By Bill Sweetman
If the Pentagon decided to meet sequester requirements by preserving force structure, without accepting reductions in readiness or its civilian workforce, the Joint Strike Fighter program would have to be canceled, representatives of leading Washington think-tanks said on August 1, and the B-1B bomber force will be retired under any scenario.
The analysts represented the same organizations — the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for a New American Security and the American Enterprise Institute — who took part in a groundbreaking joint budget exercise earlier this year.
However, the analysts also said that the Pentagon was unlikely to take that option, one of two presented by the newly unveiled Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), because of the risk of losing operational advantages and its effects on the industrial base. It would also mean scrapping the U.S. Air Force’s Long Range Strike bomber program, they said. Moreover, that approach would not support the “pivot to Asia” in the administration’s strategic guidance because it would maintain large land forces.
On the other hand, the panel assembled by the CSBA — all of whom had briefed and been briefed by Pentagon leaders — agreed that any SCMR option will lead to the retirement of the B-1B. The swing-wing bomber has lower range and payload than the B-52 and is not significantly more survivable.
The think-tank experts all faulted the SCMR in three specific areas. They said that it assumed that Congress would approve plans to reduce compensation by $50 billion over ten years and remove $40 billion from Pentagon overhead, which “is not likely to pass” according to the CSBA’s Todd Harrison. The SCMR also failed to propose major cuts in the Pentagon’s civilian workforce and avoided sacrificing readiness in the near term. Service leaders are strongly opposed to sacrificing readiness and politicians are afraid to repeat the “hollow force” headlines of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the analysts agreed, but there was a strong consensus that sequester-level cuts cannot be achieved without taking hits in that area. And as one participant in the discussion observed, “we’re not looking down the barrels of 25 Guards tank divisions coming through the Fulda Gap.”