Will We Really See Future Weapons Gutted? (Updated)

Edwards AFB F-35A Test Aircraft

Automatic, “salami slice” cuts to Pentagon budgets may be unlikely despite recent predictions of fiscal doom for the Defense Department should the Congressional supercommittee fail to reach an agreement on debt reduction by next week.

First off, supercommittee Chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tx.) has come out and said that Congress will likely find a way to avoid salami slice cuts across the government, and especially the DoD, if no agreement is reached.

Here’s what he told CNBC Tuesday night:

a lot of people don’t realize $1.2 trillion of deficit reduction is going to happen anyway. We’d prefer to do it in a smarter fashion. And the 1.2, frankly, half of that is aimed at national security. Leon Panetta, our secretary of defense, says that will hollow out our defense. So, number one, I would be committed to keeping the 1.2. We’ve got 13 months to find a smarter way to do it. I think the cuts that are aimed at defense, frankly, go too far. But this is one-this is a very important point that you make. You know, if the 1.5 isn’t met, there’s a 1.2 backstop right there.

That year’s worth of wiggle room Hensarling refers to is the fact that the auto cuts, called sequestration, won’t go into effect until 2013. As the Congressman said, this gives lawmakers plenty of time to rework any budget cuts.

(Keep in mind that Hensarling isn’t the only one on the Hill who wants to avoid accross the board cuts to defense coffers.)

(UPDATE:) Todd Harrison, a military budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments — a think tank whose ideas often find their way into the highest levels of the Pentagon — predicts that Congress will de-fang the threat posed by sequestration.

Here’s what he told me during a phone conversation this morning:

I think the odds of sequestration being triggered are fairly high, all that requires is that the supercommittee fails or Congress doesn’t enact whatever the supercommittee comes up with; so there’s a fairly decent chance of that. But it’s a full year before sequestration actually goes into enforcement, and I think the odds of it getting enforced are pretty low. I think what they will try to do is just nullify the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act or just delay its enforcement until 2014 or further in the future. If they aren’t able to agree on a set of cuts in the supercommittee then the cuts probably won’t happen for the time being, they’ll be pushed off into the future.

I think it’s increasingly looking like that ‘ll be the outcome but you never know what will happen at the last minute. If next Wednesday late in the night, just before the deadline they might somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat and strike a deal, who knows.

Harrison’s thoughts echo those of Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Teal Group, who told DT yesterday that we won’t see the Pentagon gutted:

Worst-case scenarios like Panetta’s won’t happen because the threat of worst-case scenarios will do a very good job of mobilizing support in favor of the defense budget. The Republicans will control the House and Senate, and possibly the White House. The deficit hawks of the Tea Party look set to lose big against the traditional defense hawks. That S&P debt rating downgrade resulted in lower rates, weakening the deficit hawks. With a threatening world political environment, polls consistently show strong public opposition to heavy defense cuts. Against this backdrop, sequestration cuts will not be implemented.

Interestingly, Harrison pointed out that that Panetta’s “worst case of a worst case” budget scenario might actually put less pressure on the committee to reach a budget deal by Nov. 23.

I think that him raising the rhetoric up as high as he has, may actually have the opposite of the intended effect. Instead of putting more pressure on the supercommittee to reach a deal, if you make the consequences of sequestration seem so severe and so dire that they’re no longer credible, because Congress wouldn’t let something that bad happen; so that actuallyy removes pressure from the supercommitttee to make a deal.

It gives them the incentive to say, ‘you know what, we don’t need to make a deal because even if we trigger sequestration, Congress will override it, they won’t actually let it go into effect, so it’s not that bad.’ That’s the unfortunate consequence if you raise the rhetoric too high.

Nevertheless, it may be unwise to completely ignore the threat of sequestration, according to Aboulafia:

Of course, here’s another paradox: people who regard worst-case defense budget scenarios as a bunch of hype weaken support for a firm stand against defense cuts. But objectively, yes, there’s a lot of hype here.

