Sat, August 14, 2010
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What do budget cuts mean for U.S. military?

2010-08-14 08:51:48 GMT2010-08-14 16:51:48 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Defense Department's recent decision to cut thousands of jobs and realign its spending raises the question of what the budget shake-up means for the military's future.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced on Monday a string of cuts including the shuttering of Joint Forces Command and an annual 10 percent reduction in spending for contractors over the next three years.

The changes were aimed at saving 100 billion U.S. dollars over the next five years and part of a broader effort to create a more efficient department of defense.

"They are realizing that from 9/11 until now, the defense department, intel agencies, all aspects of the national security world saw huge increases in their budgets every year," said Kyle Spector, policy advisor at Third Way.

"And with the economic climate that we have now, the leaders in those departments started realizing that this can not continue forever," Spector said.

Gates is likely to continue to cut pricey programs such as the F-22 - last year's budget ended production of the fighter plane - and funnel those savings into more support for troops, as well as think about how funds could best be used in the future, analysts said.

Gates last year also killed Future Combat Systems - the Army's principal modernization program that included plans for manned and unmanned systems that would be linked by an electronic network.

"I think we will see a shift from huge weapons systems to more support for the war fighter," Spector said, adding that the military will retain its superiority.

"You are not going to see a desire to eliminate the preeminent military edge that the United States has," he said. "That will continue to be, at least for a couple of decades, one of the basic aspects of our military strategy - having this ten-fold edge over the next possible adversary."

The Defense Department (DOD) is faced with the question of how much it can cut until it starts eating into the bottom line, but analysts said the department will continue to spend more than the rest of the world on its military.

"While there will inevitably be cuts that impact (certain) development programs, at the end of the day the U.S. is still spending order of magnitude more than anyone else on defense," said Nathan Hughes, director of military analysis at global intelligence company Stratfor.

He added that the question comes down to which strategies are going to shape the decision about what programs are kept.

"The military is starting to think about shaping itself for the next war," he said, adding that no one really knows what that next war is going to look like.

Indeed, the military in recent years has seen a debate over whether the next war will be conventional - two sides facing off on an open battlefield - a counterinsurgency campaign such as Iraq, or a hybrid of both, although conventional systems are scaling down.

Maren Leed, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it is more accurate to view the measures as re-allocations.

"The popular characterization of it as reduction misses the point that it's all done with the intent of reinvesting it in higher priority more directly related war fighting capabilities," she said.

While Gates has laid out a number of budget objectives, it remains unknown how they will be achieved, she said.

"It's hard to say how it will play out politically, whether these things will be successful until we have more detail about how you get to the targets that he set out."

The secretary of defense is also taking it upon himself to ramp up more DOD efficiency so as not to have budget cuts imposed upon him by lawmakers, analysts said.

But some fret the spending overhaul could impair U.S. strategic objectives in Iraq, and the Pentagon's 2 billion U.S. dollar request to equip and train Iraqi security forces has been slashed by half, although the decision is not final.

The Washington Post reported that Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said it is important to continue to fund Iraqi forces as U.S. troops pull out of the war-battered country.

While some in Congress argue that Iraq's oil revenues can pay for the difference, the Post quoted Odierno as saying it is a "misinterpretation" that Iraq boasts a large amount of oil wealth now, and that the country is unlikely to increase its oil output before 2013.

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