Defense Department officials are making it clear that additional program and weapon system cancellations will not bring the savings requested by President Obama – a reality that could hit major sustainment centers such as Robins Air Force Base particularly hard.
Last week the president – trumpeting his plan to rid the nation of its mounting debt load – recognized the $400 billion in savings already identified by the Pentagon then asked for $400 billion more over the next 12 years.
Earlier in the week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would provide candidate savings to the president but believed the additional cuts could not be made without impact to the defense infrastructure and capabilities.
On Wednesday, Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a Heritage Foundation crowd in Washington D.C. that “weapon systems and other major procurement programs certainly will be on the table, but they won’t be enough to achieve the president’s goals.”
Carter said weapons procurement programs account for only 14 percent of the DoD budget. A much larger percentage goes to sustaining systems already procured and fielded, he stressed.
That places a clear bull’s eye on facilities such as Robins where billions are spent each year in sustaining, overhauling and repairing aircraft and components.
“It’s clear that everyone – from the president to the defense secretary to the taxpayer – expects DoD to make every dollar it gets count,” Carter is quoted in a Pentagon summary of his Heritage Foundation remarks.
“In short,” Carter added, “they want better value for the defense dollar. That’s what the country should expect no matter what size the defense budget is.”
Some $300 billion in acquisition program cuts are included in the $400 billion already identified by the Pentagon, Carter noted, leaving little margin for additional reductions without significant impact.
“We are getting to the point where most of the programs we now have under way or which are getting under way are military capabilities we do need and want,” he said, “and we need to get them for the money the country can afford to give us.
He indicated that additional programs could be terminated while major investments – such as the Air Force’s new long-range strategic strike bomber – will receive intense scrutiny.
“We aren’t going to start anything we can’t prove to ourselves will be affordable in the timeframe it will be bought,” he said.
But clearly Carter expects the major dividend to come from across-the-board improvements in the department’s acquisition process. He called for a “comprehensive look at spending” and a significant boost to buying power.
Carter reported that a 23-point roadmap is being implemented to target affordability and cost controls. It provides incentives to industry for being more productive and innovative and enhances overall competition.
“The alternative is broken, cancelled programs,” Carter stressed, “(along with) budget turbulence, uncertainty, erosion of the taxpayers’ confidence and ultimately – and most damaging – foregone capability to the warfighter.”