Perils of sequestration

Technology firms must plan months if not years ahead. Waiting until the lame duck session, or the next Congress will be too late for folks spread across America’s high tech defense landscape, from the assembly lines through to workshops and laboratories.
 

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Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter recently broadly criticized Congress over defense sequestration and its potential to devastate industry. Pressure will continue to build on lawmakers as sequestration and the inevitable layoffs butt up against the election cycle.
 
Planning needs a rational basis – inherently sequester was designed to be irrational. It is flawed public policy. Fundamentally, the debate over cuts and additions to the 2013 budget is moot, unless lawmakers determine a way forward on sequestration.
 
Secretary Carter said that the Pentagon doesn’t want to cut funding for new advanced programs. He singled out cyber, science and technology, space, and unmanned systems as mission critical. Many in the defense technology industry are discouraged by Congressional mandates which restore funding to older, less capable weapons systems at the expense of needed, new technology.

From a purely national security perspective, the gap between the US military and our closest rivals will collapse with sequestration. The weapon systems now rolling off foreign assembly lines are roughly the equivalent to the platforms being retired at home – a posture designed to enhance the technology gap in favor of the US. In most instances we enjoy a lead in technology of one or in many cases two generations. This American technology advantage will evaporate with sequestration.
 
Sequestration provides no sound association between the programs facing mandatory cuts and the strategic situation confronted by the U.S. Britain faced a similar dilemma in 1998/99 when the U.K. defense budget was gutted. The cuts affected national security so dramatically that they were undone three years later – the effects are still felt today.

Sequestration will see the US military shrink - the smallest ground force since 1940. A 230 ship Navy would be the smallest fleet since WWI, and the least tactical fighters in USAF history. For example, the F-35 JSF program will be stripped, if not cancelled - heralding dramatic strategic consequences for key allies including Britain, Australia and Canada. The B-1B bomber replacement will be terminated or delayed – as will the LCS, the ground combat vehicle.

The chairman of TechAmerica’s Defense Committee, Vice Admiral Lou Crenshaw summed it up saying that, Sequestration is analogous to a short circuit where current seeks the path of least resistance with predictable and disastrous consequences. He said that Congress must take the path of responsibility, not least resistance, and fix sequestration

Sequestration will be devastating with grave consequences coupled with vicious and undiscerning implementation. If Congress does not act quickly, it would likely be a decade or more before any new weapons systems enter the US arsenal. By then it will be too late. The jobs will be gone, the intellectual capital sapped away and the weapons technology gap will have snapped closed.
 
Keeley is vice president for defense, intelligence and homeland security policy at TechAmerica. He is also a former senior staffer to Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and former House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair, Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.).  Keeley recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan.