The week ahead: Defense world in holding pattern as budget release looms

Panetta provided a sneak preview last week of many of the cuts — including a reduction of 100,000 troops and a new round request for the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Lawmakers will have another week to mull over those plans before the full budget blueprint reaches their desks.

The 2013 base Pentagon budget request will be $525 billion, Panetta said last month, down from $531 billion in 2012. It’s the first time the Pentagon budget has dropped year to year since the late 1990s.

Panetta, as well as Republicans, have said that the cuts in the 2013 budget will show skeptics the Pentagon is making painful trims already and should not be hit with the $500 billion in automatic cuts set to take effect through sequestration starting in January 2013.

Republicans in the Senate introduced legislation Thursday to cancel out the first year of sequestration with cuts to the federal workforce.

Even if the budget has to wait a week, there’s still plenty in the news that will keep things interesting in the national-security and foreign-policy world.

Panetta’s announcement Wednesday that the United States would seek to end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2013 took NATO allies by surprise, put Republicans on the attack and had the White House walking back his comments.

Panetta wrapped up meetings with NATO defense ministers in Brussels last week, so look for further explanation out of those meetings about what the plan is for Afghanistan. A formal announcement, however, might not come until the G-8 meeting in May that President Obama is hosting in Chicago.

The week ahead could also give a better sense of the likelihood that Israel would attack Iran to stop its nuclear program, something that Panetta believes could happen, according to The Washington Post.

Israeli officials publicly said last month they weren’t rushing to a decision on Iran, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Thursday that, when it comes to stopping Tehran’s nuclear program, “Whoever says 'later' could find that it is too late.”

Obama said in an interview with NBC Sunday that he doesn’t think Israel has decided whether it would attack Iran.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday will take up the nominations of Adm. Samuel Locklear III to be commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick to become commander of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs is looking at reforming the Veterans Affairs Department’s “flawed fiduciary system” on Thursday.

And Monday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a discussion on acquisition and the 2013 budget with Frank Kendall, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.