On January 2, 2013 President Obama signed the new FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The law, which has passed for 51 straight years, sets Defense Department policy and authorizes $633.3 billion in defense spending. It comes at a historic turning point for the military as it winds down 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. Obama issued a written «signing statement» explaining his decision to approve the 2013 Authorization Act despite his objections to various aspects of the measure, including provisions that thwart his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terror suspects and condemn the new «conscience» clause in the legislation, which says that military chaplains cannot perform actions contrary to their religious beliefs. Obama noted the bill called for «unnecessary spending» on programs that the Pentagon does not want. «Restrictions on the Defense Department's ability to retire unneeded ships and aircraft will divert scarce resources needed for readiness and result in future unfunded liabilities», the President said. Still, as he put it «the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore». Obama stressed that the Act «helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world». So the global domination remains to be a declared goal, no matter financial hardships and policy changes.
The amount authorized probably will not matter much with a fiscal year sandwiched between a 6-month continuing resolution and some form of sequestration likely to depress authorization levels. Obama had sought $614 billion, but the Senate hiked the total figure by $17 billion, even as lawmakers and the president tried hard to avoid automatic spending cuts. The 2013 budget is the first to take into account the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August that requires the Pentagon to cut $487 billion in projected spending over the next decade. It’s worth to note that the projected cuts would slow growth in the defense budget to the rate of inflation, but not actually reduce defense spending.
Major provisions and programs
The Act clears the Department of Defense and other agencies to spend $527.5 billion for DoD’s base budget, $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.8 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
It authorizes fiscal year 2013 active-duty end strengths for the Army of 552,100; the Navy, 322,700; the Marine Corps, 197,300; and the Air Force, 329,597. The law reduces civilian and contractor personnel by five percent over five years, aligning civilian workforce cuts with the five percent cut in military strength through 2017. The Secretary of Defense is given the flexibility to phase in these reductions and exclude critical elements of the workforce. A 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel is authorized allowing the Department to institute pay raises, bonuses and incentive pay.
The DoD is allowed to enter into multiyear procurement deals on several key programs, including CH-47 and UH-60, and AH-64 Block III helicopters, Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle and Stryker programs, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and F/A-18E/F aircraft, DDG-51 destroyers and V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. The law allows incremental funding for another Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine in 2014 and incremental funding of the Ford-class aircraft carriers over six rather than five years. The law puts off the retirement of some ships and aircraft to avoid reductions in the overall size of the military as the Defense Department faces cuts in projected spending. The Act restores funding for three Navy cruisers that had been slated for retirement by Navy because congressmen determined each has «at least a decade» of life remaining. It also increases the number of Navy Virginia-class submarines and Arleigh Burke class destroyers the Navy could buy. The increase goes from nine to 10 for both. The Act requires the Air Force to maintain additional 32 aircraft to meet intra-theater lift the Army needs (the services are to decide on C-27Js or C-130s). The legislation prevents the retirement of 26 C-5As until DoD conducts a «comprehensive study of air mobility requirements». The NDAA retains but slows the purchase of weapons like F-35, the Pentagon's largest procurement program, as well as submarines, amphibious assault ships and other vessels. It would retain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers.
The US will increase the emphasis on cyber operations, expand its work on drone aircraft, go ahead with a long-range bomber and proceed with other weapons that would allow it to project power to a greater distance. Cyber security will be increased by requiring companies doing business with the Defense Department to report the cases of cyber intruders trying to breach their sensitive information systems. Along with that the US military will continue to boost its emphasis on special operations forces.
The Act authorizes $9.8 billion for missile defense, including funds for a DoD feasibility study on three possible missile defense sites on the US East Coast. The defense officials are to study options for locations without clearance for actual construction. Many Democrats in the Congress have expressed opposition to the idea of setting up an East Coast system that Republicans say is needed to knock down Iranian missiles. The decision to start the BMD sites construction would certainly complicate the missile defense dialogue with the Russian Federation. Military officials have also been lukewarm about the need for such a system. The Act says no to the Pentagon’s plans to spend funds on the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint venture between the US, Germany and Italy. The system, designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, has been plagued by cost spikes and performance issues. The Obama administration and the Pentagon wanted around $400 million to finish the joint venture, but lawmakers refused to approve that plan. Congressmen say Washington has no plans to produce the system, which has been in development for a decade at a cost of $4 billion. But officials say termination fees may nearly equal the cost of completing the system. The White House had warned that failure to approve the funding could hurt ties with allies. The new law authorizes an increase of $100.0 million for procurement of additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors. This would bring the fiscal year funding for THAAD interceptor procurement to $560.7 million. Russia views THAAD as a potential global missile defense component. There is one more provision related to missile defense. The law authorizes an increase of funds to accelerate and enhance joint US – Israeli cooperative missile defense programs, including improving the Arrow Weapon System; the development of the Arrow-3 upper-tier interceptor and the David’s Sling short-range missile defense system. As one can see the missile defense is still a favorite son of the US executive and legislative powers with preference for US (not European as the MEADS example goes to show) production in combination with taking a page out of cutting edge foreign experience (Israel, for instance).
