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By KATE BRANNEN | 02/25/14 8:30 AM EDT
With Jonathan Topaz
LAISSEZ LES BONS TEMPS ROULER: We’re a week away from Mardi Gras, but the budget season is blooming here in Washington. And, as usual, the Pentagon is the first out of the gate, briefing the press and Congress a week early on its fiscal 2015 budget proposal.
There was lots of news out of the Pentagon yesterday — much of it expected, thanks to a steady stream of leaks and trial balloons. But, still, there were some surprises.
James Hasik, a defense industry consultant and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he was surprised that Army end-strength fared as well as it did. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the active-duty Army would drop between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, though it had been widely speculated, even in the last few days, the Army would be forced to go to 420,000. But Hagel said yesterday this would only be necessary if sequestration remains in effect in 2016 and beyond.
GOVERNORS ARE NOT HAPPY ABOUT THE GUARD PROPOSALS: Word has it that all 50 governors signed a letter to President Barack Obama yesterday, voicing their opposition to cutting the Army Guard and transferring their Apache helicopters to active-duty units in exchange for a smaller number of Black Hawk helicopters.
At the Pentagon, though, DoD officials defended the moves, saying they’re only fair when the active-duty Army is taking an even bigger cut.
GETTING IT RIGHT ABOUT WWII AND ARMY END-STRENGTH: “”Where many reporters, editors and bloggers are making their mistake is in their assumption that a drawdown to the lowest numbers since the pre-WW2 numbers equates to a drawdown to the pre-WW2 level, and that’s simply not true,” writes Alexander Nicholson, editor of the Defense Policy Journal. “In 1940, the Army’s troops levels stood at 267,000 … But even in the Pentagon’s proposed new troop strength level for the Army, the numbers are still nearly double the pre-WW2 level.” http://goo.gl/RJzmqL
WIN, LOSE OR DRAW: POLITICO’s Austin Wright and Leigh Munsil highlight yesterday’s losers and winners, plus a handful of draws, a category in which they placed the Army and the National Guard. http://politico.pro/1chZm4Q
On their winners list: Special Ops, Global Hawk, Readiness and Cyber.
ON THE LOSERS LIST — THE LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP, via POLITICO’s Philip Ewing: “The Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget submission calls for ending the Littoral Combat Ship program after 32 vessels, short of the previous plan for 52, the defense secretary said. The ships can’t protect themselves in some of the environments commanders need them to operate, he said. Instead, the Navy needs something bigger and tougher.” http://politico.pro/MWg6bQ
“The Navy will submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small-surface combatant consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” Hagel said, delivering happy news to shipbuilding advocates, writes Ewing.
THE ORWELLIAN “OPPORTUNITY, GROWTH AND SECURITY FUND”: There weren’t too many new details about what the extra $26 billion would buy. And we didn’t learn much about how it would be paid for. Because it’s a government-wide initiative, Pentagon officials seemed wary of weighing into the offsets discussion, preferring to leave it to the White House to explain.
What we do know is the Pentagon will use the $26 billion to buy back near-term readiness, which senior defense officials said yesterday remains one of the most critical risk factors.
But some people are disappointed by the $26-billion request, saying it throws budget discipline out the window. “It’s time to stay within the budget that has been set,” said the Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel (@BarryPavel) in a call with reporters.
WHAT WOULD YOU ASK IF YOU COULD ASK HAGEL AND DEMPSEY ANYTHING: In a week, we’ll learn the nitty-gritty details about the budget when the White House officially submits it to Congress. Then, Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dempsey will begin making the rounds, taking questions on the budget from members of all four congressional defense committees.
What would you ask them? Email or tweet your questions. #AskHagel
— THE No. 1 QUESTION YESTERDAY: WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU’LL GET ANY OF THIS THROUGH CONGRESS? Huge battles await Pentagon officials when they head to Capitol Hill to testify. Whether it’s the force structure cuts, the Army-Guard helicopter “swap,” another round of BRAC, or cuts to military pay and benefits — lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle will use these issues as an excuse to huff and puff and blow DoD’s house down. And some may genuinely care about what’s at stake too. But with it being an election year, the theatrics will be Oscar-worthy.
