Dempsey: Defense budget reflects clear strategic choices

By Karen Parrish, American Forces Press ServiceJanuary 27, 2012

Depsey discusses budget
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WASHINGTON (Jan. 27, 2012) -- The decisions behind the fiscal year 2013 defense budget request Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced yesterday represent the department's priorities of maintaining capability, keeping military pay and benefits fair, and managing risk, the nation's top military officer said today.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the budget request is based on the defense strategy guidance President Barack Obama announced Jan. 5, and represents clear strategic choices.

He and the service chiefs worked closely with the president and Panetta, the service secretaries and senior enlisted advisers to prepare a budget request that recognizes the services' unique strengths, the chairman told reporters during a Pentagon briefing.

"At the same time, we put national security above parochial interest -- exactly what the American people should expect of us," he added.

The department's fiscal year 2013 base budget request is $525 billion, plus $88.4 billion for overseas contingency operations. Those numbers are down from fiscal year 2012's $531 billion base and $115 billion for overseas contingencies. Defense officials said the budget request implements $259 billion in savings over five years, as required by the Budget Control Act.

"Capability is more important than size," Dempsey said, noting the strategy and budget request both call for a smaller force.

"We get leaner. But this budget does not lead to a military in decline," he said. "It leads to a joint force that is global and networked, that is versatile and innovative, that is ably led and that is always ready."

That joint force "can win any conflict, anywhere," the chairman added.

Troops will not lose money because of the spending cuts, Dempsey emphasized. There are no proposed pay freezes or reductions, and department officials will not change health care benefits for active-duty troops, those with combat injuries or service members who have medically retired, he added.

"But we cannot -- we cannot -- ignore some hard realities," he warned. "Pay and benefits are now roughly one-third of defense spending. Pay will need to grow more slowly in the future."

According to defense officials, military members, after a decade of substantial annual pay increases from Congress, now receive equal or better pay than most of their civilian counterparts.

Since 2000, they note, basic pay has risen 62 percent, housing allowances have increased by 58 percent, and subsistence allowance is up 43 percent, compared to a 46-percent rise in private-sector salaries.

The chairman said the budget request does include modest increases in health-care fees, co-pays and deductibles for retirees, and department officials are studying retirement reform.

"We'll take the time to determine how to enact any retirement reforms over the next year," he said.

The budget strikes a necessary balance between succeeding in current conflicts and preparing for future threats, while accounting for risks and fiscal constraints, the chairman said.

"It represents responsible investment in our national security," Dempsey said. "But make no mistake, the tradeoffs were tough. The choices were complex."

The chairman acknowledged that calculated risks were necessary to achieve the savings.

"The primary risks lie not in what we can do, but in how much we can do and how fast we can do it," he said. "The risks, therefore, are in terms of time and capacity."

Defense leaders have fully considered those risks, the chairman said.

"I am convinced we can properly manage them by ensuring we keep the force in balance, investing in new capabilities and preserving a strong reserve component," he said. "As I've said before, we will face greater risks if we do not change the way we've been doing things."

The budget request trims the number of F-35 joint strike fighters the department will buy by 179 over the next five years. It also postpones several planned ships, including an ocean surveillance vessel, a submarine, a dock landing ship, two littoral combat ships, eight joint high-speed vessels and three oilers.

Six of the current 60 Air Force tactical air squadrons will be cut, and 130 aircraft will be retired or divested from the airlift fleet.

The request cuts the end strength of the Army and Marine Corps, forecasts Army and Air Force troop-number reductions in Europe, and calls for rounds of base realignments and closures in fiscal years 2013 and 2015.

"Much will be said and written about the individual decisions underlying this budget," the chairman said. "Some may be tempted to view them through the prism of a zero-sum game, parsing through each cut, each change, to look for a winner and a loser.

"That is actually the least-productive way to assess this budget," he added.

The Defense Department has a real strategy that reflects real choices, Dempsey said, and the budget proposal the president is scheduled to send to Congress early next month embodies those realities.

"I'm confident it meets our nation's needs in our current fights and for our future," he said.

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