The legislation restricts the Pentagon’s ability to move forward with a controversial plan to expand the number of Defense Intelligence Agency covert military operatives to 1,600.
The measure directs Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to develop and implement a plan to increase the number of Marines assigned to US embassies and consulates worldwide by up to 1,000 after the deadly Sept. 11 terrorists raid in Libya.
Export restrictions on satellite technology will be eased in an effort to improve U.S. competitiveness in the sale of the equipment overseas. Many lawmakers say the limits on the export threaten to undermine the ability of US firms to provide modern technologies needed by the US Armed Forces.
The military construction authorization request is reduced by $660 million. Funding for incrementally-funded construction projects is cut by $200 million. The bill prohibits funds to realign Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam until DOD submits a plan showing the costs and schedule for all projects needed to meet the plan.
The NDAA extends for one year the restriction on use of US funds to transfer Guantanamo inmates to other countries – an obvious setback for Obama's efforts to close the detention center. The DoD will be unable to use funds to transfer detainees out of that facility and to other sites ensuring they will remain at the top-secret military prison for the time being.
A ban is introduced on the government detaining US citizens or permanent residents without charge.
The Act extends the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program that has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It authorizes a one-year extension of the Afghan Infrastructure Fund and extends the Coalition Support Fund and the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Fund. The law authorizes U.S. training activities In Iraq.
The DoD is among US agencies implementing sanctions against Iran along with the State Department, the Department of Treasury and some others. The defense intelligence and the US Navy have related mission to carry out to do the job. The United States has had some sort of sanctions levied against Iran for most of 30 years as a result of the hostage crisis in 1979. Few of them had real influence though the US officials say the sanctions started to tell in 2012. The new package of sanctions was approved by Congress in November last year. They are aimed at further crippling Iran's energy, shipbuilding, shipping and port sectors – the ones designated as «entities of proliferation» because they «support and fund Iran's proliferation activities». The amendment was tacked onto a sweeping defense spending bill. Penalties are to be imposed on anyone caught supplying precious metals to Iran.
The NDAA includes an amendment requiring the administration to report to Congress on the US military options available for degrading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of air power against the people, although it does not expressly authorize the use of US military force and is said not to be construed as a declaration of war. The legislation instructs the President to submit a plan for implementing a «no-fly zone» over Syria. Many experts say the declaration of «no-fly zones» is an act of hostility. It’s a violation of another state’s air space. Making the military working on such plans mandatory according to the measure is tantamount to open declaration of preparatory steps for nothing else but combat action. And that is the only way the NDAA’s provision can be construed, a very worrisome move by US Congress signed into law by the country’s executive chief.
The Act bans deals with Russian Rosoboronexport state company for its alleged support for Syrian government, no matter there is no legal ban on the contacts with that country. This provision is in stark contradiction to international law.
Gap between desire and possibility
The US defense budget is to be reduced to the level around $350 billion in the next ten years, that is to go down twice. If formally (not exactly so if other budget clauses are taken into account) it spent over $700 billion in the times it waged two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (FY2011). So it’s not reduction but rather coming back to where it was – the US military budget was around $300 at the beginning of the century – $316 billion in 2001, for instance (1). Great growth since then as one can see!
