Obama orders 'fundamental review' of defense missions; calls for $400B in cuts

Obama announced the soup-to-nuts military strategy review during a speech laying out a new plan to shave the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years. He called for $400 billion in “current and future” defense spending cuts, which will be driven in large part by the comprehensive review.

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“Over the last two years, [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again,” Obama said. “We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world.”

Obama said he intends to make decisions about where within the Defense budget to trim after conferring with Gates and the military service chiefs.

The White House provided a few more details in a “framework” document sent to reporters before the early afternoon speech at George Washington University.

“The framework sets a goal of holding the growth in base security spending below inflation, while ensuring our capacity to meet our national security responsibilities, which would save $400 billion by 2023,” the White House document said.

Those $400 billion would be on top of savings expected as war-funding bills shrink in coming years as Washington winds down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to the White House.

“As commander-in-chief, I have no greater responsibility than protecting our national security, and I will never accept cuts that compromise our ability to defend our homeland or America’s interests around the world,” Obama said. “But as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. [Michael] Mullen, has said, the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security is America’s debt.”

Some Republicans likely will be upset by the idea of taking from the annual Pentagon budget even more than the $178 billion in savings Gates found during his efficiencies effort — and another $18 billion cut from the top line last week in a 2011 budget deal hammered out by House and Senate leaders and the White House.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon said Wednesday afternoon he has "grave concerns" about a $400 billion "cut" while the military is fighting three wars.

"Additionally, assigning a specific number to national security cuts prior to the completion of a comprehensive review of our military’s roles and missions seems to be putting the cart before the horse," McKeon said in a statement. As Gates "reminded us last year, announcing specific cuts prior to actually assessing the required missions and necessary force structure is ‘math not strategy,'" he added.

McKeon noted the committee already has mandated the Pentagon conduct a roles and missions study.

The Department of Defense (DoD) was allowed by the White House in the 2012 budget build to shift most of the funds freed up under Gates' efficiencies program to hardware programs.

It was not immediately clear if DoD would get to keep some or all of the $400 billion target Obama proposed Wednesday.

But a Pentagon budget official told The Hill the roles and mission study will not force changes to the 2012 budget plan sent to lawmakers in February.

"This review will not be done in time to affect the FY-12 budget request we submitted in February, but likely would impact the FY-13 budget," the budget official said in an email.

One defense insider said Republicans — and the defense industry — likely have little to worry about in terms of Obama's plan for cuts.

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute noted Obama's savings plan is stretched over a dozen budget cycles, leaving little to fear from big cuts to weapon programs over the next few years.

"That means it's probably back-loaded," Thompson said. "Any time politicians start talking about cuts beyond a decade, they probably aren't going to cut anything next year."

This story was last updated at 4:38 p.m.