3 dieting tips for America’s new Pentagon chief

Chuck Hagel is in impeccable shape, but the Pentagon is not. The bloated department will take a $46 billion cut this year, assuming a sequestration deal doesn’t materialize by Friday, on top of hundreds of billion of dollars in cuts over the next decade. With the new regimen, the incoming defense secretary could use some ...

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Chuck Hagel is in impeccable shape, but the Pentagon is not. The bloated department will take a $46 billion cut this year, assuming a sequestration deal doesn't materialize by Friday, on top of hundreds of billion of dollars in cuts over the next decade. With the new regimen, the incoming defense secretary could use some dieting advice for the Pentagon as he guides it through leaner times. The trick will be accommodating reductions in the Pentagon budget without compromising the nation's security.

That will mean embracing tradeoffs and accepting risks. But where to start? In a report published last month by the Rand Corporation, Stuart E. Johnson and Irv Blickstein highlighted three separate approaches to cutting roughly $400 to $500 billion from defense programs. Each method corresponds with a desired strategic focus, and we've broken them down into layman's terms below. Perfect for Chuck's first day!

Chuck Hagel is in impeccable shape, but the Pentagon is not. The bloated department will take a $46 billion cut this year, assuming a sequestration deal doesn’t materialize by Friday, on top of hundreds of billion of dollars in cuts over the next decade. With the new regimen, the incoming defense secretary could use some dieting advice for the Pentagon as he guides it through leaner times. The trick will be accommodating reductions in the Pentagon budget without compromising the nation’s security.

That will mean embracing tradeoffs and accepting risks. But where to start? In a report published last month by the Rand Corporation, Stuart E. Johnson and Irv Blickstein highlighted three separate approaches to cutting roughly $400 to $500 billion from defense programs. Each method corresponds with a desired strategic focus, and we’ve broken them down into layman’s terms below. Perfect for Chuck’s first day!

#1

Strategic focus: Wean allies and partners off the U.S. military

Projected savings: $496 to $504 billion (2014 to 2023)

Pros: U.S. allies in Asia would be "urged" to beef up their defense capabilities — especially when it comes to their respective sea lanes. At the same time, the U.S. would be free to beef up forces in countries "at risk of insurgency or aggression." As Johnson and Blickstein write, "The aim would be to reduce the likelihood that U.S. forces would have to deploy in large numbers to counter an insurgency."

Cons: What if U.S. allies refuse to spend more on defense? It’s not unthinkable given the global economic downturn, and it would risk leaving some regions exposed, particularly Asia.

#2 

Strategic focus: Prepare for long-term, land-based conflict

Projected savings: $496 to $504 billion (2014 to 2023)

Pros: The U.S. remains capable of large-scale counterinsurgency operations and the size of ground forces is maintained, but aviation and maritime forces would be scaled back.

Cons: The U.S. remains capable of large-scale counterinsurgency operations. Well, we suppose that’s only a con if you’re resolutely opposed to more foreign nation-building efforts. But logistically, the cons to this focus include less funding for new technologies and "future defense challenges." It also keeps U.S. allies dependent on the U.S. military, say Johnson and Blickstein.

#3

Strategic focus: Double down on Asia

Projected savings: $383 to $408 billion

Pros: It’s in line with the administration’s goal of establishing a counterweight to China. It would also reduce the responsibilities of ground forces and short-range aircraft while allocating resources away from Europe and the Middle East.

Cons: If extremist threats to the U.S. surge in the Middle East, America will be underprepared to respond, and may have to quickly re-invest in the region.

For more details and wonkery on each method, read the full Rand Corporation article here.

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