Senior defense officials said yesterday that there was some indication that lawmakers were beginning to understand the tradeoffs in the budget.
BUT BEFORE THE DAY WAS DONE, CONGRESS SAID: NOT SO FAST, via POLITICO’s Austin Wright: Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and “other members of Congress railed against the cutbacks in Hagel’s spending plan as they returned from a long Presidents Day recess. They decried base closures, the retirement of the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 ‘Warthogs’ and even the topline budget numbers they themselves mandated.” http://politico.pro/1o1SLRl
AND VETS GROUPS ALSO PROTESTED: “Here we go again. Washington is trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have sacrificed the most,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit servicemembers, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet.” http://goo.gl/xZ448C
— PUSHBACK AGAINST THE PUSHBACK: “”Much of the criticism from members of Congress is just the same as its always been — protect your own backyard — nothing new there,” a senior defense official emailed Morning D. “But the fact is, so long as Congress keeps voting for sequestration level spending we’re going to have to get smaller. And the sooner everyone accepts that the sooner the military can build a stronger force for the future.”
IT’S TUESDAY and it already feels a little bit like Thursday. Oh boy. Please send your ideas, defense tips (including that governors’ letter if you’ve seen it!), and any feedback, to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @k8brannen, @morningdefense and @PoliticoPro.
TODAY, HAGEL DELIVERS BUDGET MESSAGE TO TROOPS: Hagel is headed to Fort Eustis, Va., to speak with soldiers at Army Training and Doctrine Command, and he’ll address airmen at Air Combat Command located at Langley Air Force Base. Then he’s off to Brussels where he’ll discuss Afghanistan at the NATO Defense Ministers Conference.
Meanwhile, acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox is headlining a slew of senior DOD officials participating in the annual McAleese defense forum today at the Newseum. The appearance by senior Pentagon leadership marks the first industry engagement following Hagel’s preview of the budget yesterday.
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SEXUAL ASSAULT VOTE STALLED IN THE SENATE, via POLITICO’s Darren Samuelsohn: “Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill were thwarted again Monday in their bids for floor votes on legislation to shake up how the Pentagon deals with sexual assault.”
“Their latest obstacle: Iran sanctions.” http://politi.co/1pmbOZW
MCKEON: HOUSE ON TRACK TO FINISH NDAA IN JUNE House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) says the House is on a timeline to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act in early June. And it’s his hope, he said, for a smoother path this year through the Senate.
Still, McKeon worries the bill could get stuck in the muck of election year politics. “If that happens this year, think of this scenario. Everybody goes home to campaign — not me — everybody that’s running for re-election goes home Oct. 1 to campaign,” McKeon said. “They come back after the election, and here’s what happens. Let’s just assume Republicans win the Senate. What is the incentive to finish up anything?”
“My No. 1 priority is to get the bill done. And if we don’t get it done by the time they leave in October, it’s going to be very very difficult,” he added.
— A provocative headline on the Pentagon budget proposal in the Military Times papers — “Budget Targets Troops.” http://goo.gl/RMLMY0
— A vote to advance Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders’s veterans bill is expected today. USA Today: http://usat.ly/1fkfymb
— Pakistani jets continue to bomb what are believed to be militant hideouts in the northwest tribal area. The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1hNOJyB
— South Korea says a North Korean warship strayed into South Korean waters late Monday. The Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1c3Dr77
— Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq weapons worth $195 million, a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran. Reuters: http://reut.rs/1c1cnoS
— President Obama has reportedly rejected several potential cyberattack proposals against the Syrian military, which some in the administration say could offer a way to intervene without troops or severe costs. The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/NsPBdY
— The military is stepping up its effort to catch serial offenders within the ranks, as officials increasingly believe that relatively few people are responsible for the bulk of sex crimes. The Christian Science Monitor: http://goo.gl/4IppNC
— Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and the family of Sgt. Rafael Peralta are criticizing The Washington Post for what they describe as gross inaccuracies in a recent article about the Marine’s death. POLITICO: http://politi.co/1hKDEdm