I think the US military also faces the problems engendered by the very cutting edge they have achieved to ensure the «global dominance». After the Vietnam syndrome and the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military is a leading high-precision, network-centric operations force ushering the history of military art into the information warfare age. The matter is the situation awareness and high-precision capability enhances the effectiveness of the potential, but not the potential itself. Even if effectiveness is «one projectile launched – one target hit» (almost fantasy), still one cannot hit more targets than the number of munitions carried by a tank, an aircraft, a helicopter or a ship. There is a limit imposed by the number of munitions, the attrition of killing elements, I’d call it. In the case of the USA these are extremely costly ones, as well as the platforms. To put it plain the cost of high-precision systems and munitions has become an unbearable burden for taxpayers. Remember the battleships sailing to sea in the days of WWII? It raised more panic in the government offices and staffs of the nation the battleship belonged to than made the enemy feel scared. I would call it the battleship phenomenon, if you will. A loss of a super expensive and a super modern ship was a national tragedy making pale any combat effectiveness, any damage it could have inflicted on the adversary. That’s what happens with the US military today. Any platform that used to be expendable before, like a tank or fighter plane, for instance, has become a battleship nowadays – too expensive to lose. Along with that, a high-precision munition price is comparable with a target hit or even exceeds it, especially in the third world conflicts. Just try to imagine a Maverick or a Hellfire missile used to kill an obsolete T-55 tank or an artillery piece produced soon after WWII, or, say, a long range anti-ship Tomahawk hitting a vessel built in the 1960s. It is a new phenomenon confirmed by the events in Libya – the cost of a projectile has become comparable with the damage inflicted, something unheard of in the military history (used to be 4-5 times less).
Talking about the budget, there is nothing significant reduced or cancelled in the Army, Marine Corps or Navy this time. Some reductions had been done before, like the Army Future Combat System or Comanche helicopter and Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle programs refused for high costs. With over 8 thousand Abrams and 6 thousand Bradley fighting vehicles and 4 thousand Strykers the ground forces have extra armor to bring into reserve to make up for possible losses in case of war. The inventory is saturated; it’s enough to produce a few Stryker and anti-guerilla mine resistant ambush protected vehicles annually to have enough armor capability for many years. The Navy can jolly well do with 10-11 aircraft carriers, quite enough for carrying out the global sea superiority mission. The Arleigh Burke destroyers program is by and large fulfilled. The ships will serve till 2040s (the lately built ones till 1960s). The Navy can do without Zumwalts. The Ticonderoga cruisers will serve at least 15 years more. The Virginia class attack submarines 30 ship program is well in force as the new NDAA shows. F/A-18E/F and EA-18G are affordable with a price tag of around $50-60 million a plane. The flat top – based X-47B has a reported range of 2,700 nautical miles (some sources say it’s over 3000) and a payload of 10,000 lb. (4,500 kg) – a serious boost to sea air power capability. It makes the Navy aviation practically unaffected by the F-35 (JSF-joint strike fighter) problems. But the F-35 is a vicious circle. Huge sums have already been invested. Too late to turn back, but too many bumps on the road to fulfillment. The program’s cost is going up all the time; the aircraft is still not what it is expected to be. No matter high expenditure, there is hardly any alternative to paying the price and continue, the US military has an axe to grind here. The number of F-16 Air Force working horses is down; the A-10 is getting obsolete. There is nothing to take their place but the belief that F-35 will one day pick up the baton. The hope F-22 will do it in the case of F-15 is long gone. The F-22 Raptor’s price tag is around $300-400 million. It’s a flying battleship, a golden platform to cherish – not to lose in combat. The invulnerability to radars and other specifications is iffy. The UAVs are not a real substitute; these are anti-guerilla weapons limited in range and payload, they are no match for tactical aviation. Hypervelocity weapons are a thing of rather distant future (perhaps in 2030 if great expenditure doesn’t stop it). Still the Act allows the JSF (F-35) program to proceed no matter the cost against the backdrop of financial troubles. The woes faced by Air Force testify to the fact that maintaining the «global dominance» and accomplishing the mission set to protect «vital interests» everywhere in the world comes in contradiction with economic realities and the interests of grassroots taxpayers.
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Defense consumes almost 20 percent of the U.S. budget. The U.S. spends more on it than anything else. At present, the military expenditure exceeds combined military spending of all other countries. For FY 2013, the government has budgeted over $851 billion for security spending, more than the $820 billion requested for Social Security, or the $523 billion for Medicare. As Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he promised to cut defense programs which drained the US economy. As the New Year fiscal cliff situation showed the country’s state debt is still growing at a rather fast rate. The newly approved 2013 budget confirms there is no intention to really cut enormous military expenditure burden. To great extent the current difficulties experienced by the US economy are attributed to the fact that it cracked under the heavy weight. Trillions of dollars of state debt undermine it. The war in Iraq cost US taxpayers $3 trillion, another half a trillion dollars have been spent on the military operation in Afghanistan. At the same time the cutting age weapons and high-precision munitions are becoming golden assets, the battleship phenomenon. The huge debt is damaging the basis of US might – its economy, it’s much more of a national security threat than terrorists, or so called rough states with primitive rockets, the goal of keeping up global leadership may lead to overstretching and final collapse. The FY 2013 defense budget proves the dangerous trend is continuing unhampered…