The No. 2 Pentagon official said he is worried about the defense industrial base after reviewing the military’s future funding options.
Senior defense officials told a House panel Thursday that budget cuts the Pentagon assessed as part of its Strategic Choices and Management Review unavoidably will impact defense contractors. Yet they avoided giving detailed predictions on the fate of specific weapons platforms such as the future long-range bomber and drones that launch from aircraft carriers.
“There will be (an) impact on the industrial base, organic and the rest of our industrial base,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). “I worry about it a great deal.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the strategic-choices review in March to assess how the Pentagon would have to budget if Congress allows the $500 billion in decade-long sequestration cuts to continue. He announced Wednesday the review yielded a menu of budget options built around three scenarios: President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to replace sequestration with $150 billion in defense cuts in later years, the current budget with sequestration included, and an in-between option with $250 billion in decade-long cuts.
The strategic-choices plan offers two competing options for changing current force structure and modernization plans if sequestration persists–with one cutting troop levels and maintaining high-end equipment, and the other maintaining personnel “capacity” at the expense of equipment “capability.”
Carter told the HASC Thursday that he gets “worried” when he sees an “irreversible change…something that we’re ramping down that we couldn’t recreate” in the industrial base.
“Once you eliminate a skill set, it’s very hard to bring that back,” Carter said. His comments came shortly after Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld said at the same hearing that he wants to protect research and development funding–or “seed corn”–for important future technologies such as cyber-related systems.
Cater, at the HASC hearing on the newly disclosed strategic-choices review, said: “One of the things we try to do is to make sure that we don’t make irreversible changes, wherever that’s possible for budgetary reasons, so that we don’t destroy something that would be very time-consuming and expensive to recreate.”
HASC members tried to elicit commitments from Carter and Winnefeld to support specific weapons programs, such as the development effort for a future long-range bomber, which Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) touted.
Winnefeld said the bomber “is a very important program for us, for a number of reasons.” It is a key part of the strategic nuclear triad and a “very important element of potential future warfighting concepts that we would need from a standoff capability and also a penetrating capability,” he said.
“So we are certainly committed to that program,” the Navy admiral said, saying he pays “close attention” to the program and it is “currently on track.”
Still, Winnefeld noted that budget options laid out in the strategic-choices review could force Pentagon officials to make hard decisions.
“The deeper you go (with cuts), the tougher some of this gets,” he said. “And at the (sequestration) levels it could impact that program in terms of timing, or what have you.” The future of a program like the long-range bomber also “would depend a little bit on whether you emphasized capacity or capability in terms of how many you might buy or whether you would do the program,” he added.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) asked Winnefeld if he sees the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike aircraft (UCLASS) as a “game-changing” technology.
Winnefeld said he’s “personally driving the requirement” on UCLASS, and “ believe(s) in the program.”
“In terms of whether it’s a game changer that totally transforms warfare, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it’s a very important element of what we would put on a flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the future,” the admiral said. “It has a lot of capability for us that we would want to employ in a more dangerous world.”