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American Forces Press Service

Winnefeld: Budget Request Balances Security, Fiscal Realities

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2014 – The Defense Department's fiscal year 2015 budget request seeks to balance the nation's security needs with the realities of fiscal constraints, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.

In a speech at Bloomberg Government's Defense Transformation Conference, Navy Adm. James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr. said the changing national security environment, after-effects of $37 billion in fiscal 2013 sequestration spending cuts and the outlook for defense spending in the years to come posed myriad challenges to budget planners.

"The world has changed a lot since World War II," Winnefeld said. "The nature of warfare has changed, [and] the cost of people, ships and airplanes has gone up along with their capability -- our nation's fiscal environment has changed."

Readiness and modernization were key factors in a process that required many tough decisions on matters such as force size and the military's current weapon systems and infrastructure, the admiral said. If the balance achieved in the budget request is altered as the request makes its way to law, he warned, something more important would have to give.

"Every efficiency we need that's denied, every program cut we need that's reversed, every element of old force structure … we're required to keep will require a decrease in readiness or modernization somewhere else," he said.

Ultimately, Winnefeld said, this would mean more people could go into combat with insufficient training and outdated equipment, and fewer of them would come home. The strategy-driven budget request reflects "fundamental decisions" made in a complex and collaborative process over the last year, Winnefeld told the conference audience. "It's about the ends, ways, and means and ensuring that the enduring and resultant risk is acceptable to us as a nation," he said. The process included careful assessment of the challenges the military is likely to face in a rapidly changing world, he added.

"Over the last decade, we've been mostly focused on a single type of war, but the world has changed, and we need to restore our readiness for the full spectrum of what we might face in the future," the admiral said. "We'll continue to build innovative, operational concepts for how we'll fight, including extending what we've learned over the last 12 years of counterinsurgency into other types of fights."

Winnefeld said the U.S. military must balance its posture around the globe with a focus on permanent, pre-positional and rotational presence, as well as surge capability. "We'll also re-emphasize building partnership capacity, because we're going to be relying more on our partners in the future," he added.

Along with shifting its focus to areas that are most likely to be threatened in the future, Winnefeld said, DOD must rebalance capability, capacity and readiness of the force with fiscal reality. "Even at the president's budget level, and even though it will be painful, we're going to have to begin reducing the size of our force while restoring its readiness and modernization," he said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's imperative to invest prudently and examine the growth of compensation also factored into the budget request, the vice chairman told the conference audience.

"Our men and women in uniform deserve the best possible support we can provide, including solid compensation, especially at a time when they've sacrificed more than [they would in] normal peacetime deployments," he said. "We've enjoyed a high rate of growth of compensation that finally corrected some of the serious deficiencies of the 1990s." But the time has come, he added, to gradually adjust compensation growth to set and sustain the right level as the nation moves off its 13-year war footing and fiscal constraints curtail overall defense spending.

Over many months of planning the budget request, DOD officials sought to produce the most appropriate package of adjustments in compensation and benefits, Winnefeld said.

"The chiefs and senior enlisted advisors of the services were fully involved and fully consulted," he noted. And he emphasized that the budget request does not call for a pay cut for service members -- it includes a 1 percent pay raise for most service members, while freezing pay at current levels for general and flag officers.

"Nobody's pay is going to decrease under this plan, and we are not forcing commissaries to close," he said.

The budget request does include a steep reduction in subsidies for commissaries, though overseas stores and those in remote locations that don't offer discount grocery shopping in the local area will continue to be subsidized. Just as military exchanges do, other commissaries would have to operate without the subsidy.

Potential changes to the retirement system loom, Winnefeld reported, but Hagel and other defense officials repeatedly have emphasized that the budget request makes no recommendations on that front. A congressionally appointed panel is examining the system and will submit its report later this year. The Defense Department's position is that any changes adopted from the panel's report should apply only to people who join the military once the changes take effect.

"Some might claim that any adjustment in the trajectory of compensation growth, even one that accounts for budget or market changes, is a violation of a promise –- something gained that can now not be changed," the vice chairman said. But the nation and its service members need a modern and ready force, he added.

"The most important way we keep faith with … the men and women who volunteer to defend our nation is to only send them into combat with the best possible training and equipment, and to take care of them when they come home," he said.

Overall, Winnefeld said, military compensation accounts for 10 percent of the savings in the proposed budget.

"These savings are gradual, they're measured and they're fair," he said. "The remaining 90 percent of the savings that we're finding comes out of the other two-thirds of our budget, which pays for modernization and readiness, as well as end-strength costs."

The budget request enables the Defense Department to execute the president's strategic guidance, defend the homeland, conduct sustained counterterrorism operations and deter aggression in multiple regions, the vice chairman said. And while a smaller force will mean less deterrent presence and a smaller margin for error in combat, he added, much of the risk will be mitigated by the two principal U.S. advantages: the all-volunteer force and the nation's ability to innovate across every discipline.

The budget request provides for $115 billion above the sequestration spending level in fiscal 2015, but unless Congress acts to stop it, sequestration will return in fiscal 2016. "Our submission adheres to the Bipartisan Budget Act, providing the programs we believe would allow us to continue executing our strategy, as well as what it would look like under sequester," Winnefeld said.

The vice chairman acknowledged that because the choices often were difficult in formulating the budget request, turmoil probably lies ahead as the final budget takes form. "Let's face it -- it's hard to cut this kind of money out of any budget and expect people to cheer you on," he said. But he emphasized that the proposal allows the military to continue fulfilling its mission.

"We believe this budget, challenging and difficult as it will be to pass and execute, will allow us to maintain the most powerful military in the world, to protect the American people, and to continue standing by our allies and our friends around the world," he said.

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