battles” over additional Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) rounds and other aspects of the previewed budget that will be “tough for Congress to swallow.”

Jim Hasik, nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center, was surprised that Army end-strength fared as well as it did. Some in the Army were expecting personnel cuts to be deeper, but the requested numbers remained higher than expected.

Although some cuts highlighted in the preview have been “bandied about for a while,” James Joyner, also a nonresident senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center, was surprised by suggested cuts to the Army. Joyner noted that some of the cuts “make sense…given how much the budget is being cut and what risks you can afford to take.” He believes the outline reflects the Obama administration’s current position that the United States should get out of the business of long wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which sets strategic priorities for the Pentagon is scheduled to come out in early March and will be invariably shaped by the budget. The Scowcroft Center staff will continue to analyze the impact of the budget and QDR on the American military and its missions around the world as more information emerges.

Related Experts: James Hasik and James Joyner

Image: US Air Force Maj. David Nance, 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, drives behind a U-2 Dragon Lady while it lands at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia (Photo: US Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Eric Harris/Public Domain)