DoD Faces Huge Capacity Cuts Under Sequester
By: Clark Murdock
In its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Department of Defense outlined plans to cut active Army end-strength from its wartime high of 570,000 to 440,000–450,000 (in FY2019), but it warned that if sequester-level cuts were imposed, Army end-strength would go to 420,000. In its July 31, 2014, assessment of the 2014 QDR, the National Defense Panel (NDP) recommended that the Army be maintained at its pre-9/11 end-strength of 490,000 in order to “undergird” the global leadership role that has provided for enhanced U.S. security and prosperity for many decades. As documented in a recent CSIS report, coauthored with Ryan Crotty and Angela Weaver and entitled Building the 2021 Affordable Military, the “capacity gap” is even greater than recognized by either the NDP or DoD.
The budgetary caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 will reduce the defense budget topline by 21 percent in FY2012–FY2021. But this does not include the impact of the aggregate impact of growth (above inflation) in the cost of personnel, health care, operations and maintenance, and acquisition. We estimate that this will reduce the purchasing power of future defense dollars by at least another 15 percent, which will be compounded by the need to move another $20–30 billion in funding from the Overseas Contingency Operations account to the base budget. It’s not just fewer defense dollars; it’s also “weaker” defense dollars.
In FY2012 (the peak year for base budget spending), the Army’s force structure consisted of 45 brigade combat teams (BCTs) and 12 combat aviation brigades. In FY2021 (under the BCA caps and in FY2021 dollars), the Army can afford only 38 BCTs and 10 aviation brigades, which equates to an end-strength level of 400,000—20,000 fewer soldiers than envisioned by the 2014 QDR and 70,000 fewer than advocated by NDP. Army active end-strength could be even lower, perhaps as low as 290,000, if DoD, as we think likely, adapts the force mix to 2021+ strategic realities and cuts the Army disproportionately. The real active Army “capacity gap” between DoD and NDP is thus not 70,000 soldiers, but 90,000 to 200,000. And, of course, the gap between what many national security experts actually believe should be spent on defense and what Congress has allowed under the Budget Control Act is even greater.