By Zachary Fryer-Biggs
At a press conference that began with oft-repeated industry concerns about the impact of new cuts to the defense budget, a senior industry executive voiced a different stance, saying that he expects further defense cuts and believes that an additional $50 billion to $150 billion would be workable.
“Those of us who stand for national security should be the first to step up and be willing to sacrifice something,” said David Langstaff, chief executive officer of TASC. “We in industry should not hide behind the notion that any cuts are bad cuts, and that the national security community should be completely immune from the pressures on the government to reduce spending. If we do, we are no better than those in our government who won’t come to agreement because they are unwilling to park parochial short-term political interests for the sake of national long-term goals.”
Langstaff shared the podium with three familiar faces at anti-sequestration press events: Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush, Pratt and Whitney President David Hess, and RTI CEO Dawne Hickton. All three, members of the Aerospace Industries Association’s executive committee, repeated AIA claims about potential job losses, claims that have been disputed by a number of experts, and did not voice support for further defense cuts at the event hosted by the National Press Club.
Immediately following Langstaff’s comments, Hess said the panel was not offering solutions, and was careful to avoid specifically supporting additional spending cuts.
“We’re not here to prescribe solutions, I think it would be presumptuous of us to try to do that,” Hess said. “I think we’ve made it clear that, David talked about it, I think all reasonable solutions need to be on the table right now.”
Shortly afterward, Langstaff, who is not part of AIA leadership, offered a range for possible further cuts.
“Whether it’s 50 billion more or 150 billion, I don’t know, but those are the numbers rather than something as destructive as what sequestration would deliver,” he said. “My point is for the defense community to assume that all the cuts taken by defense to date, the $487 billion that has been wired into the budget as Wes outlined, is all we’ll take, is probably naïve. I think there will need to be more cuts, but the key point is that they are aligned with the strategy.”
All three AIA executive committee members appeared uncomfortable with Langstaff’s comments, displaying nervous smiles.
The press conference proved a marked departure from the typical media events that have been hosted by AIA on sequestration, conferences that have revolved thematically around the notion that defense had done its fair share by accepting spending cuts of $487 billion as part of the Budget Control Act. AIA officers have also repeated Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s remarks about sequestration possibly causing a rethink of the agency’s military strategy.
“If additional efforts are made to go after the defense budget, I think it could have a serious impact in terms of our ability to implement the strategy,” Panetta said at a press conference in February.
While Langstaff offered potential concessions that may prove to be part of a budget deal, those concessions were quite small, said Bill Hartung, director of the Center for International Policy, on a conference call with reporters after the press conference.
“I also think in a sense he’s acknowledged that something is going to happen, he’s playing defense,” Hartung said. “He’s trying to keep that number as small as possible.”
During his presentation, Langstaff framed potential budget concessions as the only alternative to sequestration.
“When it comes to the national defense budget, we need to understand the realistic alternatives to sequestration and accept that additional cuts will likely be part of a deal between Congress and the administration,” he said. “The point is this; the real alternative to automatic defense spending cuts under sequestration is not an indefinite extension of defense spending at current levels. The real alternative is a process of strategically targeted, phased and predictable defense spending cuts.”
Speaking to Defense News after the press event, Langstaff said he was voicing his personal opinions, and that he didn’t believe that additional cuts would break the Pentagon’s back.
“For that to be true you have to believe that DoD [Department of Defense] and other parts of government are such finely tuned, efficient operating machines that there’s just no place to cut,” Langstaff said. “I think there is opportunity to make reductions, without impacting the mission. The approach of sequestration is bad because it hits everything and it does not allow judgment to be applied.”