Still, as Aboulafia — and Phil over at DoDBuzz — note, the United States is facing a brand new set of big security challenges that center on hedging against a rising China and managing a decline in the power of its traditional allies in Europe. It’s very hard to imagine that lawmakers will allow the Pentagon to lose all the key programs like the F-35 Joint StrikeFighter that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says will be gone if the supercomittee fails.

  • CaptSausage

    Time to be realistic and let other countries look after themselves a bit.

  • Black Owl

    Time to be realistic about how much our weapons cost and which ones are actually worth their price. The JSF doesn’t fit that list. However, weapons like JAGM and the Army Stryker do. Hopefully we can get more of those.

    • Nick

      I have heard conflicting things about the stryker like getting stock in the mud/ ied problems.

  • mike

    could you guys please give up on the whole “ready to face rising china” thing? The US and China are entirely dependent on each other. Without US demand for goods and US debt to give its banks assets, China’s economy collapses, and without China to provide cheap goods for an increasingly impoverished population, the US economic model falls apart too. (No comment on whether either of those outcomes might actually be better for China or the US.)

    Even US defense programs support this- you build unbelievably expensive weapons systems out of cheap Chinese components and the markup supports the vanishingly small big-investor class.

  • Foraker

    With Iraq refusing to renew our commitment, and Afghanistan in the process of doing the same, hopefully we’ll see some cost savings for 2013 and beyond by returning to base for a bit. Saying that the service will be “hollowed out” by a mere $1.2T cut over multiple years is mere scare-mongering, if the government is serious about trimming the budget.

    • Nick

      Africa is next.

      • RCDC

        If you receive JC as your lord, God and savior, all your worries will fade away.

  • PrometheusGoneWild

    15 TRILLION in debt.
    Lets say goodbye to the military as we know it.
    Lets all study the United Kingdom model…..

  • bobbymike

    Let’s just spend on programs that the Constitution allows like defense and cut everything else, Problem solved we’d not only have trillion dollar surpluses but we could also double the defense budget.

  • Jon

    1 trillion over ten years means about 100 billion per year. That is infinitely doable. The fearmongeres are saying that the US will be unable to meet its commitments worldwide if we make cuts of this magnitude. That’s the point. We should take this opportunity to take a good hard look at what missions we are tasking our military to do. We could easily close all of our European bases, most of the ones in Japan and purchase upgraded versions of legacy fighters such as the Silent Eagle while maintaining a very secure homeland. Not to mention canceling unneeded toys such as the V-22 and Future Bomber programs. The military is there to repel invaders and attacks not to remake the world insure we are the “dominant player in Asia”. Time for some common sense military policy

  • Stephen N Russell

    Cut DoD procurement bureaucracy alone & save there alone.
    Merge like systems.
    Fund F35.
    Hire new non defense vendors.
    think outside the Box.
    & rethink Future Bomber
    Need Fast Rapid Airlift for Forces.
    Need Spaceplane- see Avatar, 2010 movie.

  • mpower6428

    told ya……… and i got -22 votes for saying so on the previous post.

    this guy “aboulafia” sounds pretty confindent about republican control of all three branches when the cuts (if any) begin to take effect.

  • Cranky Observer

    >> And the 1.2, frankly, half of that is aimed at national security.

    Half of that is aimed at military spending, to be sure. Whether that spending promotes “national security” or helps ensure that no one takes a drink of water from the Ohio without our permission is a very cogent question. But not one I expect to hear any real discussion about.

  • Rob

    Iraq warred Kuwait mostly over a 80 bil debt.

    Why wouldn’t China do the same for 1 Trillion?

    In the year 2000, the average worth of all US households was $44 trillion

    They won’t use military unless our side starts. If china aggressively attack us, the globe would slip into total chaos. The concept of mass warfare would disrupt everything, that all of the world has created, to give it the economy of today.

