Reality Check: Shaping an Effective, Affordable Military for 2021
By: Angela Weaver
As it finalizes its FY2015 budget request, the Department of Defense (DoD) is focused on cutting spending, as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and continuing to build a military capable of executing the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and ensuring national security. Though the budget deal of October 2013 provides modest relief (about $30 billion less in defense cuts in FY14 and FY25), the Budget Control Act will still result in a 21 percent reduction in the defense budget topline through 2021. In addition, internal cost growth (i.e., personnel pay and benefits; acquisition; operations and management) is reducing defense dollar purchasing power by 18 percent over the same time frame, making what is a 20 percent reduction feel like a 40 percent reduction. Budgetary pressure this severe should produce defense reform and may require adjusting the strategy.
The CSIS Defense and National Security Group’s Affordable Military Working Group has worked over the past year to analyze this challenge and inform those making tough decisions on what a 2021 affordable military might look like and what capabilities are needed in order to meet the strategic challenges of the future.
The 2021 affordable military will look drastically different than today’s, however some of its priorities should remain the same. Maintaining pre-drawdown standards of readiness and largely retaining the intent of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance would give the force the ability to sustain critical U.S. competencies. However, it must also be able to adapt to the 2021 security environment and evolve with changes in the nature of warfare (e.g., in cyberspace and space).
The work done by the Affordable Military Working Group has resulted in the profile of a 2021 affordable military that meets the requirements above. In addition, the CSIS study team cut the 2021 budget by 5 percent, to create a wedge that a future secretary of defense can use to explore several strategic refinements, all of which reflect challenges the United States will face in coming decades. Budget realities force hard choices. Though it may be politically and bureaucratically attractive to “spread the pain” by making across-the-board cuts to the defense budget, doing so creates the wrong military for 2021. Moving forward, DoD must start making these hard choices, lest the United States be unprepared for even our basic security requirements.