Pentagon’s Strategic Choices Review Leaves Only One Choice

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly unveiled Strategic Choices and Management Review allegedly provides the White House with options on how to manage the military in an era of budget cuts and technological change. But in reality, the document that emerged from the Pentagon today pretty much lays out one choice: build a smaller military equipped ...

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's newly unveiled Strategic Choices and Management Review allegedly provides the White House with options on how to manage the military in an era of budget cuts and technological change.

But in reality, the document that emerged from the Pentagon today pretty much lays out one choice: build a smaller military equipped with shiny new weapons or else get stuck with a bloated force trying to fight with lots of Cold War vintage gear. Maybe there's a reason they called the review "Scammer" within the Pentagon.

The whole purpose of the review was to help the Department of Defense figure out how to preserve its nuclear forces, its "homeland defense" capability and its famous pivot to the Pacific -- part of which means being able to handle confrontations with in increasingly well-armed China - without busting its slimmer budget.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly unveiled Strategic Choices and Management Review allegedly provides the White House with options on how to manage the military in an era of budget cuts and technological change.

But in reality, the document that emerged from the Pentagon today pretty much lays out one choice: build a smaller military equipped with shiny new weapons or else get stuck with a bloated force trying to fight with lots of Cold War vintage gear. Maybe there’s a reason they called the review "Scammer" within the Pentagon.

The whole purpose of the review was to help the Department of Defense figure out how to preserve its nuclear forces, its "homeland defense" capability and its famous pivot to the Pacific — part of which means being able to handle confrontations with in increasingly well-armed China – without busting its slimmer budget.

Specifically, the review says that if sequestration continues, Pentagon can cut shrink the Army to as little as 380,000 troops; go from 11 to eight or nine aircraft carriers; shrink the Marine Corps from 182,000 to 150,000; and retiring older air force bombers, fighter jets and C-130s. Meanwhile, DOD would invest in new cruise missiles, drones, a new stealth bomber and the $1 trillion beast that refuses to die no matter how over budget and behind schedule it is, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Oh, and "we would continue to make cyber capabilities and special operations forces a high priority."

Yup, the review basically says we can buy ourselves a smaller military with shiny new toys to defeat enemies equipped with the latest air defenses capable of downing all but the stealthiest of planes; cruise missiles that can sink any carrier that gets within hundreds of miles of their shores; and cyber capabilities that threaten to intercept foreign communications and shut down a power grid, if need be.

Or, we can have something that’s vaguely reminiscent of the post-Cold War Russian military of the 1990s and early 2000s. We’d have tens of thousands more troops than the first option, but with crusty, old gear.

"The military could find its equipment and weapons systems — many of which are already near the end of their service lives – less effective against more technologically advanced adversaries," reads a copy of Hagel’s speech from today announcing the review’s outcomes. "We also have to consider how massive cuts to prourement, and research and development funding would impact the viability of America’s private sector industrial base."

That’s right, our armed forces might not be able to keep up with rapidly modernizing counterparts like China’s People’s Liberation Army. Our whole military-industrial complex might shrink.

"The balance we strike between capability, capacity and readiness will determine the composition and size of the force for years to come," said Hagel. Still, even if "DOD combines all of the reduction options I’ve described – including significant cuts to the military’s size and capability – the savings fall well short of meeting sequester-level cuts."

Sounds like we don’t really have a choice.

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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