    If really concerned I’d recommend making friends to as many chinese you can. Stop giving them reasons to hate us.

  • jamesb

    I’m STILL laughing at some people here on Panetta’s BS threat on
    the F-35…..

    That system IS TOO BIG to FAIL!!!!!

  • Lance

    The F-35 gone no I doubt that nore will new Navy ships. but worthless programs like the Army’s GCV or Carbine competition come on cut them out.

    Ohh if the committee fails President Obama said he will veto any change in budgetary rule to keep the cut in place Republicans can dream of saving the day but it may have no choice till after next years election.

  • Lance

    By the way this whole article is one sided to cuts its all written by BIG spending hawks and want to run the USA into oblivion with military spending.

  • Mark

    Now, if we could recover the BILLIONS and BILLIONS owed to the tax payer from GM after their costly bailout, that money could be used elsewhere to help eleviate some of the budget problems.

  • Harrier 78

    I think that the politics are getting in the way of hoarse sense. we have half of the troops and twice as many generals than during WWII. Also fielding the JSF would reduce our logistics footprint by 1/4. That is worth a billion plus. Also lets let foreign countries that want us there pay their share.
    The biggest drain on this country is the welfare system and if we do not get that undercontrol then we will loose this great nation or be forced to fight another revolution.

  • Morty

    The JSF Is worth the money its just that we cant always help other country’s we need to worry about our self’s more

  • Jerry

    I like the assumption by Aboulafia how Republicans controlling the White House, the Senate, and the House would fix the defense budget and the deficit. If memory serves, it was a six years of Republican control (2000-2006) that got the United States into this mess in the first place. Not that the Democrats have done any better in the past five, mind you.

    • tiger

      NO since 2006 they racked up even more debt.

  • Uranium238

    F-35s and F-22s for Food Stamps, Unions and entitlement programs… That is just how this administration thinks. Ridiculous.

  • tribulationtime

    Hi Someone knows if in the F35B variant the cover of forward lift fan plays a role in keep the attitude of the plane when she take-off conventional from a deck?. Thanks

    • tiger


  • Tony C

    Dump $1.5 trillion more debt on China, start a war over Taiwan, then we don’t have to repay as a combatant nation. Seems to be the game plan in DC these days.

  • cnb

    DoD is collateral damage in the drive to power. You support the drive to power, you support the damage.

  • RCDC

    If the country’s spending is more lesser than the earnings (GNP), it is very possible there is growth in earnings, economy, good future advancement in science and etc .

  • nonito cabato

    stop permanently pentagon bureaucracy reduce personnel in the pentagon
    mothball all legacy fighter jet, they are expensive to maintain which are over 25 years
    buy 650 F-22 block 35 version
    buy 1500 F-35, which 500 are F-35B
    buy 300 next generation bomber
    demobilize all F-15. F-16 & B-52 and B-1 bomber

    • RCDC

      Here is a better one: stop permanently pentagon bureaucracy reduce personnel in the pentagon mothball all legacy fighter jet, they are expensive to maintain which are over 25 years

      Sell all F-15, F-16 B-52 and B-1 bomber to freindly nations
      buy 1000 F-22 block 35 version
      buy 1500 F-35, which 500 are F-35B
      buy 1000 next generation bomber

  • bobby928

    Cut the entitlement programs make government smaller and if it produces saving and the US gets in a healthy economic state bring some of these programs back but under stricker guidlines where by they don’t become a crazy money pits. Some on the left would think that if these programs are deleted and people have to work that they will lose their power because one people get use to handouts they become dependant on them to survive.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    Yah, just blame Obama. No mention of the jackazz who put us in this position. You guys forget pretty easy.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    1 war 2 fronts paid for with loans from the chicoms. Something wrong wit this picture?? While we were away Wall St and other leeches raped this country. Banks got bailed out we got sold out. Thank u very little..

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