If lawmakers do not avert sequestration and the cuts take place next year, as scheduled, Dempsey still will have to pay the bill for the military’s “overseas contingency operations” in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, he told attendees at a military leadership breakfast sponsored by Government Executive.
“If there’s money taken out of the $88.5 billion that we say we need for OCO, I’m going to have to take money out of the base and invest it. You can’t not pay those bills. So OCO will touch it, but the money’s coming from some place, and that is the base,” he said.
When other options such as personnel cuts and base realignment and closure are taken off the table as well, Defense isn’t left with many choices, according to Dempsey.
“There’s talk about exempting manpower . . . and you’ve also said, ‘Thou shall not BRAC,’ ” he said. “So now you’ve limited the places where that money can come from. It can’t come from manpower. It can’t come from infrastructure. And you have to reinvest in OCO. And what’s left is operations, maintenance and training and modernization.”
Defense has had to transition in recent years to a budget-minded operation, and Dempsey readily acknowledged the department has become accustomed to a large degree of fiscal freedom as a result of a decade of war.
“Over the last 10 years of relatively unconstrained resources, we’ve had a thousand flowers blooming out there. If someone had an idea, it was pretty easy to resource it,” he said.
“We’ve kind of really stretched out the rubber band. Shame on us if we let it go and contract to the same shape it was before. Because then, frankly, I think we’ve got some problems,” Dempsey added
He said Defense plans to reduce its footprint in Europe by half to adjust to manpower reductions, while the footprint in the Pacific Rim won’t change and the level of continued U.S. presence in the Middle East has not yet been decided.
Cyberwarfare, unmanned drones and an “exponential” increase in special operations forces are three key technological capabilities Defense has today that it didn’t have when the global war on terror began, Dempsey said. While the department must continue to invest in technology, it should not “become enamored of shiny objects,” he said.
The chairman also emphasized the importance of transitioning military personnel to a stable civilian workforce while finding a better way to harness the younger generation’s “entrepreneurial” qualities as new recruits enter the armed forces.
“If we don’t get the people right, the rest of it won’t matter. We’re going to put the country at risk,” he said.