The Pentagon on Tuesday warned that looming sequestration cuts would lead to a hollow military that risks longer wars and more U.S. casualties.
The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which was released alongside the Pentagon’s 2015 budget, concluded that sequestration threatens the long-term U.S. military strategy.
The QDR mounts a defense of the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal, which shrinks the size of the Army and proposes cuts to aircraft and troop benefits.
The Pentagon argues the cuts and benefit changes are necessary in order to carry out its strategy of creating a smaller and more modern military.
The document does not, however, propose any major shifts from its previous defense guidance released in 2012.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) blasted the Pentagon’s strategy document for focusing on the budget constraints, rather than strategy.
He said in a statement that it defied the law that mandates a QDR every four years, and that he would introduce legislation requiring the Pentagon to re-write the document.
“In defiance of the law, this QDR provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget driven, and is shortsighted,” McKeon said. “It allows the president to duck the consequences of the deep defense cuts he has advocated and leaves us all wondering what the true future costs of those cuts will be.”
The Pentagon’s $495.6 billion 2015 budget request is under the spending caps that were set under sequestration and the December 2013 budget agreement. But beginning in 2016, the Pentagon included an additional $115 billion above the spending caps over the next five years, funding the department says is necessary to keep the military in balance.
Pentagon officials warned that the military would have to get even smaller and major weapons systems would be retired if sequester was not reversed.
Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said that the Army’s end strength would be reduced to 420,000 from the 440,000 to 450,000 currently planned, while the Marine Corps would be cut to 175,000 from 182,000.
The Navy would have to go forward with the retirement of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier and a carrier air wing, and the Air Force would retire the KC-10 fleet and have fewer Predator and Reaper drones.
“The risks would grow significantly if sequester-level cuts return in FY2016, if proposed reforms are not accepted, or if uncertainty over budget levels continues,” the QDR says.
The strategy review emphasizes the need to enact proposed reform to compensation for service members, as well as the importance of a new round of base closures in 2017, in order to keep the military balanced fiscally. Both of those proposals in the 2015 budget face skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The strategy document builds upon the Obama administration’s 2012 defense guidance, which proposed a pivot to the Asia-Pacific region as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drew toward a close.
The feasibility of the Asia-Pacific pivot, which emphasizes naval and air power, has come under scrutiny as the Pentagon has cut funding under sequestration.
But the QDR does not back away from rebalancing toward Asia, as it is listed it as one of the military’s main priorities.
The Pentagon says the 2015 funding levels would allow the military to execute the updated defense strategy with increased risk for some missions.
“We will continue to experience gaps in training and maintenance over the near term and will have a reduced margin of error in dealing with risks of uncertainty in a dynamic and shifting security environment over the long term,” the document says.
The military in 2012 said it was no longer following the “two-war doctrine,” where it conducts two large-scale ground wars at the same time.
Christine Wormuth, deputy undersecretary for strategy, plans and forces, said that the strategy was designed to defeat one adversary and deny the objectives of another, which went far beyond simply boiling down the “two-war bumper sticker” doctrine.
Wormuth said that the strategy was developed to look beyond the wars in Afghanistan at future threats, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region and a more dispersed al Qaeda threat.
The document also discusses a rebalancing for a broad spectrum of conflict, including a focus on asymmetrical threats, cybersecurity and a growth in special operations forces.
This story was updated at 2:55 p.m.