Teams of experts game out strategic defense budget cuts

Hoshang Hashimi/AP File Photo

A sound strategy for cutting the defense budget during the next decade requires a willingness to risk short-term readiness to achieve long-term security improvements, says a think tank report.

National security winners in the long-term strategic budgetary exercise performed by competing teams of experts convened this summer through the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments would be special operations forces, cyberspace capabilities, the long-range strike bomber and remotely piloted systems, and survivable undersea warfare systems.

The area most apt to be sacrificed was current-day readiness, said the report titled “Strategic Choices: Navigating Austerity,” released at a press briefing Tuesday. “A near-term reduction in readiness, while not ideal, would be better than the significant additional reductions in force structure, end strength and modernization initiatives otherwise required,” the report said. The participants -- some 70 anonymous employees of the Pentagon, Congress, industry and think tanks -- in essence “chose to take greater risk in the near term in order to reduce longer-term risks.”

Todd Harrison, senior fellow for defense budget studies at the center, explained the exercise of cutting $519 billion over two five-year periods assumed “a threat environment in the future that is much more difficult, where it is difficult to project power through traditional means like rolling in impressive power as in Iraq or Afghanistan. Future adversaries will have guided rockets and mortars,” he said, and warfare in the air, sea and space domains will be “increasingly contested.” Another challenge is the Obama administration’s year-old strategy of pivoting to Asia, which requires operating over longer distances via sea, air and cyberspace but fewer ground troops.

“This was not a budget drill but a strategy drill,” said senior fellow Mark Gunzinger. “The Defense Department has said if it were forced to take more budget cuts, it would revisit its long-term strategy,” which was the process this drill imitated.

Participants in the team sessions were guaranteed anonymity so that they could play the role of expert rather than representing their organization’s interest, the authors said. Military pay and benefits were taken off the table so the experts could focus on strategy and set politics aside.

Key lessons from the exercise, the report said, are the need to assess capabilities across the military services; to begin with the strategic end in mind (or “listening to the future,” as Gunzinger put it, rather than trying to make trades to “share pain”); and picking winners first to avoid getting bogged down. “Failing to recognize and make strategic choices,” the report concluded, “is effectively a form of self-sequestration.”

Harrison said he was surprised at the ability of participants to step out of their real-world roles and use their expertise to agree on spending cuts. “The exercise is important for the future from a bureaucratic perspective because of the good insight that people needn’t get stuck in silos defending their home turf. They were more willing to go along with others,” he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.